WASHINGTON RETIRES FROM PUBLIC LIFE
The Treaty with England had scarely been put in operation before the Treaty with France, of which Washington also felt the importance, came to the front. Monroe was not an aggressive agent. Perhaps very few civilized Americans could have filled that position to the satisfaction of his American countrymen. They wished the French to acknowledge and explain various acts which they qualified as outrages, whereas the French regarded as glories what they called grievances. The men of the Directory which now ruled France did not profess the atrocious methods of the Terrorists, but they could not afford in treating with a foreigner to disavow the Terrorists. In the summer of ’96, Washington, being dissatisfied with Monroe’s results, recalled him, and sent in his place Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, to whom President Adams afterwards added John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry, forming a Commission of three. Some of the President’s critics have regarded his treatment of Monroe as unfair, and they imply that it was inspired by partisanship. He had always been an undisguised Federalist, whereas Monroe, during the past year or more, had followed Jefferson and become an unswerving Democrat. The publication here of a copy of Monroe’s letter to the French Committee of Public Safety caused a sensation; for he had asserted that he was not instructed to ask for the repeal of the French decrees by which the spoliation of American commerce had been practised, and he added that if the decrees benefited France, the United States would submit not only with patience but with pleasure. What wonder that Washington, in reading this letter and taking in the full enormity of Monroe’s words, should have allowed himself the exclamation, “Extraordinary!” What wonder that in due course of time he recalled Monroe from Paris and replaced him with a man whom he could trust!
The settlement of affairs with France did not come until after Washington ceased to be President. I will, therefore, say no more about it, except to refer to the outrageous conduct of the French, who hurried two of the Commissioners out of France, and, apparently at the instigation of Talleyrand, declared that they must pay a great deal of money before they made any arrangement, to which Charles Pinckney made the famous rejoinder, “Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute.” The negotiations became so stormy that war seemed imminent. Congress authorized President Adams to enlist ten thousand men to be put into the field in case of need, and he wrote to Washington: “We must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army.” McHenry, the Secretary of War, wrote: “You see how the storm thickens, and that our vessel will soon require its ancient pilot. Will you—may we flatter ourselves, that in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept the command of all our armies? I hope you will, because you alone can unite all hearts and all hands, if it is possible that they can be united."