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might be taken or mistaken for British subjects—those officers being the sole and absolute judges in the case.
For the decrees and acts of the French government, violating the maritime law of nations, in respect to the United States, the committee refer to the instances contained in the report of the Secretary of State, January 25th, 1806, to the Senate, in one of which, viz. a decree of the French general Ferrand, at St. Domingo, are regulations sensibly affecting the neutral and commercial rights of the United States.
The French act next in order of time is the decree of November 21, 1806–declaring the British isles in a state of blockade, and professing to be a retaliation, on antecedent proceedings of Great Britain, violating the law of nations.
This decree was followed, first by the British order of January, 1807, professing to be a retaliation on that decree, and subjecting to capture the trade of the United States, from the port of one belligerent, to a port of another; and secondly, by the orders of November last, professing to be a further retaliation on the same decree, and prohibit. ing the commerce of neutrals, with the enemies of Great Britain, as explained in the aforesaid letter of Mr. Er. skine.
These last British orders again, have been followed by the French decree of December 17th, purporting to be å retaliation on the said orders, and to be put in force against the commerce of the United States, as stated in the afore. said letter of M. Champagny.
The committee forbear io cnter into a comparative view of those proceedings, of the different belligerent powers, deeming it sufficient to present the materials, from which it may be formed. They think it their duty, nevertheless, to offer the following remarks, suggested by a collective view of the whole.
The injury and dangers resulting to the commerce of the United States, from the cause and increase of these belligerent measures, and from similar ones adopted by other nations, were such as first to induce the more cir. cumspect of our merchants and ship owners, no longer to commit their property to the high seas, and at length to impose on Congress the indispensable duty of interposing some legislative provision, for such an unexampled state of
Among other expedients out of which a choice was to be made, may be reckoned
I st. A protection of commerce by ships of war.
5th. An embargo on our vessels, mariners and merchandise.
This last was adopted, and the policy of it was enforced, at the particular moment, by accounts quickly after confirmed, of the British orders of November, and by the probability that these would be followed, as has also happened, by an invigorated spirit of retaliation, in other belligerent powers. The happy effect of the precaution is demonstrated by the well known fact, that the ports of Europe, are crowded with captured vessels of the United States, unfortunately not within the reach of the precaution.
With respect to a protection of our commerce by ships of war, it must be obviously impracticable, in any material degree, without a lapse of time, and an expense which amounts to a prohibition of that resort; besides that it would necessarily involve hostile collisions with one or more of the belligerent powers.
Self armed merchantmen would have the same tendency, at the same time, that they would be utterly inadequate to a security against the multiplied fleets and cruisers to be encountered.
An entiré suspension of foreign commerce, as the resort . in the first instance, would evidently have produced some
inconveniences, not incident to the embargo, as it was modified. But the committee do not suppress their opi
nion, that after a reasonable time, it may not improperly :: take the place of the embargo ; in case of a protracted ad.herence of the belligerent powers, to their destructive proceedings against our neutral commerce.
With respect to a resort to war, as a remedy for the evils experienced, the committee will offer no other reflection, than that it is in itself so great an evil, that the United States have wisely considered peace and honest neutrality, as the best foundation of their general policy. It is not for the committee to say under whal degree of aggravated in. vol. VI.
juries, and sufferings, a departure from this policy may become a duty; and the most pacifick nation find itself compelled to exchange for the calamities of war, the greater distresses of longer forbearance.
In the present state of things, the committee cannot recommend any departure from that policy which withholds our commercial and agricultural property, from the licens. ed depredations of the great maritime belligerent powers. They hope that an adherence to this policy will eventually secure to us the blessings of peace, without any sacrifice of our national rights; and they have no doubt that it will be supported by all the manly virtue, which the good people of the United States have ever discovered, on great and patriotick occasions. But the committee would sug. gest, on this subject, that better councils in the belligerent governments, producing a juster conduct towards neutral nations, would render a continuance of the embargo unnecessary, and that it will be a provident measure to vest in the Executive a power, in such an event, to suspend until the next session of Congress, wholly, or in part, the several acts prohibiting the departure of our vessels for foreign ports.
Although the committee have abstained from entering into any particular comparison, of the proceedings of the French and British governments, towards the United States; they cannot reconcile with their duty, or with the just sensibility of the nation, not to advert to the tenour and language of the late communications, made by the respective organs of those governments.
In the letter of M. Champagny, the United States are not only threatened with confiscation, as the final destiny of American property, seized under French decrees, unless disposition shall be manifested by them against Great Britain, satisfactory to France, but they are even declared, without reserve of any sort, to be actually in a state of war against Great Britain.
In the letter of Mr. Erskine to the Secretary of State, the United States are explicitly charged with justly subjecting their commerce to confiscations under the British orders, by not opposing an eflectual resistance against the decrees of France; in other words, by not making war against that nation, in case no other interposition should be effectual.
There are in this exposition of the British orders, certain features, which claim particular attention ; among the regulations of which they consist, it is provided, that the commerce of the United States, bound from their own ports to its legal and ordinary markets, shall pass through British ports, shall there, in all cases, take their clearances from British officers, shall, in some cases, obtain special licenses, and in others, pay a direct and avowed tax; thus putting the United States on a commercial footing, even worse than was allowed to British colonies—which were left free to carry their exports directly to foreign markets, in cases where an intermediate voyage to the parent country would be too oppressive. In the present case, not a single article is permitied to be sent from the United States to the most southern parts of Europe, without a previous voyage to Great Britain, and in some instances, not without purchasing even that privilege, without paying a tribute to the British treasury.
The committee have taken into consideration the documents relating to the attack on the frigate Chesapeake; but they have not deemed it their duty, in the actual posture of that subject, to make any other remark, than that it strengthens the motives for persevering in all the provisional and precautionary measures hitherto contemplated.
FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES TO BOTH
HOUSES OF CONGRESS. Nov. 8, 1808.
To the Senate and House of Representatives
of the United States.
It would have been a source, fellow citizens, of much gratification, if our last communications from Europe had enabled me to inform you, that the belligerent nations, whose disregard of neutral rights has been so destructive to our commerce, had become awakened to the duty and true policy of revoking their unrighteous edicts. That no means might be omitted to produce this salutary effect, I
lost no time in availing myself of the act authorizing a suspension, in whole or in part, of the several embargo laws. Our ministers at London and Paris were instructed to ex: plain to the respective governments there, our disposition to exercise the authority in such manner as would withdraw the prelext on which the aggressions were originally founded, and open the way for a renewal of that commercial intercourse which it was alleged on all sides had been reluctantly obstructed. As each of those governments had pledged its readiness to concur in renouncing a measure which reached its adversary through the incontestable rights of neutrals only, and as the measure had been assumed by each as a retaliation for an asserted acquiescence in the aggressions of the other, it was reasonably expected that the occasion would have been seized by both for evincing the sincerity of their professions, and for restoring to the commerce of the United States its legitimate freedom. The instructions to our ministers, with respect to the different belligerents, were necessarily modified with a reference to their different circumstances, and to the condition annesed by law to the executive power of suspension, requiring a degree of security to our commerce which would not result from a repeal of the decrees of France. Instead of a pledge, therefore, for a suspension of the embargo as to her in case of such a repeal, it was presumed that a sufficient inducement might be found in other considerations, and particularly in the change produced by a compliance with our just demands by one belligerent, and a refusal by the other, in the relations between this other and the United States. To Great Britain, whose power on the ocean is so ascendant, it was deemed not inconsistent with that condition, to state explicitly, that on her rescinding her orders in relation to the United States, their trade would be opened with her, and remain shut to her enemy, in case of his failure to rescind his decrees also. From France no answer has been received, nor any indication that the requisite change in her decrees is contemplated.. The favourable reception of the proposition to Great Britain was the less to be doubted, as her orders of council had not only been referred for their vindication to an acquiescence on the part of the United States, no longer to be pretended, but as the arrangement proposed, whilst it resisted the illegal decrees of France, involved, moreover, substantially, the precise