“To Recover Self-Government”
The Partisan Inferno, 1797–1798
THE UNITED STATES AND FRANCE, allies since 1778, verged on a collision as Adams' inauguration approached. Caught in a desperate war and convinced that the Jay Treaty signified a rapprochement with Great Britain, France announced in 1796 that it would not tolerate trade between the United States and Great Britain. Washington responded to the challenge by sending Charles Cotesworth Pinckney to Paris to seek an accommodation. 1 Three days after he took office, President Adams learned not only that the Directory, the French government, had refused to accept Pinckney but that French depredations against American commerce were occurring on the high seas. 2 President Adams had a full-blown crisis on his hands.
He quickly summoned his cabinet to discuss the appropriate response. All the secretaries, except Attorney General Charles Lee of Virginia, were Federalist firebrands with close ties to Alexander Hamilton. Oliver Wolcott, at the Treasury, was the grandson of a colonial governor of Connecticut and son of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had studied and then practiced law during the War of Independence, and eventually entered public life at the state level. Courteous, outgoing, and respected for his punctiliousness, honesty, and industry, Wolcott had caught Hamilton's eye while serving as the comptroller in Connecticut, and was brought to the national capital in 1789 as the auditor in the new Treasury Department. From that point forward, he was devoted to Hamilton,