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man from Virginia (Mr. Sheffey) had said, the people of South America were incapable, from the ignorance and superstition which prevail among them, of achieving independence or enjoying liberty. And to what cause is that ignorance and superstition owing? Was it not to the vices of their government? to the tyranny and oppression, hierarchical and political, under which they groaned? If Spain succeeded in riveting their chains upon them, would not that ignorance and superstition be perpetuated? In the event of that success, he feared the time would never arrive, when the good wishes of the honorable gentleman from Virginia would be conciliated in behalf of that oppressed and suffering people. For his part, he wished their independence. It was the first step towards improving their condition. Let them have free government, if they be capable of enjoying it; but let them have, at all events, independence. Yes, from the inmost recesses of my soul, I wish them independence. I may be accused of an impru. dent utterance of my feelings, on this occasion. I care not; when the independence, the happiness, the liberty of a whole people is at stake, and that people our neighbors, our brethren, occupying a portion of the same continent, imitating our example, and participating of the same sympathies with ourselves, I will boldly avow my feelings and my wishes in their behalf, even at the hazard of such an imputation.
But, notwithstanding the feelings which he cherished on this subject, Mr. Clay admitted that it became us not to exhibit the spectacle of a people at war and a government at peace. We ought to perform our neutral duties, whilst we are neutral, without regard to the unredressed injuries inflicted upon us by old Spain, on the one hand, or to the glorious object of the struggle of the South American patriots on the other. We ought to render strict justice, and no more. If the bill on the table was limited to that object, he would vote for it. But he thought it went further; that it assumed obligations which we were not bound to incur, and, thinking so, he could not, in its present shape, give to it his assent. ON COMMERCIAL RESTRICTIONS WITH
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, JANUARY 30, 1817.
[On the fifth of February, 1816, Mr. Cyrus King, of Massachusetts, presented for consideration a resolution, instructing the committee on foreign relations to inquire into the expediency of excluding from the ports of the United States all foreign vessels, owned in, coming from, bound to, or touching at any of his Britannic majesty's possessions in the West Indies, and in the continent of North America, from which the vessels of the United States are excluded; and of prohibiting or increasing the duties on the importation in foreign vessels, of any articles, the growth, produce, or manufacture of such possessions. This resolution underwent much discussion, but was finally laid upon the table, and the subject not again introduced during the same session. But on the twenty-seventh of January, 1817, there was introduced a bill to prohibit all commercial intercourse with ports or places, into or with which, the vessels of the United States are not ordinarily permitted to enter or trade.? On the thirtieth of January, this bill was called up and debated in committee of the whole. Among the speakers on the subject, were Messrs. Cyrus King, of Massachusetts, Smith, of Maryland, Wilde, of Georgia, Randolph, of Virginia, Lowndes, of South Carolina, Hopkinson, of Pennsylvania, and Clay (speaker).
The whole subject was finally again laid on the table. The following are Mr. Clay's remarks in this debate. ]
MR. Clay (speaker) said, that in one sentiment expressed by the gentleman from Georgia he most heartily concurred; that the measure contemplated by the bill, or by the proposed substitute, was the most important, as respected at least our foreign relations, that had come before congress at this session, or would probably be brought before it for some years; a measure, which, whatever fate attended it, ought to attract the attention of honorable members of this house, and to which, he hoped, before the final question on it, they would give the most mature consideration.
The importance of the question by no means depended simply on the value of the trade between this country and the colonies of Great Britain. But considering the question as it related merely to that trade, when the fact was stated, that it consisted of six millions of dollars imports, and of course a like amount of exports, it must be admitted, the question was one of deep import, compared to any which at present presented itself to the attention of congress. But, as was stated in the president's message, it was not solely important on account of the effect of the colonial system VOL. I.
on that trade, but the fact was, that the exclusion from a participation in that navigation, essentially affected the trade between this country and the British European possessions, and, by the operation of the system, deprived us, in a great measure, of the benefits of the convention of commerce with Great Britain, which provided for the establishment of a perfect reciprocity of commerce between the United States and the British European possessions. Even if gentlemen were not disposed to do something to obtain for the navigation of this country a participation in the colonial trade, they ought to go so far as to place them on an equal footing as regarded the European trade. Some measure ought to be devised, by which the navigation of Great Britain should be prevented from enjoying peculiar advantages over us, in a trade wherein reciprocity had been solemnly promised by the convention, to which he had alluded.
Let us, then, inquire into the character of the evil proposed to be remedied, and of the remedy that is offered. What is the evil? Great Britain says, that the whole commerce between her colonies and the United States shall be carried on in British ships, absolutely excluding American ships from any participation in it. The most natural course of the exchange of commodities between nations might be thus defined; that each nation should carry its own products to market; that we should carry of our produce what we do not want, but they do, to British ports; and that they should bring what they do not want, but we do, to our ports. With this course, however, Great Britain was not satisfied. The next and perhaps the most equal and best mode of providing for the free and fair interchange of commodities, was, to open the
trade equally and reciprocally to both parties, to let each carry the commodities of both countries, in a fair competition. Great Britain was not, however, disposed to do this. She not only prohibited the carriage of her colonial commodities in our vessels; not only entirely engrossed the export trade from her colonies, but refused to allow us any participation, by conventional regulation or otherwise, in the trade to the colonies. The effect was, to deprive us of the advantages, in the augmentation of our commerce and increase of our seamen, which would result from the carriage of our own produce, to the amount of six millions of dollars annually.
With regard to the importance of encouraging our navigation, he said, he need not resort to argument. The question of the importance of a navy, to maintain and defend our rights, which had been some years ago a question of a theoretical nature, was no longer so; it was now a question of practical experience. All felt its importance, and all acknowledged the expediency of cherishing, by all means in our power, that important branch of national defence.
Gentlemen alarmed themselves by the apprehension, that the other party would view as inimical any regulations countervailing
her colonial policy, and that the issue of this conflict of commercial regulations would be war. He believed in no such result. If an exclusion of the navigation and shipping of Great Britain from our ports be a measure of a hostile character, said Mr. Clay, Great Britain has set us the example ; for she excludes our navigation and shipping from an extensive range of her ports. He considered this rather as a diplomatic than a hostile measure; but, if it were otherwise, she had set the example, which she could not complain if we followed.
But, said he, let us look to the fact. What would be the light in which Great Britain would view any such regulations as are proposed by the bill? The convention of London contains an express stipulation on the subject; and I will observe to gentlemen, that the clause which exempts the colonial trade from the second article of the convention, was introduced with the express view of retaining in our hands the right to countervail the British regulations in this respect. It was so understood by the framers of that convention. But we have later evidence than that which is furnished by the terms of the convention. The president, in his message at the opening of the session, says, that it is ascertained, that the British government declines all negotiation on this subject; with a disarowal, however, of any disposition to view in an unfriendly light, whatever countervailing regulations the United States may oppose to the regulations of which they complain. Thus, then, we have evidence, both from the nature of the case, and from the express declarations of the British government, that it will not, because it cannot, view in an unfriendly light any regulations which this government may find it expedient to adopt, to countervail their policy. Mr. Clay said, he did not think that the adoption of this policy on the part of Great Britain, ought to excite any hostile feeling towards her. She was not singular in this respect. Every country that has colonies in the West Indies, and which is not too weak to defend them, endeavored, he said, to appropriate to itself all the advantages of the trade with those colonies ; and it would be found that the relaxation of the rigor of that system by one nation or another, was precisely graduated by the degree of ability to maintain their colonies in peace, and defend them in war. There was nothing in the regulations of Great Britain, which could be offensive, or possibly lead to war. They might be complained of as selfish or unfriendly, they certainly were the former. But Great Britain had a perfect right to set the example before us; and the question was, whether the total exclusion of our ships from the colonial ports of Britain, was such a measure as we ought to fold our arms and submit to, without an effort to obtain some part of the trade which she had attempted to appropriate exclusively to herself?
Gentlemen had properly said, that this was a question which ought to be well weighed before decided. Whatever we do, it ought to be with a determination to adhere firmly to it. For, depend upon it, Great Britain will never lightly relax her policy.
The policy of Great Britain was deeply laid in selfish considerations; a policy which she had never relaxed, except in periods of war, when it became her interest to do so, from the commencement of her colonies to this time. The measure which we address to her interest, to induce her to relax from the rigor of her colonial policy, should be a measure framed with ample deliberation, which, when we adopt with resolution, we will maintain with fortitude. For, the first conclusion of the British government would undoubtedly be, that the American government would be incapable of maintaining its regulations for any length of time; and that government, in the expectation of a retraction of the measure, would persevere in its policy as long as it could.
The question which presents itself, then, is, whether we will adopt measures to induce a relaxation so desirable to our interest?
What ought to be done, if any thing is ? There were two propositions before the house, and the question now was, on substituting high duties for the prohibitory system. He preferred the prohibition; and if any gentleman would candidly compare the merits of the two proposed remedies, he would find that the whole value of the remedy, by the imposition of duties, was derived from its approximation to prohibition.
Suppose the measure of prohibition be adopted, what would be its effect? In the opinion of Mr. Clay, a mere change in the direction of the trade. St. Domingo would be opened to us, St. Thomas, Vera Cruz, and possibly St. Bartholomews, and other islands and ports. But, if not one port should be open, the necessity Great Britain would be under, to obtain supplies for her colonies, would dictate the expediency of opening some port at which an interchange of commodities could take place. If this operation took place, all that is proposed to be effected by the bill is accomplished, by the participation of our navigation in the transportation of the articles thus exchanged. Our ships will have obtained an employment, in carrying our products to that entrepot, and bringing return cargoes, of the same amount they would have now, if American, instead of British ships, wholly engrossed the trade. There might, in the case supposed, be some little increase in the cost of the articles, but so inconsiderable, as not to amount to any offset to the great advantages accruing to this country, from the employment of its tonnage.
The present moment Mr. Clay considered as particularly propitious to the adoption of this regulation ; because, as regarded the great direct trade between the United States and British ports in Europe, that was regulated and unalterable for nearly three years. It stood on the footing of convention; and we should not, by any regulation adopted in regard to the colonial trade, put to hazard the advantages in the other, at least until that convention expired.