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and public law. While we are going back to antiquity in search of authorities on the law of nature and nations, would it not be as well for the honor of common sense, if not of humanity, to pass over the age of the crusades, when the nameless, I had almost said shameless compilations, so often appealed to in maritime courts, were collected, and ascend to the time of Cicero ?”
And may we not add, in connection with these just and conclusive remarks, if the cause of humanity would be promoted by ascending to the time of Cicero, as probably it would be, would it not be promoted still more truly and emphatically by appealing to the instructions of Him, who spake, as never man spake? We never could bring ourselves to speak lightly of the great Roman orator ; his philosophy is dictated not less by humanity than by wisdom; there is diffused through it a great breadth and expansion of view, and at the same time a charming spirit of goodwill and benevolence, honorable to him as a man and as a distinguished teacher of the human race. But at the same time we ought never to forget, that we have a divine teacher, with whom it would be hardly less than impiety to compare, either in wisdom or benevolence, any of the great names of the earth. Happy will it be when politicians and civilians are truly disposed to derive the principles, which they prescribe for the regulation of individual and national conduct, from a source so exalted!
THE distresses, which merchants suffer from the exposure of their private property to belligerent attacks on the ocean, are increased by the odious practice of privateering. Individuals, acting, however, under the authority of their government, fit out armed vessels at their own expense and risk, for the purpose of seizing not only the public, but the private property of the nation at war, and with the pledge, after a legal adjudication, of appropriating the property thus seized to their own private purposes. Undoubtedly there is, in this way, a great temptation held up before human cupidity ; and the result is what might be anticipated, that a multitude of privateers swarm forth from all the ports, not for the purpose of avenging their nation's wrongs, but to enrich themselves with the price of human blood ; not to meet public ships in what is considered fair and open combat, but to skulk about, like cowardly thieves and midnight assassins, to seize the peaceful and unarmed merchantman.-Without bestowing a thought on the blood, which will be shed to gratify their insatiable avarice, without the least sympathy for desolate widows and orphans, and for whole families plunged from opulence and hope to poverty and despair, they go forward to their object,
(the same which crucified the Savior of the world,) their thirty pieces of silver. By the general consent of mankind it was proclaimed, that war has horrors enough without the poisoning of wells, without the murdering and enslavement of prisoners, without the sacking of peaceful cities and villages ; and happy will it be, when the same unanimous consent of voice shall announce, that war has horrors enough without the demoralization and cruelties of privateering.
We are aware that some persons may be disposed to take exception at these expressions on the subject of privateering, and may pronounce them unnecessarily severe; but we cannot deny, that they seem to us amply justified by the nature of the subject. Nor, in this matter, do we stand alone, either in opinion or in feeling. The United States, as a nation, as a great people deciding upon an important question of national morals, have ever expressed their disapprobation of the practice of privateering, and their desire, that the principles, which permitted it, might be expunged from the public code. When Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, near the close of the Revolution, were appointed by Congress commissioners to form treaties with the leading powers of Europe, they were instructed to stipulate, among other propositions favorable to pacific and neutral interests, that, if war should arise between the two contracting parties, neither of them should grant or issue any commission to any private armed vessels, empowering them to interrupt or destroy merchant ships.* Some years since certain memorials on the subject of privateering were presented to the Congress of the United States by citizens of the State of Ohio. They were referred to the Committee of Foreign Relations; and from that Committee a Report was made by Mr. Lowndes of South Caroli
* Secret Journals of Congress, Vol. III, p.
na, a name deservedly held in estimation by the whole American people. Among other things the Report has the following statements."It is the security of fair and harmless commerce from all attack, which the memorialists most desire. It is the introduction of a system, which shall confine the immediate injuries of war to those, whose sex and age and occupation do not unfit them for the struggle. If these are, the wishes of the memorialists, the Committee express their concurrence in them without hesitation.
“The Committee think that it will be right in the government of the United States to renew its attempts to obtain the mitigation of a barbarous code, whenever there shall seem a probability of its success. They do not doubt, that it will do so. Its first efforts at negotiation were characterized by an anxiety to limit the evils of war; and if it seem to have desisted from the prosecution of this design, the Committee believe, that this circumstance must be attributed, not to a change in the policy of the United States, but to a perseverance in their former policy of other nations.
“The Committee are not unaware, that the United States are better situated, than any other nation to profit by privateering; but they are far from opposing this calculation to a regulation, which, if the powers of the world would adopt it, they too should consider as a happy improvement in the laws of nations."
When distinguished citizens and statesmen are generally found to utter such sentiments, every thing is to be hoped for. Every word they pronounce is cherished in the recollections of the friends of the human race, and in due season will be found working out its effects. And this must be our excuse for so frequently referring to the opinions of such men,to whom the public naturally look for advice and guidance on subjects of this nature. We con
clude this chapter with the following extract from the writings of Dr. Franklin, expressing sentiments, which he seems to have enforced on every suitable occasion.
“ It behoves merchants to consider well of the justice of a war, before they voluntarily engage a gang of ruffians to attack their fellow-merchants of a neighboring nation, to plunder them of their property, and perhaps ruin them and their families, if they yield it ; or to wound, maim, or murder them, if they endeavor to defend it. Yet these things are done by Christian merchants, whether a war be just or unjust ; and it can hardly be just on both sides. They are done by English and American merchants, who, nevertheless, complain of private theft, and hang by dozens the thieves they have taught by their own example.
“It is high time, for the sake of humanity, that a stop were put to this enormity. The United States of America, though better situated than any European nation to make profit by privateering (most of the trade of Europe, with the West Indies, passing before their doors) are, as far as in them lies, endeavoring to abolish the practice, by offering, in all their treaties with other powers, an article, engaging solemnly, that, in case of future war, no privateer shall be commissioned on either side; and that unarmed merchant-ships, on both sides, shall pursue their voyages unmolested. This will be a happy improvement of the law of nations. The humane and the just cannot but wish general success to the proposition.
• Franklin's Works, Vol. II, p. 448.