Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Encroachments of France

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Encroachments of France

By Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804)

[The Stand. 30 March, 1798.—The Works of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by John C. Hamilton. 1850.]

THE ENLIGHTENED friends of America never saw greater occasion of disquietude than at the present juncture. Our nation, through its official organs, has been treated with studied contempt and systematic insult: essential rights of the country are perseveringly violated, and its independence and liberty eventually threatened, by the most flagitious, despotic and vindictive government that ever disgraced the annals of mankind; by a government marching with hasty and colossal strides to universal empire—and in the execution of this hideous project, wielding with absolute authority the whole physical force of the most enthralled, but most powerful nation on earth. In a situation like this, how great is the cause to lament, how afflicting to every heart, alive to the honor and interests of its country, to observe, that distracted and inefficient councils, that a palsied and unconscious state of the public mind afford too little assurance of measures adequate either to the urgency of the evils which are felt, or to the magnitude of the dangers which are in prospect.

When Great Britain attempted to wrest from us those rights, without which we must have descended from the rank of freemen, a keen and strong sense of injury and danger ran with electric swiftness through the breasts of our citizens. The mass and weight of talents, property, and character, hastened to confederate in the public cause. The great body of our community everywhere burnt with a holy zeal to defend it, and were eager to make sacrifices on the altar of their country.

If the nation with which we were called to contend was then the preponderating power of Europe, if by her great wealth and the success of her arms she was in a condition to bias or to awe the cabinets of princes; if her fleets covered and domineered over the ocean, facilitating depredation and invasion; if the penalties of rebellion hung over an unsuccessful contest; if America was yet in the cradle of her political existence; if her population little exceeded two millions; if she was without government, without fleets or armies, arsenals, or magazines, without military knowledge; still her citizens had a just and elevated sense of her rights, were thoroughly awake to the violence and injustice of the attack upon them; saw the conduct of her adversary without apology or extenuation; and under the impulse of these impressions and views, determined, with little short of unanimity, to brave every hazard in her defence.

This magnanimous spirit was the sure pledge that all the energies of the country would be exerted to bring all its resources into action; that whatever was possible would be done towards effectual opposition; and this, combined with the immense advantage of distance, warranted the expectation of ultimate success. The event justified the expectation and rewarded the glorious spirit from which it was derived.

Far different is the picture of our present situation! the five tyrants of France, after binding in chains their own countrymen, after prostrating surrounding nations, and vanquishing all external resistance to the revolutionary despotism at home, without the shadow of necessity, with no discernible motive, other than to confirm their usurpation and extend the sphere of their domination abroad—these implacable tyrants obstinately and remorselessly persist in prolonging the calamities of mankind, and seem resolved, as far as they can, to multiply and perpetuate them. Acting upon the pretension to universal empire, they have at length in fact, though not in name, decreed war against all nations not in league with themselves; and towards this country in particular, they add to a long train of unprovoked aggressions and affronts the insupportable outrage of refusing to receive the extraordinary ambassadors whom we sent to endeavor to appease and conciliate. Thus have they, in regard to us, filled up the measure of national insult and humiliation. ’Tis not in their power, unless we are accomplices in the design, to sink us lower. ’Tis only in our own power to do this by an abject submission to their will….

This country had doubtless powerful motives to cultivate peace. It is its policy, for the sake of this object, to go a great way in yielding secondary interests, and to meet injury with patience, as long as it could be done without the manifest abandonment of essential rights—without absolute dishonor. But to do more than this is suicide in any people who have the least chance of contending with effect. The conduct of our government has corresponded with the cogent inducements to a pacific system. Towards Great Britain it displayed forbearance—towards France it hath shown humility. In the case of Great Britain its moderation was attended with success. But the inexorable arrogance and rapacity of the oppressors of unhappy France bar all the avenues to reconciliation as well as to redress, accumulating upon us injury and insult, till there is no choice left but between resistance and infamy. My countrymen, can ye hesitate which to prefer? Can ye consent to taste the brutalizing cup of disgrace; to wear the livery of foreign masters; to put on the hateful fetters of foreign bondage? Will it make any difference to you, that the badge of your servitude is a cap rather than an epaulet? Will tyranny be less odious because five instead of one inflict the rod? What is there to deter you from the manful vindication of your rights and your honor?

With an immense ocean rolling between the United States and France; with ample materials for ship-building, and a body of hardy seamen more numerous and more expert than France can boast; with a population exceeding five millions, spread over a wide extent of country, offering no one point, the seizure of which, as of the great capitals of Europe, might decide the issue; with a soil liberal of all the productions that give strength and resource; with the rudiments of the most essential manufactures, capable of being developed in proportion to our want; with a numerous, and, in many quarters, well-appointed militia; with respectable revenues and a flourishing credit; with many of the principal sources of taxation yet untouched; with considerable arsenals, and the means of extending them; with experienced officers ready to form an army under the command of the same illustrious chief who before led them to victory and glory, and who, if the occasion should require it, could not hesitate to obey the summons of his country; what a striking and encouraging contrast does this situation in many respects present to that in which we defied the thunder of Britain! What is there in it to excuse or palliate the cowardice and baseness of a tame surrender of our rights to France?