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while seeking to protect our own seamen from forced British service, to have removed from her seamen the temptation to desert their country and to supplant ours at home! Why need I ask the question? Your seaman's bill, as it is called, enacted into a law since the war, is an acknowledgment that this ought to have been done : however deceptive some of its provisions may appear, its very principle is to restore to Britain her seamen, and save our own from her service. Unless you believed this principle right, it was the meanest of degradations at such a time to pass such a law; and if it was right, then you had justice to render, as well as to seek. Had you pursued this plain path of right, had you suspended Irostilities, you would have consulted also the true policy of your country. An unconditional proposition for an armistice upon the revocation of the orders, or an unconditional acceptance of the offer of an armistice would have passed for magnanimity. The disgraces which have since foully distained our military character were not then anticipated. The world would have believed, your enemy would have believed, that you suspended your career of conquest because the war had owed its origin not to ambition, but to duty-because you sought not territory, but justice-because you preferred an honest peace to the most splendid victory. With the reputation of having commanded, by your attitude of armor, a repeal of the offensive orders, you would have evinced a moderation which must have secured the most beneficial arrangements on the question of seamen.
But, sir, this was not done. No armistice could obtain the approbation of the executive, unless it was preceded by an abandonment, formal or informal, of the British claim to search for their seamen on board our merchant vessels. As an evidence of this abandonment, the exercise of the claim must, by stipulation, be suspended during the armistice, and this suspension was to be the price of its purchase. Even without an armistice, no • arrangement was to be deemed a fit subject for negotiation, which should not
be predicated on “ the basis” of an exclusion from our vessels, by our laws, of their seamen, and an absolute prohibition of search by their officers. This, sir, was taking very lofty ground: but at that moment the Canada fever raged high, and the delirium of foreign conquest was at its acme. In a few weeks the American flag was to wave triumphant on the ramparts of Quebec. The proposition for an armistice from the government of Canada was utterly inadmissible. In the language of our secretary of state, it wanted reciprocity. “ The proposition is not reciprocal, because it restrains the United States from acting where their power is greatest, and leaves Great Britain at liberty, and gives her time to augment her forces in our neighborhood."
Mr. Russell did condescend to offer an armistice to the enemy, upon the condition of yielding as preliminary, even a suspension of arms, all that could be extorted by the most triumphant war. But even he, in his pacific proposition, could not refrain from exulting at the glorious conquests, that would inevitably be made if submission was refused or delayed. “ Your lordship is aware of the difficulties with which a prosecution of the war, even for a short period, must necessarily embarrass all future attempts at accommodation. Passions exasperated by injuries; alliances or conquests on terms which forbid their abandonment, will inevitably hereafter embitter and protract a contest which might now be so easily and happily terminated. I cannot forbear, sir, from one remark at the awful squinting in this letter, at an alliance with France. Gentlemen are sensitive when the possibility of such a connexion is intimated. The very suspicion of such a design in the cabinet is viewed as a calumny. Here the accredited agent of the American executive proclaims such a connexion, such an alliance as inevitable-proclaims it in an official communication to the public enemy. The declaration is laid before Congress and the people, by the President, unaccompanied by any disavowal. The minister is not censured.
For his very conduct in this employment, he is raised to the highest grade of foreign ministers; and, in spite of the reluctance of the senate to confirm his nomination, he is pressed upon them by the President until their assent to his appointment is extorted. I dwell not upon this topic, for I confess to you the honest fears which once congealed my heart, are now dissipated. The sun of national freedom has burst forth from behind the portentous eclipse that “ with fear of change” had perplexed the darkened world. Napoleon, no longer invincible, stripped of the false glare which splendid crime threw around his character, is no longer eulogized as “ supereminent,” but denounced by the champions of administration as a “ usurp
No one courts the friendship of a fallen tyrant! It is not for me to say in what manner the dispute about seamen is to be settled. On this subject I have no hesitation, however, in giving my general sentiments. It is the duty of this government to protect its seamen, (I mean its native seamen,) from the forced service of any and every power on earth, so far as the strength of the country can obtain for them protection. True it is, that in my opinion the number of impressed Americans bears no reasonable proportion to the number alleged.
[Mr. Gaston here stated some facts which went to prove that the number of impressed seamen was greatly overrated.]
But their number has been large enough to render the grievance a serious one; and be they more or less, the right to the protection of their country is sacred and must be regarded. The government would forfeit its claims to the respect and affection of its citizens, if it omitted any rational means to secure the rights of American seamen from any actual violation. Seek to obtain this security by practical means. If
you cannot by substitute obtain an abandonment of the right or practice to search our vessels, regulate it so as to prevent its abuse-waiving for the present, not relinquishiing your objections to the right. Do all that can fair
ly be asked of you to supersede the necessity of the practice. When this is done, and you should nevertheless fail; when war is rendered necessary to obtain a practical and reasonable security for American seamen against the abuses of impressment, then, sir, that war is just. Whoever may question its expediency, none, who admit that wars may ever be justly waged, can feel any conscious scruples in yielding it support.
This, sir, is no late opinion of mine. It has been long and publicly avowed; not indeed as a pledge to my constituents, as my friend and colleague (Mr. Murphy,) has remarked—we do not deal in pledges—but because it is my habit to be frank when no duty commands concealment. Nor is it strange that I should feel attached to the rights of American sailors. a native of the sea-board. Many of the playmates of my infancy have become the adventurous ploughmen of the deep. Seafaring men are among my strongest personal and political friends. And for their true interests—their fair rights, I claim to feel a concern as sincere, and a zeal as fervent as can be boasted by any gentleman from the interior, or from beyond the mountains, who has heard of them but known them not.
Has the prosecution of your scheme of invasion and conquest against the Canadas a tendency to secure these rights and advance these interests? That, sir, is a momentous question, on which it is the duty of every man in authority to reflect dispassionately, and with a fixed purpose to attain the truth. Unless this tendency be manifest, and morally certain, every motive, which can be addressed to an honest heart and intelligent mind, forbids its prosecution at the present moment.
Make a fair comparison of its certain or probable ills with its possible gains, and then pronounce the sentence which justice, humanity and policy demand; and a suffering nation will bless
your decision. It is not my design to consider the immense expenditure wbich this scheme has cost, and which a continuance of it will cost to this country. Well worthy is this topic of consideration, especially at a moment
when industry is without encouragement, and external revenue is utterly destroyed. But it has been examined with great ability by gentlemen who have preceded me, especially by the gentlemen from Connecticut and Virginia, (Mr. Pitkin and Mr. Sheffey,) and contenting myself with an earnest request, that their remarks be not forgotten, and that in your zeal for conquest, you do not beggar your people, I hasten to present other views which have not been so fully unfolded.
There is something in the character of a war made upon the people of a country, to force them to abandon a government which they cherish, and to become the subjects or associates of their invaders, which necessarily involves calamities beyond those incident to ordinary wars. Among us some remain who remember the horrors of the invasion of the revolution; and 6 others of us have hung with reverence on the lips of narrative old age, as it related the interesting tale." Such a war is not a contest between those only who seek for renown in military achievements, or the more humble mercenaries “ whose business 'tis to die.” It breaks in upon all the charities of domestic life, and interrupts all the pursuits of industry. The peasant quits his plough, and the mechanic is hurried from his shop to commence, without apprenticeship, the exercise of the trade of death. The irregularity of the resistance which is opposed to the invader, its occasional obstinacy and occasional intermission, provoking every bad passion of his
soldiery, is the excuse for plunder, lust and cruelty. These atrocities exasperate the sufferers to revenge ; and every weapon which anger can supply, and every device which ingenious hatred can conceive is used to inflict vengeance on the detested foe.
There is yet a more horrible war than this. As there is no anger so deadly as the anger of a friend, there is no war so ferocious as that which is waged between men of the same blood, and formerly connected by the closest ties of affection. The pen of the historian confesses its inability to describe, the fervid