“Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute!”
Robert Goodloe Harper
June 18, 1798
Robert Goodloe Harper was only 15 years old when he volunteered to fight in the American Revolution in 1780 in a cavalry unit raised to combat the British in the Southern Campaign. After the War he studied law and went into politics in South Carolina where he was elected a Congressman for several terms in the 1790s. Becoming Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee he uttered his famous statement during the XYZ affair.
To resolve disputes with France that had developed over attempts by the French to interdict American trade with Britain, President John Adams sent negotiators to France in 1797 under Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Revolutionary War veteran and signer of the US Constitution. Pinckney was a hard core American patriot. During the Revolutionary War after the siege of Charleston in 1780 he was taken prisoner by the British along with 5,000 other American troops, and kept up the spirits of his fellow prisoners. He never wavered in his faith in ultimate American victory, uttering this phrase which reflected his entire life: “If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my Country, I myself would open it. If I had a drop of blood that could flow dishonorable, I myself would let it out.”
In France for the negotiations he encountered the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Tallyrand, an apostate Bishop, who Napoleon once aptly described as, freely translated, “Dung in a silk stocking.” Talleyrand demanded bribes for himself and other French officials. An outraged Pinckney responded, “No, no, not a sixpence!”
When Congress demanded to see reports on the negotiations, President Adams complied, redacting the names of French officials with the letters W, X, Y and Z. The nation went wild with indignation resulting in the Quasi Naval War with France of 1798 to 1800. On June 18, 1798 at a dinner for John Marshall, one of the American negotiators with France, Congressman Harper uttered his famous toast: “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute!” The war with France was resolved through negotiations with France under First Consul Bonaparte in the Convention of 1800, negotiations that did not involve the Americans in paying a cent of bribes to French officials.
During the Revolutionary War, it might be considered that Harper had been too young to fight. In 1814 he might have been considered to old to fight at the age of 49, but fight he did during the War of 1812, rising to the rank of Major General, Harper not being for national defense simply by virtue of his words.