Page images

sophical Society to effect the same object by subscription. It was actually undertaken by Michaux, the well-known botanist, under the auspices of the society; but after proceeding as far as Kentucky, his purpose was countermanded by the French minister in the United States.*

In looking about for a fit person to conduct this enterprise, no one presented himself to his mind possessed of so many of the requisite qualifications as Captain Meriwether Lewis, who, reared in his neighbourhood, had been long known to him, and had for nearly two years acted as his private secretary. His character is thus faithfully sketched by Mr. Jefferson in a memoir of his life prepared for the posthumous narrative of the expedition: "Of courage undaunted; possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction; careful as a father of those committed to his charge, yet steady in the maintenance of order and discipline; intimate with the Indian character, customs, and principles; habituated to the hunting life; guarded, by exact observation of the vegetables and animals of his own country, against losing time in the description of objects already possessed; honest, disinterested, liberal, of sound understanding, and a fidelity to truth so scrupulous, that whatever he should report would be as certain as if seen by ourselves." The event well justified the propriety of the selection.

The exploring party, exclusive of a small escort as far as the Mandans, consisted of twenty-eight individuals, carefully selected, exclusive of Captain Lewis and Captain Jonathan Clarke, who was second in command. This gentleman was the brother of George Rogers Clarke, and partook of his capacity to endure hardship and encounter danger, as well

* Captain Lewis even then proffered his services, and was willing to engage in the enterprise with a single companion. See Life of Captain Lewis, page xi.

as his practical good sense. Mr. Jefferson prepared with his own hand a set of instructions for Captain Lewis, which seem to embrace every object which wisdom and forecast could suggest.* The greater part of the year having been spent in making the necessary preparations, it was thought better that the party should not enter the Missouri till the spring; and it was actually the 14th of May, 1804, before they left the banks of the Mississippi. During this interval Mr. Jefferson maintained a frequent correspondence with Captain Lewis, sometimes giving such further information of the country as he had been able to acquire, and sometimes making suggestions suited to its recent cession to the United States, but all showing how near the object was to his heart.

One of the most important measures of Congress at this session was, a proposed amendment to the federal constitution, by which the individuals severally voted for as president and vice-president should be designated by the electors, so as to take away one of the chances of an election by the House of Representatives, where, every state having an equal vote, an election may be made by the representatives of a small minority; and thus that individual whom every one had voted for as vice-president, and to whom there was no objection for that office, might be elevated to an office for which no one had originally intended him. Such an issue was the more probable, as, generally speaking, the minority in the House, who had approved of neither of the two, would be likely to vote for the one who was the least acceptable to their opponents, that is, to the majority of the nation.

It is well deserving of notice that this feature of the con

*Though these instructions, as published, are dated the 20th of June, they were drawn and transmitted in the month of April. See Appendix (C).

stitution which it was now proposed to change, was the one which received the most ready and general approbation, as one which, by blending in one vote the first and second choice, was likely to elect the man who could command the greatest number of the suffrages of his countrymen, unbiassed by local partiality; it being naturally presumed that if an elector voted for one of the two because he was a resident of his own state, he would in making his second choice, where local feeling was not permitted to operate, be influenced by a regard to merit and fitness. Yet this provision, so acceptable and so plausible, it was found necessary to alter on the very second contested election; so difficult is it to know the operation of constitutional provisions until they have been tested by experiment. On this occasion, the error of those who framed the constitution consisted in supposing that the people, in choosing the electors of the president and vice-president, would look only to the qualifications, for this intermediate act, and not to the act itself; and that they would implicitly transfer to these electors the power of making a selection for them, without an attempt to control them an anticipation which now seems unwarranted by all former experience, and the common motives of human action. What seems still more remarkable is, that they very distinctly foresaw the lively interest which the people would take in the election of president, and it was with a view of tempering its force, and of guarding against those appeals which might corrupt or mislead it, that the device of an intermediate body of electors was resorted to; and yet it was supposed that this object, which they had so much at heart, would be forgotten in the execution of the means, and that they would not exercise the power they possessed of securing the fulfilment of their wishes, by voting for no elector without being first satisfied that his sentiments coincided with theirs on this cardinal point In fact, the constitution, in

withholding from the voters the right of voting for a president, meant not to make this a popular election; but in allowing them to vote for those who were to make the election, and to do nothing else, they virtually defeated their own purpose. We now know, that in voting for an elector, the people regard nothing but the individual for whom he is to vote; that no talents, virtues, or services are permitted to weigh as a feather against this, and that if they have a confidence that he will vote according to the pledges which he is always now required to give, they look for nothing


The subject was debated in a committee of the whole, as in the previous session; but the majority of two-thirds, required by the constitution, was not obtained until the following year.

Ohio, which had been under a territorial government for several years, was this year admitted into the Union. Its inhabitants by the preceding census amounted to 45,365.

Agreeably to the recommendation of the secretary of the treasury, with the approbation, no doubt, of the President, a part of the bank stock owned by the government was sold by the commissioners of the sinking fund. It was then anticipated by Mr. Jefferson and his friends that when the charter expired in 1809, it would not be renewed.

Among the measures which failed, was a proposition to recede to the states of Virginia and Maryland the territory constituting the District of Columbia. The arguments urged in favour of the measure were, that the inhabitants of the district were without political rights, they being unrepresented in the national legislature, though at the same time under its government; and that this political anomaly, so inconsistent with the cardinal principles of republican government, was discreditable to the constitution, and ought to be abolished. As, however, the people of the district

were, almost without exception, opposed to the recession, and it is not usual to consider as wrongs to others what those others regard as benefits, further motives must be sought to account for this measure; and they will be found in the wish of the members to transfer the seat of government to Philadelphia, either because it would be more acceptable to their constituents, or because that city strongly recommended itself to the individual members by its superior comforts and accommodations.

The committee to whom the subject was referred, reported in favour of the retrocession, but the House on the 9th of February, disagreed to their report, as to Virginia, by a majority of 66 to 26; and, as to Maryland, without a count. Of the preceding minority, 11 were from the southern states.

The recommendation of the President to repeal the discriminating duties did not receive the sanction of Congress. The merchants both of Philadelphia and New York petitioned against this repeal, and the subject, after being referred to the committee of the whole, was never finally acted on. The petitioners relied on the rapid increase of American shipping, under the system of discrimination, as conclusive evidence of its beneficial operation. But it was forgotten that before the existence of these duties, that is, before the existence of the federal government, there was discrimination in other countries, but none that was effectual here, for want of harmonious co-operation in the different states; and although a heavier duty on foreign tonnage may be advantageous to any nation to counteract the heavier duties to which its vessels are exposed, yet it does not follow that their mutual abolition would not be still more beneficial, and the United States had no experience on this point. They had tried the effect of mutual burthens on the trade between them and foreign nations, but they had not made the experiment of mutual exemption; and, supposing the discriminations

« PreviousContinue »