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Mr. Canning.") - Mr. Canning, then, Sir, who told us that all our trade with the West Indies was a boon, granted to us by the indulgence of England. The British minister calls it a boon, and our minister admits it as a privilege, and hopes that his Majesty will be too gracious to decide that we have forfeited this privilege, by our misbehavior in the choice of our rulers! Sir, for one, I reject all idea of holding any right of trade, or any other rights, as a privilege or a boon from the British government, or any other government.
At the conclusion of the paragraph, the Secretary says, “ You cannot press this view of the subject too earnestly upon the consideration of the British ministry. It has bearings and relations that reach beyond the immediate question under discussion."
Adverting again to the same subject, towards the close of the despatch, he says, “ I will add nothing as to the impropriety of suffering any feelings that find their origin in the past pretensions of this government to have an adverse influence upon the present conduct of Great Britain."
I ask again, Mr. President, if this be statesmanship? if this be dignity ? if this be elevated regard for country? Can any man read this whole despatch with candor, and not admit that it is plainly and manifestly the writer's intention to promote the interests of his party at the expense of those of the country?
Lest I should do the Secretary injustice, I will read all that I find, in this letter, upon this obnoxious point. These are the paragraphs:
“ Such is the present state of our commercial relations with the British colonies; and such the steps by which we have arrived at it. In reviewing the events which have preceded, and more or less contributed to, a result so much to be regretted, there will be found three grounds upon which we are most assailable; - Ist. In our too long and too tenaciously resisting the right of Great Britain to impose protecting duties in her colonies ; 2d,” &c.
“ The opportunities which you have derived from a participation in our public counsels, as well as other sources of information, will enable you to speak with confidence (as far as you may deem it proper and useful so to do) of the respective parts taken by those to whom the ad. ministration of this government is now committed, in relation to the course heretofore pursued upon the subject of the colonial trade. Their
views upon that point have been submitted to the people of the United States; and the counsels by which your conduct is now directed are the result of the judgment expressed by the only earthly tribunal to which the late administration was amenable for its acts. It should be sufficient that the claims set up by them, and which caused the interruption of the trade in question, have been explicitly abandoned by those who first as. serted them, and are not revived by their successors. If Great Britain deems it adverse to her interests to allow us to participate in the trade with her colonies, and finds nothing in the extension of it to others to induce her to apply the same rule to us, she will, we hope, be sensible of the propriety of placing her refusal on those grounds. To set up the acts of the late administration as the cause of forfeiture of privileges which would otherwise be extended to the people of the United States, would, under existing circumstances, be unjust in itself, and could not fail to excite their deepest sensibility. The tone of feeling which a course so unwise and untenable is calculated to produce, would doubtless be greatly aggravated by the consciousness that Great Britain has, by order in council, opened her colonial ports to Russia and France, notwithstanding a similar omission on their part to accept the terms offered by the act of July, 1825. You cannot press this view of the subject too earnestly upon the consideration of the British ministry. It has bearings and relations that reach beyond the immediate question under discussion.”
“I will add nothing as to the impropriety of suffering any feelings that find their origin in the past pretensions of this government to have an adverse influence upon the present conduct of Great Britain.”
Sir, I submit to you, and to the candor of all just men, if I am not right in saying that the pervading topic, through the whole, is, not American rights, not American interests, not American defence, but denunciation of past pretensions of our own country, reflections on the past administration, and exultation and a loud claim of merit for the administration now in power. Sir, I would forgive mistakes; I would pardon the want of information; I would pardon almost any thing, where I saw true patriotism and sound American feeling; but I cannot forgive the sacrifice of this feeling to mere party. I cannot concur in sending abroad a public agent, who has not conceptions so large and liberal as to feel, that, in the presence of foreign courts, amidst the monarchies of Europe, he is to stand up for his country, and his whole country; that no jot nor tittle of her honor is to suffer in his hands; that he is not to allow others to reproach either his government or his country, and far less is he himself to reproach either; that he is to have no objects in his eye but American objects, and no heart in his bosom but an American heart; and that he is to forget self, and forget party, to forget every sinister and narrow feeling, in his proud and lofty attachment to the republic whose commission he bears.
Mr. President, I have discharged an exceedingly unpleasant duty, the most unpleasant of my public life. But I have looked upon it as a duty, and it was not to be shunned. And, Sir, however unimportant may be the opinion of so humble an individual as myself, I now only wish that I might be heard by every independent freeman in the United States, by the British minister and the British king, and by every minister and every crowned head in Europe, while, standing here in my place, I pronounce my rebuke, as solemnly and as decisively as I can, upon this first instance in which an American minister has been sent abroad as the representative of his party, and not as the representative of his country.
FURTHER REMARKS ON THE SAME SUBJECT."
In reply to some remarks of Mr. Forsyth, Mr. Webster spoke as follows:
It is, in my judgment, a great mistake to suppose that what is now called the American “pretension" originated with Mr. Adams, either as President or Secretary of State. By the way, it is singular enough that the American side of this question is called, in the instructions before us, a pretension too long persisted in; while the British side of it is called a right, too long and too tenaciously resisted by us. This courteous mode of speaking of the claims of a foreign government, and this reproachful mode of speaking of the claims of our own, is certainly somewhat novel in diplomacy. But whether it be called, respectfully, a claim, or, reproachfully, a pretension, it did not originate with Mr. Adams. It had a much earlier origin. This “preten
* In Secret Session of the Senate, on the 26th of January, 1832.
sion,” now abandoned with so much scorn, or this claim, said, reproachfully, to have been first set up by the late administration, originated with George Washington. He put his own hand to it. He insisted on it; and he would not treat with England on the subject of the colonial trade without consid. ering it.
In his instructions to Mr. Morris, under his own hand, in October, 1789, President Washington says:
“Let it be strongly impressed on your mind, that the privilege of car. rying our productions in our vessels to their islands, and bringing in return the productions of those islands to our own ports and markets, is regarded here as of the highest importance; and you will be careful not to countenance any idea of our dispensing with it in a treaty. Ascertain, if possible, their views on this subject; for it would not be expe. dient to commence negotiations without previously having good reasons to expect a satisfactory termination of them.”
Observe, Sir, that President Washington, in these instructions, is not speaking of the empty and futile right of sending our own vessels without cargoes to the British West Indies; but he is speaking of the substantial right of carrying our own products to the islands, for sale and for consumption there. And whether these products were shut out by a positive act of Parliament, or by a tariff of duties absolutely and necessarily prohibitory, could make no difference. The object was to provide by treaty, if it could be done, that our products should find their way, effectually and profitably, into the markets of the British West Indies. This was General Washington's object. This was the “pretension” which he set up.
It is well known, Sir, that no satisfactory arrangement was made in General Washington's time respecting our trade with the British West Indies. But the breaking out of the French Revolution, and the wars which it occasioned, were causes which of themselves opened the ports of the West Indies. Dur. ing the long continuance of those wars, our vessels, with car. goes of our own products, found their way into the British West India Islands, under a practical relaxation of the British colonial system. While this condition of things lasted, we did very well without a particular treaty. But on the general restoration of peace, in 1815, Great Britain returned to her foriner system; then the islands were shut against us; and then it
became necessary to treat on the subject, and our ministers were, successively, instructed to treat, from that time forward. And, Sir, I undertake to say, that neither Mr. Madison, who was then President, nor his successor, Mr. Monroe, gave any authority or permission to any American minister to abandon this pretension, or even to waive it or postpone it, and make a treaty without providing for it. No such thing. On the contrary, it will appear, I think, if we look through papers which have been sent to the Senate, that, under Mr. Madison's administration, our minister in England was fully instructed on this subject, and expected to press it. As to Mr. Monroe, I have means of being informed, in a manner not liable to mistake, that he was on this subject always immovable. He would not negotiate without treating on this branch of the trade; nor did I ever understand, that, in regard to this matter, there was any difference of opinion whatever among the gentlemen who composed Mr. Monroe's cabinet. Mr. Adams, as Secretary of State, wrote the despatches and the instructions; but the policy was the policy of the whole administration, as far as I ever understood. Certain it is, it was the settled and determined policy of Mr. Monroe himself. Indeed, Sir, so far is it from being true that this pretension originated with Mr. Adams, that it was in his administration that, for the first time, permission was given, under very peculiar circumstances, and with instructions, to negotiate a treaty, waiving this part of the question. This has been already alluded to, and fully explained, by the honorable member from Kentucky.
So, then, Sir, this pretension, asserted in the instructions to have been first set up by the late administration, is shown to have had President Washington for its author, and to have received the countenance of every President who had occasion to act on the subject, from 1789 down to the time of the present administration.
But this is not all. Congress itself has sanctioned the same “ pretension.” The act of the 1st of March, 1823, makes it an express condition upon which, and upon which alone, our ports shall be opened to British vessels and cargoes from the West Indies on paying the same duties as our vessels and cargoes, that our products shall be admitted into those islands without paying any other or higher duties than shall be paid on similar productions