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DECEMBER 4, 1854.—Read, and ordered to be printed with the accompanying documents,
and that 10,000 extra copies be printed for the use of the Senate.
Fellow-citizens of the Senate
and of the House of Representatives : The past has been an eventful year, and will be hereafter referred to as a marked epoch in the history of the world. While we have been happily preserved from the calamities of war, our domestic progperity has not been entirely uninterrupted. The crops in portions of the country have been nearly cut off. Disease has prevailed to a greater extent than usual, and the sacrifice of human life, through casualties by sea and land, is without parallel. But the pestilence has swept by, and restored salubrity invites the absent to their homes, and the return of business to its ordinary channels. If the earth has rewarded the labor of the husbandman less bountifully than in preceding seasons, it has left him with abundance for domestic wants, and a large surplus for exportation. In the present, therefore, as in the past, we find ample grounds for reverent thankfulness to the God of Grace and Providence, for His protecting care and merciful dealings with us as a people.
Although our attention has been arrested by painful interest in passing events, yet our country feels no more than the slight vibrations of the convulsions which have shaken Europe. As individuals, we cannot repress sympathy with human suffering, nor regret for the causes which produce it. As a nation, we are reminded, that whatever interrupts the peace, or checks the prosperity, of any part of Christendom, tends, more or less, to involve our own. The condition of states is not unlike that of individuals : they are mutually dependent upon each other. Amicable relations between them, and reciprocal good will, are essential for the promotion of whatever is desirable in their moral, social, and political condition. Hence, it has been my earnest endeavor to maintain peace and friendly intercourse with all nations.
The wise theory of this government, so early adopted and steadily pursued, of avoiding all entangling alliances, has hitherto exempted it from many complications, in which it would otherwise have become involved.Notwithstanding this our clearly defined and wellsustained course of action, and our geographical position so remote from Europe, increasing disposition has been manifested, by some of its governments, to supervise, and, in certain respects, to direct, our foreign policy. In plans for adjusting the balance of power among themselves, they have assumed to take us into account, and would constrain us to conform our conduct to their views. One or another of the powers of Europe has, from time to time, undertaken to enforce arbitrary regulations, contrary in many respects to established prin ciples of international law. That law the United States have, in their foreign intercourse, uniformly respected and observed, and they cannot recognise any such interpolations therein as the temporary interests of others may suggest. They do not admit that the sovereigns of one continent, or of a particular community of states, can legislate for all others.
Leaving the trans-atlantic nations to adjust their political system in the way they may think best for their common welfare, the inde pendent powers of this continent may well assert the right to be exempt from all annoying interference on their part. Systematic abstinence from intimate political connexion with distant foreign nations, does not conflict with giving the widest range to our foreign commerce. This distinction, so clearly marked in history, seems to have been overlooked, or disregarded, by some leading foreign states. Our refusal to be brought within, and subjected to, their peculiar system, has, I fear, created a jealous distrust of our conduct, and induced, on their part, occasional acts of disturbing effect upon our foreign relations. Our present attitude and past course give assurances, which should not be questioned, that our purposes are not aggressive, nor threatening to the safety and welfare of other nations. Our military establishment, in time of peace, is adapted to maintain exterior defences, and to preserve order among the aboriginal tribes within the limits of the Union. Our naval force is intended only for the protection of our citizens abroad, and of our commerce, diffused, as it is, over all the seas of the globe. The government of the United States, being essentially pacific in policy, stands prepared to repel invasion by the voluntary service of a patriotic people, and provides no permanent means of foreign aggression. These considerations should allay all apprehension that we are disposed to encroach on the rights, or endanger the security, of other states.
Some European powers have regarded with disquieting concern the territorial expansion of the United States. This rapid growth has resulted from the legitimate exercise of sovereign rights, belonging alike to all nations, and by many liberally exercised. Under such circumstances, it could hardly have been expected that those among them which have, within a comparatively recent period, subdued and absorbed ancient kingdoms, planted their standards on every continent, and now possess,
or claim the control of, the islands of every ocean as their appropriate domain, would look with unfriendly sentiments upon the acquisitions of this country, in every instance honorably obtained, or would feel themselves justified in imputing our advancement to a spirit of aggression or to a passion for political predominance.
Our foreign commerce has reached a magnitude and extent nearly equal to that of the first maritime power of the earth, and exceeding that of any other. Over this great interest, in which not only our merchants, but all classes of citizens, at least indirectly, are concerned, it is the duty of the executive and legislative branches of the government to exercise a careful supervision, and adopt proper measures for its protection. The policy which I have had in view, in regard to this interest, embraces its future as well as its present security
Long experience has shown that, in general, when the principal powers of Europe are engaged in war, the rights of neutral nations are endangered. This consideration led, in the progress of the war of our independence, to the formation of the celebrated confederacy of armed neutrality, a primary object of which was, to assert the doctrine that free ships make free goods, except in the case of articles contraband of war: a doctrine which, from the very commencement of our national being, has been a cherished idea of the statesmen of this country. At one period or another, every maritime power has, by some solemn treaty stipulation, recognised that principle ; and it might have been hoped that it would come to be universally received and respected as a rule of international law. But the refusal of one power prevented this, and in the next great war which ensued, that of the French revolution, it failed to be respected among the belligerent states of Europe. Notwithstanding this, the principle is generally admitted to be a sound and salutary one—80 much so, that, at the commencement of the existing war in Europe, Great Britain and France announced their purpose to observe it for the present; not, however, as a recognised international right, but as a mere concession for the time being. The co-operation, however, of these two powerful maritime nations in the interest of neutral rights, appeared to me to afford an occasion inviting and justifying, on the part of the United States, a renewed effort to make the doctrine in question a principle of international law, by means of special conventions between the several powers of Europe and America. Accordingly, a proposition, embracing not only the rule that free ships make free goods, except contraband articles, but also the less contested one, that neutral property other than contraband, though on board enemy's ships, shall be exempt from confiscation, has been submitted by this government to those of Europe and America.
Russia acted promptly in this matter, and a convention was concluded between that country and the United States, providing for the observance of the principles announced, not only as between themselves, but also as between them and all other nations which shall enter into like stipulations. None of the other powers have as yet taken final action on the subject. I am not aware, however, that any objection to the proposed stipulations has been made; but, on the contrary, they are acknowledged to be essential to the security of neutral commerce; and the only apparent obstacle to their general adoption is in the possibility that it may be encumbered by inadmissible conditions.
The King of the Two Sicilies has expressed to our minister at Naples his readiness to concur in our proposition relative to neutral rights, and to enter into a convention on that subject.
The King of Prussia entirely approves of the project of a treaty to the same effect, submitted to him, but proposes an additional article providing for the renunciation of privateering: Such an article, for most obvious reasons, is much desired by nations having naval es tablishments, large in proportion to their foreign commerce.
If it were adopted as an international rule, the commerce of a nation having comparatively a small naval force would be very much at the mercy of its enemy in case of war with a power of decided naval superiority. The bare statement of the condition in which the United States would be placed, after having surrendered the right to resort to privateers, in the event of war with a belligerent of naval suprem