385. [2d Session.
PIRACIES ON THE COMMERCE OF THE UNITED STATES IN THE WEST INDIES.
COMMUNICATE TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, DECEMBER 16, 1824.
To the honorable the Senate and the honorable the House of Representativesof the United States of America in Congress assembled:
The subscribers, a committee selected for the purpose by the merchants of the town of Portland, in the State of Maine, beg leave respectfully to represent, that for many years the trade to Cuba and the other islands and ports in the West India seas has occupied the principal part of the tonnage of this collection district; that of late this trade has been much annoyed by a set of pirates, who have constantly watched every opportunity to commit the most lawless depredations. At first, they were content to plunder and maltreat the crews of our vessels, without proceeding to actual murder. Of late, however, they have not stopped short of the most brutal and inhuman outrages. In some instances whole crews, humble and unoffending, have fallen victims to their barbarous and unrelenting fury.
We are in nowise unmindful of the efforts of our own Government, made with a view to the suppression of these intolerable practices, and we are moreover aware that these efforts have, in some measure, been crowned with success. It can but be observed, nevertheless, that the effect has been, at the same time, to add to the desperation and fury of these freebooters. They seem now to consider themselves as engaged with the people of the United States in a war of extermination as well as of plunder. To this they have been led by motives of revenge, and a hope thereby to avoid the means of detection.
These enemies of the human race are found almost wholly in the vicinity of Spanish territory and Spanish population, and are themselves generally Spaniards, and uniformly come from and fly to Spanish territory for succor and protection; and the goods plundered are unblushingly exposed to sale, not unfrequently, in the most public marts of the Spanish West Indies, and in such a manner and under such circumstances as clearly to evince the connivance, if not of the officers of Government themselves, certainly of a portion of their citizens. It is not even too much to infer, from what has currently taken place, that a very considerable part of the population of the Spanish islands are concerned, directly or indirectly, in these piratical expeditions; and, furthermore, that if the Spanish authorities are not actually implicated in these atrocities, they are at least overawed by those who are.
Your memorialists would not, without manifest reason, depart from that comity which is ordinarily due from one nation to another, and would not on any occasion entertain jealousies and suspicions without adequate foundation. But such has been the frequency and publicity of these acts of piracy, especially on the coasts of Cuba; so formidable and imposing have been their numbers and their armaments; and so long have they been tolerated there, with scarcely the color of an effort on the part of the Spanish authorities to suppress them, that none but the most infatuated or the most wilfully blind can hope for any voluntary exertions on the part of the Spaniards or their Government to afford redress.
Your memorialists cannot hesitate to believe that the time has arrived when it is incumbent on the United States to assume such an attitude, in relation to the Governments of these islands, as shall induce them to consider that we shall hold them responsible for these hostilities of their own people. Have we not already made Spain responsible for spoliations committed upon our commerce in those very seas? And do we not hold all nations answerable for the acts of their people?
It will be replied, perhaps, that Spain constantly disavows and disapproves of these lawless acts; that she professes to abhor piracy, and considers pirates as outlaws, and as her enemies, as well as the
enemies of the human race. If so, let her acts correspond with her professions, and sincerity will be accorded to her. Till then, and while she continues a forbearance nothing short in its effect of direct encouragement, we must and ought to hold her identified with the pirates themselves, and answerable for their depredations.
The trade from this part of the country to the West Indies is carried on almost wholly by the shipment of lumber, great portions of which are necessarily carried on deck, perhaps to the amount of one-third, at least. Hence we cannot arm in our defence. And, besides, these lumber cargoes are of small comparative value, and would by no means admit of such an expense. We have, therefore, but one resource: a reliance upon the arm of the Government for protection—a Government, we trust, that will not be duped by empty profession, and that will not with impunity see its peaceful and unoffending citizens wantonly butchered by the desperadoes of any nation.
We do not stop to calculate the value, although inestimable, of our trade to Cuba or to the West Indies. It should suffice that we have a right to a free and uninterrupted navigation of those seas. When whole crews of our fellow-citizens, in the pursuit of a lawful commerce, are seized and unrelentingly butchered, shall we coolly set ourselves down to a calculation of profit and loss before we determine to seek redress? The means are in our power to secure protection to our suffering fellow-citizens, and it is not to be apprehended that we shall be backward in using them.
Tour memorialists would respectfully suggest that the class of small cruisers heretofore destined to this service should be increased, and kept constantly upon the alert in those seas, and particularly upon the coasts of Cuba and Porto Rico; and that during the summer and sickly season they should never be allowed to enter any of the ports in that climate but from necessity or in pursuit of pirates; by which means our commerce would be effectually guarded, and the health of our brave seamen effectually secured. Whether a system of convoying can be established in the vicinity of Cuba is also respectfully submitted to the wisdom of Congress. And, as in duty bound, &c.
Portland, December 9, 1824.