History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/First/II:14

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Chapter 14: Relations with England[edit]

For eighteen years after 1783 William Pitt guided England through peace and war with authority almost as absolute as that of Don Carlos IV. or Napoleon himself. From him and from his country President Jefferson had much to fear and nothing to gain beyond a continuance of the good relations which President Washington, with extreme difficulty, had succeeded in establishing between the two peoples. So far as England was concerned, this understanding had been the work of Pitt and Lord Grenville, who rather imposed it on their party than accepted it as the result of any public will. The extreme perils in which England then stood inspired caution; and of this caution the treaty of 1794 was one happy result. So long as the British government remained in a cautious spirit, America was safe; but should Pitt or his successors throw off the self-imposed restraints on England's power, America could at the utmost, even by a successful war, gain nothing materially better than a return to the arrangements of 1794.

The War of Independence, which ended in the definitive treaty of 1783, naturally left the English people in a state of irritation and disgust toward America; and the long interregnum of the Confederation, from 1783 to 1789, allowed this disgust to ripen into contempt. When at length the Constitution of 1789 restored order in the American chaos, England felt little faith in the success of the experiment. She waited for time to throw light on her interests.

This delay was natural; for American independence had shattered into fragments the commercial system of Great Britain, and powerful interests were combined to resist futher concession. Before 1776 the colonies of England stretched from the St. Lawrence to the Mississippi, and across the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of South America, mutually supporting and strengthening each other. Jamaica and the other British islands of the West Indies drew their most necessary supplies from the Delaware and the Hudson. Boston and New York were in some respects more important to them than London itself. The timber, live-stock, and provisions which came from the neighboring continent were essential to the existence of the West Indian planters and negroes. When war cut off these supplies, famine and pestilence followed. After the peace of 1783 even the most conservative English statesmen were obliged to admit that the strictness of their old colonial system could not be maintained, and that the United States, though independent, must be admitted to some of the privileges of a British colony. The government unwillingly conceded what could not be refused, and the West Indian colonists compelled Parliament to relax the colonial system so far as to allow a restricted intercourse between their islands and the ports of the United States. The relaxation was not a favor to the United States,—it was a condition of existence to the West Indies; not a boon, but a right which the colonists claimed and an Act of Parliament defined.[1]

The right was dearly paid for. The islands might buy American timber and grain, but they were allowed to make return only in molasses and rum. Payment in sugar would have been cheaper for the colonists, and the planters wished for nothing more earnestly than to be allowed this privilege; but as often as they raised the prayer, English shipowners cried that the navigation laws were in peril, and a chorus of familiar phrases filled the air, all carrying a deep meaning to the English people. "Nursery of seamen" was one favorite expression; "Neutral frauds" another; and all agreed in assuming that at whatever cost, and by means however extravagant, the navy must be fed and strengthened. Under the cover of supporting the navy any absurdity could be defended; and in the case of the West Indian trade, the British shipowner enjoyed the right to absurdities sanctioned by a century and a half of law and custom. The freight on British sugars belonged of right to British shippers, who could not be expected to surrender of their own accord, in obedience to any laws of political economy, a property which was the source of their incomes. The colonists asked permission to refine their own sugar; but their request not only roused strong opposition from the shipowners who wanted the bulkier freight, but started the home sugar-refiners to their feet, who proved by Acts of Parliament that sugar-refining was a British and not a colonial right. The colonist then begged a reduction of the heavy duty on sugar; but English country gentlemen cried against a measure which might lead to an increase of the income-tax or the imposition of some new burden on agriculture. In this dilemma the colonists frankly said that only their weakness, not their will, prevented them from declaring themselves independent, like their neighbors at Charleston and Philadelphia.

Even when the qualified right of trade was conceded, the colonists were not satisfied; and the concession itself laid the foundation of more serious changes. From the moment that American produce was admitted to be a necessity for the colonists, it was clear that the Americans must be allowed a voice in the British system. Discussion whether the Americans had or had not a right to the colonial trade was already a long step toward revolution. One British minister after another resented the idea that the Americans had any rights in the matter; yet when they came to practical arrangements the British statesmen were obliged to concede that they were mistaken. From the necessity of the case, the Americans had rights which could never could be successfully denied. Parliament struggled to prevent the rebel Americans from sharing in the advantages of the colonial system from which they had rebelled; but unreasonable as it was that the United States should be rewarded for rebellion by retaining the privileges of subjects, this was the inevitable result. Geography and Nature were stronger than Parliament and the British navy.

At first Pitt hoped that the concession to the colonists might entail no concession to the United States; while admitting a certain hiatus in the colonial system, he tried to maintain the navigation laws in their integrity. The admission of American produce into the West Indies was no doubt an infraction of the protectionist principle on which all the civilized world, except America, founded its economical ideas; but it itself it was not serious. To allow the flour, potatoes, tobacco, timber, and horses of the American continent to enter the harbors of Barbadoes and Jamaica; to allow in turn the molasses and rum of the islands to be sent directly to New York and Boston,—harmed no one, and was advantageous to all parties, so long as British ships were employed to carry on the trade. At first this was the case. The act of Parliament allowed only British subjects, in British-built ships, to enter colonial ports with American produce. Whether the United States government would long tolerate such legislation without countervailing measures was a question which remained open for a time, while the system itself had a chance to prove its own weakness. The British shipping did not answer colonial objects. Again and again the colonists found themselves on the verge of starvation; and always in this emergency the colonial governors threw open their ports by proclamation to American shipping, while with equal regularity Parliament protected the governors by Acts of Indemnity. To this extent the navigation system suffered together with the colonial system, but in theory it was intact. Ministry, Parliament, and people clung to the navigation laws as their ark of safety; and even the colonists conceded that although they had a right to eat American wheat and potatoes, they had no right to eat those which came to them in the hold of a Marblehead schooner.

Such a principle, however convenient to Great Britain, was not suited to the interests of New England shippers. In peace their chances were comparatively few, and the chief diplomatic difficulties between European governments and the United States had their source in the American attempt to obtain legal recognition of trade which America wished to maintain with the colonies; but in war the situation changed, and more serious disputes occurred. Then the French and Spanish West Indian ports were necessarily thrown open to neutral commerce, because their own ships were driven from the ocean by the superiority of the British navy. Besides the standing controversy about the admission of American produce to British islands, the British government found itself harassed by doubts to what extent it might safely admit the Americans into the French or Spanish West Indies, and allow them to carry French property, as though their flag were competent to protect whatever was under it. Granting that an article like French sugar might be carried in a neutral vessel, there were still other articles, called contraband, which ought not to be made objects of neutral commerce; and England was obliged to define the nature of contraband. She was also forced to make free use of the right of blockade. These delicate questions were embittered by another and more serious quarrel. The European belligerents claimed the right to the military service of their subjects, and there was no doubt that their right was perfect. In pursuance of the claim they insisted upon taking their seamen from American merchant vessels wherever met on the high seas. So far as France was concerned, the annoyance was slight; but the identity of race made the practice extremely troublesome as concerned England.

At the outbreak of the French wars, Nov. 6, 1793, the British government issued instructions directing all British armed vessels to seize every neutral ship they should meet, loaded with the produce of a French colony or carrying supplies for its use.[2] These orders were kept secret for several weeks, until the whole American commerce with the Antilles, and all American ships found on the ocean, laden in whole or in part with articles of French colonial produce or for French colonial use, were surprised and swept into British harbors, where they were condemned by British admiralty courts, on the ground known as the "Rule of the War of 1756,"—that because trade between the French colonies and the United States was illegal in peace, it was illegal in war. From the point of view in which European Powers regarded their colonies, much could be said in support of this rule. A colony was almost as much the property of its home government as a dockyard or a military station. France and Spain could hardly complain if England chose to treat the commerce of such government-stations as contraband; but a rule which might perhaps be applied by European governments to each other worked with great injustice when applied to the United States, who had no colonies, and made no attempt to build up a navy or support an army by such means. Taken in its broadest sense, the European colonial system might be defined by the description which the best of British commentators gave to that of England,[3]—a "policy pursued for rendering the foreign trade of the whole world subservient to the increase of her shipping and navigation." American Independence was a protest against this practice; and the first great task of the United States was to overthrow and destroy the principle, in order to substitute freedom of trade. America naturally objected to becoming a martyr to the rules of a system which she was trying to revolutionize.

When these British instructions of Nov. 26, 1793, became known in the United States, the Government of President Washington imposed an embargo, threatened retaliation, and sent Chief-Justice Jay to London as a last chance of maintaining peace. On arriving there, Jay found that Pitt had already voluntarily retreated from his ground, and that new Orders, dated Jan. 8, 1794, had been issued, exempting from seizure American vessels engaged in the direct trade from the United States to the French West Indies. In the end, the British government paid the value of the confiscated vessels. The trade from the United States to Europe was not interfered with; and thus American ships were allowed to carry French colonial produce through an American port to France, while Russian or Danish ships were forbidden by England to carry such produce to Europe at all, although their flags and harbors were as neutral as those of the United States. America became suddenly a much favored nation, and the enemies of England attributed this unexpected kindness to fear. In truth it was due to a natural mistake. The British Treasury calculated that the expense and trouble of carrying sugar and coffee from Martinique or St. Domingo to Boston, of landing it, paying duties, re-embarking it, receiving the drawback, and then carrying it to Bordeaux or Brest, would be such as to give ample advantages to English vessels which could transship more conveniently at London. The mistake soon became apparent. The Americans quickly proved that they could under these restrictions carry West Indian produce to Europe not only more cheaply than British ships could do it, but almost as quickly; while it was a positive advantage on the return voyage to make double freight by stopping at an American port. The consequence of this discovery was seen in the sudden increase of American shipping, and was largely due to the aid of British seamen, who found in the new service better pay, food, and treatment than in their own, and comparative safety from the press-gang and the lash. At the close of the century the British flag seemed in danger of complete exclusion from the harbors of the United States. In 1790 more than 550 British ships, with a capacity of more than 115,000 tons, had entered inward and outward, representing about half that number of actual vessels; in 1799 the custom-house returns showed not 100 entries, and in 1800 about 140, representing a capacity of 40,000 tons. In the three years 1790-1792, the returns showed an average of some 280 outward and inward entries of American ships with a capacity of 54,000 tons; in 1800 the entries were 1,057, with a capacity of 236,000 tons. The Americans were not only beginning to engross the direct trade between their own ports and Europe, but were also rapidly obtaining the indirect carrying-trade between the West Indies and the European continent, and even between one European country and another. The British government began to feel seriously uneasy. At a frightful cost the people of England were striving to crush the navies and commerce of France and Spain, only to build up the power of a dangerous rival beyond the ocean.

Doubtless the British government would have taken measures to correct its mistake, if the political situation had not hampered its energies. Chief-Justice Jay, in 1794, negotiated a treaty with Lord Grenville which was in some respects very hard upon the United States, but was inestimably valuable to them, because it tied Pitt's hands and gave time for the new American Constitution to acquire strength. Ten years of steady progress were well worth any temporary concessions, even though these concessions exasperated France, and roused irritation between her and the United States which in 1798 became actual hostility. The prospect that the United States would become the ally of England was so fair that Pitt dared not disturb it. His government was in a manner forced to give American interests free play, and to let American shipping gain a sudden and unnatural enlargement. His liberality was well paid. For a moment France drove the United States to reprisals; and as the immediate consequence, St. Domingo became practically independent, owing to the support given by the United States to Toussaint. Even the reconciliation of France with America effected by Bonaparte and Talleyrand in 1800 did not at first redress the balance. Not till the Peace of Amiens, in 1802, did France recover her colonies; and not till a year later did Bonaparte succeed, by the sacrifice of Louisiana, in bringing the United States back to their old attitude of jealousy toward England.

Nevertheless, indications had not been wanting that England was aware of the advantage she had given to American commerce, and still better of the advantages which had been given it by Nature. All the Acts of Parliament on the statute-book could not prevent the West Indies from being largely dependent on the United States; yet the United States need not be allowed the right to carry West Indian produce to France,—a right which depended only on so-called international law, and was worthless unless supported by the stronger force. A new Order was issued, Jan. 25, 1798, which admitted European neutrals to enemies' colonies, and allowed them to bring French colonial produce to England or to their own ports. This Order was looked upon as a side-blow at American shipping, which was not allowed the same privilege of sailing direct from the Antilles to Europe. The new Order was justified on the ground that the old rule discriminated in favor of American merchants, whose competition might be injurious to the commercial interests of England.[4]

Further than this the British government did not then go; on the contrary, it officially confirmed the existing arrangement. The British courts of admiralty conformed closely to the rules of their political chiefs. Sir William Scott, better known as Lord Stowell, whose great reputation as a judge was due to the remarkable series of judgments in which he created a new system of admiralty law, announced with his usual clearness the rules by which he meant to be guided. In the case of the "Emmanuel," in November, 1799, he explained the principle on which the law permitted neutrals to carry French produce from their own country to France. "By importation," he said, "the produce became part of the national stock of the neutral country; the inconveniences of aggravated delay and expense were a safeguard against this right becoming a special convenience to France or a serious abridgement of belligerent rights." Soon afterward, in the case of the "Polly," April 29, 1800, he took occasion to define what he meant by importation into a neutral country. He said it was not his business to decide what was universally the test of a bona fide importation; but he was strongly disposed to hold that it would be sufficient if the goods were proved to have been landed and the duties paid; and he did accordingly rule that such proof was sufficient to answer the fair demands of his court.

Rufus King, then American minister in London, succeeded in obtaining from Pitt an express acceptance of this rule as binding on the government. On the strength of a report[5] from the King's Advocate, dated March 16, 1801, the British Secretary of State notified the American minister that what Great Britain considered the general principle of colonial trade had been relaxed in a certain degree in consideration of the present state of commerce. Neutrals might import French colonial produce, and convey it by re-exportation to France. Landing the goods and paying the duties in America legalized the trade, even though these goods were at once re-shipped and forwarded to France on account of the same owners.

With this double guaranty Jefferson began his administration, and the American merchants continued their profitable business. Not only did they build and buy large numbers of vessels, and borrow all the capital they could obtain, but doubtless some French and Spanish merchants, besides a much greater number of English, made use of the convenient American flag. The Yankees exulted loudly over the decline of British shipping in their harbors; the British masters groaned to see themselves sacrificed by their own government; and the British admirals complained bitterly that their prize-money was cut off, and that they were wearing out their lives in the hardest service, in order to foster a commerce of smugglers and perjurers, whose only protection was the flag of a country that had not a single line-of-battle ship to fly it.

Yet President Jefferson had reason to weigh long and soberly the pointed remark with which the King's Advocate began his report,—that the general principle with respect to the colonial trade had been to a certain extent relaxed in consideration of the present state of commerce. No doubt the British pretension, as a matter of international law, was outrageous. The so-called rule of 1756 was neither more nor less than a rule of force; but when was international law itself anything more than a law of force? The moment a nation found itself unable to show some kind of physical defence for its protection, the wisdom of Grotius and Bynkershoek could not prevent it from being plundered; and how could President Jefferson complain merely because American ships were forbidden by England to carry French sugars to France, when he looked on without a protest while England and France committed much greater outrages on every other country within their reach?

President Jefferson believed that the United States had ample means to resist any British pretension. As his letters to Paine and Logan showed, he felt that European Powers could be controlled through the interests of commerce.[6] He was the more firmly convinced by the extraordinary concessions which Pitt had made, and by the steady encouragement he gave to the American merchant. Jefferson felt sure that England could not afford to sacrifice a trade of some forty million dollars, and that her colonies could not exist without access to the American market. What need to spend millions on a navy, when Congress, as Jefferson believed, already grasped England by the throat, and could suffocate her by a mere turn of the wrist?

This reasoning had much in its favor. To Pitt the value of the American trade at a time of war with France and Spain was immense; and when taken in connection with the dependence of the West Indian colonies on America, it made a combination of British interests centring in the United States which much exceeded the entire value of all England's other branches of foreign commerce. Its prospective value was still greater if things should remain as they were, and if England should continue to undersell all rivals in articles of general manufacture. England could well afford to lose great sums of money in the form of neutral freights rather than drive Congress to a protective system which should create manufactures of cotton, woollen, and iron. These were motives which had their share in the civility with which England treated America; and year by year their influence should naturally have increased.

Of all British markets the American was the most valuable; but next to the American market was that of the West Indies. In some respects the West Indian was of the two the better worth preserving. From head to foot the planters and their half-million negroes were always clad in cottons or linens made by the clothiers of Yorkshire, Wiltshire, or Belfast. Every cask and hoop, every implement and utensil, was supplied from the British Islands. The sailing of a West Indian convoy was "an epoch in the diary of every shop and warehouse throughout the Kingdom."[7] The West Indian colonies employed, including the fisheries, above a thousand sail of shipping and twenty-five thousand seamen. While America might, and one day certainly would, manufacture for herself, the West Indies could not even dream of it; there the only profitable or practicable industry was cultivation of the soil, and the chief article of cultivation was the sugar-cane. Rival industries to those of Great Britain were impossible; the only danger that threatened British control was the loss of naval supremacy or the revolt of the negroes.

A great majority of British electors would certainly have felt no hesitation in deciding, as between the markets of the United States and of the West Indies, that if a choice must be made, good policy required the government to save at all hazards the West Indies. Both as a permanent market for manufactures and as a steady support for shipping, the West Indian commerce held the first place in British interests. This fact needed to be taken into account by the United States government before relying with certainty on the extent to which Great Britain could be controlled by the interests involved in the American trade. At the most critical moment all Jefferson's calculations might be upset by the growth of a conviction in England that the colonial system was in serious danger; and to make this chance stronger, another anxiety was so closely connected with it as to cause incessant alarm in the British mind.

The carrying-trade between the French West Indies and Europe which had thus fallen into American hands, added to the natural increase of national exports and imports, required a large amount of additional shipping; and what was more directly hostile to English interests, it drew great numbers of British sailors into the American merchant-service. The desertion of British seamen and the systematic encouragement offered to deserters in every seaport of the Union were serious annoyances, which the American government was unable to excuse or correct. Between 1793 and 1801 they reached the proportions of a grave danger to the British service. Every British government packet which entered the port of New York during the winter before Jefferson's accession to power lost almost every seaman in its crew; and neither people nor magistrates often lent help to recover them. At Norfolk the crew of a British ship deserted to an American sloop-of-war, whose commander, while admitting the fact, refused to restore the men, alleging his construction of official orders in his excuse.[8] In most American harbors such protection as the British shipmaster obtained sprang from the personal good-will of magistrates, who without strict legal authority consented to apply, for the benefit of the foreign master, the merchant-shipping law of the United States; but in one serious case even this voluntary assistance was stopped by the authority of a State government.

This interference was due to the once famous dispute over Jonathan Robbins, which convulsed party politics in America during the heated election of 1800. Thomas Nash, a boatswain on the British frigate "Hermione," having been ringleader in conspiracy and murder on the high seas, was afterward identified in the United States under the name and with the papers of Jonathan Robbins of Danbury, in Connecticut. On a requisition from the British minister, dated June 3, 1799, he was delivered under the extradition clause of Jay's treaty, and was hung. The Republican party, then in opposition, declared that Robbins, or Nash, was in their belief an American citizen whose surrender was an act of base subservience to Great Britain. An effigy of Robbins hanging to a gibbet was a favorite electioneering device at public meetings. The State of Virginia, having a similar grievance of its own, went so far as to enact a law[9] which forbade, under the severest penalties, any magistrate who acted under authority of the State to be instrumental in transporting any person out of its jurisdiction. As citizens of the Union, sworn to support the Constitution, such magistrates were equally bound with the Federal judges to grant warrants of commitment, under the Twenty-seventh Article of Jay's treaty, against persons accused of specified crimes. The Virginia Act directly contravened the treaty; while indirectly it prevented magistrates from granting warrants against deserters and holding them in custody, so that every English vessel which entered a Virginia port was at once abandoned by her crew, who hastened to enter the public or private ships of the United States.[10]

The captain of any British frigate which might happen to run into the harbor of New York, if he went ashore, was likely to meet on his return to the wharf some of his boat's crew strolling about the town, every man supplied with papers of American citizenship. This was the more annoying, because American agents in British ports habitually claimed and received the benefit of British law; while so far as American papers were concerned, no pretence was made of concealing the fraud, but they were issued in any required quantity, and were transferred for a few dollars from hand to hand.

Not only had the encouragement to desertion a share in the decline of British shipping in American harbors, but it also warranted, and seemed almost to render necessary, the only countervailing measure the British government could employ. Whatever happened to the merchant-service, the British navy could not be allowed to suffer. England knew no conscription for her armies, because for centuries she had felt no need of general military service; but at any moment she might compel her subjects to bear arms, if circumstances required it. Her necessities were greater on the ocean. There, from time immemorial, a barbarous sort of conscription, known as impressment, had been the ordinary means of supplying the royal navy in emergencies; and every seafaring man was liable to be dragged at any moment from his beer-cellar or coasting-vessel to man the guns of a frigate on its way to a three-years' cruise in the West Indies or the Mediterranean. Mere engagement in a foreign merchant-service did not release the British sailor from his duty. When the captain of a British frigate overhauled an American merchant-vessel for enemy's property or contraband of war, he sent an officer on board who mustered the crew, and took out any seamen whom he believed to be British. The measure, as the British navy regarded it, was one of self-protection. If the American government could not or would not discourage desertion, the naval commander would recover his men in the only way he could. Thus a circle of grievances was established on each side. Pitt's concessions to the United States irritated the British navy and merchant-marine, while they gave great profits to American shipping; the growth of American shipping stimulated desertions from the British service to the extent of injuring its efficiency; and these desertions in turn led to a rigorous exercise in the right of impressment. To find some point at which this vicious circle could be broken was a matter of serious consequence to both countries, but most so to the one which avowed that it did not mean to protect its interests by force.

Great Britain could have broken the circle by increasing the pay and improving the condition of her seamen; but she was excessively conservative, and the burdens already imposed on her commerce were so great that she could afford to risk nothing. In the face of a combined navy like that of Spain and France, her control of the seas at any given point, such as the West Indies, was still doubtful; and in the face of American competition, her huge convoys suffered under great disadvantage. Conscious of her own power, she thought that the United States should be first to give way. Had the American government been willing to perform its neutral obligations strictly, the circle might have been broken without much trouble; but the United States wished to retain their advantage, and preferred to risk whatever England might do rather than discourage desertion, or enact and enforce a strict naturalization law, or punish fraud. The national government was too weak to compel the States to respect neutral obligations, even if it had been disposed to make the attempt.

The practice of impressment brought the two governments to a deadlock on an issue of law. No one denied that every government had the right to command the services of its native subjects, and as yet no one ventured to maintain that a merchant-ship on the high seas could lawfully resist the exercise of this right; but the law had done nothing to define the rights of naturalized subjects or citizens. The British government might, no doubt, impress its own subjects; but almost every British sailor in the American service carried papers of American citizenship, and although some of these were fraudulent, many were genuine. The law of England, as declared from time out of mind by every generation of her judges, held that the allegiance of a subject was indefeasible, and therefore that naturalization was worthless. The law of the United States, as declared by Chief-Justice Ellsworth in 1799, was in effect the same;[11] he held that no citizen could dissolve the compact of protection and defence between himself and society without the consent or default of the community. On both sides the law was emphatic to the point that naturalization could not bind the government which did not consent to it; and the United States could hardly require England to respect naturalization papers which the Supreme Court of the United States declared itself unable to respect in a similar case. Nevertheless, while courts and judges declare what the law is or ought to be, they bind only themselves, and their decisions have no necessary effect on the co-ordinate branches of government. While the judges laid down one doctrine in Westminster Hall, Parliament laid down another in St. Stephen's chapel; and no one could say whether the law or the statute was final. The British statute-book contained Acts of Parliament as old as the reign of Queen Anne[12] to encourage the admission of foreign seamen into the British navy, offering them naturalization as an inducement. American legislation went not quite so far, but by making naturalization easy it produced worse results. A little perjury, in no wise unsafe, was alone required in order to transform British seamen into American citizens; and perjury was the commonest commodity in a seaport. The British government was forced to decide whether papers so easily obtained and transferred should be allowed to bar its claims on the services of its subjects, and whether it could afford to become a party to the destruction of its own marine, even though the United States should join with France and carry on endless war.

That there were some points which not even the loss of American trade would bring England to concede was well known to Jefferson; and on these points he did not mean to insist. Setting the matter of impressment aside, the relations between England and America had never been better than when the new President took office March 4, 1801. The British government seemed earnest in conciliation, and lost no opportunity of showing its good-will. Under the Sixth Article of Jay's treaty, a commission had been appointed to settle long-standing debts due to British subjects, but held in abeyance by State legislation in contravention of the treaty of 1783. After long delays the commission met at Philadelphia and set to work, but had made little progress when the two American commissioners, with the President's approval, in the teeth of the treaty which created the Board, refused to accept its decisions, and seceded. This violent measure was not taken by the Administration without uneasiness, for England might reasonably have resented it; but after some further delay the British government consented to negotiate again, and at last accepted a round sum of three million dollars in full discharge of the British claim. This was a case in which England was the aggrieved party; she behaved equally well in other cases where the United States were aggrieved. Rufus King complained that her admiralty courts in the West Indies and at Halifax were a scandal; in deference to his remonstrances these courts were thoroughly reformed by Act of Parliament. The vice-admiralty court at Nassau condemned the American brigantine "Leopard," engaged in carrying Malaga wine from the United States to the Spanish West Indies. The American minister complained of the decision, and within three days the King's Advocate reported in his favor.[13] The report was itself founded on Sir William Scott's favorable decision in the case of the "Polly." Soon afterward the American minister complained that Captain Pellew, of the "Cleopatra," and Admiral Parker had not effectually restrained their subordinates on the American station; both officers were promptly recalled. Although the Ministry had not yet consented to make any arrangement on the practice of impressment, Rufus King felt much hope that they might consent even to this reform; meanwhile Lord Grenville checked the practice, and professed a strong wish to find some expedient that should take its place.

There was no reason to doubt the sincerity of the British Foreign Office in wishing friendship. Its policy was well expressed in a despatch written from Philadelphia by Robert Liston, the British minister, shortly before he left the United States to return home:[14]

"The advantages to be ultimately reaped from a perserverance in the line of conduct which Great Britain has adopted for the last four years appear to my mind to be infallible and of infinite magnitude; the profitable consequences of a state of hostility, small and uncertain. I have been pleasing my imagination with looking forward to the distant spectacle of all the northern continent of America covered with friendly though not subject States, consuming our manufactures, speaking our language, proud of their parent State, attached to her prosperity. War must bring with it extensive damage to our navigation, the probable loss of Canada, and the world behind it, the propagation of enmity and prejudices which it may be impossible to eradicate. The system of the American government does not strike me, with the near view I have of it, as being in so perilous a situation as is imagined in Europe. I am willing to avoid political prophecies, but I confess I think it will get on well enough if the country remains in peace; and if they go to war, the fabric may acquire strength. God forbid that it should be to our detriment, and to the triumph of our enemies!"

  1. 28 George III. c. 6.
  2. Additional Instructions of Nov. 6, 1793; State Papers, i. 430.
  3. Reeves's Law of Shipping and Navigation, part ii. chap. iii.
  4. Appendix to 4 Robinson, 6.
  5. Advocate-General's Report, March 16, 1801; State Papers, ii. 491.
  6. See vol. 1. p. 214.
  7. Thoughts on Commerce and Colonies, by Charles Bosanquet.
  8. Thornton to Grenville, March 7, 1801; MSS. British Archives.
  9. Act of Jan. 21, 1801, Statutes at Large of Virginia, New Series, ii. 302.
  10. Thornton to Grenville, June 1, 1802; MSS. British Archives.
  11. Trial of Isaac Williams, Hartford, 1799, Wharton's State Trials, 653. Shanks v. Dupont, 3 Peters, 242.
  12. 6 Anne, c. 20.
  13. Rufus King to Madison, April 12, 1801; State Papers, ii. 490.
  14. Liston to Grenville (private), May 7, 1800; MSS. British Archives