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respect to the policy both of England and France, at that period, there were different opinions expressed, as to the propriety of the course pursued by the President. And perhaps there were too strong party feelings existing, to secure or call forth an expression of sentiments entirely impartial and just.
As there was some provocation given, by enlisting and refusing to give up British seamen, and even British deserters, which was the occasion and pretext for the rash and violent act of the British commander, as it was supposed to be unauthorized by his government; and as the British cabinet promptly disavowed and regretted it, and immediately sent a special ambassador to make an apology and reparation for it, it was the general opinion of the people, that the unhappy affair should be settled at once, if the explanation tendered was proper, and not be embarrassed or delayed by a reference to other subjects. And some believed, that a wish to please the Emperor of France, or to avert his displeasure, who had said, “that the American government could not submit to the British conduct, but would declare war against that nation,” had an influence in leading to the course pursued by the President.
The language and conduct of the Emperor, at this period, manifested such an interference with the measures of the United States, as to justify the prevailing opinion, that great firmness was necessary in resisting his unjust claims; and that, when this was not manifested, there inust be an improper fear of his displeasure, or an equally improper desire for his favor and friendship. The course of the administration at this time was not generally considered to be strictly impartial. The letters received from the American Envoys, both in France and in England, were long kept from Congress; and afterwards only partially communicated, and several of these required to be returned to the President, without being made public. Some of those citizens who had been the warm political friends of the administration, were dissatisfied with this conduct. And when the letters, permitted to be laid before the people through the press, some months after, were read, it appeared, that the British government was really desirous of maintaining peace with the United States, and of making some sacrifices to prevent a war; while the spirit of the French Emperor indicated little respect for the government, and little regard for the interests of America; especially, if his object could
be obtained, of inflicting the greater injury on the commercial and naval power of England. *
The conduct of the Emperor was considered, by a great portion of the people, alike unjust and dishonorable. Decrees of an injurious tendency to neutral commerce, when remonstrated against by the American Envoy, were declared not to be in force towards the citizens of the United States; and yet, in several instances, within a year from such assurances, they were put in execution, even on the cargoes of vessels driven into France by stress of weather, or wrecked on its coasts. And the allies, or the vassals of France were required by the Emperor to conduct in a similar manner towards American vessels and property. And it was justly deemed dishonorable either to antedate a decree, or to pass it in secret, and afterwards to claim the benefit of having issued it at an earlier period than its publication.
When the people were possessed of these facts, they became still more dissatisfied with the embargo. Grievous and restrictive as the measure was, it would have been borne with patriotic patience, had it been supposed necessary to vindicate and preserve the rights of the nation; but when it was believed it had been adopted in conformity to the views of a foreign power, the complaints increased; and some of the members of Congress, who at first supported the measure, on the recommendation of the President, were desirous of repealing it. The majority, however, were in favor of continuing it; and additional acts were soon after passed by Congress, rendering its provisions more strict and more oppressive.' The coasting vessels, and even the fishermen, on or near the coasts, were subjected to severe restrictions in their business, and required to give large bonds, on leaving a port, under the pretence of their having intercourse with British ports or vessels. And when, some months after, as the opposition to the embargo increased, the act was suspended, or withdrawn by the President, as he had been authorized by Congress, in April, 1808, on the repeal of the orders of the belligerents affecting neutral
* Mr. Armstrong, the American Envoy at the Court of France, wrote to the President, in January, 1809, “ That the Emperor considered war as then existing between the United States and Great Britain ; and that he considered it as declared, on the publication of the British orders in council, of November, 1807 ; which, though just cause of complaint by the federal government, were really retaliatory of the previous French decrees, and not more arbitrary and dangerous. No good apology can be offered for these orders, but it was said, they were less injurious to neutrals, than those issued by Cromwell, 1655.
commerce, and a system of non-intercourse with European nations was adopted, the embarrassments and hindrances to foreign trade were equally injurious; and the dissatisfaction with the policy of the administration continued unabated. Still, the majority of the people expressed their confidence in the wisdom of the President and his cabinet, and believed their views favorable to the liberty and independence of the nation, with a proper spirit of opposition to the claims and orders of Great Britain, affecting the maritime interests of the United States. The policy already adopted and pursued for two or three years, was therefore continued ;-the conduct of both England and France being injurious to neutral rights, and great deviations from the law of nations as generally admitted ;-till it issued in a war with the former nation; which was prosecuted till the other met with great reverses, and became less formidable to neutral nations. The course of the American government was evidently surrounded with difficulties; and it was not an easy task to satisfy all parties; but the opinion prevailed to a great extent, that, by strict impartiality and firmness, united with a spirit of moderation, the difficulties might have been prevented, or removed; and war wholly averted.
It was often interrogated, at this period, what would have been the state of the country, if the policy which dictated a long embargo and non-importation and non-intercourse then pursued, had been adopted in 1794, when equal difficulties existed with England. An embargo was, indeed, then laid for a limited and very short period; not however as a measure of coercion, but of protection; and a non-importation was also then proposed, but rejected. And by negotiation, in a truly friendly spirit, with a character of firmness and impartiality in the administration, peace was preserved, indemnity made for maritime wrongs and depredations; and commercial prosperity fully restored.
Some measures of defence were adopted during the session of Congress, which began in October, 1807, but not till the spring of 1808. For the measure of the embargo, with subsequent attempts to repeal or modify the act, and additional laws to enforce it, long occupied the time of the national legislature. The President was authorized to cause several fortifications on the seacoast to be repaired or completed ; and to have others erected, as he might judge necessary
for the defence of the harbors and the vessels therein. Provision was also made for building and manning a large number of gunboats for the same purpose. Two years before, the President was authorized to employ
gunboats, and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars appropriated for that object-an additional sum was now voted to increase these means of protection and defence-an act was also passed for raising eight additional regiments of regular troops; for detaching one hundred thousand of the militia to be apportioned, by the President, among the several States; and for arming the whole body of the militia in the United States. The law of Congress, passed in March, 1805, for the preservation of peace in the ports and harbors of the United States, was, at this session, ordered to be continued for two years.
This act had reference to treason, felony, or misdemeanor, or breach of the peace, within the jurisdiction of the United States, by persons belonging to foreign armed vessels; and " in order to prevent insults to the authority of the laws, by which the peace of the United States with foreign nations might be endangered, the President was empowered to interdict, at his pleasure, the entrance of the harbors and waters under the jurisdiction of the United States, to all armed vessels belonging to any foreign nation, and by force to repel and remove them from the same, except when driven in by the dangers of the sea, of other distress."
The prosecutions, on account of the alleged treasonable plan of Aaron Burr, had now subsided ; although he and some of his associates were complained of before a court in Ohio, after his acquittal in Virginia, by the Circuit Court of the United States; but one of the Senators in Congress from the State of Ohio, John Smith, was suspected of being privy to, and aiding in the project; and a charge was brought against him in the Senate, with a view, among some of the members, to his expulsion from his seat in the national legislature. Smith had been indicted by a grand jury in Virginia, in August, for treason, and a misdemeanor; but no conviction was had, and the case was discontinued or postponed. In November, 1807, a committee of the Senate was appointed, composed of seven members, to consider "whether it were compatible with the honor and privileges of that body, that he should be permitted any longer to hold his seat as a Senator.” A report was made the last of December, and a resolution offered by the committee, declaring, “ that, by his participation in the conspiracy of Aaron Burr, Mr. Smith was guilty of conduct incompatible with his duty and station as a Senator of the United States; and that he be, therefore, expelled from the Senate." At his request, Smith was heard in his defence, by council before the Senate; but it was made a question,
whether strictly legal proof were necessary to convict him; or whether the Senate might exercise their discretion in the case, and require only satisfactory evidence of his concern in the conspiracy. Near the close of the session, and after many days being occupied on the subject, a majority of the Senate voted, that Mr. Smith be expelled ; but there were not two thirds in favor of the resolution, the constitutional majority required in such cases, and he retained his seat.
The embargo laid in December, 1807, was continued for nearly fifteen months; and caused great complaint and suffering, especially with those concerned in navigation, or living near the seacoast. In November, 1808, as well as at an earlier day, a formal motion was made in the Senate, to repeal the embargo act. The motion was offered by Mr. Hillhouse of Connecticut; and by him and others, the evils of the measure were fully pointed out, as well as' its inefficiency to coerce the British government to abandon its maritime rights, or to adjust the disputes between the two countries, on the terms urged by the federal Executive. Mr. Lloyd of Massachusetts supported the motion for a repeal of the embargo, with great intelligence and ability.
Mr. Lloyd said, he considered the question as important as any which had occurred since the adoption of the Constitution : that it deeply implicated, and perhaps would determine the fate of the commerce and navigation of the country—a commerce which had afforded employ for nearly a million and a half tons of navigation ; which had formed occupation for hundreds of thousands of our citizens; which has spread wealth and prosperity in every region of our country; and which had upheld the government, by furnishing the revenue for its support. Surely, this is a commerce, said Mr. Lloyd, not to be trifled with; a commerce not lightly to be offered up as the victim of fruitless experiment.
He admitted that our commerce had been subject to great vexation and plunder by the belligerents of Europe.
There was no doubt,” he added, " that both France and England had violated the laws of nations, and immolated the rights of neutrality; but there is, in my opinion, a striking difference in the circumstances of the two nations; the one, being instigated by a lawless thirst for universal dominion, is seeking to extend an iron-handed, merciless despotism over every region of the globe, while the other is fighting for her natale solum : for the preservation of her liberties, and probably for her very existence.