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Thus far, I have not read a single argument against these claims, either in the form of a speech or a report; and from the best examination I have been able to give to the public documents referred to, and the statement of their own case by the claimants themselves, I have come to the conclusion that the claims do not constitute a just demand upon the public treasury. I will proceed to state the reasons for this opinion.
But, first, I desire to call the attention of the Senate to an argument which has been adduced in their support by the Senator from Delaware, — an argument, I think, best answered by a reference to the manner in which the subject was disposed of for examination when it came before the Senate soon after the opening of the present session. The argument I refer to is this: that in the whole course of the last forty-four years, during which the subject has been before Congress, there have been but three adverse reports, while the favorable reports have been more than twenty. Now, if the Senate will indulge me, I will recall to its recollection the circumstances under which the reference for examination was made. Soon after the session commenced, I presented a memorial, signed by several gentlemen of the city of New York, of the highest respectability, representing a large number of the claimants, and moved that it be referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations, the committee which had, for a series of years, been charged with it. The reference was made. But the Senator from Maine, on my left,1 immediately rose and presented a similar memorial, and moved that it be referred to a select committee on the distinct ground that a majority of the Committee on Foreign Relations were opposed to the claims, and that the application should be referred to a committee which would present a favorable report. It was also urged in favor of the motion of the Senator from Maine, that this was a claim, and that the Committee on Foreign Relations was not an appropriate one; whereupon a Senator from Mississippi1 moved that it be referred to the Committee on Claims. But the motion was voted down, for reasons which I have no right to divine, much less to question. The motion of the Senator from Maine was finally sustained by the Senate; and the select committee was very properly constituted by yourself, Mr. President, according to the parliamentary rule that select committees should not be adverse to the subject of reference. I allude to the circumstances in order to repel the inference, which has been drawn from the greater number of the favorable reports on these claims in years past, that this fact constituted an argument in their favor. I cannot so regard it; nor do I think it can be so regarded by any one who considers the circumstances referred to. The same course has probably been pursued in former sessions as in this. When the Committee on Foreign Relations was known to be friendly to the claims, they would naturally be referred to that committee. On the other hand, when the committee was known to be adverse, a select committee would be appointed for the express purpose of procuring a favorable report. Under these circumstances, it seems no longer remarkable that the favorable reports should have been so numerous. One fact was clear: in case the application had been permitted to go to the appropriate standing committee, there would, if his friend from Maine2 was right, have been one more adverse report. On the whole, therefore, I apprehend that the result of these preliminary investigations is to be regarded not as an argument in favor of the justice of these claims, but as the evidence of a deference on the part of the Senate for established forms and principles of parliamentary proceeding. If it were otherwise, it is quite manifest, that, by the device of sending the application to a standing committee when that committee was known to be favorable, and to a select committee when the appropriate standing committee was known to be adi Mr. Speight. 2 Mr. Fairfield.
i Mr. Fairfield.
verse, the merits of the application, according to this test, would every year become more apparent, and we should ultimately have a mass of evidence in their favor that would be irresistible. And here I will leave so much of the argument in favor of these claims as is founded upon the numerical force of reports of committees.
But it is time to look into the merits of the application, and I will do so in the briefest manner possible.
The most ancient treaties to be found on our statute-book are a treaty of amity and commerce, and a treaty of alliance, (I name them in the order in which they were concluded,) between the United States and France; or, to use the language of the treaties, between the United States and his most Christian Majesty. They were executed on the 6th of February, 177$, and they preceded by a few months the earliest treaty on record between us and any of the Indian tribes on this continent. The dissolution of the political connection between Great Britain and the United States had been formally proclaimed to the world nineteen months before; we were engaged in a determined struggle to maintain the independent attitude we had thus taken; and France, by the treaty of alliance referred to, soon became a party to the contest. I say she soon became a party to the contest, because the treaty of alliance was not designed to be carried immediately into full effect. It was in its main stipulations conditional, eventual, prospective; — conditional, on the event of a rupture between France and Great Britain; or, if such a rupture should not take place, then on the termination of the war between Great Britain and the United States. It was not designed to be made public; and when the Congress of the United States, "in a moment of exultation," as Marshall, in his "Life of Washington," says, published it with the treaty of amity and commerce, which was an open treaty, the publication was not approved by the Cabinet of Versailles; and he adds, "that, treaty, being only eventual, ought not to have been communicated to the public but by mutual consent."1 But the condition on which it depended was soon fulfilled, and France became involved in our contest for independence. Of the valuable assistance which she rendered us, it is needless to speak. This portion of our history is not likely to be effaced from our memory, nor, I trust, from the memory of our descendants; and especially all that concerns the gallant Frenchmen, who, like Lafayette, periled their lives and fortunes in our cause. I believe there was then, as now, a strong chord of sympathy between the people of the two countries, which I hope may never be broken. But it is due to the impartiality of history to say, that the Government of France was not so clearly actuated by the purely disinterested motives which have been ascribed to her. The whole history of our negotiations with her in 1777 shows that she had her own interest in view in the part she took in our struggle for independence, and that the encouragement she gave us in the early stages of that contest varied with the varying phases of our fortune. But disinterestedness and generosity, I apprehend, are not the virtues of governments. They are peculiarly and eminently attributes of individual character. They are not even the virtues of men in their associated state; and in the intercourse of nations they dwindle to mere names. I believe the highest qualities to be looked for in the communications of governments with each other, are justice and courtesy.
The Senator from Delaware has referred to the epoch of these treaties as "the darkest hour in our whole Revolutionary struggle." I have not been accustomed so to consider it. They were concluded immediately after the campaign of 1777« I have always regarded this as the great campaign of the war, and the period which succeeded, notwithstanding the embarrassments and sufferings it brought, as one of strong confidence in the ultimate success of the contest for independence. The Senator has drawn a striking picture of the privations and sufferings endured by the American army at Valley Forge; and I will not say that it is over-colored. But as a picture of the epoch, it seems to me incomplete. I certainly think the Senator has thrown in all the shadows, and left out all the lights — nay, I will say, the brilliant colors — which equally belong to a true picture of that period. I will, with the permission of my honorable friend from Delaware, borrow his canvas, and add what I consider the omitted parts. The Senator from Delaware commenced his sketch with the battle of Brandywine, which was fought on the 11th of September. I will only go about four weeks farther back. I will commence with the 16th of August, when Colonel Baum was defeated at Bennington by Stark. Colonel St. Leger, with his Indian allies, was driven from Fort Stanwix and the Valley of the Mohawk on the £2d August, after the bloody battle of Oriskany. Burgoyne, on the 13th October, — more than a month after the battle of Brandywine, — surrendered at Saratoga, with one of the best-appointed armies Great Britain ever had on this continent; and an American historian has denominated his surrender "the hinge on which the Revolution turned." Sir Henry Clinton had failed in his attempt to cooperate with the army of Burgoyne by the Hudson River, and had returned to the city of New York; and Washington, though laboring under the greatest disadvantages, with an army vastly inferior in numbers to that of his adversary, and illprovided with the munitions of war, had, by a series of masterly movements and well-contested engagements, neutralized, to a considerable extent, the operations of General Howe in the Middle States. The British general had succeeded in occupying Philadelphia, and made it his winterquarters; but when the intelligence reached Paris, Dr. Franklin said, (and the saying, I believe, became a byword on both sides of the Atlantic,) that Philadelphia had taken General Howe. History had pronounced the operations of that general barren victories; and these were almost the only shadows on the face of the campaign. Nearly
i Vol. I. p. 237.