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Here, again, I venture to think, General Banks and the House of Representatives have misunderstood or misconstrued the motives of the legislation of Presidents Madison and Monroe's administrations.
Says General Banks's Report (in effect), "It was European domination that warped and overawed Congress and the executive at those periods."
As if Spain and Portugal were formidable to us in 1817 and 1818, after we had waged our second war with Great Britain with such equal-handed ability, when, as I have shown, we made ourselves independent of French and British domination at as early a day of the republic as 1794! Even Mr. Clay, the champion of the South-American patriots, went no farther in imputing foreign subservience to the motives which originated the acts of 1817-18, than our being "teased" into them by foreign governments. (Ann. Cong. 1818, p. 1406.)
But what was the true leading motive-that avowed by the very framers of these new laws themselves—for their proposed legislation?
Not"to perpetuate the supremacy of favored nations on the seas," as General Banks would have the House of Representatives and the country to believe, but to guard the United States against the just claims of injured nations, if we failed to comply with our national duty of observing a fair neutrality towards them.
Said Mr. Forsyth, the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, in opening the debate on the revision of 1818 (March 18, Ann. Cong. 1818, p. 1409):—
"The origin of this act [that of 1817] has been imputed to the teasing of certain foreign agents near the United States. That the message of President Madison, recommending that act, was in consequence of the representations of foreign ministers, Mr. Forsyth said. he was ready to admit, not of reiterated importunities, but of a performance of their duty to their governments, by remonstrating against violations by citizens of the United States, of obligations which we owe, not to any one nation, but equally to all. A remonstrance had been made by the Portuguese minister, a garbled representation of which had been published; a similar statement of facts
had been made by the minister of Great Britain; and another by the minister of France. All the foreign ministers here had, in short, represented that citizens of the United States engaged in cruises in patriot vessels (as they were called), which, fitted from our ports, committed depredations on the commerce of England, France, and Spain. What, asked Mr. Forsyth, was the duty of the President of the United States, if these facts were true? Were not the United States bound to make reparation, if, without an effort to prevent it, we suffered depredations to be made by our citizens, and from our ports, on the commerce of nations in amity with us? The Government had heretofore recognized this principle, and had remunerated foreign citizens for property taken from them by citizens of the United States," &c.
So, Mr. Lowndes, of South Carolina, whom Mr. Clay complimented as "a powerful auxiliary in carrying through the bill" [of 1817], and "from whom when he found himself differing, he almost distrusted his own perceptions," in backing up Mr. Forsyth in defence of the law of 1817, said,—
"One consideration for such an act he would suggest, which it was too late for us to deny, is, that we are responsible for injuries done by vessels of the United States, after they leave our ports, and before they arrive at a foreign port. For such depredations we are responsible, and have recognized the principle by paying claims founded on it. We have bound ourselves to respect the principle in a manner equally obligatory, by preferring claims founded on it against other nations," &c. (Ann. Cong. 1818, p. 1413.)
So, Mr. Samuel Smith, the able mercantile representative of the city of Baltimore, in speaking on the same side, said:
"Our claim against Spain is for spoliations committed on our commerce by French privateers, whom she permitted to fit out from her ports, and bring in our vessels for sale. For this, we justly demanded indemnity. And what had Spain replied? That we had a right to this indemnity, and that she will pay it when she shall be able. Now, if a vessel, sailing out of our ports as a cruiser, obtains a commission we know not how, gives no bonds whatever, goes to sea, and commences the capture of Spanish property, are we not responsible?" &c. "Of a war with the present power of Spain, nobody would think much; but a rule applied to Spain might be applied by illegal cruisers from our ports to other powers, with whom a conflict would not be so very
convenient. The House had been told that such conduct was not a cause for war: it might not perhaps create a war at this moment; but, whenever the power thus injured feels itself strong enough to make a war, you will find that it will be found a sufficient cause." (Am. Cong. 1818, p. 1423.)
These declarations of three of the most prominent advocates of the law of 1818 seem to me sufficient to show that a disposition to administer international justice, and to protect the country from reclamations for toleration of unneutral equipments, lay at the bottom of that legislation, rather than foreign dictation.
Cotemporaneous with this debate came another utterance from the Committee on Foreign Affairs on the part of the House of Representatives, on another topic, showing that the fear of liability to other nations for permitting unneutral equipments in American ports constituted the groundwork of congressional action at this period.
Says Mr. Middleton, of South Carolina, in reporting to the House of Representatives upon the subject of suppressing the piratical establishments at Amelia Island, under date of Jan. 10, 1818 (4 Am. State Pap., p. 133):—
"The immediate tendency of suffering such armaments, in defiance of our laws [as those sent out from Amelia Island, a Spanish possession on the Florida coast, in immediate proximity to the American frontier], would have been to embroil the United States with all the nations whose commerce with our country was suffering under these depredations; and, if not checked by all the means in the power of the Government, would have authorized claims from the subjects of foreign governments for indemnities at the expense of this nation, for captures by our people in vessels fitted out in our ports, and (as could not fail of being alleged) countenanced by the very neglect of the necessary means of suppressing them.”
This language was caught at by the Portuguese minister, Signor De Figaniere, who afterwards urged what have been alluded to as the "Artigas " claims upon the United States, and was prominently put forward by him in support of those claims. (Ex. Doc. No. 53, 1st Sess. 32d Cong., 1851-52, p. 196.) Mr. Webster, to whom, as Secretary of State, the argument
founded on our own admissions was addressed by Mr. Figaniere in 1850, did not pretend to dispute the justice of the general principle, so far as can be inferred from his keeping silence altogether in reference to the demand of the Portuguese Government. But the principle was no new one in American practice at the date of the Spanish South-American revolt. It had been acted on (as referred to by Mr. Forsyth and others in debate, as above) in Washington's administration, under Mr. Jefferson's secretaryship, in the well-known letter of Sept. 5, 1793 (afterwards made an annex to the British treaty), and had been more broadly and emphatically asserted by Mr. Pickering, who had succeeded Mr. Jefferson in the State Department (still under Washington's presidency, in 1795), in connection with the "Cassius" case, as I have had occasion to call attention to, in a discussion of that precedent, in the " Boston Daily Advertiser," of Aug. 21 and 22, 1865. The same principle was again brought under discussion in the claims under the Spanish treaty of 1819, dating back to the French occupation of the Peninsula, at the close of the eighteenth century, as alluded to by Mr. Smith, as above.
With this well-settled line of precedent and practice before them, in regard to national liability for toleration of unneutral privateering, how can the Committee on Foreign Relations have so far lost sight of the leading motive of our neutral legislation, - more decidedly avowed and insisted upon in 1817-18 than ever, — as to ascribe that legislation to a fear of foreign powers, rather than to a determination to protect the country from a just responsibility for the omission of her proper duties under the law of nations? And is the present, I would further ask, just the most fitting moment thus to ignore this most striking characteristic of our country's neutral history? I leave out of account the patriotism involved in such an omission. I only inquire whether such a mutilation of the country's record is judicious and timely.
Refutation of the idea, that the neutrality laws are repealable, because only enacted temporarily. — General Banks's unfair quotation of the Adamses. How we came to have Hamilton's act made temporary, and how it was only adopted at all, by John Adams's casting-vote. John Adams's neutral record; his endorsement of Washington's neutral policy; approves the act of 1797 and that of 1800, making the law of 1794 perpetual. — This Adams not the man to follow foreign dictation. John Quincy Adams's neutral record; the masterspirit of our foreign neutral policy as Monroe's Secretary of State from 181725. — Both Monroe and J. Q. Adams, though identified with the Monroe doctrine, advocated a just neutrality. — Madison as well as Monroe voted against the law of 1794 in Congress; but both afterwards changed their opinions. — Summary of Madison's and Monroe's neutral record. — The last even recommended to Congress the revision of the present law. - Does not this knock away the prop of the Monroe doctrine from the new scheme? J. Q. Adams's record as Secretary of State and President given further. - Charles Francis Adams cleared from any suspicion of favoring the new project. — Recurring to the temporariness of the neutrality acts, this very fact shown to be an argument in their favor.. - Notice of Gallatin's change of opinion, and of the other leaders of the Jefferson school. - Allusion to the temporary acts of 1817 and 1838.-The great historic names of the republic all shown to be on the side of American neutrality. How bad the policy which finds itself obliged to decry them. - Five general conclusions. That our original neutrality was as brave as it was just. That our neutral concessions constitute a fund of international credit to our account. — That, as to England, both expediency and consistency call upon us to stand where we are. — - That the Monroe school of doctrine opposes rather than favors the new scheme. That the argument of practical experience shows that neutrality makes part of American policy.
I CANNOT dismiss the subject of the disparagement of our past neutral history, without briefly replying to General Banks's unfavorable comment on the neutral enactments of the United States, founded upon their being, in several instances, of a temporary and unpermanent character. Several times in the course of his Report, or in debate, the General alludes to this feature in their provisions, as if their authors were at the time fully conscious that their laws were not good enough to go upon the statute-book as permanent legislation, and so made them fugitive and temporary. Perhaps his objections on this head are