By Angelos Repousis
On August 15, 1823, President James Monroe’s cabinet discussed a request from Andreas Luriottis, agent of the Greek provisional government, for aid and recognition, as well as a proposal by Albert Gallatin, the U. S. minister to France, for Greek assistance. In one of his last dispatches, Gallatin proposed that the United States send a naval force to the Mediterranean and lend money to the Greeks. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams alone opposed Gallatin’s plan. He believed that any military or financial assistance extended by the United States would place the country in a state of war with Turkey, and possibly with the Barbary powers. Adams wrote Luriottis that while Americans cheered “with their best wishes the cause of the Greeks,” they were “forbidden by the duties of their situation, from taking part in the war to which their relation” was “that of neutrality.”14
During November 1823, as Monroe was preparing the annual message to Congress that became the Monroe Doctrine, he seriously considered recognizing Greek independence. Adams quickly became alarmed at this prospect and advised the president to reconsider. The secretary opposed projecting even the appearance of American entanglement in European politics, especially when the administration was facing the possibility of European intervention in South America in order to restore the former Spanish colonies to Madrid’s rule. Adams advised Monroe to balance a stand against European interference in South America with a repudiation of American involvement in European affairs. In the end, Monroe accepted his
secretary’s advice; the final draft of his message contained no recognition of
Not satisfied with the contents of President Monroe’s message to Congress, philhellenes revived their pressure on their representatives to do more for the Greeks. One individual, writing under the pseudonym “Harmodius,” wrote to the editor of the National Gazette proclaiming that it was the “duty of our government as a democracy to yield the Greeks effectual assistance.” Possessing a patriotic and nationalistic spirit, Harmodius believed that the United States, as the champion of human liberty, had the obligation to continue the struggle for freedom and support others in their quest to win the same liberties that Americans themselves had achieved. Noting a similarity between the revolutionary generation of 1776 and the Greeks, he was convinced that if Greece succeeded in its struggle it would establish a republican form of government resembling America’s and added that a liberated Greece would be beneficial to the United States since the parallels in political institutions would make Greece “our friend and ally.”16 Other pro-Greek supporters in the city expressed corresponding sentiments.17
At this time, various lawmakers, probably influenced by the appeals mad on behalf of Greece by some of their fellow citizens, began to take a renewed interest in the subject of Greek independence. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Albert Gallatin, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Edward Everett were just some of the country’s leading statesmen who voiced their desire for the creation of a Greek national state liberated from Ottoman domination. Some of the nation’s governors included an appeal for recognition in their messages to their legislatures. Referring to Greece as the “mother of republics,” Pennsylvania’s newly elected governor, J. Andrew Schulz, expressed scorn for the European powers, who looked on “with folded arms” while the “Turkish barbarians” inflicted untold atrocities upon a Christian people who were struggling for freedom. Meanwhile, pro-Greek supporters found a sympathetic ear within the halls of Congress as the House of Representatives finally entered into a debate concerning the situation in Greece.18
On December 8, 1823, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts brought the Greek issue before Congress by introducing a resolution calling on the president to appoint an agent or commissioner to Greece whose sole objective would be to obtain firsthand information on the state of affairs in that country. Webster’s resolution was supported by a number of prominent congressmen, including Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Clay believed, as did Webster, that the United States, as the great exemplar of republican government and as the “last depository of human hope and human freedom,” had an obligation to lend its moral support to the Greek cause.19
Despite the support of such luminaries, the Greek cause encountered severe criticism from many quarters. Boston merchants were particularly anxious over the prospect of the federal government sending an agent to Greece. Such a measure, they believed, would disrupt American trade in the Mediterranean and jeopardize the lives and property of Americans residing in the Ottoman Empire. But foremost among the resolution’s critics was John Quincy Adams who, as previously mentioned, was instrumental in dissuading Monroe from formally recognizing Hellenic independence.20
Lobbying with members of the House, Adams maneuvered for the defeat of Webster’s resolution. Adams intended the administration only to express its wishes for the success of the Greeks. For Adams, the role of the United States as “moral leader” of the world did not oblige the government to assist other nations struggling for independence. He was simply not prepared to jeopardize U. S. national interests for the sake of other nations.21 John Randolph of Virginia best captured the sentiments of a number of anti-Greek critics when he proclaimed that the duty of Congress was to “guard the interests of the people of the United States, not to guard the rights of other people.”22 Ultimately, the participants involved in the debate sided with Adams’s view that involvement in European affairs carried inordinate risks for America. After a week of deliberation, the House as a Committee of the Whole voted 131 to 0 to table Webster’s resolution.23 But this did not mean that Greece was forsaken. Positive action in support of Greece could be taken through private initiatives. The various philhellenic societies which sprang into being in the fall of 1823 soon took the lead abdicated by the federal government.
Not satisfied with the government’s stance on the Greek issue, supporters questioned whether U.S. sympathy for the suffering Greeks should be confined to “sighs and wishes.”24 In Philadelphia, Robert Walsh expressed in the columns of his National Gazette his considerable regret over the lack of interest in Hellenic independence on the part of U.S. officials.25 And the editor of the Aurora General Advertiser, Richard Penn Smith, declared that he was sickened to find so much “want of American feeling, of manliness, of humanity, among so many of our great men of the land.” He could not believe that the “dastardly, cold, calculating sentiments” emanating from Congress “could ever find refuge in a single American bosom, or could ever dare issue from American lips.” As far as he was concerned, a nation’s liberty should be valued more than a “cargo of figs.”26
Even as the Monroe administration was considering the possible recognition of Greek belligerency and independence, Grecophiles launched a spirited campaign to arouse public sentiment. Prior movements had lacked a crusading leader.
Edward Everett, the eminent professor of Greek language and literature at Harvard College and editor of the influential North American Review, filled the bill admirably. Having made the pilgrimage to Greece in 1819, Everett was considered to be the “foremost American Hellenist.”27 His eloquent article in the October 1823 edition of the North American Review outlined a course of action for all Americans who wished to aid the Greeks. Everett spoke passionately of the tremendous suffering inflicted upon the Christian inhabitants of Greece, comparing their struggle to that of the revolutionary generation of 1776. The Greeks had a right to freedom, he said, because they were the heirs of the ancient Greeks to whom Western civilization owed a great deal. For Everett, the Greek revolt presented an opportunity for Americans to repay that debt. He suggested that Americans in their private capacity could render substantial assistance to the Greek cause in the form of money and supplies.28
Everett’s appeal generated a warm response among Greek sympathizers. In Philadelphia, Robert Walsh reprinted the Harvard professor’s entire article and recommended that his readers give it careful consideration. Soon thereafter, other Philadelphia newspapers began advocating a policy along the lines proposed by Everett. The Franklin Gazette considered it “impossible for the sincere republican or the true philanthropist… to avoid sympathizing with those gallant sires, who are now devoting life and property to the redemption of their liberty and fame.” The paper envisioned a generous solicitude for Hellenic liberty and expressed “an active anxiety to alleviate their distresses.”29
Within weeks of Everett’s appeal, public meetings in virtually every American city and town passed resolutions of sympathy and appointed committees to call upon the people for monetary donations. On December 10, 1823, the Franklin Gazette issued an invitation to those Philadelphia citizens interested in the “glorious cause of the Greeks,” to meet at the Masonic Hall on December 11 “to devise means for the emancipation of that brave and suffering people.” At the meeting a committee was named to prepare resolutions expressing sympathy for “our Christian brethren, the Greeks, heroically struggling for their lives, liberties, and religion.”30
The meeting attracted some of the city’s most prominent and respected citizens. Foremost among them was Mathew Carey, an Irish immigrant and publisher whose efforts in promoting the Greek cause, most historians agree, ranked second only to Everett. Having fled from political and religious persecution in Ireland in 1784, Carey found a strong kinship with those fighting for freedom in Greece. To his biographers, Carey’s benevolence toward the Greeks was in character with his other philanthropic efforts. In the early 1790s, he formed the Hibernian Society for the relief of Irish immigrants; and in 1829, the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor was founded following Carey’s suggestions. Carey was also a proponent of improved working conditions and better pay for women. Indeed, for many years he had been actively engaged in charitable work in Philadelphia, getting behind any good cause that came to his attention.31
In many respects the fund raising campaign of 1826-27 was plagued with the same prejudices as the previous campaign of 1823-24. Reports of piracy and disunion among the Greeks made it difficult for philhellenes to glorify the Greeks as worthy recipients of U.S. beneficence. To help counteract this negative image, the Aurora and Franklin Gazette published an extract from a letter written by the Reverend Jonas King, who had been a missionary stationed in the eastern Mediterranean. As someone with firsthand knowledge of the situation, King undertook the task of redeeming the Greek character. Though he conceded that a number of Greeks resorted to acts of piracy, he excused their actions as the logical consequence of nearly four hundred years of Turkish rule. Moreover, King argued, the Greeks possessed the “genius and talents” of their glorious ancestors, and he believed that they were ready and willing to receive the sacred scripture and to establish schools for the instruction of their children.
King asked, “is there nothing noble in such a nation?” “What might be expected from such a nation in twenty or thirty years?” he wondered.76 The friends of Greece in Philadelphia concurred. While admitting that the Greeks were only a little less barbarous than their oppressors, Grecophiles took exception to those who were unwilling to make allowances for the “debasing effects of ages of the most galling and grinding tyranny.”77
By March 1, 1827, the Philadelphia committee had collected $11,177 in subscriptions for the relief of the Greeks. While this sum was nearly three times the amount collected in the fund-raising campaign of 1824, pro-Gree spokesmen like Mathew Carey remained unsatisfied. He was particularly disappointed that only $5,824 had been raised in the city. To his chagrin only twenty-two individuals contributed thirty dollars or more. Undaunted, Carey and other committee members renewed their efforts, issuing twenty thousand copies of forty-three different appeals and arguments to spur their fellow citizens into raising a fund “creditable to the liberality of its citizens.”78
14 Charles Francis Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Comprising Portions of His Diary, 1795-1848 (12 vok, Philadelphia, 1874-77), 6:173,194-99; Adams to Luriottis, Aug. 18,1823, U.S. Congress. Message from the President of the United States transmitting a report of the Secretary of State upon the subject of the present condition and future prospects of the Greeks (Dec. 31,1823), 18th Cong., 1st sess., H. Doc. 14, serial 93, vol. 1. See also Lawrence S. Kaplan, “The Monroe Doctrine and the Truman Doctrine: The Case of Greece,” Journal of the Early Republic 13 (1993), 13; Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), 214-18; and Paul C. Pappas, The United States and the
Greek War for Independence, 1821-1828 (Boulder, Colo., 1985), 50-51.
15 C. F. Adams, ed., Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, 6:197-99; see also Kaplan, “Monroe Doctrine,” 12-13, 20; May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine y 216-18; Pappas, United States and the Greek War, 57-60; Samuel Flagg Bemis,/o^« Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York, 1969), 388-89; and Edward M. Earle, “Early American Policy Concerning Ottoman Minorities,” Political Science Quarterly 62 (1927), 346-51.
16 National Gazette, Dec. 23,1823. 17 An editorial in the Dec. 16, 1823, issue of the Franklin Gazette proclaimed that the “cause of the Greeks” was “the same as that for which our fathers fought in 1776,” but the paper’s editor added a disclaimer when he wrote that the Greeks were struggling “against an oppression far more bitter than . . . unjust taxation.”
18 Kaplan, “Monroe Doctrine,” 10; Earle, “Early American Policy,” 352; and Myrtle Cline, American Attitude Toward the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1828 (Atlanta, 1930), 60. Governor Schulz’s remarks were reprinted in the columns of the National Gazette^ Dec.
19, 1823. “Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., Dec. 8,1823, 805-6; Jan. 19,1824,1086-87,1092-93; and Jan. 23,1824,1173-78. Among those who endorsed Webster’s resolution were Henry Dwight and Francis Baylies of Massachusetts, Daniel P. Cook of Illinois, and Samuel Houston of Tennessee. See also Kaplan, “Monroe Doctrine,” 15-16; and Pappas, United States and the Greek War, 68-70.
20 Cline, American Attitude, 83-85; and Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., Jan. 24,1824, 1199.
21 Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., Jan. 20,1111; see also Pappas, United States and the Greek War, 69-70; Kaplan, “Monroe Doctrine,” 16; and May, Making of the Monroe Doctrine, 234.
22 Other critics of Webster’s resolution included Silas Wood of New York, Ichabod Bartlett of New Hampshire, and Christopher Rankin of Mississippi. See Annals of Congress, 18th Cong., 1st sess., Jan. 20-22,1824,1111-12,1132-34,1153,1159.
23 Kaplan, “Monroe Doctrine,” 17-20; May, Making of the Monroe Doctrine, 228-40. What is surprising about the results of the congressional debate is how Greek supporters within the House seemingly conceded defeat without a fight. Kaplan argues that pro-Greek congressmen like Clay were more interested in taking a stand on a popular issue than in pursuing the Greek cause. May postulates that the outcome can best be explained in terms of domestic politics, particularly a preoccupation with the upcoming presidential election. Clay, for example, was a leading candidate for the presidency in 1824; his principal adversary, other than Andrew Jackson, was Adams. Recognizing that the secretary was dubious about recognition, Clay and other rivals might have hoped to paint Adams into a corner on the issue. In any event, when the Greek issue ran into opposition, they were more than willing to forego Greece for other causes.
24 United States Gazette, Dec. 9, 1823.
25 National Gazette, Jan. 29,1824.
26 Aurora General Advertiser, Dec. 29,1823, and Jan. 30, 1824. Not everyone voiced displeasure over the defeat of Webster’s resolution. In an editorial for the Philadelphia Gazette and Daily Advertiser (a pro-Adams daily), the editor, while sympathetic to Greece’s plight, was not ready to abandon the “traditional” U.S. policy of neutrality in foreign affairs in favor of quixotic adventures. Calling on members of Congress to act like “statesmen,” he hoped Congress would not “shift the responsibility of its own acts, from itself to the people.” In other words, he did not believe that public opinion should influence government policy. But the editor of the Philadelphia Gazette, while opposed to direct government involvement, did acknowledge that individuals were still free to indulge their feelings as men and contribute to aid the embattled Greeks.
27 Larrabee, Hellas Observed, 41.
28 Everett’s article was printed in the North American Review 17 (1823), 392-423. For more information concerning Everett’s activities on behalf of the Greeks see Earle, “American Interests,” 47-48; Cline, American Attitude, 30-37; and Pappas, United States and the Greek War, 34.
29 Franklin Gazette, Dec. 16,1823; see also National Gazette, Nov. 7,1823.
30 Franklin Gazette, Dec. 10, 1823; see also United States Gazette, Dec. 11 and 13, 1823.
31 Cline, American Attitude, 55-57; E. L. Bradsher, Mathew Carey, Editor, Author and Publisher (New York, 1912), 69-78.
76 Aurora and Franklin Gazette, Jan. 27,1827.
77 Mathew Carey, Sir, The annexed resolution and the appended papers, are respectfully submitted to your consideration (Phila., Apr. 26, 1827), 1-7. See also U.S. Gazette, May 1, 1827.
78 Carey, Miscellaneous Essays, 304-5, 307. See also U.S. Gazette, May 1, 1827, and Curti, American Philanthropy Abroad, 31.