Chapter VII: The French Mission (1797-1798)

John Adams succeeded Washington in the presidency in 1797, and on May 31 of that year nominated as envoys extraordinary and ministers plenipotentiary to France, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Francis Dana. The last named declined the appointment, and Elbridge Gerry took his place.

Marshall accepted this mission with reluctance, but the exigency of affairs was such that he did not feel at liberty to decline it. Having arranged his business at home with dispatch, he was ready to embark in July of the same year. On leaving Richmond for Philadelphia, he was attended for several miles on his journey by a large cavalcade of his fellow citizens. However assailed he might be by political opponents, these sentiments of personal respect and affection were never wanting on the part of the people. He embarked at Philadelphia for Amsterdam on the 17th of July. President Adams, in a letter to Gerry at that time, says of him: “He is a plain man, very sensible, cautious, guarded, and learned in the law of nations. I think you will be pleased with him.”

The ratification of Jay’s treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation between the United States and England had been highly offensive to France, not because it contained provisions which were particularly obnoxious to her, but because our ancient ally expected the United States to make no treaty with her enemy. Indeed, the exasperation at Paris might well have led to immediate war between the two countries had not the Directory been preoccupied with European complications, and had they not also hoped that the opposition in Congress would be able to prevent the carrying out of the treaty provisions. But although actual war was thus for the time avoided, a series of hostile acts, both aggressive and retaliatory, was pursued by France, which inflicted much injury on our commerce, and the whole conduct of the French government toward the United States was marked by intolerable insolence.

In October, 1796, the French government had issued orders directing the seizure of British property and persons on board American vessels, thereby committing a clear violation of the treaty of 1778. But their excuse was that this had been abrogated by the ratification of Jay’s treaty, and that the commerce of the United States became thereby the legitimate prey of French cruisers. The course of our resident minister to France, Mr. Monroe, was marked by such passive conduct under these provocations as to render him obnoxious to his own government, and he was accordingly recalled. This gave offense to the French party in the United States, and was also highly resented in France. Subsequently, when General C. C. Pinckney of South Carolina, a gentleman of known ability and moderation, but of Federalist proclivities, was sent over as Monroe’s successor, the French government refused to receive him. He was denied the usual card of hospitality, and was even threatened with the surveillance of the minister of police. He repelled these insults with dignity, and with becoming firmness insisted on the protection of the law of nations due to him as the representative of a foreign power. But instead of giving any proper satisfaction for these insults, the French government followed them up in January, 1797, by a written notice to Mr. Pinckney to quit the French territory. He retired to Amsterdam, and there awaited further instructions from his own government.

When news of these outrages reached the United States, it occasioned great popular indignation. President Adams convened Congress in extra session on the 15th of May following. In the President’s speech to Congress he enlarged with patriotic indignation on the enormity of these proceedings on the part of the French government, and urged prompt measures of redress, and that preparation should be made for hostilities apparently so imminent between the two countries. Yet, with admirable prudence, he kept open a door for the renewal of diplomatic relations. In response to his message, Congress took some measures to put the country in a state of defense. The Navy Department was created at this period, and additions were made to our war marine. The President was empowered to raise a provisional army, and the armed vessels of the United States were authorized to capture and bring into port all French vessels committing outrages on American ships or citizens. Washington was again appointed commander-in-chief, with the rank of lieutenant-general, and other military preparations were pushed forward with great energy. In the meantime the American Congress acted with commendable dignity and wisdom, authorizing the President, in the interests of peace, to institute a special mission to France, to demand redress and reparation for the injuries complained of. It was in pursuance of this policy that Marshall and his colleagues were nominated.

These circumstances invested this new mission with a peculiarly important and interesting character, and its result was awaited with deep interest throughout the country. The issues of peace or war seemed suspended upon it, and, although ultimately no disastrous consequences were actually realized by reason of its failure, its progress and development form one of the most curious and extraordinary chapters in the history of diplomacy.

The American envoys arrived in Paris October 4, 1797. On the following day they informed the minister of foreign affairs of their arrival, and inquired when he would receive one of their secretaries with the official notification of their credentials. Talleyrand appointed the next day, when their letters of credence were presented and duly acknowledged. A few days later he informed them, through one of his secretaries, that the Directory had called upon him for a report as to the posture of affairs with regard to the United States, that he was then engaged in preparing it, and that it would soon be finished, when he would further inform them. In reply to inquiries, he said that the usual cards of hospitality would be sent to them, which were accordingly received the next day, addressed suitably to them in their official character. Thus far, everything denoted a friendly official reception, and the prompt opening of negotiations. But in less than ten days afterwards General Pinckney was informed by the clerk of the American consulate at Paris that he had learned, through one of Talleyrand’s confidential secretaries, that the Directory were highly incensed at the language and tone of the President’s speech to Congress, and that they would expect and require satisfactory explanations before the envoys could have a public audience; but that, meantime, certain persons might be appointed who would confer with them, and would report to Talleyrand, who had sole charge of the negotiations.

A few days later, General Pinckney was waited upon by M. Hottinguer, who was represented to him as a gentleman of credit and reputation, and who came with a message from M. Talleyrand. He began by saying that the French minister had a great regard for the United States, and was very desirous that there should be a friendly adjustment of all matters of difference between the two countries. He said that he was ready, if it was deemed proper, to suggest a plan which Talleyrand expected would answer that purpose. On General Pinckney’s encouraging him to proceed, and saying that he was ready to hear, M. Hottinguer continued that the Directory, particularly two of them, were very much exasperated at some parts of President Adams’s speech, and that they desired that these should be softened; that this would be necessary before the envoys could be received; that, besides this, a sum of money would be required for the use of the Directory, which would be at the disposal of M. Talleyrand, and that a loan to France from the United States would also be expected and insisted upon. M. Hottinguer added that, when these terms were complied with, he had no doubt that the envoys would promptly be received and all differences satisfactorily arranged. The particular passages of the President’s speech which were so obnoxious to the Directory he could not specify, neither the amount of the loan needed, but the tribute for the Directory had been fixed at twelve hundred thousand livres, about fifty thousand pounds sterling, equivalent to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars in coin. To this General Pinckney replied that he would inform his colleagues of what had been proposed, and confer with them as to their answer, and the interview terminated. In their conference the three envoys agreed that General Pinckney should request Hottinguer to make his propositions in writing, in order to avoid misapprehension. Accordingly at the next interview that gentleman brought with him and left with the envoys certain written propositions. He had, however, previously informed Mr. Pinckney that his communication was not directly from M. Talleyrand, but through another agent in whom Talleyrand had great confidence.

On October 20 M. Hottinguer further informed them that M. Bellamy of Hamburg, in the confidence of M. Talleyrand, would call upon them and make all needful explanations. Bellamy came accordingly, and, after dwelling on the favorable sentiments entertained by M. Talleyrand toward the United States, announced that minister’s desire to aid the envoys in their negotiations by his friendly mediation with the Directory; but said that, in consequence of the displeasure of that body with the President’s speech, the Directory had not received or acknowledged them in their representative character, and would not, as yet, authorize M. Talleyrand to hold any communications with them;

that on this account M. Talleyrand himself could not see them, but authorized M. Bellamy to make certain propositions to them and report their reply. He added that he held no diplomatic character, and was simply a friend of Talleyrand, enjoying his confidence and wishing to serve him. He designated certain parts of the President’s speech as exceptionable, and submitted written propositions as to the proposed treaty. Among these were certain preliminary disavowals and explanations which would be expected, and an article providing that France should be placed in every respect upon the same footing which England occupied under Jay’s treaty; there was also a secret clause to the effect that the United States should make a loan to France.

Recurring again to the necessity of removing the dissatisfaction arising from the President’s speech, as a preliminary to any negotiation, M. Bellamy said: “Gentlemen, I will not disguise from you that, this satisfaction being made, the essential part of the treaty remains to be adjusted. Il faut d’argent. Il faut beaucoup d’argent.” (It is necessary to pay money, to pay a great deal of money.)

In a succeeding interview, on the next day, M. Bellamy informed the envoys that he had just been with M. Talleyrand. He said that they were both sensible of the pain the envoys must feel in making the required disavowal as to the President’s speech, but that this was an indispensable prerequisite to an official recognition, unless means could be found of changing the mind of the Directory; that he had no authority to suggest these means, but that, as a private citizen, he could express the opinion that with money this change of feeling might be effected. He specified the sum which he believed would be accepted, and suggested a convenient mode of raising it. He said that there were thirty-two millions of Dutch rescriptions, worth ten shillings in the pound, which might be assigned to the United States at twenty shillings in the pound; that, by the hypothecation of these securities of the Dutch government, the money could be raised to meet the urgent needs of the French government; and that the securities would certainly be paid in full by the former, at their par value, after the war, so that the United States would ultimately lose nothing by the financial operation proposed. He was asked if the douceur or tribute to the Directory was to be added to this sum, and he answered in the affirmative. In reply, the ambassadors informed him that, while their powers were full and ample to negotiate a treaty with France, they were not authorized to make a loan; that, if that was deemed a sine qua non to concluding negotiations, one of their number could return to the United States for fresh instructions; and that, if their government should accede to the proposed loan, they could proceed on that basis; that meantime the two other envoys, remaining in France, could negotiate concerning other questions; but that in this interval there must be an entire suspension of all hostile orders affecting the commerce, the persons, or the property of the United States, and of all pending proceedings in respect to captures or seizures already made.

With these propositions M. Bellamy was evidently dissatisfied, saying that they demanded concessions from France at the very moment when she, the offended party, was claiming redress for grievances and injuries received, and that they treated the proposition for a loan as if it came from the Directory, when in fact it did not have even the authority of M. Talleyrand, and was only a suggestion from himself, a private citizen, which they might adopt and use as a substitute for the painful embarrassment demanded of them in a disavowal of the President’s obnoxious speech.

The envoys replied that they understood the matter perfectly; that, while the propositions of a loan, etc., were in form to come from them, they had proceeded in fact from the Directory, or from their minister, the secretary of foreign relations. M. Bellamy affected great concern that the envoys had put from them the only practicable mode of opening the door to full negotiations, saying that the Directory would certainly insist on their terms. The envoys replied that the Directory must take the course which they thought compatible with their duty, while they, on their part, would carefully guard the interests and the honor of their own country. They added that the idea of their apologizing for or disavowing the President’s speech could not be considered in a serious light; that such a proceeding would render them ridiculous in the eyes of their own government and of all mankind.

The envoys, in permitting this informal intercourse to go so far, had doubtless been influenced by a strong desire to preserve amicable relations with our ancient ally, and to learn with certainty how far the Directory and Talleyrand were personally and officially implicated in the disgraceful proceeding. Pending these irregular conferences, namely, on the 27th of October, news was received at Paris of the signing of definitive terms of peace between Austria and France. This seemed to give fresh impulse to the desire of the French emissaries to hasten results with the American envoys. Accordingly another visit was made to them by M. Hottinguer. He now complained that they had not been heard from, and said that the government expected to receive propositions from them; that the Directory was becoming very impatient, and would take very decided steps if the offensive features of the President’s speech were not explained or softened. He alluded to the peace just concluded, and said that it ought “to produce a change in the attitude of the envoys; that France had determined to take higher grounds with the United States and all other neutral nations, which must aid France or be treated as enemies.” The American envoys replied that they had considered the whole aspect of the case very fully, and that the recent peace would effect no change in their attitude. M. Hottinguer, after enlarging on the now augmented power and resources of France, returned again to the subject of money. He said:“Gentlemen, you do not speak to the point. It is money. It is expected that you will offer money.” They replied that they had already answered explicitly on that point. “ No,” said he, “you have not. What is your answer?” They replied: “It is No. No; not a sixpence.” The conversation continued some time, during which the private advance of money and the public loan were pressed in a variety of forms. M. Hottinguer, in conclusion, said that he would communicate as nearly as he could the substance of what had passed, either to M. Bellamy or to the minister.

Up to this time the envoys had had no personal interview with M. Talleyrand. They had seen him only once, and that for a short time. They did not doubt, however, that these mediaries from him, with whom they had conferred, were his agents, sent by him to effect by indirection and false representations objects in gaining which he did not like to appear directly. These suspicions were soon fully verified. M. Talleyrand furnished conclusive evidence that these terms, so persistently urged by his unofficial agents, did really proceed from himself.

Later in October another messenger, still unofficial, from M. Talleyrand, appeared on the stage, a M. Hautval, said to be a French gentleman of respectable character, for they were “all honorable men.” Hautval called on Mr. Gerry, and informed him that M. Talleyrand had expected to see the American envoys frequently in private intercourse, and to confer with them individually as to their mission, and that he had been authorized to make this known to them. On Mr. Gerry informing his colleagues of this message, Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall said that, as they were not acquainted with M. Talleyrand, they could not see the propriety of their calling on him; but Mr. Gerry, having formed an acquaintance with him in the United States, might properly be expected, according to the custom in France, to call upon him. A few days afterward Mr. Gerry, in company with M. Hautval, did call upon M. Talleyrand. M. Talleyrand began the conversation. He said that the Directory had passed an arret, in which they renewed their demand for an explanation of the President’s speech, etc., but, on their offering money, he thought that he could prevent the effect of the arret. Mr. Gerry informed the minister that they were not authorized to offer money. In that case, M. Talleyrand replied, they could take the power to do so, and he proposed that they should take this step. Mr. Gerry, continuing to allege the want of power, repeated what had been said in previous conferences, that one of his colleagues might return to America for instructions on that head provided the other objects of their negotiations could, in the mean time, be considered. Mr. Gerry then expressed a wish that M. Talleyrand would confer with his colleagues. M. Talleyrand replied that he should be happy to confer with the envoys individually, but “that this matter about the money must be settled directly without sending to America;” that he would not communicate the arret for a week; and that, if they could adjust the difficulty as to the speech, an application would be sent to the United States for the loan. Two conclusions are manifest from this statement by M. Talleyrand: First, that he was perfectly aware that his agents had proposed and insisted on the payment of money, as a bribe, into his own hands, as a condition precedent to opening formal negotiations; the same conclusion is also to be drawn from his opening statement, to wit, that their offering money would have the effect of suspending the arret. Second, that the smaller sum named, to wit, the douceur of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, must be advanced in cash, “directly” and “before sending to America,” a transaction which doubtless he knew well that the financial credit of the envoys could accomplish.

In another visit, after Mr. Gerry’s interview with Talleyrand, Messrs. Hottinguer and Bellamy announced to the envoys that, “if the terms already offered to them should be rejected, and war should ensue, the fate of Venice might befall the United States.” “Perhaps,” said M. Bellamy, “you believe that, in returning and exposing to your countrymen the unreasonableness of the demands of this government, you will unite them in their resistance to those demands. You are mistaken. You ought to know that the diplomatic skill of France and the means she possesses in your country are sufficient to enable her, with the aid of the French party in America, to throw the blame which will attend the rupture of the negotiations on the Federalists, as you term yourselves, but on the British party, as France terms you; and you may assure yourselves that this will be done.” [1]

Such haughty insolence produced its natural effect. It induced the envoys to do at length what they would have been well justified in doing sooner, declining to hold further indirect intercourse with a government which had shown itself so destitute of truth, and so incapable of acting with openness and honor. They accordingly announced this determination to M. Talleyrand. Yet in spite of it other attempts were frequently made to draw them into the like irregular and unofficial intercourse, but fortunately altogether without effect.

One of the methods resorted to for compassing this object was singular enough. One Beaumarchais, a very wealthy French citizen residing in Paris, was a client of Mr. Marshall, whose professional services he had secured in the prosecution of a claim which Beaumarchais asserted against the State of Virginia for recovery of the large sum of a hundred and forty-five thousand pounds sterling, alleged to be due for military supplies furnished to that State during the Revolutionary war. Beaumarchais had obtained a judgment for the amount in the lower court, but from this judgment an appeal had been taken to a higher court, and the final result was yet undetermined. He had called on Mr. Marshall, and had entertained him and his colleagues at dinner. Beaumarchais was a large capitalist and an intriguer of great cleverness. M. Bellamy saw in these circumstances a gleam of hope for raising the much-coveted douceur, which, as M. Talleyrand’s agent, he was bent upon securing. He had little difficulty in bringing M. Beaumarchais into his views, and on the 17th of December M. Bellamy informed Marshall that Beaumarchais had consented, provided his claim should be admitted, to sacrifice fifty thousand pounds sterling of it as the douceur so often demanded; so that the payment of that sum could not work any loss to the American government. This proposition was not entertained, the envoys regarding it as an attempt to renew the unofficial negotiations. Mr. Marshall makes the following allusion to it in his journal:

“Having been originally the counsel of M. de Beaumarchais I had determined, and so I had informed General Pinckney, that I would not, by my voice, establish any agreement in his favor, but that I would positively oppose any admission of the claim of any French citizen if not accompanied with an admission of the claims of American citizens for property captured and condemned for want of a role d’equipage.” [2]

Mr. Gerry’s intercourse with these messengers of Talleyrand seems to have been more frequent and intimate than that of his colleagues. There was one on the 17th of December, in the presence of M. Bellamy, in which Mr. Gerry said to M. Talleyrand that M. Bellamy had informed him of some propositions coming from him, Talleyrand, referring to the gratuity of £50,000 and the purchase of the Dutch rescriptions, to which he could give no reply, etc. M. Talleyrand said that what M. Bellamy had told him was true; that Bellamy could always be depended upon; that he would put his proposals in writing. This he accordingly did, but after he had shown them to Mr. Gerry he destroyed the paper. These proposals referred to the purchase of the Dutch securities, but did not allude to the gratuity. That was doubtless to be the special work of his agents.

The envoys now resolved that they would address M. Talleyrand by letter, and lay before him in that explicit form the special objects of their mission, discussing the points at issue between the two governments just as if they had been officially received; also that, on the refusal or failure of the French government to open negotiations with them, they would demand their passports and return to the United States. This letter, prepared by Marshall, was a full and clear statement of the whole subject, and has ever been regarded as a model state paper. [3] Before sending it, however, the three thought it wise to request a personal interview with Talleyrand. He readily assented, and appointed a day to receive them. On this occasion he said in substance to the envoys, that the Directory would require some proof on the part of the United States government of a friendly disposition towards France, preparatory to opening negotiations, and alluded very plainly to a loan as furnishing that proof. They replied by repeating that they had no power to make a loan, and that such an act would be inconsistent with the neutrality of the United States, and might involve them in a war with Great Britain. Talleyrand urged that foreign ministers must often, in their discretion, assume responsibility for the sake of the public good; that the loan could be so disguised as to prevent any violation of their neutral obligations to England; and that if they really desired to conciliate France and accomplish the object of their mission, they would have no difficulty in finding the means to do so. He added, by way of complaint, that the envoys had not visited him as he expected, and that, although the Directory had not given them an official audience, there was no reason why they might not have seen him often, and found opportunity in personal interviews to remove all difficulties in the way of their mutual intercourse. Mr. Marshall replied with dignity that it was not a matter of the least concern to them whether they had an interview with the Directory or not; that they were perfectly indifferent in that matter; that they had expected and demanded that their official character should be acknowledged, and that they would not undertake to act in that character until they should have been so recognized. Mr. Marshall further said that to lend or to raise money for France to enable her to carry on the war then waging with England would be giving aid to her and taking part in the war, and that their doing so without special authority was out of the question.

After an interval of a fortnight M. Talleyrand transmitted his answer to the above-mentioned letter of the envoys, in which, after a needless repetition of what he had previously said, he proceeded : “The Executive Directory is disposed to treat with that one of the three whose opinions are presumed to be more impartial, and to promise in the course of the explanations more of that reciprocal confidence which is indispensable.” This was intended to designate Mr. Gerry, who was supposed to be more favorable to the loan to France than his colleagues. To this it was replied by Mr. Marshall that the powers of the envoys were joint; that no one of them could conclude negotiations in which it was intended that all should participate; nor could the other two decline duties which were thus plainly conferred upon them all by their government. They concluded by demanding passports for the whole or any number of them, which should be accompanied with letters of safe conduct.

It was no doubt intended and desired by M. Talleyrand that Messrs. Marshall and Pinckney should voluntarily retire, on receipt of this letter making the invidious distinction between them and Mr. Gerry. For, in a letter to Mr. Gerry, dated April 3, he wrote: “I suppose, sir, that Messrs. Pinckney and Marshall have thought it useful and proper, in consequence of the intimations which the end of my note of the 18th of March last presents, to quit the territory of the Republic.” As the envoys, however, had previously demanded their passports, this inhospitality was merely a gratuitous indignity, showing evidently a wish for their departure, but an unwillingness to take the responsibility of helping them away. They, upon their part, seeing that a proper self-respect and due regard for the honor and dignity of their country forbade them to remain longer, were indeed anxious to return to the United States; but they were resolved not to sneak away, as Talleyrand ventured to suppose that they had done, but to demand the official exequatur and the protection of the usual safeguards against capture, to which, by the custom of nations, they were entitled. Marshall told Talleyrand that the conduct of the French government was in violation of the laws and customs of civilized nations observed toward foreign nations. He replied that Marshall was not a foreign minister, but only an American citizen, who must obtain his passports, like all others, through the American consul. Mr. Marshall repelled this false and offensive assertion, remarking sarcastically that Talleyrand’s ignorance of the laws of nations could alone excuse a statement so destitute of foundation; he said that he derived his character as foreign minister not from M. Talleyrand or the French government, but from the United States, which had conferred it upon him; that, though the Directory might refuse to treat with him and his colleagues, still they held their public position independently of France, and were entitled to leave like other ministers with their passports and letters of safe conduct. To this Talleyrand made the impertinent reply that if Marshall wanted a passport he must send in his name, stature, age, and complexion to the American consul, who would obtain one for him; and that, as to a safe conduct, it was unnecessary, as he would incur no risk from French cruisers. [4]

Though thus treated with studied rudeness, Pinckney and Marshall persisted in their demand, and the passports were at last sent to them. Marshall left Paris on the 12th of April, but Mr. Pinckney, with some difficulty, obtained permission from the French government, in consequence of the ill-health of his daughter, who had accompanied him to France, to remain longer. As to Mr. Gerry, who, as Talleyrand said, had “manifested himself more disposed to lend a favorable ear to everything which might reconcile the two republics,” he was induced by threats of immediate war by France against the United States to remain in Paris. It was said that, although warmly urged to enter into negotiations with the Directory after his colleagues left, he refused to do so. His conduct, however, provoked severe criticism at home and lowered his character with his countrymen, though he was generally accredited with fair intentions.

The dispatches of the envoys to their government reported fully what had occurred in their attempt to execute their mission. These were now communicated in a message to Congress from the President, were published in full in the newspapers of the day, and were thence transferred into the English papers. They reached France in due time, and created a profound sensation. Talleyrand took early measures to forestall their effect, and hastened to disavow the shameful part which the simple recital of the facts assigned to him in the transaction. In the publication of the official papers the American secretary of state had used the initials X. Y. Z. for the names of Messrs. Hottinguer, Bellamy, and Hautval, as they had requested the envoys not to make public their real names. This circumstance enabled the wily French secretary to resort to the trick of affecting entire ignorance of the persons thus referred to, whom he designated as “intriguers,” who had deceived the envoys. He even had the audacity to inquire by letter of Mr. Gerry, still in Paris, as to these persons, and requested to be furnished with their names.

“I cannot observe without surprise,” he said, “that intriguers have profited by the insulated condition in which the envoys of the United States have kept themselves, to make proposals and hold conversations, the object of which was evidently to deceive you.” This to Mr. Gerry, to whom Talleyrand had given the distinct assurance that “what M. Bellamy had said to him, as coming from him (Talleyrand), was true, and that he might always be relied upon;” to Mr. Gerry, who had heard the proposals which had been made by these agents substantially renewed by the minister himself, and who was present when General Pinckney told Talleyrand that his suggestions were considered by the envoys as substantially the same as those made by Messrs. Hottinguer and Bellamy, the men whom he now styled officious intriguers, but whose statements he had not denied or disavowed at that time! M. Talleyrand further published in the “Redacteur,” the official gazette, a labored defense and reply to these dispatches, characterized by true Machiavellian dissimulation and unscrupulous mendacity, which it is not necessary here to repeat.

Mr. Marshall arrived in New York on the 17th of June, after a long voyage. This interval had afforded time for the American public to read the published dispatches of our envoys, and acquaint themselves with the history of a mission so extraordinary and so disgraceful to France. He found an intense indignation prevailing throughout the country, and he was received with warm enthusiasm wherever he appeared. All parties and classes united in cordial approbation of the dignity, ability, and manly spirit he had displayed throughout the mission.

The history of these events, so soon as known, had naturally augmented the strength of the Federalists and weakened the Republicans. Mr. Jefferson viewed this state of things with great jealousy. He was perhaps the only prominent public character in the country who remarked with discontent the honors accorded to Marshall as one who had conducted himself, in such a trying ordeal, with admirable wisdom and firmness, and who certainly deserved the grateful plaudits of his countrymen. In a letter written at this crisis to Mr. Madison, Mr. Jefferson, after mentioning the arrival of Marshall at New York, says:

“I have postponed my own departure from Philadelphia in order to see if that circumstance would produce any new projects. No doubt he [Marshall] there received more than hints from Hamilton as to the tone required to be assumed; yet I apprehend he is not hot enough for his friends. Livingston came with him from New York. Marshall told him they had no idea in France of a war with us; that Talleyrand sent passports to him and Pinckney, but none to Gerry; upon this Gerry stayed, without explaining to them the reason. He wrote, however, to the President by Marshall, who knew nothing of the contents of the letter, so that there must have been a previous understanding between Talleyrand and Gerry. [5] Marshall was received here [Philadelphia] with the utmost eclat. The secretary of state and many carriages, with all the city cavalry, went to Frankford to meet him, and on his arrival here, in the evening, the bells rung till late in the night, and immense crowds were collected to see and make part of the show, which was circuitously paraded through the streets before he was set down at the city tavern.”

“All this,” Jefferson proceeds, “was to secure him to their views, that he might say nothing which would oppose the game they had been playing. Since his arrival I can hear nothing directly from him, while they are disseminating through the town things as from him diametrically opposite to what he said to Livingston. [6]

A public dinner was given to Marshall by members of both houses of Congress, then in session, “as an evidence of affection for his person, and of their grateful approbation of the patriotic firmness with which he sustained the dignity of his country during his important mission.”

It was at this dinner, and by way of indignant rebuke of the infamous invitation by Talleyrand to our envoys to resort to a bribe in order to obtain a hearing by the French government, that the sentiment, so happily expressed, was offered and cordially welcomed: “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute” a sentiment so entirely in unison with the pulsations of every patriotic heart that it was eagerly caught up and quickly wafted through the length and breadth of the land with every demonstration of popular enthusiasm.

On his return to Virginia Marshall was not less warmly welcomed by all parties. He immediately resumed his law practice, which was always his most congenial employment, and from which he hoped now to be no more withdrawn. But it was obvious that the time for that coveted retirement from public life was not yet come. Little as he desired it, he was to be remanded to the political arena by influences to which he was constrained to yield.

  1. Waite’s American State Papers, vol. Iii. p. 214.  Return to text.
  2. This debt to Beaumarchais was incurred by the State of Virginia during the war of the Revolution, in the purchase of supplies for the continental army, was afterward assumed and paid in full by the United States government.  Return to text.
  3. Waite’s State Papers, vol. Iii. p. 219.  Return to text.
  4. Marshall’s Journal. American State Papers, vol. iii p. 394.  Return to text.
  5. Mr. Flanders says, in his Lives of the Chief Justices, vol. ii p. 382: “Marshall could not have told Livingston this, because Gerry had agreed with Talleyrand to remain, had told his colleagues that he intended to remain, and this, too, before the passports were sent. His not receiving a passport had nothing to do with his staying. It would have been sent, had he demanded it.”  Return to text.
  6. Jefferson’s Works, vol. iv p. 249. Return to text.