The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster

Part 23 out of 25

well as at home, have been produced by American authors in every
department of literary composition.

While the country has been expanding in dimensions, in numbers, and in
wealth, the government has applied a wise forecast in the adoption of
measures necessary, when the world shall no longer be at peace, to
maintain the national honor, whether by appropriate displays of vigor
abroad, or by well-adapted means of defence at home. A navy, which has
so often illustrated our history by heroic achievements, though in
peaceful times restrained in its operations to narrow limits, possesses,
in its admirable elements, the means of great and sudden expansion, and
is justly looked upon by the nation as the right arm of its power. An
army, still smaller, but not less perfect in its detail, has on many a
field exhibited the military aptitudes and prowess of the race, and
demonstrated the wisdom which has presided over its organization and

While the gradual and slow enlargement of these respective military arms
has been regulated by a jealous watchfulness over the public treasure,
there has, neverthless, been freely given all that was needed to perfect
their quality; and each affords the nucleus of any enlargement that the
public exigencies may demand, from the millions of brave hearts and
strong arms upon the land and water.

The navy is the active and aggressive element of national defence; and,
let loose from our own sea-coast, must display its power in the seas and
channels of the enemy. To do this, it need not be large; and it can
never be large enough to defend by its presence at home all our ports
and harbors. But, in the absence of the navy, what can the regular army
or the volunteer militia do against the enemy's line-of-battle ships and
steamers, falling without notice upon our coast? What will guard our
cities from tribute, our merchant-vessels and our navy-yards from
conflagration? Here, again, we see a wise forecast in the system of
defensive measures which, especially since the close of the war with
Great Britain, has been steadily followed by our government.

While the perils from which our great establishments had just escaped
were yet fresh in remembrance, a system of fortifications was begun,
which now, though not quite complete, fences in our important points
with impassable strength. More than four thousand cannon may at any
moment, within strong and permanent works, arranged with all the
advantages and appliances that the art affords, be turned to the
protection of the sea-coast, and be served by the men whose hearths they
shelter. Happy for us that it is so, since these are means of security
that time alone can supply, and since the improvements of maritime
warfare, by making distant expeditions easy and speedy, have made them
more probable, and at the same time more difficult to anticipate and
provide against. The cost of fortifying all the important points of our
coast, as well upon the whole Atlantic as the Gulf of Mexico, will not
exceed the amount expended on the fortifications of Paris.

In this connection one most important facility in the defence of the
country is not to be overlooked; it is the extreme rapidity with which
the soldiers of the army, and any number of the militia corps, may be
brought to any point where a hostile attack shall at any time be made or

And this extension of territory embraced within the United States,
increase of its population, commerce, and manufactures, development
of its resources by canals and railroads, and rapidity of
intercommunication by means of steam and electricity, have all been
accomplished without overthrow of, or danger to, the public liberties,
by any assumption of military power; and, indeed, without any permanent
increase of the army, except for the purpose of frontier defence, and of
affording a slight guard to the public property; or of the navy, any
further than to assure the navigator that, in whatsoever sea he shall
sail his ship, he is protected by the stars and stripes of his country.
This, too, has been done without the shedding of a drop of blood for
treason or rebellion; while systems of popular representation have
regularly been supported in the State governments and in the general
government; while laws, national and State, of such a character have
been passed, and have been so wisely administered, that I may stand up
here to-day, and declare, as I now do declare, in the face of all the
intelligent of the age, that, for the period which has elapsed from the
day that Washington laid the foundation of this Capitol to the present
time, there has been no country upon earth in which life, liberty, and
property have been more amply and steadily secured, or more freely
enjoyed, than in these United States of America. Who is there that will
deny this? Who is there prepared with a greater or a better example? Who
is there that can stand upon the foundation of facts, acknowledged or
proved, and assert that these our republican institutions have not
answered the true ends of government beyond all precedent in human

There is yet another view. There are still higher considerations. Man is
an intellectual being, destined to immortality. There is a spirit in
him, and the breath of the Almighty hath given him understanding. Then
only is he tending toward his own destiny, while he seeks for knowledge
and virtue, for the will of his Maker, and for just conceptions of his
own duty. Of all important questions, therefore, let this, the most
important of all, be first asked and first answered: In what country of
the habitable globe, of great extent and large population, are the means
of knowledge the most generally diffused and enjoyed among the people?
This question admits of one, and only one, answer. It is here; it is
here in these United States; it is among the descendants of those who
settled at Jamestown; of those who were pilgrims on the shore of
Plymouth; and of those other races of men, who, in subsequent times,
have become joined in this great American family. Let one fact,
incapable of doubt or dispute, satisfy every mind on this point. The
population of the United States is twenty-three millions. Now, take the
map of the continent of Europe and spread it out before you. Take your
scale and your dividers, and lay off in one area, in any shape you
please, a triangle, square, circle, parallelogram, or trapezoid, and of
an extent that shall contain one hundred and fifty millions of people,
and there will be found within the United States more persons who do
habitually read and write than can be embraced within the lines of your

But there is something even more than this. Man is not only an
intellectual, but he is also a religious being, and his religious
feelings and habits require cultivation. Let the religious element in
man's nature be neglected, let him be influenced by no higher motives
than low self-interest, and subjected to no stronger restraint than the
limits of civil authority, and he becomes the creature of selfish
passion or blind fanaticism.

The spectacle of a nation powerful and enlightened, but without
Christian faith, has been presented, almost within our own day, as a
warning beacon for the nations.

On the other hand, the cultivation of the religious sentiment represses
licentiousness, incites to general benevolence and the practical
acknowledgment of the brotherhood of man, inspires respect for law and
order, and gives strength to the whole social fabric, at the same time
that it conducts the human soul upward to the Author of its being.

Now, I think it may be stated with truth, that in no country, in
proportion to its population, are there so many benevolent
establishments connected with religious instruction, Bible, Missionary,
and Tract Societies, supported by public and private contributions, as
in our own. There are also institutions for the education of the blind,
of idiots, of the deaf and dumb; for the reception of orphan and
destitute children, and the insane; for moral reform, designed for
children and females respectively; and institutions for the reformation
of criminals; not to speak of those numerous establishments, in almost
every county and town in the United States, for the reception of the
aged, infirm, and destitute poor, many of whom have fled to our shores
to escape the poverty and wretchedness of their condition at home.

In the United States there is no church establishment or ecclesiastical
authority founded by government. Public worship is maintained either by
voluntary associations and contributions, or by trusts and donations of
a charitable origin.

Now, I think it safe to say, that a greater portion of the people of the
United States attend public worship, decently clad, well behaved, and
well seated, than of any other country of the civilized world. Edifices
of religion are seen everywhere. Their aggregate cost would amount to an
immense sum of money. They are, in general, kept in good repair, and
consecrated to the purposes of public worship. In these edifices the
people regularly assemble on the Sabbath day, which, by all classes, is
sacredly set apart for rest from secular employment and for religious
meditation and worship, to listen to the reading of the Holy Scriptures,
and discourses from pious ministers of the several denominations.

This attention to the wants of the intellect and of the soul, as
manifested by the voluntary support of schools and colleges, of churches
and benevolent institutions, is one of the most remarkable
characteristics of the American people, not less strikingly exhibited in
the new than in the older settlements of the country. On the spot where
the first trees of the forest were felled, near the log cabins of the
pioneers, are to be seen rising together the church and the
school-house. So has it been from the beginning, and God grant that it
may thus continue!

"On other shores, above their mouldering towns,
In sullen pomp, the tall cathedral frowns;
Simple and frail, our lowly temples throw
Their slender shadows on the paths below;
Scarce steal the winds, that sweep the woodland tracks,
The larch's perfume from the settler's axe,
Ere, like a vision of the morning air,
His slight-framed steeple marks the house of prayer.
Yet Faith's pure hymn, beneath its shelter rude,
Breathes out as sweetly to the tangled wood,
As where the rays through blazing oriels pour
On marble shaft and tessellated floor."

Who does not admit that this unparalleled growth in prosperity and
renown is the result, under Providence, of the union of these States
under a general Constitution, which guarantees to each State a
republican form of government, and to every man the enjoyment of life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, free from civil tyranny or
ecclesiastical domination?

And, to bring home this idea to the present occasion, who does not feel
that, when President Washington laid his hand on the foundation of the
first Capitol, he performed a great work of perpetuation of the Union
and the Constitution? Who does not feel that this seat of the general
government, healthful in its situation, central in its position, near
the mountains whence gush springs of wonderful virtue, teeming with
Nature's richest products, and yet not far from the bays and the great
estuaries of the sea, easily accessible and generally agreeable in
climate and association, does give strength to the union of these
States? that this city, bearing an immortal name, with its broad streets
and avenues, its public squares and magnificent edifices of the general
government, erected for the purpose of carrying on within them the
important business of the several departments, for the reception of
wonderful and curious inventions, for the preservation of the records of
American learning and genius, of extensive collections of the products
of nature and art, brought hither for study and comparison from all
parts of the world,--adorned with numerous churches, and sprinkled over,
I am happy to say, with many public schools, where all the children of
the city, without distinction, have the means of obtaining a good
education, and with academies and colleges, professional schools and
public libraries,--should continue to receive, as it has heretofore
received, the fostering care of Congress, and should be regarded as the
permanent seat of the national government? Here, too, a citizen of the
great republic of letters,[2] a republic which knows not the metes and
bounds of political geography, has prophetically indicated his
conviction that America is to exercise a wide and powerful influence in
the intellectual world, by founding in this city, as a commanding
position in the field of science and literature, and placing under the
guardianship of the government, an institution "for the increase and
diffusion of knowledge among men."

With each succeeding year new interest is added to the spot; it becomes
connected with all the historical associations of our country, with her
statesmen and her orators, and, alas! its cemetery is annually enriched
by the ashes of her chosen sons.

Before us is the broad and beautiful river, separating two of the
original thirteen States, which a late President, a man of determined
purpose and inflexible will, but patriotic heart, desired to span with
arches of ever-enduring granite, symbolical of the firmly cemented union
of the North and the South. That President was General Jackson.

On its banks repose the ashes of the Father of his Country, and at our
side, by a singular felicity of position, overlooking the city which he
designed, and which bears his name, rises to his memory the marble
column, sublime in its simple grandeur, and fitly intended to reach a
loftier height than any similar structure on the surface of the whole

Let the votive offerings of his grateful countrymen be freely
contributed to carry this monument higher and still higher. May I say,
as on another occasion, "Let it rise; let it rise till it meet the sun
in his coming; let the earliest light of the morning gild it, and
parting day linger and play on its summit!"

Fellow-citizens, what contemplations are awakened in our minds as we
assemble here to re-enact a scene like that performed by Washington!
Methinks I see his venerable form now before me, as presented in the
glorious statue by Houdon, now in the Capitol of Virginia. He is
dignified and grave; but concern and anxiety seem to soften the
lineaments of his countenance. The government over which he presides is
yet in the crisis of experiment. Not free from troubles at home, he sees
the world in commotion and in arms all around him. He sees that imposing
foreign powers are half disposed to try the strength of the recently
established American government. We perceive that mighty thoughts,
mingled with fears as well as with hopes, are struggling within him. He
heads a short procession over these then naked fields; he crosses yonder
stream on a fallen tree; he ascends to the top of this eminence, whose
original oaks of the forest stand as thick around him as if the spot had
been devoted to Druidical worship, and here he performs the appointed
duty of the day.

And now, fellow-citizens, if this vision were a reality; if Washington
actually were now amongst us, and if he could draw around him the shades
of the great public men of his own day, patriots and warriors, orators
and statesmen, and were to address us in their presence, would he not
say to us: "Ye men of this generation, I rejoice and thank God for being
able to see that our labors and toils and sacrifices were not in vain.
You are prosperous, you are happy, you are grateful; the fire of
liberty burns brightly and steadily in your hearts, while DUTY and the
LAW restrain it from bursting forth in wild and destructive
conflagration. Cherish liberty, as you love it; cherish its securities,
as you wish to preserve it. Maintain the Constitution which we labored
so painfully to establish, and which has been to you such a source of
inestimable blessings. Preserve the union of the States, cemented as it
was by our prayers, our tears, and our blood. Be true to God, to your
country, and to your duty. So shall the whole Eastern world follow the
morning sun to contemplate you as a nation; so shall all generations
honor you, as they honor us; and so shall that Almighty Power which so
graciously protected us, and which now protects you, shower its
everlasting blessings upon you and your posterity."

Great Father of your Country! we heed your words; we feel their force as
if you now uttered them with lips of flesh and blood. Your example
teaches us, your affectionate addresses teach us, your public life
teaches us, your sense of the value of the blessings of the Union. Those
blessings our fathers have tasted, and we have tasted, and still taste.
Nor do we intend that those who come after us shall be denied the same
high fruition. Our honor as well as our happiness is concerned. We
cannot, we dare not, we will not, betray our sacred trust. We will not
filch from posterity the treasure placed in our hands to be transmitted
to other generations. The bow that gilds the clouds in the heavens, the
pillars that uphold the firmament, may disappear and fall away in the
hour appointed by the will of God; but until that day comes, or so long
as our lives may last, no ruthless hand shall undermine that bright arch
of Union and Liberty which spans the continent from Washington to

Fellow-citizens, we must sometimes be tolerant to folly, and patient at
the sight of the extreme waywardness of men; but I confess that, when I
reflect on the renown of our past history, on our present prosperity and
greatness, and on what the future hath yet to unfold, and when I see
that there are men who can find in all this nothing good, nothing
valuable, nothing truly glorious, I feel that all their reason has fled
away from them, and left the entire control over their judgment and
their actions to insanity and fanaticism; and more than all,
fellow-citizens, if the purposes of fanatics and disunionists should be
accomplished, the patriotic and intelligent of our generation would seek
to hide themselves from the scorn of the world, and go about to find
dishonorable graves.

Fellow-citizens, take _courage_; be of _good cheer_. We shall come to no
such ignoble end. We shall live, and not die. During the period allotted
to our several lives, we shall continue to rejoice in the return of this
anniversary. The ill-omened sounds of fanaticism will be hushed; the
ghastly spectres of _Secession_ and _Disunion_ will disappear; and the
enemies of united constitutional liberty, if their hatred cannot be
appeased, may prepare to have their eyeballs seared as they behold the
steady flight of the American eagle, on his burnished wings, for years
and years to come.

President Fillmore, it is your singularly good fortune to perform an act
such as that which the earliest of your predecessors performed
fifty-eight years ago. You stand where he stood; you lay your hand on
the corner-stone of a building designed greatly to extend that whose
corner-stone he laid. Changed, changed is every thing around. The same
sun, indeed, shone upon his head which now shines upon yours. The same
broad river rolled at his feet, and bathes his last resting-place, that
now rolls at yours. But the site of this city was then mainly an open
field. Streets and avenues have since been laid out and completed,
squares and public grounds enclosed and ornamented, until the city which
bears his name, although comparatively inconsiderable in numbers and
wealth, has become quite fit to be the seat of government of a great
and united people.

Sir, may the consequences of the duty which you perform so auspiciously
to-day, equal those which flowed from his act. Nor this only; may the
principles of your administration, and the wisdom of your political
conduct, be such, as that the world of the present day, and all history
hereafter, may be at no loss to perceive what example you have made your

Fellow-citizens, I now bring this address to a close, by expressing to
you, in the words of the great Roman orator, the deepest wish of my
heart, and which I know dwells deeply in the hearts of all who hear me:
hoc mihi majus a diis immortalibus dari nihil potest: alterum, ut ita
cuique eveniat, ut de republica quisque mereatur."

And now, fellow-citizens, with hearts void of hatred, envy, and malice
towards our own countrymen, or any of them, or towards the subjects or
citizens of other governments, or towards any member of the great family
of man; but exulting, nevertheless, in our own peace, security, and
happiness, in the grateful remembrance of the past, and the glorious
hopes of the future, let us return to our homes, and with all humility
and devotion offer our thanks to the Father of all our mercies,
political, social, and religious.

[Footnote 1: The following motto stands upon the title-page of the
original pamphlet edition:--

"Stet Capitolium
late nomen in ultimas
Extendat oras."]

[Footnote 2: Hugh Smithson, whose munificent bequest has been applied to
the foundation of "The Smithsonian Institution."]



_Mr. Webster to Lord Ashburton._

Department of State, Washington,
August 8, 1842.

My Lord,--We have had several conversations on the subject of
impressment, but I do not understand that your Lordship has instructions
from your government to negotiate upon it, nor does the government of
the United States see any utility in opening such negotiation, unless
the British government is prepared to renounce the practice in all
future wars.

No cause has produced to so great an extent, and for so long a period,
disturbing and irritating influences on the political relations of the
United States and England, as the impressment of seamen by British
cruisers from American merchant-vessels.

From the commencement of the French Revolution to the breaking out of
the war between the two countries in 1812, hardly a year elapsed without
loud complaint and earnest remonstrance. A deep feeling of opposition to
the right claimed, and to the practice exercised under it, and not
unfrequently exercised without the least regard to what justice and
humanity would have dictated, even if the right itself had been
admitted, took possession of the public mind of America, and this
feeling, it is well known, co-operated most powerfully with other causes
to produce the state of hostilities which ensued.

At different periods, both before and since the war, negotiations have
taken place between the two governments, with the hope of finding some
means of quieting these complaints. At some times, the effectual
abolition of the practice has been requested and treated of; at other
times, its temporary suspension; and at other times, again, the
limitation of its exercise, and some security against its enormous

A common destiny has attended these efforts; they have all failed. The
question stands at this moment where it stood fifty years ago. The
nearest approach to a settlement was a convention proposed in 1803, and
which had come to the point of signature, when it was broken off in
consequence of the British government insisting that the _narrow seas_
should be expressly excepted out of the sphere over which the
contemplated stipulation against impressment should extend. The American
Minister, Mr. King, regarded this exception as quite inadmissible, and
chose rather to abandon the negotiation than to acquiesce in the
doctrine which it proposed to establish.

England asserts the right of impressing British subjects, in time of
war, out of neutral merchant-vessels, and of deciding by her visiting
officers who, among the crews of such merchant-vessels, are British
subjects. She asserts this as a legal exercise of the prerogative of the
crown; which prerogative is alleged to be founded on the English law of
the perpetual and indissoluble allegiance of the subject, and his
obligation under all circumstances, and for his whole life, to render
military service to the crown whenever required.

This statement, made in the words of eminent British jurists, shows at
once that the English claim is far broader than the basis or platform on
which it is raised. The law relied on is English law; the obligations
insisted on are obligations existing between the crown of England and
its subjects. This law and these obligations, it is admitted, may be
such as England may choose they shall be. But then they must be confined
to the parties. Impressment of seamen out of and beyond English
territory, and from on board the ships of other nations, is an
interference with the rights of other nations; is further, therefore,
than English prerogative can legally extend; and is nothing but an
attempt to enforce the peculiar law of England beyond the dominions and
jurisdiction of the crown. The claim asserts an extra-territorial
authority for the law of British prerogative, and assumes to exercise
this extra-territorial authority, to the manifest injury and annoyance
of the citizens and subjects of other states, on board their own
vessels, on the high seas.

Every merchant-vessel on the seas is rightfully considered as part of
the territory of the country to which it belongs. The entry, therefore,
into such vessel, being neutral, by a belligerent, is an act of force,
and is, _prima facie_, a wrong, a trespass, which can be justified only
when done for some purpose allowed to form a sufficient justification by
the law of nations. But a British cruiser enters an American
merchant-vessel in order to take therefrom supposed British subjects;
offering no justification, therefore, under the law of nations, but
claiming the right under the law of England respecting the king's
prerogative. This cannot be defended. English soil, English territory,
English jurisdiction, is the appropriate sphere for the operation of
English law. The ocean is the sphere of the law of nations; and any
merchant-vessel on the seas is by that law under the protection of the
laws of her own nation, and may claim immunity, unless in cases in which
that law allows her to be entered or visited.

If this notion of perpetual allegiance, and the consequent power of the
prerogative, was the law of the world; if it formed part of the
conventional code of nations, and was usually practised, like the right
of visiting neutral ships, for the purpose of discovering and seizing
enemy's property, then impressment might be defended as a common right,
and there would be no remedy for the evil till the national code should
be altered. But this is by no means the case. There is no such principle
incorporated into the code of nations. The doctrine stands only as
English law, not as a national law; and English law cannot be of force
beyond English dominion. Whatever duties or relations that law creates
between the sovereign and his subjects can be enforced and maintained
only within the realm, or proper possessions or territory of the
sovereign. There may be quite as just a prerogative right to the
property of subjects as to their personal services, in an exigency of
the state; but no government thinks of controlling by its own laws
property of its subjects situated abroad; much less does any government
think of entering the territory of another power for the purpose of
seizing such property and applying it to its own uses. As laws, the
prerogatives of the crown of England have no obligation on persons or
property domiciled or situated abroad.

"When, therefore," says an authority not unknown or unregarded on either
side of the Atlantic, "we speak of the right of a state to bind its own
native subjects everywhere, we speak only of its own claim and exercise
of sovereignty over them when they return within its own territorial
jurisdiction, and not of its right to compel or require obedience to
such laws, on the part of other nations, within their own territorial
sovereignty. On the contrary, every nation has an exclusive right to
regulate persons and things within its own territory, according to its
sovereign will and public polity."

The good sense of these principles, their remarkable pertinency to the
subject now under consideration, and the extraordinary consequences
resulting from the British doctrine, are signally manifested by that
which we see taking place every day. England acknowledges herself
overburdened with population of the poorer classes. Every instance of
the emigration of persons of those classes is regarded by her as a
benefit. England, therefore, encourages emigration; means are
notoriously supplied to emigrants, to assist their conveyance, from
public funds; and the New World, and most especially these United
States, receive the many thousands of her subjects thus ejected from the
bosom of their native land by the necessities of their condition. They
come away from poverty and distress in over-crowded cities, to seek
employment, comfort, and new homes in a country of free institutions,
possessed by a kindred race, speaking their own language, and having
laws and usages in many respects like those to which they have been
accustomed; and a country which, upon the whole, is found to possess
more attractions for persons of their character and condition than any
other on the face of the globe. It is stated that, in the quarter of the
year ending with June last, more than twenty-six thousand emigrants left
the single port of Liverpool for the United States, being four or five
times as many as left the same port within the same period for the
British colonies and all other parts of the world. Of these crowds of
emigrants, many arrive in our cities in circumstances of great
destitution, and the charities of the country, both public and private,
are severely taxed to relieve their immediate wants. In time they
mingle with the new community in which they find themselves, and seek
means of living. Some find employment in the cities, others go to the
frontiers, to cultivate lands reclaimed from the forest; and a greater
or less number of the residue, becoming in time naturalized citizens,
enter into the merchant service under the flag of their adopted country.

Now, my Lord, if war should break out between England and a European
power, can any thing be more unjust, any thing more irreconcilable to
the general sentiments of mankind, than that England should seek out
these persons, thus encouraged by her and compelled by their own
condition to leave their native homes, tear them away from their new
employments, their new political relations, and their domestic
connections, and force them to undergo the dangers and hardships of
military service for a country which has thus ceased to be their own
country? Certainly, certainly, my Lord, there can be but one answer to
this question. Is it not far more reasonable that England should either
prevent such emigration of her subjects, or that, if she encourage and
promote it, she should leave them, not to the embroilment of a double
and contradictory allegiance, but to their own voluntary choice, to form
such relations, political or social, as they see fit, in the country
where they are to find their bread, and to the laws and institutions of
which they are to look for defence and protection?

A question of such serious importance ought now to be put at rest. If
the United States give shelter and protection to those whom the policy
of England annually casts upon their shores,--if, by the benign
influences of their government and institutions, and by the happy
condition of the country, those emigrants become raised from poverty to
comfort, finding it easy even to become landholders, and being allowed
to partake in the enjoyment of all civil rights,--if all this may be
done, (and all this is done, under the countenance and encouragement of
England herself,) is it not high time that, yielding that which had its
origin in feudal ideas as inconsistent with the present state of
society, and especially with the intercourse and relations subsisting
between the Old World and the New, England should at length formally
disclaim all right to the services of such persons, and renounce all
control over their conduct?

But impressment is subject to objections of a much wider range. If it
could be justified in its application to those who are declared to be
its only objects, it still remains true that, in its exercise, it
touches the political rights of other governments, and endangers the
security of their own native subjects and citizens. The sovereignty of
the state is concerned in maintaining its exclusive jurisdiction and
possession over its merchant-ships on the seas, except so far as the law
of nations justifies intrusion upon that possession for special
purposes; and all experience has shown, that no member of a crew,
wherever born, is safe against impressment when a ship is visited.

The evils and injuries resulting from the actual practice can hardly be
overstated, and have ever proved themselves to be such as should lead to
its relinquishment, even if it were founded in any defensible principle.
The difficulty of discriminating between English subjects and American
citizens has always been found to be great, even when an honest purpose
of discrimination has existed. But the lieutenant of a man-of-war,
having necessity for men, is apt to be a summary judge, and his
decisions will be quite as significant of his own wants and his own
power as of the truth and justice of the case. An extract from a letter
of Mr. King, of the 13th of April, 1797, to the American Secretary of
State, shows something of the enormous extent of these wrongful

"Instead of a few, and these in many instances equivocal cases, I have,"
says he, "since the month of July past, made application for the
discharge from British men-of-war of two hundred and seventy-one seamen,
who, stating themselves to be Americans, have claimed my interference.
Of this number, eighty-six have been ordered by the Admiralty to be
discharged, thirty-seven more have been detained as British subjects or
as American volunteers, or for want of proof that they are Americans,
and to my applications for the discharge of the remaining one hundred
and forty-eight I have received no answer; the ships on board of which
these seamen were detained having, in many instances, sailed before an
examination was made in consequence of my application.

"It is certain that some of those who have applied to me are not
American citizens, but the exceptions are, in my opinion, few, and the
evidence, exclusive of certificates, has been such as, in most cases,
to satisfy me that the applicants were real Americans, who have been
forced into the British service, and who, with singular constancy, have
generally persevered in refusing pay or bounty, though in some instances
they have been in service more than two years."

But the injuries of impressment are by no means confined to its
immediate subjects, or the individuals on whom it is practised. Vessels
suffer from the weakening of their crews, and voyages are often delayed,
and not unfrequently broken up, by subtraction from the number of
necessary hands by impressment. And what is of still greater and more
general moment, the fear of impressment has been found to create great
difficulty in obtaining sailors for the American merchant service in
times of European war. Seafaring men, otherwise inclined to enter into
that service, are, as experience has shown, deterred by the fear of
finding themselves erelong in compulsory military service in British
ships of war. Many instances have occurred, fully established by proof,
in which raw seamen, natives of the United States, fresh from the fields
of agriculture, entering for the first time on shipboard, have been
impressed before they made the land, placed on the decks of British
men-of-war, and compelled to serve for years before they could obtain
their release, or revisit their country and their homes. Such instances
become known, and their effect in discouraging young men from engaging
in the merchant service of their country can neither be doubted nor
wondered at. More than all, my Lord, the practice of impressment,
whenever it has existed, has produced, not conciliation and good
feeling, but resentment, exasperation, and animosity between the two
great commercial countries of the world.

In the calm and quiet which have succeeded the late war, a condition so
favorable for dispassionate consideration, England herself has evidently
seen the harshness of impressment, even when exercised on seamen in her
own merchant service, and she has adopted measures calculated, if not to
renounce the power or to abolish the practice, yet at least to supersede
its necessity by other means of manning the royal navy more compatible
with justice and the rights of individuals, and far more conformable to
the spirit and sentiments of the age.

Under these circumstances, the government of the United States has used
the occasion of your Lordship's pacific mission to review this whole
subject, and to bring it to your notice and that of your government. It
has reflected on the past, pondered the condition of the present, and
endeavored to anticipate, so far as might be in its power, the probable
future; and I am now to communicate to your Lordship the result of these

The American government, then, is prepared to say that the practice of
impressing seamen from American vessels cannot hereafter be allowed to
take place. That practice is founded on principles which it does not
recognize, and is invariably attended by consequences so unjust, so
injurious, and of such formidable magnitude, as cannot be submitted to.

In the early disputes between the two governments on this so long
contested topic, the distinguished person to whose hands were first
intrusted the seals of this department[1] declared, that "the simplest
rule will be, that the vessel being American shall be evidence that the
seamen on board are such."

Fifty years' experience, the utter failure of many negotiations, and a
careful reconsideration, now had, of the whole subject, at a moment when
the passions are laid, and no present interest or emergency exists to
bias the judgment, have fully convinced this government that this is not
only the simplest and best, but the only rule, which can be adopted and
observed, consistently with the rights and honor of the United States
and the security of their citizens. That rule announces, therefore, what
will hereafter be the principle maintained by their government. In every
regularly documented American merchant-vessel the crew who navigate it
will find their protection in the flag which is over them.

This announcement is not made, my Lord, to revive useless recollections
of the past, nor to stir the embers from fires which have been, in a
great degree, smothered by many years of peace. Far otherwise. Its
purpose is to extinguish those fires effectually, before new incidents
arise to fan them into flame. The communication is in the spirit of
peace, and for the sake of peace, and springs from a deep and
conscientious conviction that high interests of both nations require
this so long contested and controverted subject now to be finally put to
rest. I persuade myself that you will do justice to this frank and
sincere avowal of motives, and that you will communicate your sentiments
in this respect to your government.

This letter closes, my Lord, on my part, our official correspondence;
and I gladly use the occasion to offer you the assurance of my high and
sincere regard.


LORD ASHBURTON, &c., &c., &c.

* * * * *

_Lord Ashburton to Mr. Webster._

Washington, August 9, 1842.

Sir,--The note you did me the honor of addressing me the 8th instant, on
the subject of impressment, shall be transmitted without delay to my
government, and will, you may be assured, receive from them the
deliberate attention which its importance deserves.

The object of my mission was mainly the settlement of existing subjects
of difference; and no differences have or could have arisen of late
years with respect to impressment, because the practice has, since the
peace, wholly ceased, and cannot, consistently with existing laws and
regulations for manning her Majesty's navy, be, under the present
circumstances, renewed.

Desirous, however, of looking far forward into futurity to anticipate
even possible causes of disagreement, and sensible of the anxiety of the
American people on this grave subject of past irritation, I should be
sorry in any way to discourage the attempt at some settlement of it;
and, although without authority to enter upon it here during the limited
continuance of my mission, I entertain a confident hope that this task
may be accomplished, when undertaken with the spirit of candor and
conciliation which has marked all our late negotiations.

It not being our intention to endeavor now to come to any agreement on
this subject, I may be permitted to abstain from noticing at length your
very ingenious arguments relating to it, and from discussing the graver
matters of constitutional and international law growing out of them.
These sufficiently show that the question is one requiring calm
consideration; though I must, at the same time, admit that they prove a
strong necessity of some settlement for the preservation of that good
understanding which, I trust, we may flatter ourselves that our joint
labors have now succeeded in establishing.

I am well aware that the laws of our two countries maintain opposite
principles respecting allegiance to the sovereign. America, receiving
every year by thousands the emigrants of Europe, maintains the doctrine
suitable to her condition, of the right of transferring allegiance at
will. The laws of Great Britain have maintained from all time the
opposite doctrine. The duties of allegiance are held to be indefeasible;
and it is believed that this doctrine, under various modifications,
prevails in most, if not in all, the civilized states of Europe.

Emigration, the modern mode by which the population of the world
peaceably finds its level, is for the benefit of all, and eminently for
the benefit of humanity. The fertile deserts of America are gradually
advancing to the highest state of cultivation and production, while the
emigrant acquires comfort which his own confined home could not afford

If there were any thing in our laws or our practice on either side
tending to impede this march of providential humanity, we could not be
too eager to provide a remedy; but as this does not appear to be the
case, we may safely leave this part of the subject without indulging in
abstract speculations having no material practical application to
matters in discussion between us.

But it must be admitted that a serious practical question does arise,
or, rather, has existed, from practices formerly attending the mode of
manning the British navy in times of war. The principle is, that all
subjects of the crown are, in case of necessity, bound to serve their
country, and the seafaring man is naturally taken for the naval service.
This is not, as is sometimes supposed, any arbitrary principle of
monarchical government, but one founded on the natural duty of every man
to defend the life of his country; and all the analogy of your laws
would lead to the conclusion, that the same principle would hold good in
the United States if their geographical position did not make its
application unnecessary.

The very anomalous condition of the two countries with relation to each
other here creates a serious difficulty. Our people are not
distinguishable; and, owing to the peculiar habits of sailors, our
vessels are very generally manned from a common stock. It is difficult,
under these circumstances, to execute laws which at times have been
thought to be essential for the existence of the country, without risk
of injury to others. The extent and importance of those injuries,
however, are so formidable, that it is admitted that some remedy should,
if possible, be applied; at all events, it must be fairly and honestly
attempted. It is true, that during the continuance of peace no
practical grievance can arise; but it is also true, that it is for that
reason the proper season for the calm and deliberate consideration of an
important subject. I have much reason to hope that a satisfactory
arrangement respecting it may be made, so as to set at rest all
apprehension and anxiety; and I will only further repeat the assurance
of the sincere disposition of my government favorably to consider all
matters having for their object the promoting and maintaining
undisturbed kind and friendly feelings with the United States.

I beg, Sir, on this occasion of closing the correspondence with you
connected with my mission, to express the satisfaction I feel at its
successful termination, and to assure you of my high consideration and
personal esteem and regard.


HON. DANIEL WEBSTER, &c., &c., &c.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Jefferson.]

* * * * *


_Mr. Webster to Mr. Everett._

Department of State, Washington,
March 28, 1843.

Sir,--I transmit to you with this despatch a message from the President
of the United States to Congress, communicated on the 27th of February,
and accompanied by a report made from this department to the President,
of the substance of a despatch from Lord Aberdeen to Mr. Fox, which was
by him read to me on the 24th ultimo.

Lord Aberdeen's despatch, as you will perceive, was occasioned by a
passage in the President's message to Congress at the opening of its
late session. The particular passage is not stated by his Lordship; but
no mistake will be committed, it is presumed, in considering it to be
that which was quoted by Sir Robert Peel and other gentlemen in the
debate in the House of Commons, on the answer to the Queen's speech, on
the 3d of February.

The President regrets that it should have become necessary to hold a
diplomatic correspondence upon the subject of a communication from the
head of the executive government to the legislature, drawing after it,
as in this case, the further necessity of referring to observations made
by persons in high and responsible stations, in debates of public
bodies. Such a necessity, however, seems to be unavoidably incurred in
consequence of Lord Aberdeen's despatch; for, although the President's
recent message may be regarded as a clear exposition of his opinions on
the subject, yet a just respect for her Majesty's government, and a
disposition to meet all questions with promptness, as well as with
frankness and candor, require that a formal answer should be made to
that despatch.

The words in the message at the opening of the session which are
complained of, it is supposed, are the following: "Although Lord
Aberdeen, in his correspondence with the American envoys at London,
expressly disclaimed all right to detain an American ship on the high
seas, even if found with a cargo of slaves on board, and restricted the
British pretension to a mere claim to visit and inquire, yet it could
not well be discerned by the Executive of the United States how such
visit and inquiry could be made without detention on the voyage, and
consequent interruption to the trade. It was regarded as the right of
search, presented only in a new form and expressed in different words;
and I therefore felt it to be my duty distinctly to declare, in my
annual message to Congress, that no such concession could be made, and
that the United States had both the will and the ability to enforce
their own laws, and to protect their flag from being used for purposes
wholly forbidden by those laws, and obnoxious to the moral censure of
the world."

This statement would tend, as Lord Aberdeen thinks, to convey the
supposition, not only that the question of the right of search had been
disavowed by the British plenipotentiary at Washington, but that Great
Britain had made concessions on that point.

Lord Aberdeen is entirely correct in saying that the claim of a right of
search was not discussed during the late negotiation, and that neither
was any concession required by this government, nor made by that of her
Britannic Majesty.

The eighth and ninth articles of the treaty of Washington constitute a
mutual stipulation for concerted efforts to abolish the African
slave-trade. The stipulation, it may be admitted, has no other effects
on the pretensions of either party than this: Great Britain had claimed
as a _right_ that which this government could not admit to be a _right_,
and, in the exercise of a just and proper spirit of amity, a mode was
resorted to which might render unnecessary both the assertion and the
denial of such claim.

There probably are those who think that what Lord Aberdeen calls a right
of visit, and which he attempts to distinguish from the right of search,
ought to have been expressly acknowledged by the government of the
United States. At the same time, there are those on the other side who
think that the formal surrender of such right of visit should have been
demanded by the United States as a precedent condition to the
negotiation for treaty stipulations on the subject of the African
slave-trade. But the treaty neither asserts the claim in terms, nor
denies the claim in terms; it neither formally insists upon it, nor
formally renounces it. Still, the whole proceeding shows that the object
of the stipulation was to avoid such differences and disputes as had
already arisen, and the serious practical evils and inconveniences
which, it cannot be denied, are always liable to result from the
practice which Great Britain had asserted to be lawful. These evils and
inconveniences had been acknowledged by both governments. They had been
such as to cause much irritation, and to threaten to disturb the
amicable sentiments which prevailed between them. Both governments were
sincerely desirous of abolishing the slave-trade; both governments were
equally desirous of avoiding occasion of complaint by their respective
citizens and subjects; and both governments regarded the eighth and
ninth articles as effectual for their avowed purpose, and likely, at the
same time, to preserve all friendly relations, and to take away causes
of future individual complaints. The treaty of Washington was intended
to fulfil the obligations entered into by the treaty of Ghent. It stands
by itself; is clear and intelligible. It speaks its own language, and
manifests its own purpose. It needs no interpretation, and requires no
comment. As a fact, as an important occurrence in national intercourse,
it may have important bearings on existing questions respecting the
public law; and individuals, or perhaps governments, may not agree as to
what these bearings really are. Great Britain has discussions, if not
controversies, with other great European states upon the subject of
visit or search. These states will naturally make their own commentary
on the treaty of Washington, and draw their own inferences from the fact
that such a treaty has been entered into. Its stipulations, in the mean
time, are plain, explicit, and satisfactory to both parties, and will be
fulfilled on the part of the United States, and, it is not doubted, on
the part of Great Britain also, with the utmost good faith.

Holding this to be the true character of the treaty, I might, perhaps,
excuse myself from entering into the consideration of the grounds of
that claim of a right to visit merchant-ships for certain purposes, in
time of peace, which Lord Aberdeen asserts for the British government,
and declares that it can never surrender. But I deem it right,
nevertheless, and no more than justly respectful toward the British
government, not to leave the point without remark.

In his recent message to Congress, the President, referring to the
language of Lord Aberdeen in his note to Mr. Everett of the 20th of
December, 1841, and in his late despatch to Mr. Fox, says: "These
declarations may well lead us to doubt whether the apparent difference
between the two governments is not rather one of definition than of

Lord Aberdeen, in his note to you of the 20th of December, says: "The
undersigned again renounces, as he has already done in the most explicit
terms, any right on the part of the British government to search
American vessels in time of peace. The right of search, except when
specially conceded by treaty, is a pure belligerent right, and can have
no existence on the high seas during peace. The undersigned apprehends,
however, that the right of search is not confined to the verification of
the nationality of the vessel, but also extends to the object of the
voyage and the nature of the cargo. The sole purpose of the British
cruisers is to ascertain whether the vessels they meet with are really
American or not. The right asserted has, in truth, no resemblance to the
right of search, either in principle or practice. It is simply a right
to satisfy the party who has a legitimate interest in knowing the truth,
that the vessel actually is what her colors announce. This right we
concede as freely as we exercise. The British cruisers are not
instructed to detain American vessels under any circumstances whatever;
on the contrary, they are ordered to abstain from all interference with
them, be they slavers or otherwise. But where reasonable suspicion
exists that the American flag has been abused for the purpose of
covering the vessel of another nation, it would appear scarcely
credible, had it not been made manifest by the repeated protestations of
their representative, that the government of the United States, which
has stigmatized and abolished the trade itself, should object to the
adoption of such means as are indispensably necessary for ascertaining
the truth."

And in his recent despatch to Mr. Fox his Lordship further says: "That
the President might be assured that Great Britain would always respect
the just claims of the United States. That the British government made
no pretension to interfere in any manner whatever, either by detention,
visit, or search, with vessels of the United States, known or believed
to be such, but that it still maintained, and would exercise when
necessary, its own right to ascertain the genuineness of any flag which
a suspected vessel might bear; that if, in the exercise of this right,
either from involuntary error, or in spite of every precaution, loss or
injury should be sustained, a prompt reparation would be afforded; but
that it should entertain, for a single instant, the notion of abandoning
the right itself, would be quite impossible."

This, then, is the British claim, as asserted by her Majesty's

In his remarks in the speech already referred to, in the House of
Commons, the first minister of the crown said: "There is nothing more
distinct than the right of visit is from the right of search. Search is
a belligerent right, and not to be exercised in time of peace, except
when it has been conceded by treaty. The right of search extends not
only to the vessel, but to the cargo also. The right of visit is quite
distinct from this, though the two are often unfounded. The right of
search, with respect to American vessels, we entirely and utterly
disclaim; nay, more, if we knew that an American vessel were furnished
with all the materials requisite for the slave-trade, if we knew that
the decks were prepared to receive hundreds of human beings within a
space in which life is almost impossible, still we should be bound to
let that American vessel pass on. But the right we claim is to know
whether a vessel pretending to be American, and hoisting the American
flag, be _bona fide_ American."

The President's message is regarded as holding opinions in opposition to

The British government, then, supposes that the right of visit and the
right of search are essentially distinct in their nature, and that this
difference is well known and generally acknowledged; that the difference
between them consists in their different objects and purposes: one, the
visit, having for its object nothing but to ascertain the nationality of
the vessel; the other, the search, by an inquisition, not only into the
nationality of the vessel, but the nature and object of her voyage, and
the true ownership of her cargo.

The government of the United States, on the other hand, maintains that
there is no such well-known and acknowledged, nor, indeed, any broad and
generic difference between what has been usually called visit, and what
has been usually called search; that the right of visit, to be
effectual, must come, in the end, to include search; and thus to
exercise, in peace, an authority which the law of nations only allows in
times of war. If such well-known distinction exists, where are the
proofs of it? What writers of authority on public law, what
adjudications in courts of admiralty, what public treaties, recognize
it? No such recognition has presented itself to the government of the
United States; but, on the contrary, it understands that public writers,
courts of law, and solemn treaties have, for two centuries, used the
words "visit" and "search" in the same sense. What Great Britain and the
United States mean by the "right of search," in its broadest sense, is
called by Continental writers and jurists by no other name than the
"right of visit." Visit, therefore, as it has been understood, implies
not only a right to inquire into the national character, but to detain
the vessel, to stop the progress of the voyage, to examine papers, to
decide on their regularity and authenticity, and to make inquisition on
board for enemy's property, and into the business which the vessel is
engaged in. In other words, it describes the entire right of belligerent
visitation and search. Such a right is justly disclaimed by the British
government in time of peace. They, nevertheless, insist on a right which
they denominate a right of visit, and by that word describe the claim
which they assert. It is proper, and due to the importance and delicacy
of the questions involved, to take care that, in discussing them, both
governments understand the terms which may be used in the same sense.
If, indeed, it should be manifest that the difference between the
parties is only verbal, it might be hoped that no harm would be done;
but the government of the United States thinks itself not justly
chargeable with excessive jealousy, or with too great scrupulosity in
the use of words, in insisting on its opinion that there is no such
distinction as the British government maintains between visit and
search; and that there is no right to visit in time of peace, except in
the execution of revenue laws or other municipal regulations, in which
cases the right is usually exercised near the coast, or within the
marine league, or where the vessel is justly suspected of violating the
law of nations by piratical aggression; but, wherever exercised, it is a
right of search.

Nor can the United States government agree that the term "right" is
justly applied to such exercise of power as the British government
thinks it indispensable to maintain in certain cases. The right asserted
is a right to ascertain whether a merchant-vessel is justly entitled to
the protection of the flag which she may happen to have hoisted, such
vessel being in circumstances which render her liable to the suspicion,
first, that she is not entitled to the protection of the flag; and
secondly, that, if not entitled to it, she is, either by the law of
England, as an English vessel, or under the provisions of treaties with
certain European powers, subject to the supervision and search of
British cruisers. And yet Lord Aberdeen says, "that if, in the exercise
of this right, either from involuntary error, or in spite of every
precaution, loss or injury should be sustained, a prompt reparation
would be afforded."

It is not easy to perceive how these consequences can be admitted justly
to flow from the fair exercise of a clear right. If injury be produced
by the exercise of a right, it would seem strange that it should be
repaired, as if it had been the effect of a wrongful act. The general
rule of law certainly is, that, in the proper and prudent exercise of
his own right, no one is answerable for undesigned injuries. It may be
said that the right is a qualified right; that it is a right to do
certain acts of force at the risk of turning out to be wrong-doers, and
of being made answerable for all damages. But such an argument would
prove every trespass to be matter of right, subject only to just
responsibility. If force were allowed to such reasoning in other cases,
it would follow that an individual's right in his own property was
hardly more than a well-founded claim for compensation if he should be
deprived of it. But compensation is that which is rendered for injury,
and is not commutation, or forced equivalent, for acknowledged rights.
It implies, at least in its general interpretation the commission of
some wrongful act.

But, without pressing further these inquiries into the accuracy and
propriety of definitions and the use of words, I proceed to draw your
attention to the thing itself, and to consider what these acts are which
the British government insists its cruisers have a right to perform, and
to what consequences they naturally and necessarily tend. An eminent
member of the House of Commons[1] thus states the British claim, and his
statement is acquiesced in and adopted by the first minister of the

"The claim of this country is for the right of our cruisers to ascertain
whether a merchant-vessel is justly entitled to the protection of the
flag which she may happen to have hoisted, such vessel being in
circumstances which rendered her liable to the suspicion, first, that
she was not entitled to the protection of the flag; and, secondly, if
not entitled to it, she was, either under the law of nations or the
provisions of treaties, subject to the supervision and control of our

Now the question is, _By what means_ is this ascertainment to be

As we understand the general and settled rules of public law, in respect
to ships of war sailing under the authority of their government, "to
arrest pirates and other public offenders," there is no reason why they
may not approach any vessels descried at sea for the purpose of
ascertaining their real characters. Such a right of approach seems
indispensable for the fair and discreet exercise of their authority; and
the use of it cannot he justly deemed indicative of any design to insult
or injure those they approach, or to impede them in their lawful
commerce. On the other hand, it is as clear that no ship is, under such
circumstances, bound to lie by or wait the approach of any other ship.
She is at full liberty to pursue her voyage in her own way, and to use
all necessary precautions to avoid any suspected sinister enterprise or
hostile attack. Her right to the free use of the ocean is as perfect as
that of any other ship. An entire equality is presumed to exist. She has
a right to consult her own safety, but at the same time she must take
care not to violate the rights of others. She may use any precautions
dictated by the prudence or fears of her officers, either as to delay,
or the progress or course of her voyage; but she is not at liberty to
inflict injuries upon other innocent parties simply because of
conjectural dangers.

But if the vessel thus approached attempts to avoid the vessel
approaching, or does not comply with her commander's order to send him
her papers for his inspection, nor consent to be visited or detained,
what is next to be done? Is force to be used? And if force be used, may
that force be lawfully repelled? These questions lead at once to the
elemental principle, the essence of the British claim. Suppose the
merchant-vessel be in truth an American vessel engaged in lawful
commerce, and that she does not choose to be detained. Suppose she
resists the visit. What is the consequence? In all cases in which the
belligerent right of visit exists, resistance to the exercise of that
right is regarded as just cause of condemnation, both of vessel and
cargo. Is that penalty, or what other penalty, to be incurred by
resistance to visit in time of peace? Or suppose that force be met by
force, gun returned for gun, and the commander of the cruiser, or some
of his seamen be killed; what description of offence will have been
committed? It would be said, in behalf of the commander of the cruiser,
that he mistook the vessel for a vessel of England, Brazil, or Portugal;
but does this mistake of his take away from the American vessel the
right of self-defence? The writers of authority declare it to be a
principle of natural law, that the privilege of self-defence exists
against an assailant who mistakes the object of his attack for another
whom he had a right to assail.

Lord Aberdeen cannot fail to see, therefore, what serious consequences
might ensue, if it were to be admitted that this claim to visit, in time
of peace, however limited or defined, should be permitted to exist as a
strict matter of right; for if it exist as a right, it must be followed
by corresponding duties and obligations, and the failure to fulfil those
duties would naturally draw penal consequences after it, till erelong it
would become, in truth, little less, or little other, than the
belligerent right of search.

If visit or visitation be not accompanied by search, it will be in most
cases merely idle. A sight of papers may be demanded, and papers may be
produced. But it is known that slave-traders carry false papers, and
different sets of papers. A search for other papers, then, must be made
where suspicion justifies it, or else the whole proceeding would be
nugatory. In suspicious cases, the language and general appearance of
the crew are among the means of ascertaining the national character of
the vessel. The cargo on board, also, often indicates the country from
which she comes. Her log-books, showing the previous course and events
of her voyage, her internal fitting up and equipment, are all evidences
for her, or against her, on her allegation of character. These matters,
it is obvious, can only be ascertained by rigorous search.

It may be asked, If a vessel may not be called on to show her papers,
why does she carry papers? No doubt she may be called on to show her
papers; but the question is, Where, when, and by whom? Not in time of
peace, on the high seas, where her rights are equal to the rights of any
other vessel, and where none has a right to molest her. The use of her
papers is, in time of war, to prove her neutrality when visited by
belligerent cruisers; and in both peace and war, to show her national
character, and the lawfulness of her voyage, in those ports of other
countries to which she may proceed for purposes of trade.

It appears to the government of the United States, that the view of this
whole subject which is the most naturally taken is also the most legal,
and most in analogy with other cases. British cruisers have a right to
detain British merchantmen for certain purposes; and they have a right,
acquired by treaty, to detain merchant-vessels of several other nations
for the same purposes. But they have no right at all to detain an
American merchant-vessel. This Lord Aberdeen admits in the fullest
manner. Any detention of an American vessel by a British cruiser is
therefore a wrong, a trespass; although it may be done under the belief
that she was a British vessel, or that she belonged to a nation which
had conceded the right of such detention to the British cruisers, and
the trespass therefore an involuntary trespass. If a ship of war, in
thick weather, or in the darkness of the night, fire upon and sink a
neutral vessel, under the belief that she is an enemy's vessel, this is
a trespass, a mere wrong; and cannot be said to be an act done under any
right, accompanied by responsibility for damages. So if a civil officer
on land have process against one individual, and through mistake arrest
another, this arrest is wholly tortious; no one would think of saying
that it was done under any lawful exercise of authority, subject only to
responsibility, or that it was any thing but a mere trespass, though an
unintentional trespass. The municipal law does not undertake to lay down
beforehand any rule for the government of such cases; and as little, in
the opinion of the government of the United States, does the public law
of the world lay down beforehand any rule for the government of cases of
involuntary trespasses, detentions, and injuries at sea; except that in
both classes of cases law and reason make a distinction between injuries
committed through mistake and injuries committed by design, the former
being entitled to fair and just compensation, the latter demanding
exemplary damages, and sometimes personal punishment. The government of
the United States has frequently made known its opinion, which it now
repeats, that the practice of detaining American vessels, though subject
to just compensation if such detention afterward turn out to have been
without good cause, however guarded by instructions, or however
cautiously exercised, necessarily leads to serious inconvenience and
injury. The amount of loss cannot be always well ascertained.
Compensation, if it be adequate in the amount, may still necessarily be
long delayed; and the pendency of such claims always proves troublesome
to the governments of both countries. These detentions, too, frequently
irritate individuals, cause warm blood, and produce nothing but ill
effects on the amicable relations existing between the countries. We
wish, therefore, to put an end to them, and to avoid all occasions for
their recurrence.

On the whole, the government of the United States, while it has not
conceded a mutual right of visit or search, as has been done by the
parties to the quintuple treaty of December, 1841, does not admit that,
by the law and practice of nations, there is any such thing as a right
of visit, distinguished by well-known rules and definitions from the
right of search.

It does not admit that visit of American merchant-vessels by British
cruisers is founded on any right, notwithstanding the cruiser may
suppose such vessel to be British, Brazilian, or Portuguese. We cannot
but see that the detention and examination of American vessels by
British cruisers has already led to consequences, and fear that, if
continued, it would still lead to further consequences, highly injurious
to the lawful commerce of the United States.

At the same time, the government of the United States fully admits that
its flag can give no immunity to pirates, nor to any other than to
regularly documented American vessels. It was upon this view of the
whole case, and with a firm conviction of the truth of these sentiments,
that it cheerfully assumed the duties contained in the treaty of
Washington; in the hope that thereby causes of difficulty and difference
might be altogether removed, and that the two powers might be enabled to
act concurrently, cordially, and effectually for the suppression of a
traffic which both regard as a reproach upon the civilization of the
age, and at war with every principle of humanity and every Christian

The government of the United States has no interest, nor is it under the
influence of any opinions, which should lead it to desire any derogation
of the just authority and rights of maritime power. But in the
convictions which it entertains, and in the measures which it has
adopted, it has been governed solely by a sincere desire to support
those principles and those practices which it believes to be conformable
to public law, and favorable to the peace and harmony of nations.

Both houses of Congress, with a remarkable degree of unanimity, have
made express provisions for carrying into effect the eighth article of
the treaty. An American squadron will immediately proceed to the coast
of Africa. Instructions for its commander are in the course of
preparation, and copies will be furnished to the British government; and
the President confidently believes, that the cordial concurrence of the
two governments in the mode agreed on will be more effectual than any
efforts yet made for the suppression of the slave-trade.

You will read this despatch to Lord Aberdeen, and, if he desire it, give
him a copy.

I am, Sir, &c., &c.


EDWARD EVERETT, ESQ., &c., &c., &c.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Wood, now Sir Charles Wood, Chancellor of the

* * * * *


_Mr. Webster to General Cass._

Department of State, Washington,
August 29, 1842.

Sir,--You will see by the enclosed the result of the negotiations lately
had in this city between this department and Lord Ashburton. The treaty
has been ratified by the President and Senate.

In communicating to you this treaty, I am directed by the President to
draw your particular attention to those articles which relate to the
suppression of the African slave-trade.

After full and anxious consideration of this very delicate subject, the
government of the United States has come to the conclusion which you
will see expressed in the President's message to the Senate accompanying
the treaty.

Without intending or desiring to influence the policy of other
governments on this important subject, this government has reflected on
what was due to its own character and position, as the leading maritime
power on the American continent, left free to make choice of such means
for the fulfilment of its duties as it should deem best suited to its
dignity. The result of its reflections has been, that it does not concur
in measures which, for whatever benevolent purpose they may be adopted,
or with whatever care and moderation they may be exercised, have yet a
tendency to place the police of the seas in the hands of a single power.
It chooses rather to follow its own laws with its own sanction, and to
carry them into execution by its own authority. Disposed to act in the
spirit of the most cordial concurrence with other nations for the
suppression of the African slave-trade, that great reproach of our
times, it deems it to be right, nevertheless, that this action, though
concurrent, should be independent, and it believes that from this
independence it will derive a greater degree of efficiency.

You will perceive, however, that, in the opinion of this government,
cruising against slave-dealers on the coast of Africa is not all which
is necessary to be done in order to put an end to the traffic. There are
markets for slaves, or the unhappy natives of Africa would not be
seized, chained, and carried over the ocean into slavery. These markets
ought to be shut. And, in the treaty now communicated to you, the high
contracting parties have stipulated "that they will unite, in all
becoming representations and remonstrances, with any and all powers
within whose dominions such markets are allowed to exist; and that they
will urge upon all such powers the propriety and duty of closing such
markets effectually, at once and for ever."

You are furnished, then, with the American policy in regard to this
interesting subject. First, independent but cordially concurrent efforts
of maritime states to suppress, as far as possible, the trade on the
coast, by means of competent and well-appointed squadrons, to watch the
shores and scour the neighboring seas. Secondly, concurrent, becoming
remonstrance with all governments who tolerate within their territories
markets for the purchase of African negroes. There is much reason to
believe that, if other states, professing equal hostility to this
nefarious traffic, would give their own powerful concurrence and
co-operation to these remonstrances, the general effect would be
satisfactory, and that the cupidity and crimes of individuals would at
length cease to find both their temptation and their reward in the bosom
of Christian states, and in the permission of Christian governments.

It will still remain for each government to revise, execute, and make
more effectual its own municipal laws against its subjects or citizens
who shall be concerned in, or in any way give aid or countenance to
others concerned in this traffic.

You are at liberty to make the contents of this despatch known to the
French government.

I have, &c.


LEWIS CASS, ESQ., &c., &c., &c.

* * * * *

_Mr. F. Webster to General Cass._

Department of State, Washington,
October 11, 1842.

Sir,--I have to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch of the 17th of
September last, requesting permission to return home.

I have submitted the despatch to the President, and am by him directed
to say, that although he much regrets that your own wishes should, at
this time, terminate your mission to the court of France, where for a
long period you have rendered your country distinguished service, in all
instances to its honor and to the satisfaction of the government, and
where you occupy so favorable a position, from the more than ordinary
good intelligence which is understood to subsist between you,
personally, and the members of the French government, and from the
esteem entertained for you by its illustrious head; yet he cannot refuse
your request to return once more to your home and your country, so that
you can pay that attention to your personal and private affairs which
your long absence and constant employment in the service of your
government may now render most necessary.

I have, Sir, to tender you, on behalf of the President, his most cordial
good wishes, and am, &c.

_Acting Secretary of State_.

LEWIS CASS, ESQ., &c., &c., &c.

* * * * *

_Mr. Webster to General Cass._

Department of State, Washington,
November 14, 1842.

Sir,--I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your despatch of
the 3d of October, brought by the "Great Western," which arrived at New
York on the 6th instant.

It is probable you will have embarked for the United States before my
communication can now reach you; but as it is thought proper that your
letter should be answered, and as circumstances may possibly have
occurred to delay your departure, this will be transmitted to Paris in
the ordinary way.

Your letter has caused the President considerable concern. Entertaining
a lively sense of the respectable and useful manner in which you have
discharged, for several years, the duties of an important foreign
mission, it occasions him real regret and pain, that your last official
communication should be of such a character as that he cannot give to it
his entire and cordial approbation.

It appears to be intended as a sort of protest, a remonstrance, in the
form of an official despatch, against a transaction of the government to
which you were not a party, in which you had no agency whatever, and for
the results of which you were no way answerable. This would seem an
unusual and extraordinary proceeding. In common with every other citizen
of the republic, you have an unquestionable right to form opinions upon
public transactions, and the conduct of public men; but it will hardly
be thought to be among either the duties or the privileges of a minister
abroad to make formal remonstrances and protests against proceedings of
the various branches of the government at home, upon subjects in
relation to which he himself has not been charged with any duty or
partaken any responsibility.

The negotiation and conclusion of the treaty of Washington were in the
hands of the President and Senate. They had acted upon this important
subject according to their convictions of duty and of the public
interest, and had ratified the treaty. It was a thing done; and although
your opinion might be at variance with that of the President and Senate,
it is not perceived that you had any cause of complaint, remonstrance,
or protest, more than any other citizen who might entertain the same

In your letter of the 17th of September, requesting your recall, you
observe: "The mail by the steam-packet which left Boston the 1st instant
has just arrived, and has brought intelligence of the ratification of
the treaties recently concluded with Great Britain. All apprehensions,
therefore, of any immediate difficulties with that country are at an
end, and I do not see that any public interest demands my further
residence in Europe. I can no longer be useful here, and the state of
my private affairs requires my presence at home. Under these
circumstances, I beg you to submit to the President my wish for
permission to retire from this mission, and to return to the United
States without delay."

As you appeared at that time not to be acquainted with the provisions of
the treaty, it was inferred that your desire to return home proceeded
from the conviction _that, inasmuch as all apprehensions of immediate
differences with Great Britain were at an end_, you would no longer be
useful at Paris. Placing this interpretation on your letter, and
believing, as you yourself allege, that your long absence abroad
rendered it desirable for you to give some attention to your private
affairs in this country, the President lost no time in yielding to your
request, and, in doing so, signified to you the sentiments of
approbation which he entertained for your conduct abroad. You may, then,
well imagine the great astonishment which the declaration contained in
your despatch of the 3d of October, that you could no longer remain in
France honorably to yourself or advantageously to the country, and that
the proceedings of this government had placed you in a false position,
from which you could escape only by returning home, created in his mind.

The President perceives not the slightest foundation for these opinions.
He cannot see how your usefulness as minister to France should be
terminated by the settlement of difficulties and disputes between the
United States and Great Britain. You have been charged with no duties
connected with the settlement of these questions, or in any way relating
to them, beyond the communication to the French government of the
President's approbation of your letter of the 13th of February, written
without previous instructions from this department. This government is
not informed of any other act or proceeding of yours connected with any
part of the subject, nor does it know that your official conduct and
character have become in any other way connected with the question of
the right of search; and that letter having been approved, and the
French government having been so informed, the President is altogether
at a loss to understand how you can regard yourself as placed in a false
position. If the character or conduct of any one was to be affected, it
could only be the character and conduct of the President himself. The
government has done nothing, most assuredly, to place you in a false
position. Representing your country at a foreign court, you saw a
transaction about to take place between the government to which you were
accredited and another power, which you thought might have a prejudicial
effect on the interest of your own country. Thinking, as it is to be
presumed, that the case was too pressing to wait for instructions, you
presented a protest against that transaction, and our government
approved your proceeding. This is your only official connection with the
whole subject. If after this the President had sanctioned the
negotiation of a treaty, and the Senate had ratified it, containing
provisions in the highest degree objectionable, however the government
might be discredited, your exemption from all blame and censure would
have been complete. Having delivered your letter of the 13th of February
to the French government, and having received the President's
approbation of that proceeding, it is most manifest that you could be in
no degree responsible for what should be done afterward, and done by
others. The President, therefore, cannot conceive what particular or
personal interest of yours was affected by the subsequent negotiation
here, or how the treaty, the result of that negotiation, should put an
end to your usefulness as a public minister at the court of France, or
in any way affect your official character or conduct.

It is impossible not to see that such a proceeding as you have seen fit
to adopt might produce much inconvenience, and even serious prejudice,
to the public interests. Your opinion is against the treaty, a treaty
concluded and formally ratified; and, to support that opinion, while yet
in the service of the government, you put a construction on its
provisions such as your own government does not put upon them, such as
you must be aware the enlightened public of Europe does not put upon
them, and such as England herself has not put upon them as yet, so far
as we know.

It may become necessary hereafter to publish your letter, in connection
with other correspondence of the mission; and although it is not to be
presumed that you looked to such publication, because such a presumption
would impute to you a claim to put forth your private opinions upon the
conduct of the President and Senate, in a transaction finished and
concluded, through the imposing form of a public despatch, yet, if
published, it cannot be foreseen how far England might hereafter rely
on your authority for a construction favorable to her own pretensions,
and inconsistent with the interest and honor of the United States. It is
certain that you would most sedulously desire to avoid any such
attitude. You would be slow to express opinions, in a solemn and
official form, favorable to another government, and on the authority of
which opinions that other government might hereafter found new claims or
set up new pretensions. It is for this reason, as well as others, that
the President feels so much regret at your desire of placing your
construction of the provisions of the treaty, and your objections to
those provisions, according to your construction, upon the records of
the government.

Before examining the several objections suggested by you, it may be
proper to take notice of what you say upon the course of the
negotiation. In regard to this, having observed that the national
dignity of the United States had not been compromised down to the time
of the President's message to the last session of Congress, you proceed
to say: "But England then urged the United States to enter into a
conventional arrangement, by which we might be pledged to concur with
her in measures for the suppression of the slave-trade. Till then we had
executed our own laws in our own way. But, yielding to this application,
and departing from our former principle of avoiding European
combinations upon subjects not American, we stipulated in a solemn
treaty, that we would carry into effect our own laws, and fixed the
minimum force we would employ for that purpose."

The President cannot conceive how you should have been led to adventure
upon such a statement as this. It is but a tissue of mistakes. England
did not urge the United States to enter into this conventional
arrangement. The United States yielded to no application from England.
The proposition for abolishing the slave-trade, as it stands in the
treaty, was an American proposition; it originated with the executive
government of the United States, which cheerfully assumes all its
responsibility. It stands upon it as its own mode of fulfilling its
duties, and accomplishing its objects. Nor have the United States
departed, in this treaty, in the slightest degree, from their former
principles of avoiding European combinations upon subjects not American,
because the abolition of the African slave-trade is an American subject
as emphatically as it is a European subject; and indeed more so,
inasmuch as the government of the United States took the first great
steps in declaring that trade unlawful, and in attempting its
extinction. The abolition of this traffic is an object of the highest
interest to the American people and the American government; and you
seem strangely to have overlooked altogether the important fact, that
nearly thirty years ago, by the treaty of Ghent, the United States bound
themselves by solemn compact with England, to continue "their efforts to
promote its entire abolition," both parties pledging themselves by that
treaty to use their best endeavors to accomplish so desirable an object.

Again, you speak of an important concession made to the renewed
application of England. But the treaty, let it be repeated, makes no
concession to England whatever. It complies with no demand, grants no
application, conforms to no request. All these statements, thus by you
made, and which are so exceedingly erroneous, seem calculated to hold up
the idea, that in this treaty your government has been acting a
subordinate, or even a complying part.

The President is not a little startled that you should make such totally
groundless assumptions of fact, and then leave a discreditable inference
to be drawn from them. He directs me not only to repel this inference as
it ought to be repelled, but also to bring to your serious consideration
and reflection the propriety of such an assumed narration of facts as
your despatch, in this respect, puts forth.

Having informed the department that a copy of the letter of the 24th of
August, addressed by me to you, had been delivered to M. Guizot, you
proceed to say: "In executing this duty, I felt too well what was due to
my government and country to intimate my regret to a foreign power that
some declaration had not preceded the treaty, or some stipulation
accompanied it, by which the extraordinary pretension of Great Britain
to search our ships at all times and in all places, first put forth to
the world by Lord Palmerston on the 27th of August, 1841, and on the
13th of October following again peremptorily claimed as a right by Lord
Aberdeen, would have been abrogated, as equally incompatible with the
laws of nations and with the independence of the United States. I
confined myself, therefore, to a simple communication of your letter."
It may be true that the British pretension leads necessarily to
consequences as broad and general as your statement. But it is no more
than fair to state that pretension in the words of the British
government itself, and then it becomes matter of consideration and
argument how broad and extensive it really is. The last statement of
this pretension, or claim, by the British government, is contained in
Lord Aberdeen's note to Mr. Stevenson of the 13th of October, 1841. It
is in these words:--

"The undersigned readily admits, that to visit and search American
vessels in time of peace, when that right of search is not granted
by treaty, would be an infraction of public law, and a violation of
national dignity and independence. But no such right is asserted.
We sincerely desire to respect the vessels of the United States,
but we may reasonably expect to know what it really is that we
respect. Doubtless the flag is _prima facie_ evidence of the
nationality of the vessel; and, if this evidence were in its nature
conclusive and irrefragable, it ought to preclude all further
inquiry. But it is sufficiently notorious that the flags of all
nations are liable to be assumed by those who have no right or
title to bear them. Mr. Stevenson himself fully admits the extent
to which the American flag has been employed for the purpose of
covering this infamous traffic. The undersigned joins with Mr.
Stevenson in deeply lamenting the evil; and he agrees with him in
thinking that the United States ought not to be considered
responsible for this abuse of their flag. But if all inquiry be
resisted, even when carried no further than to ascertain the
nationality of the vessel, and impunity be claimed for the most
lawless and desperate of mankind, in the commission of this fraud,
the undersigned greatly fears that it may be regarded as something
like an assumption of that responsibility which has been deprecated
by Mr. Stevenson....

"The undersigned renounces all pretension on the part of the
British government to visit and search American vessels in time of
peace. Nor is it as American that such vessels are ever visited;
but, it has been the invariable practice of the British navy, and,
as the undersigned believes, of all navies in the world, to
ascertain by visit the real nationality of merchant-vessels met
with on the high seas, if there be good reason to apprehend their
illegal character....

"The undersigned admits, that, if the British cruiser should
possess a knowledge of the American character of any vessel, his
visitation of such vessel would be entirely unjustifiable. He
further admits, that so much respect and honor are due to the
American flag, that no vessel bearing it ought to be visited by a
British cruiser, except under the most grave suspicions and
well-founded doubts of the genuineness of its character.

"The undersigned, although with pain, must add, that if such visit
should lead to the proof of the American origin of the vessel, and
that she was avowedly engaged in the slave-trade, exhibiting to
view the manacles, fetters, and other usual implements of torture,
or had even a number of these unfortunate beings on board, no
British officer could interfere further. He might give information
to the cruisers of the United States, but it could not be in his
own power to arrest or impede the prosecution of the voyage and the
success of the undertaking.

"It is obvious, therefore, that the utmost caution is necessary in
the exercise of this right claimed by Great Britain. While we have
recourse to the necessary, and, indeed, the only means for
detecting imposture, the practice will be carefully guarded and
limited to cases of strong suspicion. The undersigned begs to
assure Mr. Stevenson that the most precise and positive
instructions have been issued to her Majesty's officers on this

Such are the words of the British claim or pretension; and it stood in
this form at the delivery of the President's message to Congress in
December last; a message in which you are pleased to say that the
British pretension was promptly met and firmly resisted.

I may now proceed to a more particular examination of the objections
which you make to the treaty.

You observe that you think a just self-respect required of the
government of the United States to demand of Lord Ashburton a distinct
renunciation of the British claim to search our vessels previous to
entering into any negotiation. The government has thought otherwise; and
this appears to be your main objection to the treaty, if, indeed, it be
not the only one which is clearly and distinctly stated. The government
of the United States supposed that, in this respect, it stood in a
position in which it had no occasion to demand any thing, or ask for any
thing, of England. The British pretension, whatever it was, or however
extensive, was well known to the President at the date of his message to
Congress at the opening of the last session. And I must be allowed to
remind you how the President treated this subject in that communication.

"However desirous the United States may be," said he, "for the
suppression of the slave-trade, they cannot consent to
interpolations into the maritime code at the mere will and pleasure
of other governments. We deny the right of any such interpolation
to any one, or all the nations of the earth, without our consent.
We claim to have a voice in all amendments or alterations of that
code; and when we are given to understand, as in this instance, by
a foreign government, that its treaties with other nations cannot
be executed without the establishment and enforcement of new
principles of maritime police, to be applied without our consent,
we must employ a language neither of equivocal import nor
susceptible of misconstruction. American citizens prosecuting a
lawful commerce in the African seas, under the flag of their
country, are not responsible for the abuse or unlawful use of that
flag by others; nor can they rightfully, on account of any such
alleged abuses, be interrupted, molested, or detained while on the
ocean; and if thus molested and detained while pursuing honest
voyages in the usual way, and violating no law themselves, they are
unquestionably entitled to indemnity."

This declaration of the President stands: not a syllable of it has been,
or will be, retracted. The principles which it announces rest on their
inherent justice and propriety, on their conformity to public law, and,
so far as we are concerned, on the determination and ability of the
country to maintain them. To these principles the government is pledged,
and that pledge it will be at all times ready to redeem.

But what is your own language on this point? You say, "This claim (the
British claim), thus asserted and supported, was promptly met and firmly
repelled by the President in his message at the commencement of the last
session of Congress; and in your letter to me approving the course I had
adopted in relation to the question of the ratification by France of the
quintuple treaty, you consider the principles of that message as the
established policy of the government." And you add, "So far, our
national dignity was uncompromitted." If this be so, what is there which
has since occurred to compromit this dignity? You shall yourself be
judge of this; because you say, in a subsequent part of your letter,
that "the mutual rights of the parties are in this respect wholly
untouched." If, then, the British pretension had been promptly met and
firmly repelled by the President's message; if, so far, our national
dignity had not been compromitted; and if, as you further say, our
rights remain wholly untouched by any subsequent act or proceeding, what
ground is there on which to found complaint against the treaty?

But your sentiments on this point do not concur with the opinions of
your government. That government is of opinion that the sentiments of
the message, which you so highly approve, are reaffirmed and
corroborated by the treaty, and the correspondence accompanying it. The
very object sought to be obtained, in proposing the mode adopted for
abolishing the slave-trade, was to take away all pretence whatever for
interrupting lawful commerce by the visitation of American vessels.
Allow me to refer you, on this point, to the following passage in the
message of the President to the Senate, accompanying the treaty:--

"In my message at the commencement of the present session of
Congress, I endeavored to state the principles which this
government supports respecting the right of search and the immunity
of flags. Desirous of maintaining those principles fully, at the
same time that existing obligations should be fulfilled, I have
thought it most consistent with the dignity and honor of the
country that it should execute its own laws and perform its own
obligations by its own means and its own power. The examination or
visitation of the merchant-vessels of one nation by the cruisers of
another, for any purposes except those known and acknowledged by
the law of nations, under whatever restraints or regulations it may
take place, may lead to dangerous results. It is far better by
other means to supersede any supposed necessity, or any motive, for
such examination or visit. Interference with a merchant-vessel by
an armed cruiser is always a delicate proceeding, apt to touch the
point of national honor, as well as to affect the interests of
individuals. It has been thought, therefore, expedient, not only in
accordance with the stipulations of the treaty of Ghent, but at the
same time as removing all pretext on the part of others for
violating the immunities of the American flag upon the seas, as
they exist and are defined by the law of nations, to enter into the
articles now submitted to the Senate.

"The treaty which I now submit to you proposes no alteration,
mitigation, or modification of the rules of the law of nations. It
provides simply, that each of the two governments shall maintain on
the coast of Africa a sufficient squadron to enforce, separately
and respectively, the laws, rights, and obligations of the two
countries for the suppression of the slave-trade."

In the actual posture of things, the President thought that the
government of the United States, standing on its own rights and its own
solemn declarations, would only weaken its position by making such a
demand as appears to you to have been expedient. We maintain the public
law of the world as we receive it and understand it to be established.
We defend our own rights and our own honor, meeting all aggression at
the boundary. Here we may well stop.

You are pleased to observe, that "under the circumstances of the
assertion of the British claim, in the correspondence of the British
secretaries, and of its denial by the President of the United States,
the eyes of Europe were upon these two great naval powers; one of which
had advanced a pretension, and avowed her determination to enforce it,
which might at any moment bring them into collision."

It is certainly true that the attention of Europe has been very much
awakened, of late years, to the general subject, and quite alive, also,
to whatever might take place in regard to it between the United States
and Great Britain. And it is highly satisfactory to find, that, so far
as we can learn, the opinion is universal that the government of the
United States has fully sustained its rights and its dignity by the
treaty which has been concluded. Europe, we believe, is happy to see
that a collision, which might have disturbed the peace of the whole
civilized world, has been avoided in a manner which reconciles the
performance of a high national duty, and the fulfilment of positive
stipulations, with the perfect immunity of flags and the equality of
nations upon the ocean. I must be permitted to add, that, from every
agent of the government abroad who has been heard from on the subject,
with the single exception of your own letter, (an exception most deeply
regretted,) as well as from every part of Europe where maritime rights
have advocates and defenders, we have received nothing but
congratulation. And at this moment, if the general sources of
information may be trusted, our example has recommended itself already
to the regard of states the most jealous of British ascendency at sea;
and the treaty against which you remonstrate may soon come to be
esteemed by them as a fit model for imitation.

Toward the close of your despatch, you are pleased to say: "By the
recent treaty we are to keep a squadron upon the coast of Africa. We
have kept one there for years; during the whole term, indeed, of these
efforts to put a stop to this most iniquitous commerce. The effect of
the treaty is, therefore, to render it obligatory upon us by a
convention, to do what we have long done voluntarily; to place our
municipal laws, in some measure, beyond the reach of Congress." Should
the effect of the treaty be to place our municipal laws, in some
measure, beyond the reach of Congress, it is sufficient to say that all
treaties containing obligations necessarily do this. All treaties of
commerce do it; and, indeed, there is hardly a treaty existing, to which
the United States are party, which does not, to some extent, or in some
way, restrain the legislative power. Treaties could not be made without
producing this effect.

But your remark would seem to imply that, in your judgment, there is
something derogatory to the character and dignity of the country in thus
stipulating with a foreign power for a concurrent effort to execute the
laws of each. It would be a sufficient refutation of this objection to
say, that, if in this arrangement there be any thing derogatory to the
character and dignity of one party, it must be equally derogatory, since
the stipulation is perfectly mutual, to the character and dignity of
both. But it is derogatory to the character and dignity of neither. The
objection seems to proceed still upon the implied ground that the
abolition of the slave-trade is more a duty of Great Britain, or a more
leading object with her, than it is or should be with us; as if, in this
great effort of civilized nations to do away the most cruel traffic that
ever scourged or disgraced the world, we had not as high and honorable,
as just and merciful, a part to act, as any other nation upon the face
of the earth. Let it be for ever remembered, that in this great work of
humanity and justice the United States took the lead themselves. This
government declared the slave-trade unlawful; and in this declaration it
has been followed by the great powers of Europe. This government
declared the slave-trade to be piracy; and in this, too, its example has
been followed by other states. This government, this young government,
springing up in this new world within half a century, founded on the
broadest principles of civil liberty, and sustained by the moral sense
and intelligence of the people, has gone in advance of all other nations
in summoning the civilized world to a common effort to put down and
destroy a nefarious traffic reproachful to human nature. It has not
deemed, and it does not deem, that it suffers any derogation from its
character or its dignity, if, in seeking to fulfil this sacred duty, it
act, as far as necessary, on fair and equal terms of concert with other
powers having in view the same praiseworthy object. Such were its
sentiments when it entered into the solemn stipulations of the treaty of
Ghent; such were its sentiments when it requested England to concur with
us in declaring the slave-trade to be piracy; and such are the
sentiments which it has manifested on all other proper occasions.

In conclusion, I have to repeat the expression of the President's deep
regret at the general tone and character of your letter, and to assure
you of the great happiness it would have afforded him if, concurring
with the judgment of the President and Senate, concurring with what
appears to be the general sense of the country, concurring in all the
manifestations of enlightened public opinion in Europe, you had seen
nothing in the treaty of the 9th of August to which you could not give
your cordial approbation.

I have, &c.


LEWIS CASS, ESQ., &c., &c., &c.

* * * * *

_Mr. Webster to General Cass._

Department of State, Washington,
December 20, 1842.

Sir,--Your letter of the 11th instant has been submitted to the
President. He directs me to say, in reply, that he continues to regard
your correspondence, of which this letter is part, as being quite
irregular from the beginning. You had asked leave to retire from your
mission; the leave was granted by the President, with kind and friendly
remarks upon the manner in which you had discharged its duties. Having
asked for this honorable recall, which was promptly given, you afterward
addressed to this department your letter of the 3d of October, which,
however it may appear to you, the President cannot but consider as a
remonstrance, a protest, against the treaty of the 9th of August; in
other words, an attack upon his administration for the negotiation and
conclusion of that treaty. He certainly was not prepared for this. It
came upon him with no small surprise, and he still feels that you must
have been, at the moment, under the influence of temporary impressions,
which he cannot but hope have ere now worn away.

A few remarks upon some of the points of your last letter must now close
the correspondence.

In the first place, you object to my having called your letter of
October 3d a "protest or remonstrance" against a transaction of the
government, and observe that you must have been unhappy in the mode of
expressing yourself, if you were liable to this charge.

What other construction your letter will bear, I cannot perceive. The
transaction was _finished_. No letter or remarks of yourself, or any one
else, could undo it, if desirable. Your opinions were unsolicited. If
given as a citizen, then it was altogether unusual to address them to
this department in an official despatch; if as a public functionary, the
whole subject-matter was quite aside from the duties of your particular
station. In your letter you did not propose any thing _to be done_, but
objected to what had been done. You did not suggest any method of
remedying what you were pleased to consider a defect, but stated what
you thought to be reasons for fearing its consequences. You declared
that there had been, in your opinion, an omission to assert American
rights; to which omission you gave the department to understand that you
would never have consented.

In all this there is nothing but protest and remonstrance; and, though
your letter be not formally entitled such, I cannot see that it can be
construed, in effect, as any thing else; and I must continue to think,
therefore, that the terms used are entirely applicable and proper.

In the next place, you say: "You give me to understand that the
communications which have passed between us on this subject are to be
published, and submitted to the great tribunal of public opinion."

It would have been better if you had quoted my remark with entire
correctness. What I said was, not that the communications which have
passed between us _are to be_ published, or _must_ be published, but
that "it may become necessary hereafter to publish your letter, in
connection with other correspondence of the mission; and, although it is
not to be presumed that you looked to such publication, because such a
presumption would impute to you a claim to put forth your private
opinions upon the conduct of the President and Senate, in a transaction
finished and concluded, through the imposing form of a public despatch,
yet, if published, it cannot be foreseen how far England might hereafter
rely on your authority for a construction favorable to her own
pretensions, and inconsistent with the interest and honor of the United

In another part of your letter you observe: "The publication of my
letter, which is to produce this result, is to be the act of the
government, and not my act. But if the President should think that the
slightest injury to the public interest would ensue from the disclosure
of my views, the letter may be buried in the archives of the department,
and thus forgotten and rendered harmless."

To this I have to remark, in the first place, that instances have
occurred in other times, not unknown to you, in which highly important
letters from ministers of the United States, in Europe, to their own
government, have found their way into the newspapers of Europe, when
that government itself held it to be inconsistent with the interest of
the United States to make such letters public.

But it is hardly worth while to pursue a topic like this.

You are pleased to ask: "Is it the duty of a diplomatic agent to receive
all the communications of his government, and to carry into effect their
instructions _sub silentio_, whatever may be his own sentiments in
relation to them; or is he not bound, as a faithful representative, to
communicate freely, but respectfully, his own views, that these may be
considered, and receive their due weight, in that particular case, or in
other circumstances involving similar considerations? It seems to me
that the bare enunciation of the principle is all that is necessary for
my justification. I am speaking now of the propriety of my action, not
of the manner in which it was performed. I may have executed the task
well or ill. I may have introduced topics unadvisedly, and urged them
indiscreetly. All this I leave without remark. I am only endeavoring
here to free myself from the serious charge which you bring against me.
If I have misapprehended the duties of an American diplomatic agent upon
this subject, I am well satisfied to have withdrawn, by a timely
resignation, from a position in which my own self-respect would not
permit me to remain. And I may express the conviction, that there is no
government, certainly none this side of Constantinople, which would not
encourage rather than rebuke the free expression of the views of their
representatives in foreign countries."

I answer, certainly not. In the letter to which you were replying it was
fully stated, that, "in common with every other citizen of the republic,
you have an unquestionable right to form opinions upon public
transactions and the conduct of public men. But it will hardly be
thought to be among either the duties or the privileges of a minister
abroad to make formal remonstrances and protests against proceedings of
the various branches of the government at home, upon subjects in
relation to which he himself has not been charged with any duty, or
partaken any responsibility."

You have not been requested to bestow your approbation upon the treaty,
however gratifying it would have been to the President to see that, in
that respect, you united with other distinguished public agents abroad.
Like all citizens of the republic, you are quite at liberty to exercise
your own judgment upon that as upon other transactions. But neither your
observations nor this concession cover the case. They do not show, that,
as a public minister abroad, it is a part of your official functions, in
a public despatch, to remonstrate against the conduct of the government
at home in relation to a transaction in which you bore no part, and for
which you were in no way answerable. The President and Senate must be
permitted to judge for themselves in a matter solely within their
control. Nor do I know that, in complaining of your protest against
their proceedings in a case of this kind, any thing has been done to
warrant, on your part, an invidious and unjust reference to
Constantinople. If you could show, by the general practice of diplomatic
functionaries in the civilized part of the world, and more especially,
if you could show by any precedent drawn from the conduct of the many
distinguished men who have represented the government of the United
States abroad, that your letter of the 3d of October was, in its general
object, tone, and character, within the usual limits of diplomatic
correspondence, you may be quite assured that the President would not
have recourse to the code of Turkey in order to find precedents the
other way.

You complain that, in the letter from this department of the 14th of
November, a statement contained in yours of the 3d of October is called
a tissue of mistakes, and you attempt to show the impropriety of this
appellation. Let the point be distinctly stated, and what you say in
reply be then considered.

In your letter of October 3d you remark, that "England then urged the
United States to enter into a conventional arrangement, by which we
might be pledged to concur with her in measures for the suppression of
the slave-trade. Until then, we had executed our own laws in our own
way; but, yielding to this application, and departing from our former
principle of avoiding European combinations upon subjects not American,
we stipulated in a solemn treaty that we would carry into effect our own


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