Page images

escape it. Little does he know of the condition of mankind: little does he know of the signs of the times on the other side of the Atlantic or on this, who imagines the repose of the world is settled. The leaven is at work in Europe, perhaps more actively in England than in any other part of it, and the virus has been received here, that will produce a state of things very far from that settled repose which gentlemen seem to flatter themselves will follow the late convulsions in the civilized world. But, believing as he did, Mr. R. said he was willing to put it off to the latest day. He was attached to his own country. Let Jews, Turks or Infidels fight for their liberty or for their religion; he would have nothing to do with their liberty or their religion. He would not omit to do any thing he could constitutionally do, to prevent being involved in a quarrel in the name of liberty and religion, when servitude, and superstition the most dark and detestable that was ever known, was at the bottom of it. He would keep aloof from it.

Gentlemen say, observed Mr. R., that our enterprizing citizens.must go and fight the wars of the colonies with Spain. With all my heart. That they must go and attack her commerce. With all my heart, if they will not attack ours, nor involve their country in the war. Let Spain catch them when she can, and treat them as she has a right. There will be one advantage, certainly, in permitting this system of private depredation to continue; there would be less capital, less of this generous enterprizing spirit left, to engage in another trade which we have already attempted to prohibit by law that is, the infernal slave trade.

Mr. SHARP, of Kentucky. St. Domingo, Mr. S. said, was a revolted colony, its independence to this day unacknowledged by its former sovereign; yet we trade with St. Domingo—we go to her ports, she comes to ours. Where would the gentleman find a reason to distinguish between this case and that of the Spanish provinces? If, Mr. S. said, our feelings were enlisted in favour of old Spain against these colonies, and we believed that self government would be a curse to them, this bill might be a proper one to aid the mother government in subjugating the colonies. We may go thus far, said he: we have a constitutional right to lay these restrictions. But, he insisted, on the rules which govern neutral nations in their conduct and commerce with belligerents, we are not bound to pass it, and that we ought not to pass it, because it would be unwise to do it. The gentleman had asked why the feelings of gentlemen were not so warm in behalf of the patriots of Spain in their struggle for self government, as now for the South Americans. For my own feelings, said Mr. Sharp, I have no difficulty in expressing them. When the house of Spain had ground down the people, i felt no aversion to seeing any change which would improve VOL. II.


their condition. The putting down of the inquisition, the aboli. tion of monasteries, the reduction of the number of priests, he was glad to see. When the Spanish patriots collected the sense of the people, rallied around their standard, my feelings were interested in their favour, more than they had previously been in favour of any effort of Bonaparte. I viewed him as a tyrant; but I cannot view without abhorrence the conduct of the ruler who succeeded on these efforts of a patriotic people—I cannot view without horror human nature in such a state of baseness, as to exhibit such ingratitude as has been shown. Mr. S. said, he would never suffer himself to take any part to sustain the dominion of that monarch.

Mr. SHEFFEY, of Virginia, said he understood it to be the policy of the government of the United States, to observe a strict neutrality between the old country of Spain and her colonies in rebellion against her. If that was the determination of this country, it was the duty of the constituted authorities to carry that determination into effect, and not to manifest neutrality, when in fact our citizens were taking part with one of the belligerents, and against the other. To prevent this, the provisions of this bill had been reported, which Mr. S. approved. What sort of sincerity do we exhibit, he asked, if we permit persons to fit out expeditions in our ports, and, after they had gone to sea, pretend to prosecute them when beyond the reach of our jurisdiction? The government should not act at all, unless it acted effectually; to enable it to do which, the power proposed to be given by this bill was essential.

As to our feeling on the subject of the existing war, that, Mr. S. said, was wholly out of the question. If the government, or the house, feel as the gentleman from Kentucky does, it becomes us to pursue a different course; to take a stand in support of those who are contending against the tyrant of the European country. All this display of feeling, Mr. Sheffey said, might do honour to the heart, but, after the experience of past years, it certainly did no great honour to the head. After the failure of the great struggle on the old continent in favour of civil liberty in Europe, they must be sanguine indeed who anticipate its success in a population so much more ignorant and unenlightened. The slight dawning

of liberty in France, had been, he said, perhaps the greatest curse that human liberty ever experienced. No more favourable consequences are likely to result from the contest in South America. There will be strife and bloodshed of long duration, but which will settle down in a despotism perhaps more dark than has hcretofore prevailed there. If a population like that of the Spanish provinces is to be emancipated, it will not be by revolution, but by receiving gradually the principles of civil liberty. And, when gentlemen compared their struggle with that of the people of this country in our revolution, they were widely mistaken. We, said he, were nurtured in the principles of civil liberty: the colonists were as free before the revolution as we are at this time: we contended, not for revolution, though it naturally ensued, but for the preservation of the rights of Englishmen. We were free, and we desired to remain so. The contest in South America, on the other hand, is a contest of slaves to become freemen, which cannot succeed by the exertions of physical force merely, but must be preceded by the gradual expansion of the human intellect, and the adaptation of the mind to the principles of free government.

It had been said that a war with Spain was not to be deprecated. In one point of view it might not. But in another, it was more to be deprecated than a war with

any other country. We might succeed, to possess ourselves of the contiguous Spanish territory. That was a consequence he should deprecate, Mr. S. said, more than any other. When that happens, our moral character is destroyed-our liberty is gone. In such success he saw greater evils than in any defeat. He dreaded it on the score of the moral character of the nation; on the score of that liberty which he hoped would be perpetual.

Mr. Clay, (speaker.) As long as the government abstained from taking any part in the contest now carrying on in the southern part of this continent, it was unquestionably its duty to maintain a strict neutrality. On that point there was and could be no difference of opinion. It ought not, however, to be overlooked, that the two parties stood with this government on unequal ground. One of them had an accredited minister here to watch over its interests, and to remonstrate against any acts of which it might complain. Whilst the other, being wholly unrepresented, had no organ through which to communicate its grievances. This inequality of condition in the contending parties, imposed upon us the duty of great circumspection and prudence in what we might do.

Whenever a war exists, whether between two independent states, or between parts of a common empire, he knew of but two relations in which other powers could stand towards the belligerents; the one was that of neutrality, and the other that of a belligerent.

Being then in a state of neutrality respecting the contest, and bound to maintain it, the question was, whether the provisions of the bill were necessary to the performance of that duty? It will be recollected that we have an existing law, directed against armaments, such as are described in the bill. That law was passed in 1794. It was intended to preserve our neutrality in the contest between France and her enemies. The circumstances under which it was passed must be yet fresh in our recollection. The French revolution had excited an universal enthusiasm in the cause of liberty. The flame reached this country, and spread with electric rapidity throughout the continent. There was not a state, county, city, or village, exempted from it. An ardent disposition to enter into the conflict on the side of France, was every where felt. Gen. Washington thought it the interest of this country to remain neutral, and the law of 1794 was enacted to restrain our citizens from taking part in the contest. If that law had been effectual to preserve the neutrality of this country during the stormy period of the French revolution, we ought to pause before we assent to the adoption of new penalties and provisions. If the law did not reach the case, (which he understood to be doubtful from some judicial decisions) he was willing to legislate so far as to make it comprehend it. Further than that, as at present advised, he was not willing to go.

But the present bill not only went further, but in his judg. ment, contained provisions not demanded of us by our neutral duties. It contained two principles not embraced by the law of 1794. The first was, the requisition of a bond from the owners of armed vessels, that persons to whom they might sell these vessels, should not use them in the contest. The second was, the power vested in the collectors to seize and detain, under certain circumstances, any such vessels. Now, with regard to the first provision, it is not denied that an armed vessel may be lawfully sold by an American citizen to a foreign subject, other than a subject of Spain. But on what ground is it possible, then, to maintain that it is the duty of the American citizen to become responsible for the subsequent use which may be made of such vessel by the foreign subject? We are bound to take care that our own citizens do not violate our neutrality, but we are under no such obligation as it respects the subjects of foreiga powers. It is the business of those foreign powers to guard the conduct of their own subjects. If it be true, as he had heard it asserted, that Fell's Point exhibits an activity in hostile preparation, not surpassed during the late war, we had enough to do with our own citizens. It was not incumbent upon us, as a neutral power, to provide, after a legal sale had been made of an armed vessel to a foreign subject, against any illegal use of the vessel.

Gentlemen have contended that this bill ought to be considered as intended merely to enforce our own laws—as a municipal regulation having no relation to the war now existing. It was impossible to deceive ourselves, Mr. C. said, as to the true character of the measure. Bestow on it what denomination you please, disguise it as you may, it is a law, and will be understood by the whole world as a law, to discountenance any aid being given to the South American colonies in a state of revolution against the parent country. With respect to the nature of that struggle, Mr. C. had not now, for the first time, to express his opinion and his wishes. An honourable gentleman 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 honourable gentleman from Virginia would be conciliated in behalf of that oppressed and suffering people. For his part, Mr. C. said, 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 imprudent 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 neighbours, 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. C. 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.

MR. Hopkinson. He was glad to find that the house began to be awakened to the importance of the subject under discussion-one of the most important that had ever come before the house, and the decision of which deeply concerned the honour and safety of the nation. The subject, Mr. H. said, had intrinsic difficulties. Whenever the peace of the nation requires the rights of the citizens to be restrained, the difficulty which arises is, to strike that point which will attain the object with as little inconvenience as possible to the citizen. That point must in some degree be a matter of opinion—though, in restrictive measures no country had more experience than our own.

« PreviousContinue »