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1811, coaster, in the very mouth of an american port, 'o. was an act unjustifiable, unnecessary, and impolitic; and that this wanton encroachment upon neutral rights, coupled with many others which had been ractised along the same coast, was a sufficient ground for the government of the United States to take every measure, short of actual war, for protecting their commerce and citizens from a repetition of such acts of violence. Presi- Well, the american frigate sails forth, in diploi.e. matic language, “to protect the coast and commerce ed to of the United States,” but, in reality, to speak the #., british frigate Guerrière, to demand from her the for american citizen whom she had impressed, and, in in case of refusal, to endeavour to take that american citizen by force of arms. We must suppose that a refusal was anticipated; or why were such prefo made? why such quantities of ammunition rought upondeck; and why did the commodore, as the President was descending the bay, so significantly question his people as to their readiness for action? ol. A ship is descried, a man of war, “from the symordina- • I >> - ... metry of her upper sails” and her making signals,” *...* and the british frigate Guerrière, as is scarcely the ha-less doubted, from her proximity to the coast, and ... because the mind of almost every person on board is Little- so fully engrossed with the idea of that frigate, as * to be incapable of bestowing a thought upon any other. Chase is given. The ships approximate, so that the upper part of the Little-Belt's stern shows itself to those on board the President. Still the de
lusion continues. As evening approaches, the british
sloop discovers her broadside. “Nevertheless,” says.
the commodore, “her appearance indicated she was a frigate.” Had the Little-Belt been a deep-waisted or frigate-built ship, such a mistake might have happened; but she was a low flush vessel, similar in size, number of ports, and general appearance, to
* Official letter of commodore Rodgers. + Ibid.
the american sloop. Hornet. The ships mutually 1811. approach within hailing distance. Captain Bingham o hails, let us admit, without being heard. Commodore Rodgers hails, and is hailed back. “Having,” he says, “asked the first question, I of course considered myself entitled, by the common rules of politeness, to the first answer: after a pause of 15 or 20 seconds, I reiterated my first inquiry of “What ship is that 7’’’
É. us also pause; and, leaving “ the rules of politeness” to serve the commodore on some other occasion, examine upon what more stable ground he Littleclaims the privilege of being first answered. The to. President was a neutral, the Little-Belt a belligerent light ship: one was at peace with all the world, the other:” at war with the greater part of it. The belligerent hail. vessel has an unquestionable right to conceal her condition, to wear false colours, give a false answer, or no answer at all; in short, to practise every artifice to deceive or mislead her supposed enemy; and she is to take every ship she meets as an enemy, until the contrary be shown. A neutral vessel, on the other hand, armed or unarmed, has no motive, and therefore no right, to practise deception: she is bound to observe common civility, if not “politeness,” to every ship she meets; and, when questioned as to her name or national character, is bound to give it with frankness, because she has nothing to dread from the most ample disclosure of her situation. Hence commodore Rodgers, waving the law Presiof politeness, should have conformed to the law of i. nations, and have answered captain Bingham's hail, .." although under the impression that he himself had." asked the first question. But, in truth, the american frigate at this moment was, to all intents and purposes, a ship of war: she was not only armed, but prepared, for battle, and was resolved to have a battle with the ship, the little ship, that now so opportunely lay under her guns.
From the numerous contradictions and cross
WOL. VI. - C
1811, swearings that have grown out of this case, it has o hitherto been a disputed point who fired the first shot. cous. Having, however, learnt by experience, not to place ... implicit reliance, in all that an American says or §e swears, we shall not let the subject pass without .." such a scrutiny, as may satisfy the minds of some, cers, although it may not remove the doubts of all. The
principal officers examined upon oath, at the court
of inquiry held upon commodore Rodgers, were the
acting captain, three out of the five lieutenants, two .
officers of marines, the master, and the chaplain. Captain Ludlowis “uncertain which fired the first gun, but the second gun was from the President.” The first lieutenant believes the first shot was fired from the Little-Belt. The second lieutenant is sure it was ; and so swears the junior lieutenant. Both officers of marines and the master depose to the same effect. The chaplain thinks the gun came from the LittleBelt, as he felt no jar in the President. With respect to the second gun, or that admitted to have been fired by the President, the lieutenant of marines swears it went off “in six seconds,” and the master “in three or four seconds,” after the first, or LittleBelt's gun. **, So that the two guns were fired within, taking the ...si. lowest estimate, three seconds of each other. Might
is not the guns have been fired at the same instant?
Poi. In short, might there not have been one gun, and .
; one gun only fired? If so, that must have been the the President's gun, because one of her guns is admitted o: to have gone off by accident; while the most possitive denial exists as to the occurrence of any accident of the kind on board the Little-Belt. Moreover the captain, two lieutenants, master, and surgeon of the latter have solemnly declared, that the first gun was fired from the President. In this they are borne out by two british seamen, who, in company, as they say, with nearly 300 more, were on board the President during the action; and who, fearing a rupture with their native country, deserted from the
frigate soon after she arrived at New-York, and 1811; proceeded to Halifax, Nova-Scotia. One of these o men, William Burnet, swears that he was stationed at the second division of guns on the main deck; that, while the commodore was hailing the second time, a gun in his division went off, he thinks by accident; that he was then looking at the LittleBelt through one of the ports, and is positive that she did not fire. The other man, John Russell, corroborates his shipmate's testimony, and adds, that a man got entangled in the lanyard of the lock and thus occasioned the gun to go off. Burnet swears also, that lieutenant Belding, who commanded in his division, knew and declared that the President fired the first shot, and, just before dark, saw with his glass, and observed to him, that the Little-Belt's colours were british. Burnet states likewise, that the ship was a small ship. It is therefore easy to conjecture, why lieutenant Belding was not summoned to give his evidence at the court of inquiry: perhaps the other absent lieutenant might have been equally unfit for a witness in the commodore's cause.
Not a doubt, therefore, remains upon our mind, Both that the first gun was fired, unintentionally we ...” admit, by the american frigate; and, had the british pool. sloop immediately opened her fire in return, being" satisfied at the time that it was a neutral man of war she was engaging, we should have no hesitation in saying, that captain Bingham acted with precipitation: that he ought to have repeated his hail, or sent an officer on board, to demand an explanation. As it was, however, both parties appear to have given a simultaneous vent to their fury; one, as lieutenant Creighton swears captain Bingham informed him, on the supposition that he was defending himself against an avowed enemy; the other, according to the american version of the proceeding, with the intention of chastising the insolence of a pretended friend.
Inawarding this “chastisement,"commodorestodgers
1811, tells us, he was governed by “motives of humanity and o a determination not to spill a drop of blood unnecon cessarily;” and yet his own captain swears, that the ...of commodore's orders were to fire low and with two ... round shot.” His subordinate officers and men, to emulous to please, fired low enough, and loaded their gers, guns, not only with round and grape shot, but with “everyscrap of iron that could possibly be collected.” The consequences of this humane and magnanimous conduct on the part of, in the words of an american editor, “one of the largest 44s that ever floated,” against a ship, that was considerably less than one third of her size, and not one fourth equal to her in point of force, have already been detailed. }. it is, that one of the President's officers has sworn, that he “ thought the Belt a heavy frigate singu- until next day,” and another, that he “took her for or a frigate of 36 or 38 guns." The commodore, too, * confesses himself to have been similarly deceived. joi. What must have been the astonishment of all size" these swearers, when “the next day” discovered their *... late antagonist to be a ship scarcely exceeding in
of the length the space between the President's bows #. and her gangway ladder, and whose topmast heads ranged very little higher than their ship's lower yard-arms. That such a mistake should have happened seems unaccountable; especially when there was light enough for captain Ludlow to see that his opponent’s “gaff was down, and her maintopsail yard on the cap,” and when the distance between the two ships is admitted not to have exceeded 70 or 80 yards. However, the american commodore, in all }. said was believed, and for all he had done was commended, in the quarter to which alone, beside his conscience, and that probably was not an over-squeamish one, he considered himself responsible. On the other hand, the captain, officers, and men of the Little-Belt, for the spirit and firmness they had manifested throughout the whole of the
unequal contest, which, according to ourcontemporary,