"There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with
power to endanger the public liberty." - - - - John Adams

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Robert Goodloe Harper - "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

Robert Goodloe Harper
Veteran of the Revolutionary War
Congressman from South Carolina
U.S. Senator from Maryland
Major General in the War of 1812
1816 & 1820 Candidate for Vice President
Federalist Party

(Editor's Note - For a change of pace this winter we will do profiles of some of the Federalists who helped create this great nation. They gave us Liberty. But would they even recognize the centralized authoritarian and socialistic Big Brother nation that calls itself the United States?)

Robert Goodloe Harper (January 1765 – January 14, 1825), a Federalist, was a member of the United States Senate from Maryland, serving from January 1816 until his resignation in December of the same year.

He also served in the South Carolina House of Representatives (1790–1795), the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina (1795–1801), and in the Maryland State Senate. He is best remembered for the phrase, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."

The town of Harper, Liberia is named after him.

Early Life

Harper, the fifth child and first son of Jesse Harper and Emily Diana Goodloe was born near Fredericksburg, Virginia in January 1765 and moved with his parents to Granville, North Carolina around 1769. He received his early education at home and later attended grammar school.

At the age of fifteen, Harper joined a volunteer corps of Cavalry and served in the American Revolutionary Army.

He made a surveying tour through Kentucky and Tennessee in 1783, and graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1785. He studied law in Charleston, South Carolina, teaching school at the same time, and was admitted to the bar in 1786. He commenced practice in the Ninety-Sixth District of South Carolina, moving back to Charleston, S.C. in 1789.

Political career in South Carolina

Harper was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1790 until 1795, at which time he was elected from South Carolina to the Third Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Alexander Gillon. He was reelected to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Congresses but was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1800 to the Seventh Congress, serving as a U.S Representative from February 9, 1795 to March 1801.

While in Congress, he was the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in the Fifth and Sixth Congresses.

Harper was one of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in 1798 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against William Blount.

XYZ Affair
A British political cartoon depicting the affair: America is represented by the woman, who is being plundered by five Frenchmen. The figures grouped off to the right are other European countries; John Bull, representing Great Britain, sits laughing on a hill.

XYZ Affair   -   France wants a bribe
  • France says, "Pay us money and we won't attack you."

"Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute."
-- Representative Robert Goodloe Harper

The XYZ Affair was a political and diplomatic episode in 1797 and 1798, early in the administration of John Adams, involving the United States and Republican France. Its name derives from the substitution of the letters X, Y and Z for the names of French diplomats in documents released by the Adams administration.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney headed
the American commission to France.

An American diplomatic commission was sent to France in July 1797 to negotiate issues that were threatening to break out into war. The diplomats, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry, were approached through informal channels by agents of the French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, who demanded bribes and a loan before formal negotiations could begin.

Three French agents, called X, Y and Z by President Adams, met with the three Americans. In exchange for a meeting with Talleyrand, the agents demanded a $12 million dollar loan for France, a personal bribe of $250,000 for Talleyrand, and a formal apology from President Adams for insults to France. The American delegates were outraged.

Although such demands were not uncommon in European diplomacy of the time, the Americans were offended by them, and eventually left France without ever engaging in formal negotiations. Gerry, seeking to avoid all-out war, remained for several months after the other two commissioners left. His exchanges with Talleyrand laid groundwork for the eventual end to diplomatic and military hostilities.

The failure of the commission led to an undeclared naval war called the Quasi-War (1798 to 1800), and caused a political firestorm in the United States when the commission's dispatches were published.

Harper was elected as a Federalist Congressman from South Carolina (1795 - 1801).

In 1798 at a dinner in Philadelphia honoring John Marshall, a group of U.S. Congressmen were discussing a recent demand made by the government of France. French vessels had been plundering US ships in a piratical manner.

French foreign minister Talleyrand said the attacks would be stopped if the US paid him $250,000 and gave France 50,000 pounds sterling and a $100 million loan. As toasts were made, Harper sent his own defiant reply to the French with this toast: “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”

Federalists who controlled the government took advantage of the national anger to build up the nation's military. They also criticized the Democratic-Republican Party for its pro-French stance, and Elbridge Gerry (a nonpartisan at the time) for what they saw as his role in the commission's failure.

During the winter of 1798, 14 American warships backed by 200 armed merchant ships captured 80 French vessels and forced French warships out of American waters. But the President refused to ask Congress for an official declaration of war. This is why this conflict is known as the quasi-war.

Political career in Maryland

Harper moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and engaged in the practice of law.

He served in the War of 1812, attaining the rank of major general.

During the Battle of North Point, September 12, 1814, he served as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John Stricker’s Third Brigade and assisted Captain John Montgomery’s Baltimore Union Artillery, 1st Maryland Volunteer Artillery in the initial attack. On the occasion“he exerted himself indefatigably and exposed his person with extreme hardihood, as a volunteer.” In his official report General Stricker reported that “Mr. Robert Goodloe Harper deserves my thanks. He visited me just before the action; accompanied the advance party, and aided me much throughout.”

On November 8, 1814, he succeeded Samuel Smith as major general of the Third Division of the Maryland Militia.

He served as a member of The Society for the Colonization Society for Free People of Color (est.1816) along with Federalist U.S. Representatives John Randolph and Henry Clay to form a colony on the African east coast, later called Liberia which gained its independence in 1847.


He assisted in organizing the Baltimore Exchange Co. in 1815 and was a member of the first board of directors. He then became a member of the Maryland State Senate, and was later elected as a Federalist from Maryland to the United States Senate for the term beginning March 4, 1815, serving from January 1816 until December 1816, when he resigned.

He was an unsuccessful Federalist candidate for Vice President in the 1816 election. He also received one electoral vote for Vice President in the 1820 election.


Harper traveled extensively in Europe in 1819 and 1820. He took a prominent part in the ceremonies on the occasion of Lafayette’s visit to Baltimore in 1824.

He died in Baltimore on January 14, 1825, and was initially interred in the family burial ground on his estate, ”Oakland”, and later reburied in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore.

Resting place of Robert Goodloe Harper

The XYZ Affair inspired this political cartoon in 1797. The French government is the monster with the dagger, demanding money from the Americans. Elbridge Gerry is the American with white hair.

The Quasi-War with France
The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of about 25 vessels. These patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, seeking French privateers. Insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid dividends as the frigate USS Constellation captured L'Insurgente and severely damaged La Vengeance.

(Robert Goodloe Harper)          (Find a Grave)

1 comment:

DG said...

Before Trump yields up American jobs to China in return for that country temporarily calming matters in North Korea, he should reflect on whether he wants to be known as paying tribute to China.