Page images

would not dare to move a stone of this edifice till the public will should demand it. Assuming these grounds, Mr. H. said, he had endeavoured to show the house that a measure directed against a small amount of colonial trade would not overcome such towering obstacles: that, when you desire to reinove a mountain, you should not apply your force to a molehill; that when a great policy is to be changed, it is idle to begin at a little West India trade.

Thus much in explanation. But, whilst up, he would turn his attention to the argument of the gentleman from South Carolina. He knew, he said, that when he attacked the arguments of that gentlemen, he was in danger of falling into error himself. On the present occasion, however, he thought the gentleman was wrong. The ground of the Speaker was, that the navigation (not the colonial) system of Great Britain was one to which the nation was inore attached than to any part of their policy; that it was rooted in the national heart and drew the conclusion, that to effect a change in a sentiment so deeply rooted, we ought to attack the nation at its extremities! Now, the gentleman from South Carolina, to show that the Speaker's premises were unfounded, and that the British nation was not so superstitiously attached to the system as the Speaker had supposed, brought forward instances in which she relaxed from the rigour of her system. If, said Mr. Hopkinson, I understand the gentleman's instances, they prove directly the reverse of the inference he wished to draw from them, and sustain more firmly the position occupied by the Speaker and myself. Our position is, that the navigation system is the darling of the British nation: the gentleman from South Carolina speaks of the colonial system, and blends them together as if they were one and the same. But they are not. The colonial system, Mr. H. said, in the instances referred to, had been made to yield—to what? To the navigation system, to which commerce was made subordinate. Strictly speaking, in the colonial system, the British government would insist on the produce of its colonies being first carried to England; but they permitted it to come direct to this country; and here was a relaxation of the colonial policy. How did they permit it to come here? In British vessels, navigated by British seamen. This went to show that the colonial and every other interest was made to bend to the production of ships and seamen. By permitting their produce to be brought here directly, and confin. ing their trade to their own vessels, they extended their shipping, and increased their seamen; and that being their policy, this exception, as it was called, proved the rule: the commercial part of the colonial system was made to yield to the navigation system.

But the house had been told that in 1807 an act had been

passed by the British parliament permitting articles of a certain description to be imported into England in other vessels than those of the country producing them.- If we did not look at the articles, said Mr. H., this would be a good argument; but look at the articles, and it goes to strengthen our ground. They were, he said, articles of the first necessity, (masts, lumber, hemp, cordage, &c.) things essential to the construction and maintenance of the navy. When, therefore, Great Britain had relaxed one part of her navigation system, it was to favour another; when she had given away something, it was to get something more. This instance, also, mentioned as an exception, was a sacrifice of the interests of commerce to those of navigation. She had given on one hand, to make more on the other. The other instances, also, Mr. H. contended, went to sustain his argument. Was there any instance, he asked, in which this system had been relaxed, except in relation to itself; except where some small advantage had been surrendered to gain a greater another way. Was there any instance in which the navigation system had been made materially to bend to commerce? He believed not.

Do we not deceive ourselves, said Mr. H., in regard to the strength of this necessity on which we rely? The argument is, that Great Britain is dependent on us for articles of the first necessity. I know, sir, that this was a theory very much cherished some time ago amongst us. But, however convenient the trade of this country in that respect to the West India islands, since they might obtain certain articles here better, from our proximity, than any where else; to say that they are wholly dependent on us for articles of the first necessity, was, Mr. H. said, in the face of the experience of the last ten years. We had set out on the starving system, with a great deal of courage, but not with much success. Our measures might for the time have raised the prices of the articles they used to get from us, and of their productions usually sent to us—but it had been proved that the necessity for our supplies was not indispensable. He had heard of no individual starved there, or any great evil the people in the islands had sustained: and yet, that we had prohibitory laws as strict as we ever could have, no one would deny. The result is, said Mr. H. in conclusion, that your laws of this description cannot be executed; or, if executed, that they cannot produce the effect calculated on from them. The West Indies were either furnished without our supplies, or, our supplies reached them in spite of all we could do.

(The whole subject was again laid on the table, and not resumed.)



January 24, 1817.

The house in committee of the whole, Mr. JACKSON, of Virginia, in the chair

Mr. FORSYTH, of Georgia, the chairman of the committee who reported the bill, rose for the purpose of explaining the views of the committee on this subject. The attention of the house had been called to this subject, Mr. F. said, by the president of the United States, who, by his message of the 26th of December, had apprized both houses that the existing laws did not enable him to preserve the peace of the United States with foreign powers. The subject of that message having been referred to the committee of foreign relations, they, in the ordinary mode, had applied to the secretary of state for information specially on the subject. They enquired what information had been given to the department of state of violations or intended violations of the neutral obligations of the United States to foreign powers by the arming and equipment of vessels of war in our ports; what prosecutions had been commenced under the existing laws to prevent the commission of such offences; what persons prosecuted had been discharged in consequence of the defects of the laws now in force, and the particular provisions that had been found insufficient, or for the want of which, persons deserving punishment had escaped. On the 6th of January, an answer had been received from the secretary of state, referring to certain verbal communications to the chairman of the committee, and stating what were the defects in the laws, As the chairman of the committee of foreign relations had not thought himself at liberty to state, on his own authority, the verbal communications referred to by the secretary, on the 10th of January, the secretary of state had addressed to the committee, another letter, more particular as to the facts, stating the prosecutions commenced, how far they had been successful, and how far they had failed. The information collected by the committee, Mr. F. said, was defective in some particulars, but it was no fault of the committee. It did not appear, from the documents, from what causes some of the prosecutions had failed. However, taking it for granted, as it was their duty to do, that the information of the president was correct, the committee had turned its attention to existing laws, to ascertain the provisions seeming to them necessary to remedy these defects. Vol. II.


It was found that the act of 1794, which the circumstances then occurring had called for, forbade, under heavy penalties, citizens of the United States from accepting commissions from foreign powers within the United States; forbade persons, in like manner, from enlisting or causing others to enlist in the service of foreign powers; from fitting out armed vessels within the United States to cruize, or issuing commissions therefor; from augmenting the force of an armed vessel within the United States belonging to a belligerent in regard to whom the United States were neutral; from setting on foot military expeditions in the United States against friendly powers; and further provided that the land and naval force of the United States might be employed to enforce the law, and also to compel the departure from ports of the United States of foreign armed vessels which ought not to remain there, &c. The act of 1797, emendatory of that act, prohibited citizens of the United States without the limits thereof, from fitting out armed vessels, to cruize against a friendly power, &c. These laws were found to be defective, on examination, because they only applied the act of 1794 to certain deeds' within the waters of the United States;' the supplementary act of 1797 to deeds of the samé character without the limits of the United States.' But there was no provision in either to forbid a citizen from arming and equipping a vessel within the United States, and then selling it to a foreigner to be taken out of the United States and used contrary to law. In other words the citizen and foreigner may do that conjointly which neither of them could separately do under the former laws.

To remedy that defect the first section of the bill now before the house was framed, the amount of which was, that any person fitting out or concerned in furnishing, fitting out or arming any private vessel of war, or selling or contracting to sell any such vessel, with intent or previous knowledge that the said vessel is to be employed to cruize or to commit hostilities upon the subjects, citizens or property of any state with whom the United States are at peace, such person shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding ten years.

The second section of the act, was to remedy another defect obvious to the committee, and which had been suggested by the executive of the United States. The present laws were defective in not authorising the interference of the executive to prevent the commission of the offence, nor unless there was sufficient proof to justify punishment for commission of the offence. This was the reason of the 2d section of the act, calling on the owners of armed vessels to give security that they will not violate the neutral obligations of the United States. The committee had been induced to offer this general provision, in preference

part of

to authorising collectors at their discretion to call on the owners of armed vessels to give bonds, for obvious reasons. Persons engaged in a fair commerce, where there could be no suspicion of an improper intention, would be at no loss in obtaining the security required; and, though they would be subjected to some little inconvenience, it was not such an objection as to prevent the adoption of an important general measure. And the provision was made general, further, because the committee were unwilling to throw on the collectors, on the one hand, the responsibility of making discriminations, and on the other were not willing to trust the collectors, &c. in all cases, because they were not always discreet, and, by the general provision, the effect of connivance or indiscretion on the any

officer of the United States would be obviated.

But, inasmuch as it was obvious that the evil would not wholly be remedied, without some discretionary power being vested in the collectors, that discretion was given in the 3d section, to restrain from sailing any vessel in such condition as that, though not armed, it may be as soon as it leaves the waters of the United States. That section authorises the collector to detain such vessel, until permission be given by the president of the United States, for its proceeding to sea, or until the party enter into the obligations required of the owners of armed vessel, by the second section of this bill. The fourth and last section of the bill forbade any foreign ship or vessel to be armed and equipped, or the force of any foreign armed ship or vessel to be increased or augmented in the ports of the United States, under any pretence whatsoever.

This was, he said, a simple question of internal policy: whether we ought or ought not to carry into effect our own laws? The claims of Spain on our justice or honour, or the merits of the contest between her and her colonies, had nothing to do with it. We have laws already in existence, such as all civilized nations have, to restrain unauthorized military expeditions. The president, whose duty it was to execute these laws, had informed the house that the provisions were not sufficient. Is the law defective or not? If it is, the defect ought to be remedied. If the law be not defective, the defect is in the execution of the law, and the blame ought to rest on the president of the United States, for not causing it to be executed. But, Mr. F. said, if he understood the subject, the law was defective, and the defect ought to be remedied.

He begged gentlemen to beware how they indulged their feelings on this subject, at the experse of the laws of their own country. It was no sufficient answer, when the law of the country was violated, that it was right, on account of a violation of the law of justice by any foreign power. If this were allowed, the door would be open to every excess on every pretence.

« PreviousContinue »