« PreviousContinue »
hension on this subject, and an erroneous belief entertained
“ The extreme difficulty, if not total impracticability of any
• Thus you see,
ment been, at all, attainable. Both parties accordingly appear to have exhausted their ingenuity in attempting to devise expedients satisfactorily to perform the office of impressment; and nothing can more conclusively demonstrate the inherent difficulty of the matter, and the utter impossibility of finding the expedient which they sought, than that all their labours, pursued on that occasion with unexampled diligence, cordiality and good faith, should have been in vain."
His lordship now turned to a letter in a volume before him, addressed at the close of the negotiation by these commissioners to the American ministers, conceived in the kindest spirit of conciliation, in which they profess the most earnest desire to remove all cause of complaint on the part of America, concerning impressment; regret that their endeavours had hitherto been ineffectual; lament the necessity of continuing the practice, and promise to provide as far as possible against the abuse of it.
“1f," resumed his lordship, “such was the result of a negotiation entertained under circumstances so highly savourable, where the powers and the disposition of the parlies were limited only by the difficulties of the subject, what reasonable expectation can be encouraged that, in the actual state of things, with your circumscribed and imperfect authority, we can come to a more successful issue? I shall have to proceed in so weighty a concern with the utmost deliberation and circumspection; and it will be necessary for me to consult the great law officers of the crown. You are not aware of the great sensibility and jealousy of the people of England on this subject; and no administration could expect to remain in power that should consent to renounce the right of impressment, or to suspend the practice, without the certainty of an arrangement which should obviously be calculated most unequivocally to secure its object. Whether such an arrangment can be devised is extremely doubtful, but it is very certain that you have no sufficient powers for its accomplishment.”
Such was the substance, and, in many parts, the language of his lordship's discourse. To which I replied, that the main object of my powers being to effect a suspension of hostilities, their form could not be material-it was sufficient that they cmanated from competent authority, and were distinctly and clearly conferred. That in requiring as a condition to an armistice a clear understanding relative to impressment and other points of controversy between the two countries, it was intended merely to lay the basis of an amicable adjustinent, and thereby to diminish the probability of a renewal of hostilities. To come to such an understanding to be in itself informal, and which expressly left the details of the points which it embraced to be discussed and adjusted by commissioners to be hereafter appointed, was certainly within the instructions which I had received, and I could of course thus far pledge my government for its observance. I did not acknowledge the force of his objection, predicated on the inequality of our respective powers, nor perceive how the British faith would be particularly committed. The faith of both governments would be equally committed for whatever was done under their respective authority-and although his lordship might have power to go; beyond the armistice and understanding for which I was instructed, yet there was no necessity for doing so; and while we acted within those limits we stood on equal ground.And were it otherwise, yet, as the promise of the one party would be the sole consideration for the promise of the other, should either fail in the performance of its engagements, the other would necessarily be discharged, and the imputation of bad faith could alone attach to the first delinquent. Nor was 1 dismayed at the very formidable difficulties with which he had thought proper to array the subject of impressment; and, although willing to acknowledge my inferiority to the American negotiators who had preceded me in the matter, yet I was not disposed on account of their failure to shrink from the discharge of a duty imposed on me by my government. To me indeed the whole question appeared much less alarming than bis lordship had described it to be—and that if Mr. King had really been mistaken with regard to the near completion of an adjustment, his lordship must, on an attention to the whole correspondence at the time, acquit him from the im. putation of any excessive want of penetration.
As to the supposed ignorance in America of the revocation of the orders in council, at the time my instructions were dated, I observed, that if this ignorance did in fact
exist, yet, from certain expressions in those instructions,
on her reluctant allies, that she could so obstinately adhere to the practice of impressing American citizens, whose civilization, religion and blood, so obviously demanded a more favourable distinction.
I next pointed out to his lordship, the difference between the propositions, which I now submitted, and those contained in my note of the 24th of August. That although the object of both was essentially the same, there was great diversity in the manner of obtaining it. The discontinuance of the practice of impressment, which was before required to be immediate, and to constitute a formal preliminary to an armistice, was now deferred to commence cotemporaneously with the operation of the law of the United States, prohibiting the employment of British seamen, and was consigned, with the other conditions, to a separate and informal arrangement. In this way it was no doubt intended, by respecting the feelings of the British government, to obviate any objection which might have been the mere suggestion of its pride.
I finally offered, in order to answer at once all the observations and inquiries of lord Castlereagh, that the proposed understanding should be expressed in the inost general terms—that the laws, to take effect on the discontinuance of the practice of impressment, should prohibit the employment of the native subjects or citizens of the one state, excepting such only as had already been naturalized, on board the private or publick ships of the other; thus removing any objection that might have been raised with regard to the future effect of naturalization, or the formal renunciation of any pretended right. With regard to blockades, I proposed to follow the same course, and only to agree that none should be instituted by either party, which were not conformable to the acknowledged laws of nations, leaving the definition of such blockade, and all other details, to be settled by the commissioners in the definitive treaty.
I was disappointed and grieved to find that these propositions, moderate and liberal as they were, should be treated in a manner which forbid me to expect their acceptance. I was even asked by Mr. Hamilton, if the United States would deliver up the native British seamen who might be naturalized in America. Although shocked