374 [1st Session.
SUPPRESSION OF THE SLAVE TRADE.
COMMUNICATED TO THE SENATE, IN EXECUTIVE SESSION, MAY 21, 1824, AND THE INJUNCTION OF SECRECY SINCE REMOVED.
To the Senate of the United States:
Apprehending, from the delay in the decision, that some difficulty exists with the Senate respecting the ratification of the convention lately concluded with the British Government for the suppression of the slave trade, by making it piratical, I deem it proper to communicate, for your consideration, such views
as appear to me to merit attention. Charged, as the Executive is, and as I have long been, with maintaining the political relations between the United States and other nations, I consider it my duty, in submitting for your advice and consent, as to the ratification, any treaty or convention which has been agreed on with another power, to explain, when the occasion requires it, all the reasons which induced the measure. It is by such full and frank explanation, only, that the Senate can be enabled to discharge the high trust reposed in them with advantage to their country. Having the instrument before them, with the views which guided the Executive in forming it, the Senate will possess all the light necessary to a sound decision.
By an act of Congress of May 15, 1820, the slave trade, as described by that act, was made piratical, and all such of our citizens as might be found engaged in that trade were subjected, on conviction thereof by the circuit courts of the United States, to capital punishment. To communicate more distinctly the import of that act, I refer to its fourth and fifth sections, which are in the following words:
"Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That if any citizen of the United States, being of the crew or ship's company of any foreign ship or vessel engaged in the slave trade, or any person whatever, being of the crew or ship's company of any ship or vessel, owned in the whole or part, or navigated for or in behalf of any citizen or citizens of the United States, shall land from any such ship or vessel, and on any foreign shore, seize any negro or mulatto, not held to service or labor by the laws of either of the States or Territories of the United States, with intent to make such negro or mulatto a slave, or shall decoy or forcibly bring or carry, or shall receive such negro or mulatto on board any such ship or vessel, with intent as aforesaid, such citizen or person shall be adjudged a pirate; and on conviction thereof, before the circuit court of the United States for the district wherein he may be brought or found, shall suffer death."
"Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That if any citizen of the United States, being of the crew or ship's company of any foreign ship or vessel engaged in the slave trade, or any person whatever, being of the crew or ship's company of any ship or vessel, owned wholly or in part, or navigated for or in behalf of any citizen or citizens of the United States, shall forcibly confine or detain, or aid and abet in forcibly confining or detaining on board such ship or vessel any negro or mulatto, not held to service by the laws of either of the States or Territories of the United States, with intent to make such negro or mulatto a slave, or shall, on board any such ship or vessel, offer or attempt to sell, as a slave, any negro or mulatto not held to service as aforesaid, or shall, on the high seas, or anywhere on tide water, transfer or deliver over to any other ship or vessel any negro or mulatto, not held to service as aforesaid, with intent to make such negro or mulatto a slave, or shall land or deliver on shore from on board any such ship or vessel any such negro or mulatto, with intent to make sale of, or having previously sold such negro or mulatto as a slave, such citizen or person shall be adjudged a pirate; and on conviction thereof, before the circuit court of the United States for the district wherein he may be brought or found, shall suffer death."
And on the 28th February, 1823, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 131 to 9, passed a resolution to the following effect:
"Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to enter upon, and prosecute from time to time, such negotiations with the several maritime powers of Europe and America as he may deem expedient for the effectual abolition of the African slave trade, and its ultimate denunciation as piracy, under the law of nations, by the consent of the civilized world."
By the act of Congress above referred to, whereby the most effectual means that could be devised were adopted for the extirpation of the slave trade, the wish of the United States was explicitly declared that all nations might concur in a similar policy. It could only be by such concurrence that the great object could be accomplished; and it was by negotiation and treaty alone that such concurrence could be obtained, commencing with one power and extending it to others. The course, therefore, which the Executive, who had concurred in the act, had to pursue, was distinctly marked out for it. Had there, however, been any doubt respecting it, the resolution of the House of Representatives, the branch which might with strict propriety express its opinion, could not fail to have removed it.
By the tenth article of the treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain, concluded at Ghent, it was stipulated that both parties should use their best endeavors to accomplish the abolition of the African slave trade. This object has been, accordingly, pursued by both Governments with great earnestness, by separate acts of legislation, and by negotiation almost uninterrupted, with the purpose of establishing a concert between them in some measure which might secure its accomplishment.
Great Britain, in her negotiations with other powers, had concluded treaties with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, in which, without constituting the crime as piracy or classing it with crimes of that denomination, the parties had conceded to the naval officers of each other the right of search and capture of the vessels of either that might be engaged in the slave trade, and had instituted courts, consisting of judges, subjects of both parties, for the trial of the vessels so captured.
In the negotiations with the United States, Great Britain had earnestly and repeatedly pressed on them the adoption of similar provisions. They had been resisted by the Executive on two grounds: one, that the constitution of mixed tribunals was incompatible with their Constitution; and the other, that the concession of the right of search in time of peace for an offence not piratical would be repugnant to the feelings of the nation and of dangerous tendency. The right of search is the right of war of the belligerent towards the neutral. To extend it in time of peace to any object whatever might establish a precedent which might lead to others with some powers, and which, even if confined to the instance specified, might be subject to great abuse.
Animated by an ardent desire to suppress this trade, the United States took stronger ground, by making it, by the act above referred to, piratical—a measure more adequate to the end, and free from many of the objections applicable to the plan which had been proposed to them. It is this alternative which the Executive, under the sanctions and injunctions above stated, offered to the British Government, and which that Government has accepted. By making the crime piracy, the right of search attaches to the crime, and which, when adopted by all nations, will be common to all; and that it will be so adopted may fairly be presumed, if steadily persevered in by the parties to the present convention. In the meantime, and with a view to a fair experiment, the obvious course seems to be to carry into effect with every power such treaty as may be made with each in succession.
In presenting this alternative to the British Government, it was made an indispensable condition that the trade should be made piratical by act of Parliament, as it had been by an act of Congress. This was provided for in the convention, and has since been complied with. In this respect, therefore, the two
nations rest on the same ground. Suitable provisions have also been adopted to protect each party from the abuse of the power granted to the public ships of the other. Instead of subjecting the persons detected in the slave trade to trial by the courts of the captors, as would be the case if such trade was piracy by the law of nations, it is stipulated that, until that event, they shall be tried by the courts of their own country only. Hence there could be no motive for an abuse of the right of search, since such abuse could not fail to terminate to the injury of the captor.
Should this convention be adopted, there is every reason to believe that it will be the commencement of a system destined to accomplish the entire abolition of the slave trade. Great Britain, by making it her own, confessedly adopted at the suggestion of the United States, and being pledged to propose and urge its adoption by other nations in concert with the United States, will find it for her interest to abandon the less effective system of her previous treaties with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and to urge on those and other powers their accession to this. The crime will then be universally proscribed as piracy, and the traffic be suppressed forever.
Other considerations of high importance urge the adoption of this convention. We have, at this moment, pending with Great Britain, sundry other negotiations intimately connected with the welfare and even with the peace of our Union. In one of them, nearly a third part of the territory of the State of Maine is in contestation. In another, the navigation of the St. Lawrence, the admission of consuls into the British islands, and a system of commercial intercourse between the United States and all the British possessions in this hemisphere, are subjects of discussion. In a third, our territorial and other rights upon the Northwest Coast are to be adjusted; while a negotiation on the same interest is opened with Russia. In a fourth, all the most important controvertible points of maritime law in time of war are brought under consideration; and in the fifth, the whole system of South American concerns, connected with a general recognition of South American independence, may again, from hour to hour, become, as it has already been, an object of concerted operations of the highest interest to both nations, and to the peace of the world.
It cannot be disguised that the rejection of this convention could not fail to have a very injurious influence on the good understanding between the two Governments on all these points. That it would place the Executive administration under embarrassment, and subject it, the Congress and the nation, to the charge of insincerity respecting the great result of the final suppression of the slave trade; and that its first and indispensable consequence will be to constrain the Executive to suspend all further negotiation with every European and American power to which overtures have been made in compliance with the resolution of the House of Representatives of February 28, 1823, must be obvious. To invite all nations, with the statute of piracy in our hands, to adopt its principles as the law of nations, and yet to deny to all the common rights of search for the pirate, whom it would be impossible to detect without entering and searching the vessel, would expose us not simply to the charge of inconsistency.
It must be obvious that the restriction of search for pirates to the African coast is incompatible with the idea of such a crime. It is not doubted, also, if the convention is adopted, that no example of the commission of that crime by the citizens or subjects of either power will ever occur again. It is believed, therefore, that this right, as applicable to piracy, would not only extirpate the trade, but prove altogether innocent in its operation.
In further illustration of the views of Congress on this subject, I transmit to the Senate extracts from two resolutions of the House of Representatives—one of February 9, 1821, the other of April, 12, 1822. I transmit also a letter from the Chargé d'Affaires of the British Government, which shows the deep interest which that Government takes in the ratification of the treaty.
Washington, May 21, 1824.
Extract of a report of the 9th February, 1821, to the House of Representatives by the Committee to whom had been referred so much of the President's message as relates to the slave trade, and to whom were referred the two messages of the President, transmitting, in pursuance of the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 4th of December, a report of the Secretary of State, and inclosed documents relating to the negotiation for the suppression of the slave trade.
"The detestable crime of kidnapping the unoffending inhabitants of one country, and chaining them to slavery in another, is marked with all the atrociousness of piracy; and, as such, it is stigmatized and punishable by our own laws.
"To efface this reproachful stain from the character of civilized mankind would be the proudest triumph that could be achieved in the cause of humanity. On this subject, the United States, having led the way, owe it to themselves to give their influence and cordial co-operation to any measure that will accomplish the great and good purpose; but this happy result, experience has demonstrated, cannot be realized by any system except a concession by the maritime powers to each other's ships-of-war of a qualified right of search. If this object was generally attained, it is confidently believed that the active exertions of even a few nations, would be sufficient entirely to suppress the slave trade."
Extract from a report made April 12, 1822, by the Committee on the suppression of the slave trade, to whom had been referred a resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 15th January preceding, instructing them to inquire whether the laws of the United States prohibiting that traffic have been duly executed; also, into the general operation thereof; and, if any defects exist in those laws, to suggest adequate remedies therefor; and to whom many memorials had been referred touching the same subject.
"But the conclusion to which your committee have arrived, after consulting all the evidence within their reach, is, that the African slave trade now prevails to a great extent, and that its total suppression can never be effected by the separate and disunited efforts of one or more States; and as the resolution to which this report refers requires the suggestion of some remedy for the defects, if any exist, in the system of laws for the suppression of this traffic, your committee beg leave to call the attention of the House to the report and accompanying documents submitted to the last Congress by the committee on the slave trade, and to make the same a part of this report. That report proposes, as a remedy for the existing evils of the system, the concurrence of the United States with one or all the maritime powers of
Europe in a modified and reciprocal right of search on the African coast, with a view to the total suppression of the slave trade.
"It is with great delicacy that the committee have approached this subject; because they are aware that the remedy, which they have presumed to recommend to the consideration of the House, requires the exercise of a power of another Department of this Government, and that objections to the exercise of this power, in the mode here proposed, have hitherto existed in that Department.
"Your committee are confident, however, that these objections apply rather to a particular proposition for the exchange of the right of search than to that modification of it which presents itself to your committee. They contemplate the trial and condemnation of such American citizens as may be found engaged in this forbidden trade, not by mixed tribunals sitting in a foreign country, but by existing courts, of competent jurisdiction, in the United States; they propose the same disposition of the captured Africans now authorized by law; and least of all their detention in America.
"They contemplate an exchange of this right, which shall be in all respects reciprocal; an exchange, which, deriving its sole authority from treaty, would exclude the pretension, which no nation, however, has presumed to set up, that this right can be derived from the law of nations; and further, they have limited it, in their conception of its application, not only to certain latitudes and to a certain distance from the coast of Africa, but to a small number of vessels to be employed by each power, and to be previously designated. The visit and search thus restricted, it is believed, would insure the co-operation of one great maritime power in the proposed exchange, and guard it from the danger of abuse.
"Your committee cannot doubt that the people of America have the intelligence to distinguish between the right of searching a neutral on the high seas, in time of war, claimed by some belligerents, and that mutual, restricted, and peaceful concession by treaty suggested by your committee, and which is demanded in the name of suffering humanity."
Mr. Addington to the Secretary of State.
Washington, May 16, 1824.
Nearly three weeks have now elapsed since I had the honor of making my first communication to you on the subject of the convention, concluded on the 13th of March last, between the British Government and the American envoy in London.
At that time, in pursuance of instructions conveyed to me from his Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I made known to you the earnest desire of the British Government, that no time should be lost by that of the United States in proceeding to the ratification of that instrument, in order that it might be returned to England in time to have it submitted to Parliament prior to its prorogation, which was expected to take place at an early period.
I flattered myself, sir, that the wish thus anxiously expressed by me on behalf of his Majesty's Government would meet with a corresponding ardor on the part of all the authorities to whom it was addressed, especially considering that the project of the convention originated with this Government, at the instigation of the House of Representatives; and that his Majesty's ministers had not hesitated an instant to comply with the preliminary act desired by the President, of procuring the passage of a bill through Parliament denouncing as piracy by statute the African slave trade when exercised by British subjects.
This consideration, sir, necessarily precludes my entertaining a doubt as to the eventual ratification of the convention by this Government, and I, therefore, attribute the delay which has hitherto occurred to the pressure of other business which it would have been found inconvenient to postpone.
I think it my duty, however, to press once more and in the most earnest manner upon your attention the anxiety of the British Government on this subject. Of this anxiety, a most convincing proof may be found in the circumstance of an extra packet having been despatched by them for the sole purpose of conveying to this country the act of Parliament, declaring slave trade piracy, immediately after its passage through both Houses, in order that the want of that document might not oppose any obstacle to the sanction of the convention by this Government.
Perhaps, sir, you will allow me to add, that I now detain that same packet for the express purpose of reconveying the instrument in question, as soon as ratified, with utmost possible celerity to England. I have the honor to be, with distinguished consideration, sir, your most obedient, humble servant,
H. U. ADDINGTON.
Hon. John Q. Adams, Secretary of State.