Page:Henry Adams' History of the United States Vol. 3.djvu/58

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Ch. 2.

secret instrument for carrying out an act of piracy. The law defends him by throwing responsibility upon the political chiefs who were bound to make compensation to the plundered merchants if compensation was due. The judge's duty began and ended by declaring what was law. Experience had proved that the evidence previously required to convince the court of a certain fact was insufficient. The judge said this, and no more. History replies that whatever may be the strictly professional aspect of this famous judgment, in its nature it was a political act, and was known by the judge to be such. As a political measure its character was equivalent to a declaration of war, and did not materially differ from the more violent seizure of the Spanish treasure-ships by Pitt's order in the previous October. The lawyers justified that seizure also; the King's Advocate defended it in the House of Commons by the simple explanation that England was not in the habit of declaring war, but usually began hostilities by some act of force. [1] Lord Grenville, whom Pitt had entreated, only a few months before, to join the new ministry, and who was certainly considered as, next to Pitt himself, the highest political authority in England, was not deterred by this reasoning from denouncing the seizure of the Spanish galleons as an atrocious act of barbarity, contrary to all the law of nations, which stamped indelible infamy on the English name.

  1. Speech of Sir John Nicholl (Advocate-General), Feb. 11, 1805; Cobbett's Debates, iii. 407.