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TO THE HISTORY OF THE SIXTEENTH CONGRESS.
COMPRISING THE MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS ORIGINATING DURING THAT CONGRESS, AND THE PUBLIC ACTS PASSED BY IT.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE, Jan. 4, 1821. The Secretary of State, to whom has been referred the resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 4th ultimo, requesting the communication to that House of any correspondence that the President does not deem it inexpedient to disclose, which may have existed between the Executive of the United States and the Government of any of the maritime Powers of Europe, in relation to the African slave trade, has the honor of submitting copies of the papers requested by the resolution. With the exception of a note from the late Spanish Minister, Onis, communicating a copy of the treaty between Spain and Great Britain on this subject, the only Government of Europe with whom there has been such correspondence is that of Great Britain; and these papers contain all that has passed between them, on the subject, in writing. Since the arrival of Mr. Canning, various informal conferences between him and the Secretary of State have been held, in which the proposals on the part of Great Britain have been fully discussed, without effecting a removal of the objections upon which the President had, in the first instance, found himself under the necessity of declining them. They have not yet terminated, nor have any written communications passed on the subject, with the exception of the note from Mr. Canning and the answer to it, here.with submitted, both of a date subsequent to that of the resolution of the House.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. 16th CoN. 2d SESS.-42
Don Louis de Onis to the Secretary of State. WASHINGTON, May 14, 1818. SIR: The introduction of negro slaves into America was one of the earliest measures adopted by the august ancestors of the King my master, for the improvement and prosperity of those vast dominions, very shortly after their discovery. The total inaptitude of the Indians to various useful, but painful labors, the result of their ignorance of all the conveniences of life, and the imperfect progress in civil society, made it necessary to have recourse to strong and active laborers for breaking up and cultivating the earth. With the double view of stimulating them to active exertion, and of promoting the population of those countries, a measure was resorted to by Spain, which, although repugnant to her feelings, is not to be considered as having originated the system of slavery, but as having materially alleviated the evils of that which already existed, in consequence of a barbarous practice of the Africans, upon saving the lives of a considerable portion of the captives in war, whom they formerly put to death. By the introduction of this system, the negroes, far from suffering additional evils, or being subjected, while in a state of slavery, to a more painful life than when possessed of freedom in their own country, obtained the inestimable advantage of the knowledge of the true God, and of all the benefits attendant on civilization.
The benevolent feelings of the sovereigns of Spain did not, however, at any time permit their subjects to carry on this trade, but by special license; and in the years 1789, 1798, and on the 22d of April, 1804, certain limited periods were fixed for the importation of slaves. Although the last term had not expired when His Majesty our lord Don Ferdinand the Seventh was restored to the throne, of which a perfidious usurper had attempted to deprive him. His Majesty, on resuming the reins of Government, soon perceived that those remote countries had become a prey to civil feuds, and, in reflecting on the most effectual means of restoring order, and affording them all the encouragement of which they are susceptible,
Suppression of the Slave Trade.
His Majesty discovered that the numbers of the native and free negroes had prodigiously increased under the mild regimen of the Government, and the humane treatment of the Spanish slave owners; that the white population had also greatly increased; that the climate is not so noxious to them as it was before the lands were cleared; and, finally, that the advantages resulting to the inhabitants of Africa, in being transported to cultivated countries, are no longer so decided and exclusive, since England and the United States have engaged in the noble undertaking of civilizing them in their native country.
All these considerations combining with the desire entertained by His Majesty of co-operating with the Powers of Europe, in putting an end to this traffic, which, if indefinitely continued, might involve them all in the most serious evils, have determined His Majesty to conclude a treaty with the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, by which the abolition of the slave trade is stipulated and agreed on, under certain regulations, and I have received his commands to deliver to the President a copy of the same, His Majesty feeling confident that a measure so completely in harmony with the sentiments of this Government, and of all the inhabitants of this Republic, cannot fail to be agreeable to him.
In the discharge of this satisfactory duty, I now transmit you the aforesaid copy of the treaty, which I request you will be pleased to lay before the President, and I have the honor to renew the assurances of my distinguished respect. God preserve you many years.
LUIS DE ONIS.
- Extract of a letter from Mr. Rush to the Secretary of State, dated Feb. 18, 1818.
"You will probably have perceived, by the proceedings in the House of Commons, that treaties have been formed between this Government and both Spain and Portugal, securing, as far as may be done by treaty, the final abolition, after a specified time, not very remote, of the slave trade. Thus, is a last hand to be put to the work of America, whose legislators led the way, with Europe against them, in this transcendant moral reform. But it is a triumph which as little the Courts as the public of Europe seem willing in any shape to acknowledge. The palm is claimed by others. America is even placed in fault. In his speech on the Spanish treaty, delivered in the House of Commons on the 8th instant, Lord Castlereagh observed, that it was in vain for Britain alone to shut the door of her colonies against the slave trade; for that, unless there was a concert of exclusion, the other islands of the West Indies, 'and the southern provinces of the United States, would become the asylum and depot of it.' I gladly caught the opportunity of this accidental meeting [with Lord Castlereagh] to say what could not have been otherwise than acceptable to the zeal for abolition. I stated the nature of our laws. I said, I felt sure that he would hear from me with pleasure, that it was upwards of nine years since
the traffic had been abolished throughout the Union; and that so far had our acts of Congress carried the prohibition, that to import even a single slave into any of the States, had, during the same period, been denounced as an offence, and subjected to unusually rigorous penalties of fine and imprisonment. His Lordship admitted the prohibitions, but intimated fears lest we could not enforce them, alluding to the recent state of things at Amelia. In the end, he invited me to look into all their conventions with other Powers upon this subject, with a view to future conversation, adding that he was well disposed himself to a proper concert of action between our two Governments for the more effectual extirpation of the traffic.
"I shall look into the conventions accordingly, and wait the renewal of the topic. Whether policy would dictate any concert, is a point upon which, not being instructed, I will not presume to give any opinion. But I hope I do not misjudge in thinking that, for the present, I am merely bound to listen to, without seeking any further conversation. I will take care punctually to communicate, for the President's information, whatever may be said to me, in like manner as my duty devolves it upon me to transmit this first sentiment, so cursorily thrown out by Lord Castlereagh. It will be understood, that, in adverting to our municipal prohibitions, I intended no advance to the point of national co-operation. It was barely for the sake of an incidental and gratuitous vindication, after public remark, which, to say no more, was susceptible of unjust interpretation. On his allusion to Amelia Island, I reminded him that it was the very anxiety to prevent the illicit introduction of slaves that had formed a ruling motive with force itself, the establishment at that place." the President for breaking up, with the public
Extract of a letter from Mr. Rush to the Secretary of
APRIL 15, 1818. "He (Lord Castlereagh) next spoke of the slave trade. The Government of Great Britain felt, he said, an increasing desire that the Government of the United States should lend itself to the measures of regulation going forward in Europe for its complete extirpation. These measures mean, in effect, a reciprocal submission to the right of search. He explained by saying, that only to a limited number of the armed vessels of each of the maritime States would a power to search be deputed, while the exercise of it would be strictly forbidden to all others. It was contemplated, he continued, to form, out of an association of these armed vessels, a species of naval police, to be stationed chiefly in the African seas, and from whose harmonious and co-operating efforts the best results were anticipated. He added, that no peculiar structure, or previous appearances in the vessel searched, no presence of irons, or other presumptions of criminal intention; nothing but the actual finding of slaves on board was ever to authorize a seizure or detention. He said that they had lately pressed France upon the subject, and
Suppression of the Slave Trade.
that there was no doubt of her eventual agree-only desire, he said, was, to see a convention ment. The recent vote, in both her Chambers, formed that would prove free from all objection, on the broad principle of abolition, he regarded and be conducive to the single and grand object as a full pledge of her ulterior steps. to which both sides looked. He ended by ex"I replied, that I was sure that the President pressing the belief which was felt, that the mariwould listen, with an ear the most liberal, to what-time co-operation of the United States would ever distinct proposals were made, more especially usefully contribute to the advancement of this as the United States had been long awake, as well great work of humanity." to the moral guilt as to the political and social evils of the traffic, and had, as was known, aimed against it the denunciations of their own laws. The distinct propositions, his Lordship gave me reason to think, would be made known before long, through Mr. Bagot."
Extract of a letter from Mr. Rush to Mr. Adams, dated London, June 24, 1818.
"In two former despatches I have mentioned what Lord Castlereagh has said to me relative to the slave trade. In my interview with him on the eleventh of this month, he spoke of it in a manner more formal and definitive."
"He first alluded to the late treaties concluded between Great Britain and several of the Powers of Europe upon this subject. Entering into conversation upon their particular nature and provisions, he said, that the period had arrived when it was the wish of the British Government to invite the Government of the United States to join in the measures which Europe was so generally adopting, for the more perfect abolition of this traffic; and that it was now his design to submit, through me, proposals to this effect. It will be perceived by my despatch, No. 14, [April 15, 1818,] that, at that period, it had been contemplated to make them through the channel of the English mission at Washington. What may have led to a change in this respect, his Lordship did not state, nor did I deem it material to inquire.
"It had occurred to him, he said, to make the proposals by sending me, accompanied by an official note, entire copies of all the treaties in question. They would best unfold the grounds and principles upon which a concert of action had already been settled by the States that were parties to them, and it was his intention to ask the accession of the United States upon grounds and principles that were similar. He added, that he would willingly receive my suggestions as to any other course that might strike me as better adapted to the object. I replied, that none appeared to me more eligible, and that whenever he would enclose me the treaties, I would lose no time in transmitting them, for the consideration of the President."
"It naturally occurred to me, during our versation, that the detached and distant situation of the United States, if not other causes, might call for a modification in some parts of these instruments, admitting that the broad principle of concert met approbation. His Lordship upon this point was full in assurances, that the British Government would be happy to listen to whatever modifications the Government of the United States might think fit to propose. Its anxious and
"Nothing further passed necessary to the full understanding of the overture, beyond what the documents themselves and his Lordship's note, are calculated to afford. To these I have, therefore, the honor to refer, as disclosing, in the most authentic and detailed manner, the whole views of the British Government upon this interesting subject."
Lord Castlereagh to Mr. Rush.
FOREIGN OFFICE, June 20, 1818.
SIR: The distinguished share which the Government of the United States has, from the earliest period, borne in advancing the cause of abolition, makes the British Government desirous of submitting to their favorable consideration whatever may appear to them calculated to bring about the final accomplishment of this great work of humanity.
The laudable anxiety with which you personally interest yourself in whatever is passing upon this important subject, will have led you to perceive that, with the exception of the Crown of Portugal, all European States have now either actually prohibited the traffic in slaves to their subjects, or fixed an early period for its cessation, whilst Portugal has also renounced it to the north of the equator. From May, 1820, there will not be a flag which can legally cover this detested traffic to the north of the line, and there is reason to hope that the Portugese may also, ere long, be prepared to abandon it to the south of the equator; but, so long as some effectual concert is not established amongst the principal maritime Powers, for preventing their respective flags from being made a covert for an illicit trade, there is too much reason to fear (whatever be the state of the law upon this subject) that the evil will continue to exist, and, in proportion as it assumes a contraband form, that it will be carried on under the most aggravating circumstances of cruelty and desolation.
It is from a deep conviction of this truth, founded upon experience, that the British Government, in all its negotiations upon this subject, has endeavored to combine a system of alliance for the suppression of this most abusive practice, with the engagements which it has succeeded in lately concontracting with the Government of Spain and Portugal for the total or partial abolition of the slave trade. I have now the honor to enclose to you copies of the treaties which have been happily concluded with those Powers, together with the acts which have recently passed the Legislature, for carrying the same into execution.
I have also the satisfaction to transmit to you a copy of a treaty which has been recently concluded with the King of the Netherlands, for the like pur
Suppression of the Slave Trade.
pose, though at too late a period in the session to levelled. Your Lordship will pardon me this aladmit of its provisions receiving the sanction of lusion to the earnest efforts of the United States to Parliament. I am induced the more particularly put down the traffic within their own limits, fallto call your attention to this convention, as it ing in, as it merely does, with the tribute which contains provisions which are calculated to limit, you have been pleased to pay to their early exerin some respects, the power mutually conceded tions in helping to dry up this prolific source of by the former treaties, in a manner which, without human woe. essentially weakening their force, renders them more acceptable to the contracting parties.
The intimate knowledge which you possess of this whole subject renders it unnecessary for me, in requesting you to bring those documents to the observation of your Government, to accompany them with any more detailed explanation. What I have earnestly to beg of you is, to bring them under the serious consideration of the President, intimating to him the strong wish of the British Government that the exertions of the two States may be combined upon a somewhat similar principle, in order to put down this great moral disobedience, wherever it may be committed, to the laws of both countries. I am confident this cannot effectually be done, except by mutually conceding to each other's ships of war a qualified right of search, with a power of detaining the vessels of either State, with slaves actually on board. You will perceive in these conventions a studi-thropy on the part of this Government, by which ous, and, I trust, a successful attempt, to narrow it has been dictated. and limit this power within the due bounds, and to guard it against perversion. If the American Government is disposed to enter into a similar concert, and can suggest any further regulations, the better to obviate abuse, this Government will be most ready to listen to any suggestion of this nature, their only object being to contribute, by every effort in their power, to put an end to this disgraceful traffic.
Whether any causes may throw obstacles in the way of their uniting in that concert of external measures, in which Europe generally, and this nation in particular, are now so happily engaged, the more effectually to banish from the world this great enormity, I dare not, in the total absence of all instructions, presume to intimate, much less have I any opinion of my own to offer upon a subject so full of delicacy and interest. But it is still left to me to say, that I shall perform a duty peculiarly gratifying in transmitting, by the earliest opportunities, copies of your Lordship's note, with the documents which accompanied it, to my Government, and I sufficiently know the permanent sensibility which pervades all its councils upon this subject, to promise that the overture, which the former embraces, will receive, from the President, the full and anxious consideration due to its importance, and, above all, to the enlarged philan
I have the honor to be, with the highest consideration, your Lordship's obedient faithful servant, RICHARD RUSH.
I have the honor to be, with great truth, sir, your most obedient humble servant,
Mr. Rush to Lord Castlereagh.
MY LORD: I have been honored with your Lordship's note of the twentieth of this month, enclosing copies of treaties recently concluded between this Government and the Government of Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands, respectively, in relation to the slave trade, and designed to draw the attention of the Government of the United States to this subject, with a view to its co-operation upon principles similar to those held out in these treaties, in measures that may tend to the more complete and universal abolition of the traffic. The United States, from an early day of their history, have regarded with deep and uniform abhorrence the existence of a traffic attended by such complications of misery and guilt. Its trancendant evils roused, throughout all ranks, a corresponding zeal for their extirpation. One step followed another until humanity triumphed, and against its continuance, under any shape, by its own citizens, the most absolute prohibitions of their code have, for a period of more than ten years, been rigorously, and, it is hoped, beneficially
Extract of a letter from the Secretary of State to
"The President desires that you would make known to the British Government, his sensibility to the friendly spirit of confidence with which the treaties lately contracted by Great Britain with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and the legislative measures of Parliament, founded upon them, have been communicated to this Government, and the invitation to the United States to join in the same or similar arrangements has been given. He wishes you also to give the strongest assurances that the solicitude of the United States for the accomplishment of the common object, the total and final abolition of that odious traffic, continues with all the earnestness which has so long and so steadily distinguished the course of their policy in relation to it. As an evidence of this earnestness, he requests you to communicate to them a copy of the act of Congress of the last session, in addition to the act of 1807, to prohibit the importation of slaves into the United States, (Acts of the last session, chapter 86, page 81,) and to declare the readiness of this Government, within their Constitutional powers, to adopt any further measures, which experience may prove to be necessary, for the purpose of attaining so desirable an
"But you will observe that, in examining the provisions of the treaties communicated by Lord Castlereagh, all their essential articles appear to
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be of a character not adapted to the institutions or to the circumstances of the United States.
sion that even vessels under convoy of ships of war of their own nation, should be liable to search by the ships of war of another.
"The power agreed to be reciprocally given to the officers of the ships of war of either party to "You will therefore express the regret of the enter, search, capture, and carry into port for ad- President that the stipulations in the treaty comjudication, the merchant vessels of the other, how-municated by Lord Castlereagh, are of a characever qualified and restricted, is most essentially ter to which the peculiar situation and institutions connected with the institution by each treaty of of the United States do not permit them to accede. two mixed courts, one of which to reside in the The Constitutional objection may be the more external or colonial possessions of each of the two readily understood by the British Cabinet, if they parties, respectively. This part of the system is are reminded that it was an obstacle proceeding indispensable to give it that character of recipro- from the same principle which prevented Great city, without which, the right granted to the armed Britain from becoming, formally, a party to the ships of one nation to search the merchant vessels Holy Alliance. Neither can they be at a loss to of another, would be rather a mark of vassalage perceive the embarrassment under which we should than of independence. But, to this part of the be placed by receiving cargoes of African negroes, system, the United States, having no colonies, and be bound at once to guaranty their liberty, either on the coast of Africa or in the West Indies, and to employ them as servants. Whether they cannot give effect. will be as ready to enter into our feelings with regard to the search by foreign navy lieutenants, of vessels under convoy of our own navy commanders, is perhaps of no material importance. The other reasons are presumed to be amply sufficient to convince them that the motives for declining this overture, are compatible with an earnest wish that the measures concerted by these treaties may prove successful in extirpating that root of numberless evils, the traffic in human blood, and with the determination to co-operate to the utmost extent of our powers, in this great vindication of the sacred rights of humanity."
"You will add that, by the Constitution of the United States, it is provided, the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in a Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. It provides that the judges of these courts shall hold their offices during good behaviour; and that they shall be removable by impeachment and conviction of crimes or misdemeanors. There may be some doubt whether the power of the Government of the United States is competent to institute a court for the carrying into execution their penal statutes, beyond the territories of the United States, a court consisting partly of foreign judges, not amenable to impeachment for corruption, and de- Copy of a letter from Mr. Rush to Lord Castlereagh, ciding upon statutes of the United States without appeal.
"That the disposal of the negroes, found on board the slave-trading vessels, which might be condemned by the sentence of these mixed courts, cannot be carried into effect by the United States; for, if the slaves of a vessel condemned by the mixed court should be delivered over to the Government of the United States as freemen, they could not, but by their own consent, be employed as servants or free laborers. The condition of the blacks being, in this Union, regulated by the municipal laws of the separate States, the Government of the United States can neither guaranty their liberty in the States where they could only be received as slaves, nor control them in the States where they would be recognised as free.
"That the admission of a right in the officers of foreign ships of war to enter and search the vessels of the United States, in time of peace, under any circumstances whatever, would meet with universal repugnance in the public opinion of this country; that there would be no prospect of a ratification, by advice and consent of the Senate, to any stipulation of that nature; that the search by foreign officers, even in time of war, is so obnoxious to the feelings and recollections of this country, that nothing could reconcile them to the extension of it, however qualified or restricted, to a time of peace; and that it would be viewed in a still more aggravated light if, as in the treaty with the Netherlands, connected with a formal admis
LONDON, December 21, 1818.
The undersigned, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States, has the honor to present his compliments to Lord Castlereagh.
In the note of the twenty-third of June, which the undersigned had the honor to address to his Lordship, in answer to his Lordship's communication of the twentieth of the same month, relative to the slave trade, the undersigned had great pleasure in giving the assurance that he would transmit a copy of that communication to his Government, together with the documents which accompanied it, being copies of treaties entered into on the part of Great Britain, with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, for the more complete abolition of the odious traffic in slaves. He accordingly lost no time in fulfilling that duty, and has now the honor to inform his Lordship of the instructions with which he has been furnished by his Government in reply.
He has been distinctly commanded, in the first place, to make known the sensibility of the President to the friendly spirit of confidence in which these treaties, and the legislative measures of Parliament founded upon them, have been communicated to the United States, and to the invitation which has been given that they would join in the same or similar arrangements, the more effectually to accomplish the beneficent object to which they look. He is further commanded to give the strong