This article appears in the February 21, 2020 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
ATTEMPTED COUP D’ÉTAT OF 1791-1793
Feb. 14—Great change never occurs without true leadership. Leadership’s wisdom and intervention is indispensable for human advancement. This then poses the questions: What is leadership? What defines its essence? Why is it so crucial? And most importantly, in the year 2020,—What does this mean for me and how I lead my life?
Since 2016 we have witnessed an unprecedented political ferment among the population,—a greatly heightened political awareness and activity among growing numbers of individuals. The most obvious manifestation of this is in the United States, but it is also true for many, many nations throughout the world. In fact, a careful examination of political and social activity from Argentina to Britain to the Philippines makes clear that what we are now experiencing is a near universal phenomenon of political awakening throughout the planet. New initiatives and new potentials are emerging every day in many nations.
Some would characterize this as a Mass Strike process. It is better described by the poet Percy Shelley as a time where the human individual experiences “an accumulation of the power of communicating and receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respecting man and nature.” Countless numbers of people have become alive to the possibility of world-historical change, and they are discovering previously untapped resources within themselves to act upon the future.
If we are to succeed in accomplishing a great change for the better, however, it is of paramount importance to recognize that this recent up-tick in political morality among the people represents only a great potential,—a very welcome development, but one which can only be brought to victory if growing numbers of people develop within themselves the courage and the abilities to lead.
Today, we see such qualities emanating from a number of world leaders. If one looks at three recent speeches by President Donald Trump,—at the United Nations (September 24, 2019); at the World Economic Forum at Davos (January 20, 2020); and at the March for Life rally (January 24, 2020)—these speeches, combined with Trump’s Artemis initiative and his courageous fight against impeachment, represent a quality of active leadership that Americans have not seen in the White House in a long, long time.
Yet, leadership is not a quality relegated to only a chosen few; it is a compelling personal matter for each of us. If we are to win the fight before us, you can not afford to be a mere “supporter” or “follower.” Leadership is always in short supply, and victory is only possible if each of us accepts the challenge to lead,—and to develop the creative abilities and courage to do so effectively.
In this regard, studying the lives and actions of heroic leaders from the past is of great value. In examining the life of someone like Abraham Lincoln, for example, unsettling challenges arise in one’s heart and mind. In Lincoln or Washington we find great courage, yes, and also elevated morality. But there is also profound strategic judgement, an awareness of the battlefield and the axiomatic issues at stake. This is something that you have to work at, to strive to master. It is a life mission. This is also as true with music, science and economics as it is in the political realm.
In this paper, we offer an example of leadership in action. We present below the case of George Washington’s intervention to prevent the destruction of the young American Republic. History never exactly repeats itself, and there is no precise parallel of the events of 1789-1793 with our present-day crisis; yet, the echoes from those days still reverberate, and they speak to us in a manner which will enlighten our efforts today and guide each of us to take the actions now required.
I. The Republic
Over a four-year period, from 1787 to 1791, perhaps the greatest political revolution in human history was accomplished. Commonplace opinion points to the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War as the crowning achievement of that era, but it must be pointed out that throughout human history, there have been many revolutions; yet, none of them—up to that point—had produced a lasting republic. The American Revolution achieved independence, but it left the now free states in a condition of near anarchy and economic chaos.
In 1787 George Washington played a critical role in bringing into existence the Philadelphia Convention which would create the new Republic. He presided over that Convention, and his allies Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris shepherded the new Constitution to its final form, including the Preamble, which defined the intention of the new Republic. Through 1788 they, and others, conducted an intensive campaign to educate the populace as to the principles embodied in the new proposed government. Through this effort the thinking and morality of countless individuals were uplifted, transformed by an appreciation of what the future might be.
Washington took office as President in 1789, and for the next two years his most trusted cabinet official, Alexander Hamilton, effected a total revolution in economic and financial policy, one which created an entirely new system of sovereign Public Credit. This process culminated on February 25, 1791, when President Washington signed the legislation which brought the Bank of the United States into existence. A Republic that would guide its own destiny and utilize the power of Public Credit to the benefit of the General Welfare was now established.
II. The Trap of 1790-1791
Eleven weeks after the inauguration of George Washington, enraged mobs in the pay of the French-Swiss banker Jacques Necker stormed the Bastille, setting off the French Revolution. This event would not only initiate a nightmarish era for the people of France, it also established the blueprint which would be used to attack the newly created American Republic. In essence, the methods used to destroy France would be imported into the United States. This was Britain’s answer to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the inauguration of George Washington.
In November of 1790 the British/Irish member of Parliament Edmund Burke published his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a rambling denunciation of the French Revolution and defense of British oligarchical culture. One month later this pamphlet was answered by Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, and in March 1791, the first edition of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, a work which excoriated Burke, was published.
This “pamphlet war,” generated from within the British establishment, created a furor in Parliament, but its greatest impact was in the new United States. One of the reasons for this was that Burke had been a prominent British “friend of America” in the years from 1774 through 1783. As early as 1764, Burke had allied with the Marquis of Rockingham to oppose the Stamp Act. In addition, he opposed the tax on tea, cultivated a relationship with Benjamin Franklin in London, and on April 19, 1774, he delivered the famous “Speech on American Taxation,” in Parliament, calling for reconciliation with the colonies (a speech he delivered three days after a lengthy discussion with Franklin). From 1770 to 1775 he even served as the official agent for the colony of New York in Parliament, during which time he maintained an ongoing sympathetic communication with New York’s Committee of Correspondence.
Thus when Burke, in his 1790 Reflections, condemned the French Revolution and unashamedly lauded the tradition of the British aristocracy, political shock waves were felt from Richmond to Boston. Later, as the French Revolution descended into savagery, with the September Massacres of 1792 and the unleashing of the Reign of Terror in 1793, Burke’s work was deemed prophetic by Anglophiles on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1791, Thomas Paine answered Burke with his Rights of Man. Drawing on the Rousseauian themes earlier presented by Jefferson and Lafayette in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, Paine glorifies the French Revolution. His argument on behalf of unchecked human “liberty” is taken almost entirely from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government. For Paine—and for Jefferson—liberty is defined by the unleashing and protection of individual human appetites,—in the here and now—as opposed to any notion of a higher conception of happiness, to be found in the creative advancement of human productivity, in the power and joy of acting upon the future.
Between 1787 and 1789, Paine, Jefferson and Lafayette were all in Paris and collaborating very closely. Lafayette and Jefferson actually co-authored the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,—adopted on August 26, 1789 by the French National Constituent Assembly—and both subsequently contributed to Paine’s Rights of Man. This was during the period in which Jefferson stated his opposition to the Constitution adopted at Philadelphia in 1787, and the above-named writings are rife with Jefferson’s notions of “resistance to tyranny,” “agrarian republicanism” and libertarian “individual rights.” The unfortunate 1789 Declaration was essentially Jefferson’s answer to the American Constitution. Gouverneur Morris, who arrived in Paris in 1789, repeatedly warned Lafayette concerning his association with Jefferson and Paine.
Thus, the trap was set. By 1791, the controversy between Burke and Paine (both British subjects) defined the new battle-lines. The choice, as they posed it, was to stand with revolutionary France, or to stand with oligarchical Britain. This dynamic, particularly after the French declaration of war against Britain on February 1, 1793, would play out in the United States throughout the 1790s, exacerbated, in 1797, by the publication of the British/Scottish agent John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy.
The intention was to tear apart the political and social fabric of the United States exactly as had been done in France.
III. The Attempted Counter-Revolution
In the United States, the insurrection against Constitutional government began on February 23, 1791, in response to Alexander Hamilton’s issuance of his Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank and the signing into law two days later, by President Washington, the legislation creating the Bank of the United States.
The establishment of the National Bank and the creation of the system of sovereign Public Credit was violently opposed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as well as Jefferson’s protégé, James Monroe. In June of 1791, Jefferson and Madison traveled to New York City to meet with Aaron Burr and Robert Livingston to plot a campaign to destroy Hamilton. Three months later, Jefferson began to establish a series of newspapers, beginning with the National Gazette in Philadelphia. Others, including the treasonous Philadelphia Aurora, soon followed.
From the beginning of this conspiracy, Jefferson and his underlings posed the issue as one of “republicanism,” as defined by the new revolutionary government in France, versus British-allied “monarchical” interests.
These were not simply “political differences.” This was the unleashing of an attempted counter-revolution. The immediate goal was to drive Hamilton from office, reverse his banking and credit policies, obliterate the intention of the Constitution, and import the Jacobin disease into the United States. Keep in mind that in 1791, the American Republic had been in existence for only two years. Jefferson’s intention was to overthrow constitutional government before it could take root.
Initially, Jefferson’s efforts were concentrated on driving a wedge between Hamilton and Washington. This effort escalated after the release of Hamilton’s Report on the Subject of Manufactures on December 5, 1791. On May 23, 1792, Jefferson sent a letter to President Washington, charging that the “ultimate objective” of Hamilton’s system was “to prepare the way for a change from the present republican form of government to that of a monarchy.”
In August of 1792, Jefferson sent another letter to Washington, this time denouncing Hamilton as “a man whose history, from the moment at which history can stoop to notice him, is a tissue of machinations against the liberty of the country.”
The anti-Hamilton vendetta would culminate in the December 1792-February 1793 effort to drive Hamilton from office. In January of 1793, Jefferson authored a Congressional resolution accusing Hamilton of violating numerous laws. A second, revised version of the resolution read, “Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury has been guilty of maladministration in the duties of his office, and should, in the opinion of Congress, be removed from his office by the President of the United States.” This was, in effect, an impeachment resolution, and it was set before the House of Representatives on February 27, 1793. It was soundly defeated, with only five votes, including that of James Madison, favoring it.
IV. The Genêt Flight Forward
The accusation against Hamilton as a pro-British “monarchist,” presented by Jefferson in his May 23, 1792 letter to Washington, soon became the rallying cry of the Jeffersonian party and was echoed, ad nauseam, in the Gazette, Aurora and other Jeffersonian outlets, from Georgia to New Hampshire. Rallies and demonstrations were organized in numerous cities to combat the monarchist threat, and by the spring of 1793, Jefferson began organizing “Democratic Societies,” modeled explicitly on the Jacobin Clubs in France.
The insurrection took a giant step forward with the arrival of Edmond-Charles Genêt as the new French Ambassador to the United States on April 8, 1793. Landing in Charleston, South Carolina, Genêt was given a hero’s welcome, organized by the local allies of Jefferson. In his first speech in America, Genêt called upon the United States to join France in its war against Britain. He then proceeded to recruit and arm privateers to join French expeditions against the British, and he organized American volunteers to fight the Spanish in Florida. He embarked on a tour of the eastern seaboard, with parades and dinners held in his honor. Everywhere he spoke, he called upon members of his audience to rise up against the Washington Administration, which was blocking a French-American military alliance.
In Philadelphia Genêt was feted by the city fathers, with dinners and rallies organized in his honor. Liberty poles were erected throughout the town, and the Marseillaise was sung by large crowds. Shortly after his arrival, the Democratic Society of Philadelphia was organized, and this became the “mother” to more than 40 other Democratic Societies that were rapidly created throughout the nation, all modeled on the Jacobin Clubs of revolutionary France. These Societies were particularly strong in the west and the south, but they existed in every state. It was common at the meetings of these Societies that toasts would be drunk to the “French Republic” and the “defeat of monarchists.”
Jefferson and Madison were in the midst of all of this. James Monroe, who had certain talents as a writer, was deployed to author attacks on Hamilton and his friends in the Jeffersonian press. Through the spring and summer of 1793, Monroe penned numerous articles attacking Hamilton, culminating with an article in the Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser on September 4 that denounced Hamilton’s allies John Jay and Rufus King. A sample from that article, written under the nom de plume “Agricola,” gives the tone of Monroe’s writings throughout those months. Monroe writes:
The game which the enemies to the French revolution, who are likewise notoriously the partizans for Monarchy, are now playing, is intitled to particular attention. . . . a powerful faction is opposed to the great principles of the French revolution, and much more attached to the constitution of England, than to that of their own country. [Their intention is to] introduce this latter form of government here, upon the ruin of our own.
The problem for Jefferson and his allies was that they were not prepared in the summer of 1793 to openly attack Washington. Washington was universally popular, and had cemented both national unity and the Office of the Presidency with his three national tours of 1789, 1790 and 1791, during which he had visited all thirteen of the American states.
The British ‘Little Sarah’
Genêt, however, could not be restrained. When the Washington administration took action to curtail Genêt’s efforts to drag the United States into war against Great Britain, Genêt began to appeal to Congress, stating that the direction of foreign policy rested in that body, not with the Executive.
When that tactic failed, he announced publicly that he was prepared to take the fight directly to the people. He charged that Washington had succumbed to British influence, and began to organize an insurrection, through the Democratic Societies, to force the United States into war. The Pennsylvania Society, at Genêt’s direction, issued a resolution, asking, “Is our President, like the grand sultan of Constantinople, shut up in his apartment, and unacquainted with all talents or capacities but those of the seraskier or mufti that happens to be about him?” Jefferson, still maneuvering for influence within Washington’s cabinet, became frantic, writing to Madison that Genêt would “sink the republican interest” if not restrained.
This all came to a head in July/August, 1793 with the “Little Sarah Affair.” The Little Sarah was a British ship, captured by the French and brought to the port of Philadelphia. There, under Genêt’s personal direction, it was refitted as a privateer, manned by a crew of American citizens, renamed La Petite Démocrate and sent out to sea to attack British shipping in the Atlantic. After a series of emergency meetings of Washington’s cabinet, during which Jefferson was forced to distance himself from Genêt’s actions, on August 1 Washington ordered Jefferson to write to Gouverneur Morris in Paris with an official request demanding that the French government recall Genêt.
On August 23, James Monroe vented his frustration at the turn of events in a letter to John Brackenridge:
The monarchy party has seized a new ground whereon to advance their fortunes. The French minister has been guilty, in the vehemence of his zeal, of some indiscretions, slighting the President of the U. States, and instead of healing the breach, this party have brought it to the publick view & are labouring to turn the popularity of this respectable citizen [Washington], agnst the French revolution, thinking to separate us from France & pave the way for an unnatural connection with Britain.
The 1791-1793 attempt to oust Hamilton and force the United States into a war against Britain had failed. The Democratic Societies, along with Jefferson’s role in the government, were discredited. In August 1793 Jefferson informed Washington of his intention to resign as Secretary of State, which he did on December 1. The crushing of the armed uprising unleashed by the Democratic Societies the next year (known misleadingly as the “Whiskey Rebellion”), with Washington taking the field as Commander-and-Chief of a 13,000-person militia force, completed the defeat of the insurrection.
V. True Leadership:
The Proclamation of Neutrality
In the midst of the Crisis of 1793, on April 22, President Washington issued “The Proclamation of Neutrality.” Unlike a number of Washington’s speeches and executive statements, in which he had collaborated closely with Hamilton, the Proclamation was authored and issued by Washington himself. We reprint it here, in full:
By the President of the United States of America
Whereas it appears that a state of war exists between Austria, Prussia, Sardinia, Great Britain, and the United Netherlands, of the one part, and France on the other; and the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent Powers;
I have therefore thought fit by these presents to declare the disposition of the United States to observe the conduct aforesaid towards those Powers respectfully; and to exhort and warn the citizens of the United States carefully to avoid all acts and proceedings whatsoever, which may in any manner tend to contravene such disposition.
And I do hereby also make known, that whatsoever of the citizens of the United States shall render himself liable to punishment or forfeiture under the law of nations, by committing, aiding, or abetting hostilities against any of the said Powers, or by carrying to any of them those articles which are deemed contraband by the modern usage of nations, will not receive the protection of the United States, against such punishment or forfeiture; and further, that I have given instructions to those officers, to whom it belongs, to cause prosecutions to be instituted against all persons, who shall, within the cognizance of the courts of the United States, violate the law of nations, with respect to the Powers at war, or any of them.
In testimony whereof, I have caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed to these presents, and signed the same with my hand. Done at the city of Philadelphia, the twenty-second day of April, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the seventeenth.
This Proclamation was the decisive intervention. With one single act, Washington broke the back of Jefferson’s insurrection. With it, Washington established two critical precedents: First, that it was the executive, not the legislature, that would direct U.S. foreign policy. This is an indispensable feature of the U.S. Presidential system. Second, that America would not be drawn into oligarchical wars, but would follow a policy of even-handedness toward all.
This Proclamation was followed one month later by Alexander Hamilton’s Open Letter to the American people, titled “Defense of the President’s Neutrality Proclamation.” One section reads:
At this moment a most dangerous combination exists. Those who for some time past have been busy in undermining the constitution and government of the United States, by indirect attacks, by labouring to render its measures odious, by striving to destroy the confidence of the people in its administration—are now meditating a more direct and destructive war against it—and embodying and arranging their forces and systematising their efforts. Secret clubs are formed and private consultations held. Emissaries are dispatched to distant parts of the United States to effect a concert of views and measures, among the members and partisans of the disorganizing corps, in the several states. . . .
The ground which has been so wisely taken by the Executive of the United States, in regard to the present war of Europe against France, is to be the pretext of this mischievous attempt. The people are if possible to be made to believe, that the Proclamation of Neutrality issued by the President of the U.S. was unauthorized illegal and officious—inconsistent with the treaties and plighted faith of the Nation—inconsistent with a due sense of gratitude to France for the services rendered us in our late contest for independence and liberty—inconsistent with a due regard for the progress and success of republican principles. Already the presses begin to groan with invective against the Chief Magistrate of the Union, for that prudent and necessary measure; a measure calculated to manifest to the World the pacific position of the Government and to caution the citizens of the United States against practices, which would tend to involve us in a War the most unequal and calamitous. . . .
Hamilton followed this Open Letter with a series of seven articles, published in the Gazette of the United States and written under the name Pacificus. The first of these was titled “Assertion of Presidential authority to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality.” Then, in February of 1794, Hamilton continued his attack with two new articles, published in the American Daily Advertiser and written under the name of Americanus.
The primary theme in these writings is Hamilton’s insistence on the Constitutional authority of the President to issue a Proclamation of Neutrality binding on the entire nation. In this he is defending the very Constitution the which he had been the author of the final form. Jefferson and Madison denied this executive power, and their views go all the way back to the opening of the Constitutional Convention, when Madison’s original “Virginia Plan” envisioned an Executive and a Judiciary which both would be subservient to Legislative Power, exactly the scenario which was later attempted in revolutionary France with the creation of the National Assembly.
Jefferson and his friends continued their slanders that Hamilton and others who had Washington’s ear were pro-British monarchists. But the lie is put to those charges by simply examining the special mission of Gouverneur Morris to London in 1790. Washington deployed Morris to enter into negotiations with the British government to settle unresolved disputes with Britain left over from the 1783 Treaty of Paris, particularly the continuing British occupation of forts on American soil along the Great Lakes and in the West. Morris, a Francophile, spent eleven months in London, during which he took a very confrontational approach with William Pitt, the Duke of Leeds and other British negotiators. He made his presence as unwelcome to the British elites as he was later with the French Jacobins.
In London, Morris also was able to observe both sides of the oligarchical spider’s web. He witnessed a speech of Edmund Burke before the House of Lords, dismissing Burke’s argument as “confused” and his thinking as “marred.” He also attended a dinner with Richard Price, Burke’s English nemesis and Thomas Paine’s closest collaborator in England. He describes Price simply as “one of the Liberty-mad People.” Morris would not be ensnared in Britain’s left-versus-right trap.
VI. The Republic Endures
As for Washington, in his 1796 “Farewell Address,” he reiterated his vision:
In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my proclamation of the twenty-second of April, 1793, is the index of my plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your representatives in both houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.
After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness. . . .
The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without anything more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.
Consider that concluding phrase,—“to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.” With those words, Washington defined an entirely new principle of how a republic should conduct its affairs with other nations. This approach would later be called “A Community of Principle Among Nations,” but the origin of this outlook flowed from the mind and utterances of Washington.
The Washington Presidency is a staggering lesson for each of us. Washington, personally, was operating entirely in uncharted territory. Never before in human history had there been an elected president of a constitutional republic. No one knew how it would work. No one knew if it would last. He had to create something entirely new. He had to define what it meant to be President of a Republic. And he had to continue to do so every day—with new initiatives and new decisions—for eight years.
After 1797, America would suffer many tribulations, including the mistakes of the Adams Presidency and the subsequent 24 years of rule by the Virginia slavocracy,—the effects of which created profound problems and dangers—but the defeat of the 1791-1793 coup and the victory of the 1789-1797 establishment of Constitutional government and Hamiltonian Public Credit created a turning point in human history which could not be eradicated.
This is what personal leadership can accomplish.
VII. Victory Depends on You
In 1794 Friedrich Schiller, witnessing the degeneration of the French Revolution into savagery, stated that “a great moment has found a little people.”
In December 1792, Gouverneur Morris, then the U.S. Ambassador in Paris, writing to Thomas Pinckney in London, addressed the issue in his own way:
Success as you will see, continues to crown the French Arms, but it is not our Trade to judge from Success . . . . You will soon learn that the Patriots hitherto adored were but little worthy of the Incense they received. The Enemies of those who now reign treat them as they did their Predecessors and as their Successors will be treated. Since I have been in this Country, I have seen the Worship of many Idols and but little acknowledgement of the true God. I have seen many of those Idols broken, and some of them beaten to Dust. I have seen the late Constitution in one short Year admired as a stupendous Monument of human Wisdom and ridiculed as an egregious Production of Folly and Vice. I wish much, very much, the Happiness of this inconstant People. I love them. I feel grateful for their Efforts in our Cause and I consider the Establishment of a good Constitution here as the principal Means, under divine Providence, of extending the blessings of Freedom to the many millions of my fellow Men who groan in Bondage on the Continent of Europe. But I do not greatly indulge the flattering Illusions of Hope, because I do not yet perceive that Reformation of Morals without which Liberty is but an empty Sound.
Leadership is at heart just such a moral issue. It poses the question: How shall I lead my life? What is my responsibility to my fellow man and to the future? Leadership is fundamentally an act of sacrifice,—to surrender oneself to a higher purpose. It is a willingness to stake all—career, prestige, social standing and relationships—upon an action which one knows to be both correct and necessary. It involves, as the saying goes, “sticking one’s neck out.”
How is one to know if the chosen goal and the selected actions are the right ones? The only guidepost is that one’s actions be motivated through a spirit of agapē and a determination to advance the human condition through science, art and upward human development; a determination to develop one’s own creative judgement and power. If that motivation exists, then all one has to do is work on it. Relentlessly. Hard work will not, in itself, produce either creativity or leadership, but neither is possible without a willingness to work hard. In one sense, what we are speaking of is a passionate commitment to self-betterment, in the best sense of that term,—to improve one’s powers of judgement, to strengthen one’s courage to act.
The life of George Washington shines forth to provide lessons for today, but these are not textbook lessons, to be studied and filed away. Our tasks are real and immediate,—to create the new initiatives, the new flanks, the new victories that will decide the path humanity will take in the immediate years ahead. Essentially, individual life is a series of decisions. How we decide to act now will determine the future.