Page images
PDF
EPUB

ficient number of men for carrying her into port against the will of the neutrals,

That a neutral nation should be required to exert its power in aid of the right of detaining and searching its own ships, which belligerents are allowed to exercise, is believed to be without precedent. If ever a restitution of neutral ships, detained and rescued under similar circumstances, has been claimed by the sovereign of a belligerent nation from the government of the neutral nation, the case is unknown to me. Such a claim is believed never to have been made, or if made, never granted.

Whatever right the British captors have (if any they have) to the possession of the American ships, is of a nature cognizable before the tribunals of justice, which are open to hear their complaints.

For these reasons, the President is advised to abstain from any act for the restitution of the ships, and that the British minister be informed that this part of the claim cannot be complied with.

THE BRITISH SEAMEN.

In demanding the British seamen who were brought in the repossessed vessels into the United States, I see nothing improper or unreasonable. These may be apprehended by warrants, to be issued by any justice of the peace, upon due proof, in those states where the state laws have so provided; and being apprehended, may be delivered to the master, or other person duly authorized to receive them. The act of Congress concerning seamen is believed to be confined to American seamen only, and consequently will afford no aid or remedy in the present case : and the remedy under the state laws may not be always found to answer the purpose. The claim of the British seamen in the present instance being reasonable, the minister may be answered, that

every assistance shall be given for the recovery of them which the laws of this country admit and direct.

It certainly is an object of particular concern to the British nation, to come to an agreement with the United States relative to deserters from the sea service, and it is not less interesting to the United States to come to an agreement with Great Britain relative to the impressment of American seamen. The project of an article relative to deserters, as proposed by Mr. Liston, so far as I understand it, appears to be reasonable : But the 7th clause of that project is so expressed as not to be certainly understood by me, and will require to be otherwise expressed that its meaning may not be misapprehended. If this article is associated with another concerning the impressment of American seamen in terms satisfactory to our government, I think it will be highly advisable to agree upon such stipulations. The one will be very agreeable to the British, and the other to the American nation, and especially at a time when the sensibility of the two nations seems to be a little excited upon those subjects. A proposal of this kind I think should be made without delay to the British minister here. I am, &c. &c.

CHARLES LEE. To John Adams, President of the United States.

The attorney general having read and considered the letter of the Secretary of State and the project of an article drawn by the Secretary of the Treasury on the subject of deserters, which are proposed to be sent to the British minister here, expresses his entire approbation of the same.

April 30, 1800.

Extract of a Letter from John Marshall, Esq. Secretary

of Slate, to Rufus King, Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at London. Department of State, September 20, 1800.

“ The impressment of our seamen is an injury of very serious magnitude, which deeply affects the feelings and the honour of the nation.

“ This valuable class of men is composed of natives and foreigners who engage voluntarily in our service.

“ No right has been asserted to impress the natives of America. Yet they are impressed, they are dragged on board British ships of war, with the evidence of citizenship in their hands, and forced by violence there to serve. until conclusive testimonials of their birth can be obtained. These must most generally be sought for on this side the Atlantick. In the mean time acknowledged violence is practised on a free citizen of the United States, by compelling him to engage, and to continue in foreign service. Although the lords of the admiralty uniformly direct their discharge on the production of this testimony, yet many must perish unrelieved, and all are detained a considera ble time in lawless and injurious confinement.

"It is the duty as well as the right of a friendly nation, to require that measures be taken by the British government to prevent the continued repetition of such violence by its agents. This can only be done by punishing and frowning on those who perpetrate it. The mere release of the injured, after a long course of service and of suffering, is no compensation for the past, and no security for the future. It is impossible not to believe, that the decisive interference of the government in this respect, would prevent a practice, the continuance of which must inevitably produce discord between two nations which ought to be the friends of each other.

“ Those seamen who, born in a foreign country, have been adopted by this, were either the subjects of Britain or some other power.

“ The right to impress those who were British subjects has been asserted, and the right to impress those of every other nation has not been disclaimed.

“ Neither the one practice nor the other can be justified.

" With the naturalization of foreigners, no other nation can interfere further than the rights of that other are affected. The rights of Britain are certainly not affected by the naturalization of other than British subjects. Consequently those persons who, according to our laws, are citizens, must be so considered by Britain, and by every other power not having a conflicting claim to the person.

“ The United States therefore require positively, that their seamen who are not British subjects, whether born in America or elsewhere, shall be exempt from impressments,

“The case of British subjects, whether naturalized or not, is more questionable ; but the right even to impress them is denied. The practice of the British government itself, may certainly in a controversy, with that government, be relied on. The privileges it claims and exercises ought to be ceded to others. To deny this would be to deny the equality of nations, and to make it a question of power and not of right. If the practice of the British government may

be quoted, that practice is to maintain and defend in their sea service all those, of any nation, who have voluntarily engaged in it, or who, according to their laws, have become British subjects.

“ Alien seamen, not British subjects, engaged in our merchant service, ought to be equally exempt with citizens from impressments : we have a right to engage them, and have a right to and an interest in their persons to the extent of the service contracted to be performed. Britain has no pretext of right to their persons or to their service. To tear them, then, from our possession, is at the same time an insult and an injury. It is an act of violence for which there exists no palliative.

“We know well that the difficulty of distinguishing between native Americans and British subjects has been used, with respect to natives, as an apology for the injuries complained of. It is not pretended that this apology can be extended to the case of foreigners, and even with respect to natives we doubt the existence of the difficulty alleged. We know well that among that class of people who are seamen, we can readily distinguish between a native American and a person raised to manhood in Great Britain or Ireland; and we do not perceive any reason why the capacity of making this distinction should not be possessed in the same degree by one nation as by the other.

“ If, therefore, no regulation can be formed which shall effectually secure all seamen on board American merchantmen, we have a right to expect from the justice of the British government, from its regard for the friendship of the United States and its own honour, that it will mani. sest the sincerity of its wishes to repress this offence, by punishing those who commit it.

“We hope, however, that an agreement may be enters ed into satisfactory and beneficial to both parties. The article which appears to have been transmitted by my predecessor, while it satisfies this country, will probably restore to the naval service of Britain a greater number of seamen than will be lost by it." Should we even be mistaken in this calculation, yet the difference cannot be put in competition with the mischief which may result from the irritation justly excited, by this practice, throughout the United States. The extent and the justice of the resentments it produces, may be estimated, in Britain, by inquiring what impressions would be made on them by similar conduct on the part of this government.

“Should we impress from the merchant service of Britain, not only Americans but foreigners, and even British subjects, how long would such a course of injury unredressed be permitted to pass unrevenged ? How long would the government be content with unsuccessful remonstrance and unavailing memorials ? I believe, sir, that only the most prompt correction of, compensation for, the abuse, would be admitted as satisfaction in such a case.

“If the principles of this government forbid it to reta. liate by impressments, there is yet another mode which might be resorted to. We might authorize our ships of war, though not to impress, yet to recruit sailors on board British merchantmen. Such are the inducements to enter into our naval service that we believe even this practice would very seriously affect the navigation of Britain. How, sir, would it be received by the British nation?

“ Is it not more advisable to desist from, and to take effectual measures to prevent, an acknowledged wrong, than by perseverance in that wrong to excite against themselves the well founded resentments of America, and force our government into measures which may very pes. sibly terminate in an open rupture.”

« PreviousContinue »