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- The United States of America Part I - 5/54 -

Instead of vacating, the troops went out from some of the forts and built additional new posts on American soil. "The Great Father across the Waters," said a chief, when returning an unsigned treaty to Col. Harmar, "has not given this country over to the Thirteen Fires." Knowing the former predilection of the Indians for the French, the services of Lafayette were enlisted, prior to his return to France, in addressing a council on the frontier of New York to enlighten the natives concerning their new allegiance. It was felt that all efforts would be of no avail until the British were removed. To all American protests, the British Government replied that the posts would not be evacuated until the Americans had fulfilled their part of the treaty concerning the debts owed to British merchants.


At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, large sums had been due British exporters and factors by American planters and traders, because of the commercial system in vogue at that time. The war gave excuse to unscrupulous debtors to withhold payment. Associations were formed in many communities to adopt this form of retaliation, although discountenanced by the better classes. At the close of the war, it was said that there was not sufficient money in circulation to discharge these long-due obligations. Jefferson estimated the debts due British merchants in Virginia alone at thirty times the amount of money in circulation in the State. Many States had passed stay laws against executions to recover such debts and had thrown other legal obstructions in the way of the British creditors. Claim was made not only for the original amount of the debts, but for back interest as well. The American merchants rejoined that they could pay neither principal nor interest until they had been compensated for their slaves carried away by the British Army and the Tories at the end of the war and contrary to the terms of the treaty of peace. The labour of these slaves, they said, would enable them to pay the debts.

Undoubtedly American statesmen wished to sustain inviolate the provisions of the treaty, not only by preventing the States from interfering with the collection of valid debts, but also by protecting the Loyalists or Tories, as the treaty demanded. The English negotiators, having small experience with a Confederation, supposed that the clause in the treaty binding Congress to recommend actions to the several State Legislatures was equivalent to a warrant. It was agreed that the privilege should be granted to any person to go into and remain twelve months in any part of the United States to regain his property by law. The treaty provided further that Congress would recommend to the States the restoration of all property to former owners upon payment of the bona fide price which the present possessors paid for it after confiscation. The treaty also implicitly promised that there should be no more confiscations or prosecutions. The several provisions for the alleviation of these Loyalists indicate slightly the misfortunes into which their action brought them. Their treatment both officially and by the mob has been described by some foreign writers as the darkest page in American history. But they had choice of sides in the issue. Granted that they supposed they were right in upholding government against rebellion; yet the law of consequences accepts no excuse for over-conservatism. He who fails to keep step with the march of events falls behind and suffers the consequences. The Loyalists were on the losing side and suffered the common fate of the conquered.

War is abnormal. It undermines ideas of justice prevalent in time of peace. Thus it came about that the treatment of the Loyalists reacted unfortunately on the patriots. They had harried the royal sympathisers out of the land. They had grown accustomed to using force and could not readily return to law-abiding methods. They would not obey even the provisions of a national treaty. The Articles of Confederation, under which they were attempting to live in concord, kept a State from laying a duty which would interfere with the proposed treaties with France and Spain. Otherwise there was no compulsion aside from the moral obligation attached to a treaty. However, John Jay, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, acting in the capacity of an Attorney-General, rendered an opinion that no State according to the Articles could disobey or even interpret the provisions of a national treaty. Congress adopted resolutions to the same effect. But without coercive power, resolutions of Congress were idle as the wind. Jay confessed to Jefferson in France, his fears that "some of the States had gone so far in their deviations from the treaty that I fear they will not easily be persuaded to tread back their steps." He also stated his conviction after investigation that there had not been a single day since the treaty had been signed in which it had not been broken by some State. Washington also testified to the helplessness of Congress by saying, "If you tell the Legislatures that they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the Confederacy, they will laugh in your face." In this manner, a series of unfortunate diplomatic complications turned upon the British possession of the American forts along the frontier.

Nor was the impotence of the new nation exhibited toward England only in the western country. Because it drained almost the whole of the great inland valley, forming with its tributaries a network of ready-made highways, the Mississippi River assumed an importance to the trans-Alleghanian settlers which is lost in these days of artificial means of transportation. As Madison once said, "It is the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac, and all the navigable waters of the Atlantic States formed into one stream." It is true that the freedom of navigating the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence was secured to these western people by the Treaty of 1783, but these ways to the sea were closed by ice during a portion of the year and were impeded by falls. The lower Mississippi, on the other hand, had neither of these obstructions to navigation. Near its mouth was the city of New Orleans, where ocean vessels lay ready to receive western products. The current made easy the voyage thither. For twenty years the traditionally easy-going Spaniard had held the mouth of the river, placing severe restrictions upon foreign traders, but too indolent to enforce them.

Great Britain and the United States had ignored Spain when they declared in the treaty of peace that the Mississippi, from its source to the Gulf, should remain for ever free and open to citizens of both countries. Perhaps because she was disappointed in not getting a portion of the middle valley away from the Americans in the course of the peace negotiations, Spain soon began to show that she was at least mistress of the lower part of the river. Just where her dominion began was uncertain. During the war, a Virginia captain raised his colours on the Mississippi a few miles above Natchez. A Spanish commandant buried a box near the same spot with the colours of his sovereign as a token of possession. After 1783, the flatboatmen, who adventured down the river with loads of tobacco, flour, or planks, seeking a market at New Orleans or adjacent settlements, found at the Walnut Bluffs, about ten miles below the mouth of the Yazoo River, a post of Spanish customs guards. These bade them lower their flag and put themselves under the protection of the governor of Natchez before proceeding. If the goods escaped paying a duty at this place, they were examined a second time when they reached the group of about one hundred houses, crowning the bluff, which constituted the city of Natchez. On a prominent point, commanding a view of the river for many miles, stood the governor's palace and the fort, at which were usually stationed about a score of Spanish troops.

The hardy frontiersmen, who escaped the perils of navigating the river as far as Natchez, bore the inspection and frequent seizure of their goods as a great hardship and unwarrantable action. Scarcely had trade opened after the war before Congress received a complaint from one Fowler that his flatboat loaded with produce for the New Orleans market had been seized for refusal to pay duties at Natchez. A few months later, Thomas Amis, a North Carolina trader, reported the seizure of his stock at the same point, consisting of 142 Dutch ovens, 53 pots and kettles, 34 skillets, 33 cast boxes, 3 pairs dog irons, a pair of flat irons, a spice mortar, a plough mould, and 50 barrels of flour.

Complaints of some of these seizures officially reached Congress. Countless tales of other infringements upon American rights on the lower Mississippi were told among the settlers along the western slope of the Alleghanies, arousing them to the conviction that they were being sacrificed by the commercial interests of the Atlantic plain who wished to preserve a profitable trade with Spain. Gardoqui had arrived at the seat of government in 1785 as the first representative of the Spanish King. He was determined, as he said, to make the lower Mississippi a "bone of contention" in negotiating the long-delayed treaty with the United States. Not much agitation on his part was necessary. The western people were wrought up to the determination to take matters into their own hands, if necessary, to procure an outlet to Europe for their goods. The rumour that Jay, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, had approved to Congress the suggestion of Gardoqui, that the river be closed for ten years as the price of a commercial treaty, drove them to the point of forcible resistance. The Spanish also continued to occupy posts on the American side of the Florida boundary line, but this was a grievance only as they were accused of arousing the Indians to hostility against American settlers. In truth, these western pioneers formed a long arm of people thrust out between Indians under British dominance on the north and Indians under Spanish control on the south.

Believing themselves outside the pale of eastern protection, the western people entertained various projects for self-preservation. George Rogers Clark, whose daring Virginia expedition into the Illinois country had gained him fame in the Revolutionary days, placed himself at the head of a volunteer company which called itself the "Wabash regiment," and had been recruited in Kentucky for an expedition against the Shawnee Indians. Clark had degenerated through intemperance into a kind of border freebooter. Turning his troops from the original purpose, he seized the goods of the Spanish traders at Post Vincennes as a retaliation upon the Spanish, and prepared to descend upon New Orleans. Congress was compelled to take strong measures for disbanding his followers and making amends to Spain. A short time after, another Kentuckian was at Vincennes organising men to drive out the Spanish and make a settlement at Natchez, presumably inside the limits of Georgia. "Ireland is a free country to what this will be when its navigation is entirely shut," he wrote to the governor of Georgia in unfolding his scheme. An emissary was sent through the Illinois French settlements to describe the Spanish outrages on the lower Mississippi. Seditious papers were circulating in Kentucky and in the revolutionary State of Franklin. "In case we are not countenanced," said one of these documents, "and succoured by the United States, our allegiance will be thrown off and some other power applied to. Great Britain stands ready with open arms to receive and support us." One adventurer assured Gardoqui that fifty thousand men would be in arms in the western country to get their commercial rights.

Even a more efficient government than a Confederation would have experienced difficulty in overcoming these decentralising effects of the Alleghany Mountains, before improved methods of transportation had annihilated the barrier. The people along the Atlantic Ocean and those in the Mississippi valley lived really in two parallel north and south plains, having easier outlets through foreign countries and therefore more points of contact with them than with each other. Although obscured by the later north and south sectionalism, this east and west difference for many years caused a fear in the older portion that the newer or valley part would secede from it. This fear began with the troubles over the navigation of the Mississippi, it was renewed by Genet's intrigues, it reached its climax in Burr's expedition, and it subsided

The United States of America Part I - 5/54

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