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agree with you, in the sentiment which you express, as to the propriety of not involving them in a question, which is of itself of sufficient importance to claim a separate and most serious consideration.
I have only to lament, that the same sentiment did not induce you to abstain from alluding to these subjects, on an occasion which you were, yourself, of opinion, was not favourable for pursuing the discussion of them. I have the honour to be, with great consideration, &c.
GEORGE CANNING. James Monroe, Esq. &c. &c. &c.
London, August 4, 1807. Sir,--1 avail myself of the opportunity, afforded by Mr. Biddle, to communicate to you a copy of a correspondence, and the substance of a conference, between Mr. Canning and myself, relative to the late aggression on the peace and sovereignty of the United States, by the British ship Leopard, in an attack on the Chesapeake off the capes of Virginia.
Mr. Canning's private letter of July 25, which gave the first intelligence of the occurrence, left it doubtful whether the British officers had been culpable in it, and as I knew how very reprehensible their conduct had been on our coast, on many other occasions, and to what height the sensibility of our citizens had been excited by it, I thought it not improbable that something might have occurred to divide the blame between the parties. It was under that impression that my answer was written. On the next day the leading features of the transaction were presented to the publick through the medium of the gazettes, which were taken from private accounts received directly from Halifax, by a vessel which had been despatched by admiral Berkeley with the official one. By these it was evident that the British officer was completely the aggressor, in an outrage of great enormity, attended with circumstances which increased the offence. It was understood likewise from good authority, that the official intelligence, which the government had received, corresponded with and confirmed ihe other accounts already before the publick.
On full consideration of these circumstances, I concluded that it would be highly improper for me to leave the affair on the ground on which Mr. Canning had placed it. I could see no other motive in him to obtain further information relative to the transaction, than for the purpose of ascertaining whether the men said to be deserters, and for whom the attack was made, were American citizens or British subjects; to which it was impossible for me to give any countenance. I thought it indispensable therefore to call on the government to disavow the principle, and to engagé such other reparation to the United States, as their injured honour obviously required. It appeared to me, that any delay in taking that step which depended on an abstract principle, and required no argument to. illustrate, or facts to support it, would have a tendency to weaken a claim which was unquestionable, and to countenance the idea that it would not be supported with suitable energy.
I had, before the knowledge of this event, obtained the appointment of an interview with Mr. Canning on other business, to take place on the 29th ultimo. We met according to the appointment; I observed, in opening the conference, that although the topicks, which had brought us together, were important, the late occurrence at the entrance of the Chesapeake had in a great measure put them out of sight. He expressed his regret that such an event, which would at all times furnish cause of concern, should have happened at the present time. He asked if the men in question were American citizens, or British subjects ? I replied that that was a point which could not come into view in the case : that it was one which, according as the fact might be, would make the cause more or less popular, in either country, but could not affect the principle: that, on principle, a ship of war protected all the people on board, and could not be entered to be searched for deserters, or for any purpose, without violating the sovereignty of the nation whose flag she bore ; that in the present case I had been assured, that the men were American citizens, and that the British minister at Washington had been made acquainted with it. He said little on the subject, but by the tendency of what he did say seemed to imply that his government could not lose sight of the consideration above alluded to, nor indeed did he admit by any thing that
escaped him, that the abstract principle itself would not be insisted on. His remarks however were generally of a conciliatory and friendly character; without pledging himself on any point, he seemed desirous to satisfy me, that no new orders had been issued by the present ministry to the commandant of the British squadron at Halifax. I observed, that as the notes which had passed between us, were informal, and on a very limited view of the subject, on my part, it would be proper for me, now that the circumstances were better known, to present him an official note on it; he admitted the propriety of it.
I then drew Mr. Canning's attention to the subjects on which I had asked the interview ; being the case of the Impetueux, captain Love's correspondence, the conduct of captain Douglass, and of the British squadron generally on our coast. I observed that I had heretofore postponed any official communication on these points, from a desire to connect them with the greater objects depending between our governments, and of course, from motives the most friendly: that I brought them to his view at this time, in consequence of Mr. Pinckney and myself having commenced the other business, as he knew had been done ; he promised to attend to them.
On the 29th July, I wrote Mr. Canning the note which I had promised him in the late interview: I addressed it in terms which I thought suitable to the occasion, obserying to state in it, that I took the step from a sense of duty, applicable to my station as the resident minister, and without authority from my government: I considered the act as that of the British officer, in which the government had no agency, was not bound to support, and which it would be honourable for it to disavow. I flattered myself that some advantage might arise from the measure, and that under the circumstances in which it was taken, no injury possibly could. His reply is dated on the 3d instant, which, though addressed in rather a harsh tone, may be considered as conceding essentially the point desired. It is my intention to say nothing more to him on the subject, till I hear from you, and in the mean time to observe the most conciliatory conduct that circumstances will admit.
Such is the state of this country at the present crisis, that it is impossible to foresee what will be its course of
conduct towards the United States. There has been at all times, since the commencement of the present war, a strong party here for extending its ravages to them. This party is composed of the ship owners, the navy, the East and West India merchants, and several political characters of great consideration in the state. So powerful is this combination, that it is most certain that nothing can be obtained of the government on any point but what may be extorted by necessity. The disasters to the north ought to inspire moderation, but with respect to the northern powers, it seems to have produced directly the opposite effect. A fleet of about 25 ships of the line, with a suitable number of frigates, &c. and above twenty thousand men, has been lately equipped, and sent to the Baltick, as it is said, to take possession of the Danish and Russian navies. This measure is imputed to an understanding which it is supposed has been established between the cabinets of Russia and Paris by the late peace, and which has for its object a concert of measures for the purpose of attempting to force on this country a maritime code more favourable to neutral nations. The motive assigned for the expedition, is that of taking possession of the Danish fleet, to keep it out of the hands of the French; that the Russian fleet is one of the objects, is not so generally believed, though perhaps not less probable.
Mr. Pinckney and myself have taken the first step in our business. We will write you in a few days the state of it. You may be assured that we shall do every thing in our power to promote, in the mode most likely to succeed, the object of our instructions and the interests of our country. Want of time prevents my going into further detail. I have the honour to be, &c.
'JAMES MONROE. James Madison, Esq.
Secretary of State, Washington. .
From Mr. Canning to Mr. Monroe, Foreign Office, Aug.
8, 1807. Sir,-Having received from his majesty's minister in America an unofficial printed paper, purporting to be a
copy of a proclamation of the President of the United States, I have to request that you will be pleased to acquaint me, whether you have received any communication from your government which enables you to pronounce if such paper be authentick?
In the event of your being empowered to admit its authenticity, I have further to request of you, that you will inform me whether you are also authorized to announce it to be the intention of the government of the United States to carry into effect the measures stated in the proclamation of the President, without requiring, or waiting for, any explanation, on the part of the British government, with respect to the late unfortunate transaction, upon which the determination to resort to these measures is professed to be founded ? I have the honour to be, &c.
P.S. I have the honour to enclose an American newspaper, containing a copy of the paper in question.
Mr. Monroe to Mr. Canning. Portland Place, August 9,
- 1807. Sir,-I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your note of yesterday, and should not hesitate to communicate the information which you have desired, if I possessed it; but as I have not heard from my government on the subject of the unfortunate occurrence alluded to, it is not in my power to state to you any thing on the part of my government respecting it. I have no doubt that I shall be instructed in a very few days to make a communication to his majesty's government on that highly interesting event, in which I shall be enabled to furnish a full and just view of all the circumstances attending it. As soon as I receive instructions I shall hasten to apprize you of it. I have the honour to be, &c.