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American State Papers: Containing the Correspondence between
[From the Edinburgh Review, for November, 1812.]
So little is to be gained and so much to be lost by an American war, that though our preposterous policy has at last brought the disputes between the two nations to this issue, no class of politicians seems wholly satisfied with the result. Strictly speaking, indeed, we have no real quarrel with America; our contest with that power arising incidentally out of our main quarrel in Europe. America invades us in no substantial interest she crosses us not in any favourite walk of policy-she aims no blows at our prosperity or independence; and, being excluded from all the common scenes of European ambition, her case afforded, to all appearance, no great scope to the common jealousies of politicians. After a twenty years' war with France, however, we are now fairly involved in an additional war with this apparently harmless powerhaving for this purpose sacrificed all those ancient connexions of trade which gave the two countries so great an interest in the maintenance of peace. The exports of Great Britain to America amounted annually to ten millions. All this vast trade, and the animating scenes of industry and business which it produced, the war lays waste at one blow. But it is not merely as a case of profit and loss, though in this view it is sufficiently important, that the subject ought to be contemplated. The trade between Britain and America, independent of its profits to individuals, accomplished objects which must ever be dear to the friends of human improvement. Our readers are no doubt aware that America, like all other rising communities, having her whole spare capital embarked in agriculture, must neccssarily depend on other countries for a supply of manufactures, in exchange for which they receive an equivalent in rude produce. Such was the nature of the trade carried on with this country; by means of which America, assisted by the wealth and industry of Britain, was left free to pursue the great work of domestic improvement, while Britain found, in the demands of America, ample employment for her overflowing capital and her numerous artisans. The trade thus diffused industry, plenty, and smiling looks through this once prosperous and happy land; while
it gave energy to the wide-spreading agriculture of the New World, and extended cultivation over its lonely wastes.
From a picture so delightful to contemplate, we turn with no pleasing emotions to the policy by which it has been defaced. The correspondence before us relates to the Orders in Council, and to other unfriendly acts committed against the American trade; and though we have no intention of reviving these hateful controversies-though we would willingly forget this everlasting stain on the character and policy of our country-yet there is one view of the case suggested by these papers which we cannot avoid laying before our readers. It is instructive to look back to what has happened, that we may draw lessons, for the future, from the dear-bought experience of the past.
It was long the anxious business of the American minister, as appears from the documents before us, to procure by persuasion an abandonment of the measures hostile to the American trade. He urged his case on views of justice and of general policy-he calmly combated the pretexts by which he was met-he boldly and pointedly asserted, that the claims of this country must, sooner or later, be abandoned; and he added, what ought never to be forgotten, that they were unjust-and that time, therefore, could do nothing for them. His representations were met by declarations of "what his Majesty owed to the honour, dignity, and essential rights of his crown," and by all the other sounding commonplaces usual on such occasions. These sentiments were afterwards explained at greater length, and promulgated to the world in the deliberate record of a state paper. But in spite of the honour of majesty thus pledged to these obnoxious measures, they were repealed. A laborious investigation into their merits ended in their unqualified reprobation and abandonmenttheir authors were unable to look in the face the scenes of beggary, disorder and wretchedness, which their policy had brought on the country; they were borne down by the cries of suffering millions and they yielded at length to necessity, what they had formerly refused to justice. This was clearly, therefore, an act of unwilling submission. It bore not the stamp of conciliation; and the only inference to be drawn from it was, that the plotters of mischief, being fairly caught in their own snare, were glad to escape, on any terms, from the effects of their ill-considered measures. How forcibly does this transaction teach the necessity of a prudent and moderate conduct! How strikingly does it mark the contrast between insolence, which delights in abusing power--and true
dignity, which, being founded on a reverence for justice, can never be humbled!
The repeal of the Orders in Council has considerably narrowed the controversy between the two countries; and were it not for the rankling of past injuries, the few remaining points of difference might, we should imagine, be very speedily adjusted. The Americans still complain of the undue extension we have given to the privileges of blockade-and of the impressment of their seamen under the character of British deserters.
On both those points the rulers of the two countries are agreed, as far as the principle is concerned. America insists that no place shall be held blockaded, unless it is so surrounded as to make it dangerous to enter, and we do not object to this definition of blockade. On the other question still at issue, it may be shortly observed, that as we have gone to war with America in defence of the supposed privileges of naval war, we would do well to ascertain to what extent those privileges can be safely pushed. Will the warmest advocates of maritime supremacy now assert that we have not suffered equally with our enemies in the contest of mischief which has been stirred up between us in Europe? Admit that we have ruined our enemy's trade-that our hostility has been deeply felt in the misery which it has produced in France-have we ourselves not participated largely in the general distress? It is of little moment what privileges we may be entitled to, according to the theory of the law of nations; since it is plain, that if we push our abstract notions of maritime right to their extreme consequences, no nation will agree in the result-universal war and misery will be the consequenceand every state will suffer exactly in proportion to its interest in peace and good order. In such a struggle, it is just as likely that we should be the first to cry for quarter as our enemies; and in point of fact the first concession has come from this country. We were unable any longer to bear the interruption of trade occasioned by the Orders in Counciland, therefore, these measures were repealed.
It is clear, therefore, that some limits must either be fixed to the persecution of our enemy's trade, or we must come in for a large share of the miseries resulting from our hostility. However high we may hold our abstract rights, they must always, when reduced to practice, admit of some temperament, and amicable compromise with the rights of others. During the whole of the last war, accordingly, such a compromise existed; and the dreadful crisis which has befallen the present times was thus happily avoided. The policy then
pursued, though not, perhaps, strictly consonant to theory, was safe in practice. Its effect was to permit, under certain restrictions, neutral states to carry on the colonial and coasting trade of the enemy. But it laid the intercourse under some disadvantages. It threw considerable inconvenience in the way of the French merchant, and increased to him the price of all his imported produce. And to this extent, and no farther, is it possible to carry the damage of a naval war. In this privilege of laying the enemy's trade under some little increase of charge, consists the full value of what has been so vehemently admired in this country, under the specious appellation of maritime rights. Naval warfare cannot be pursued to the utter extinction of trade. It cannot prevent mankind from a mutual exchange of their surplus produce-as this would be equivalent to an interdict on the productive powers of nature; and whenever it is pushed to such an excess, it must reduce all who are engaged in it to one common level of distress and ruin. We would humbly recommend, therefore, a return to those established maxims of maritime law, under which the industry of unoffending states reposed in security, while this country presented a picture of comparative comfort and peace. The labourer was then peaceable and happy he was enabled to provide, by his industry, for himself and his helpless offspring-he was not driven by want to acts of riot and desperation. These are the evils which it is so desirable to prevent; and it cannot be denied, that they lie deep in the policy of the country.
The impressing of American seamen into the British service, which has naturally arisen from the resemblance of the two nations in language and manners, has given rise, we fear, to much deep-rooted animosity. On this subject, however, both parties profess a complete union of principle; but the difficulty consists in finding some practicable arrangement for preserving to each its respective rights. Hitherto British ships of war have been in the practice of searching American merchantmen, and taking out, in a summary manner, such of their crew as they judged to be British. Certificates of American citizenship, or other evidence, might be offered-on which it rested with the British officer to decide; so that every American seaman might be said to hold his liberty, and ultimately his life, at the discretion of a foreign commander. In many cases, accordingly, native born Americans were dragged on board British ships of war-they were dispersed in the remotest quarters of the globe-and not only exposed to the perils of service, but shut out, by their situation, from all hope of ever being reclaimed. The right which we undoubtedly possess of reclaiming runaway seamen, was exerVol. I. New Series. Hh
cised, in short, without either moderation or justice; and though the government was no party in the first instance to these proceedings, yet there is no doubt that these outrages might, with some little activity, have been prevented. The natural consequence of injury is resentment; and we are not, therefore, to wonder if the Americans came a little heated to the discussion of these long contested claims. But we have great faith in the efficacy of conciliation for the termination of strife, whether foreign or domestic. It is seldom, we imagine, that those who seek peace, as Mr. Burke expresses it, in the spirit of peace, ever finally miss their object. Without yielding the claim of right, therefore, might we not, in consideration of what America has suffered by its practical assertion, allow her to propose some other expedient equally effectual and less offensive? If it be ultimately found that no such expedient can be suggested, then we might claim the right of search with a better grace; and were we to guard against its abuse with due caution, it might possibly be re-established without any offence to neutral powers. The mere discretion of naval officers ought, certainly, to be relied on as little as possible; for, sorely as they are frequently beset for want of men, they must clearly have a strong bias against the rights of American citizens. Some strict provision ought, therefore, to be made for landing, within a given time, those who are detained under so suspicious a judgment, that their case may be calmly reviewed; and while ample and speedy redress ought to be made to the injured parties, every act of outrage or palpable injustice ought to be visited with exemplary damages. It is not only necessary, we should recollect, to possess rights; but those rights must be exercised without offence or they must be resisted. It is the business of this country, therefore, to seek an amicable discussion of contested privileges to listen to objections--and, finally, to modify and compromise, that the thing contended for may be made practicable; otherwise it is good for nothing.
After all, however, the value of the object in dispute is the thing as to which we candidly confess that we have the greatest doubts. The question is, what is the actual amount of the damage sustained-what is the number of seamen who take refuge from the naval conscription of Britain in the service of America? Would the number of men likely to be annually lost to the country, under such an arrangement as would satisfy the Americans, and under the most rigorous exercise of our rights, differ in such a degree as to have any perceptible influence on our naval operations? These are questions of great importance; as it is highly necessary to know how far the object at issue bears any proportion to the risks and