Page images


French Treaty.-Payment of Indemnity Refused.-Neglect of French Government to procure Appropriations.-Relations with G. Britain.-Arrangement as to West India Trade.-Disadvantageous to American Navigation.-Treaties with Russia and Belgium.-Relations with South America.

In the Register for the years 1830-31, an account was given of the negotiation between the American and French governments, in relation to the claims upon the latter for spoliations, and of the conclusion of a treaty adjusting the amount to be paid by France, as a full indemnity for those claims. Although the sum stipulated to be paid (25,000,000 francs) did not amount to one half of the original spoliations, and no allowance was made for the interest accruing before the treaty, still it was deemed expedient to accede to the compromise; and both the government and the people of the United States congratulated themselves upon the final settlement of the only difficulty between them and their earliest ally.

This pleasing anticipation was not destined to be speedily reali


By the second article of the treaty, the government of France agreed to pay the 25,000,000 of

francs, with 4 per cent. interest, in six annual instalments; the first to be paid at the expiration of one year from the exchange of the ratified treaties. These instalments were to be paid at Paris, to such person as should be authorized by the government of the United States to receive them.

The treaty was duly ratified by both governments, and on the 2d of February, 1832, the ratified treaties were exchanged at Washington.

Immediately after the treaties were ratified, congress passed the laws neeessary for complying with the stipulations on the part of the United States; and the secretary of the treasury, on the 7th of July, 1833, drew a bill of exchange upon the minister of state and finance of the French government, directing the first instalment to be paid to the order of the cashier of the U. S. bank; and a full power of attorney was given by the president of the United States, authorizing

the assignee of the bill to receive the same, and to give a proper receipt to the government of France.

This prompt compliance with the treaty on the part of the United States, was not properly responded to by the French go


Notwithstanding the treaties were ratified, and duly exchanged in the month of February, 1832, no steps were taken by the king or his ministers to carry it into effect.

By the constitution of France, the chambers have the control of the public treasury, and although the king was competent to form a treaty of indemnity, and indeed the only branch of the government with which foreign nations could negotiate, still it was necessary for him to obtain a grant from the chambers to enable him to execute it.

This, however, was a difficulty for the French government and the French nation to adjust for themselves. The United States had no concern with the form and manner, in which the treaty was to be carried into effect. They looked to the performance of the treaty as a poor, but still a full indemnity for claims which were irrefragable, and for which it was universally admitted, that satisfaction should be made. It was, therefore, with some surprise, that the government at Washington saw, that the king of France had not asked from the legislature the appropriations required for the performance of the treaty, at the commencement

of its session, on the 19th of November, 1832.

Still, having scrupulously performed all the stipulations on the part of the United States, there was no reason to forbear demanding a reciprocal performance by France.

A bill of exchange was, therefore, drawn for the amount of the first instalment, pursuant to the provisions of the treaty, and payment was demanded at Paris by the holder of the bill, with full powers to receive the amount in behalf of the United States.

This bill was not accepted, and now for the first time, suspicions were awakened against the integrity of the French government.

The chambers had been in session from the 19th of November, to the time when the payment of the first instalment was refused, and no steps were taken by the ministers, to procure the necessary appropriations.

Even the documents, which the French government had agreed to communicate to the American government, were witheld, under the pretence, that the originals could not be withdrawn from the courts, and when the American minister consented to accept copies, it was contended that the expense of making the copies should be borne by the United States.

After the presentation of the bill of exchange, it was deemed expedient to take some steps for the purpose of executing the treaty, or at least, to preserve the appearance of doing so.

Accordingly, on the 6th of April, 1833, a bill containing provisions for that purpose, was presented to the chambers, and M. Sherman, the minister of finance, explained the grounds upon which the treaty was formed.

The passage of the bill was not urged at that session, which closed on the 25th of April, nor at the succeeding session, which commenced the next day, and continued to the 26th of June.

The subject was, indeed, mentioned in the chambers on the 11th of June, and the bill received, and laid on the table; but nothing was done, notwithstanding General Lafayette urged the chambers to come to a decision, and warned the government of the danger of leaving a question so important to the character and welfare of France, in that dubious posture. Frivolous excuses were offered for not then taking up the bill, and another session, terminated without any steps being taken to vindicate the honour and integrity of the French government.

This neglect, which there was too much reason to suppose was intentional, was warmly resented by the American executive.

Instructions were given to the American minister, to urge upon the French government a prompt compliance with the treaty, and to inform it, that the United States would demand indemnity for the refusal to accept the bill for the first instalment.

A want of judgment was indeed shown, in selling the bill of exchange to the United States

bank, when there had been no appropriation made by the chambers to pay the indemnity; and a culpable eagerness to reward political favourites, at the expense of the public interests, was equally indicated, by sending Mr. Harris to act as chargé at this critical juncture; but the tone of earnest and indignant remonstrance, which was assumed upon this refusal of France to execute a treaty providing only a partial indemnity for our claims, was justified by the conduct of that country, and well calculated to force upon her conviction, the necessity, as well as propriety of paying some regard to national faith.

The chambers did not again meet during the period belonging to this volume, and the future disposition of this question must be reserved for a subsequent volume.

The management of the relations between the United States and Great Britain, did not bear equally strong testimony in favour of the sagacity and wisdom of those intrusted with the administration of the American government.

The subjects of dispute between the two countries were, the colonial trade, the navigation of the St. Lawrence, and. the northeastern boundary.

By an arrangement, in which congress was persuaded to confide the opening of our ports to the discretion of the president, the intercourse was again restored, and the country was called upon to extol the diplomatic skill

which had restored a trade, lost (as was alleged) through the neglect of his predecessor. It was, however, speedily discovered, that the intercourse was not precisely on the same footing as before. Instead of being carried on, chiefly in American vessels, it was found that British vessels engrossed the most profitable portion of the business, and as it was well known that the navigation of the United States could always maintain itself, in any trade where fair competition prevailed, a more critical examination took place into the terms of this compromise.

The government of the United States had so long and so steadily adhered, in all its commercial arrangements, to the principles of reciprocity, that an open abandonment of that principle, would not have been tolerated by the country.

The harsh and oppressive policy of England formed one of the chief grievances which led to the revolution; and those patriotic men, who, after having led their countrymen through the war, established a system of policy for their government, looked to a full and fair participation in the West India trade, as one of the legitimate results of independence.

They indeed knew that the mother country had the power to prohibit all intercourse with any, and all parts of the British empire; but they also knew that the West India islands were essentially dependent upon the United States for supplies, and

that they could, by countervailing regulations, compel England to supply her islands at a great sacrifice, in an indirect manner; or to place the direct intercourse upon terms where the American and British shipping could fairly compete for the carrying trade.

This was a point not to be yielded. It was essential to the entire enjoyment of our independence, that the commerce between this country, and all colonies, should be placed upon this footing. The European view of this question was upon different principles, and was justified upon different maxims.

To neither party was commercial intercourse necessary, and as all the great maritime powers had colonies, acquiescence was readily obtained in the colonial system of modern Europe.

The intercourse was confined to a trade between the mother country and her colonies, and the former did not seek, nor expect to carry on a trade between those colonies and the rest of the world. If that had been attempted, the jealous spirit of European commerce would soon have claimed a right to be consulted in arranging the terms of that intercourse.

By the severance of the United States from the British empire, a new state of things was presented.

Trade with the United States was necessary to the very existence of the West India colonies; and self respect, and national dignity forbade the United States

to permit this trade to be carried on exclusively in British vessels.

There was no reason, which could justify the exclusion of American navigation from that trade, that was not equally applicable to the direct trade with England.

All the negotiations of the American government were directed to the arranging the intercourse upon terms of reciprocity; and after ineffectually endeavouring to accomplish that object for more than a quarter of a century, it was at length reluctantly obliged to put an end to the intercourse altogether. This course was adopted at the earnest request of the shipping merchants in the principal seaports, who found that the advantages afforded to British vessels through the circuitous voyage by way of the West Indies, were such as to enable them to carry on the direct trade with England upon better terms than our vessels. Upon their representations, Congress passed acts in 1818, 1820, and 1823, which effectually closed our ports to all British vessels seeking to supply the islands. The British government was thus reduced to the necessity of supplying the colonies at a cost beyond their value, or of partly giving up their colonial system.


They chose the latter, and by the act of July, 1825, the West India islands were opened, upon certain terms, to the commerce of all nations.

The nature of this offer, and the negotiations growing out of

this proposition, were fully de tailed in the Annnal Register for 1826-7, and it is unnecessary to state more, than that the negotiations terminated in an entire suspension of the trade.

In all these transactions and negotiations, the principle of reciprocity was strictly adhered to. Trade upon equal terms, or no trade, was the only alternative offered by the American government. More than that was not sought, and less than that would have heen incompatible with national dignity.

That was the sole object of all the negotiations, and the only subject of dispute. When, therefore, it was proposed to confer upon the president power to open the ports of the United States to vessels from the British West Indies, Mr. Cambreleng, who presented the law to the house only four days before the close of the session, stated that it contained no new principle, but conformed to the instructions given by Mr. Clay to Mr. Gallatin.

As these instructions maintained, in its fullest extent, the principle of reciprocity, the law was passed without much opposition.

This act provided, that when the president should be satisfied, that Great Britain will open her colonial ports; and that American vessels and their cargoes shall not be subject to higher duties. than British vessels and their cargoes arriving from the United States; and that American vessels may be permitted to carry on any trade between the islands and the United States, or any export trade between the islands

« PreviousContinue »