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Now, so far as the suppression of the late Fenian raid upon Canada by executive interposition is concerned, I must needs express my surprise, that the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs can seriously contend — I might almost say, pretend — that what happened in that connection last June, on the Canada border, in the way of a quiet and honorable discharge of our neutral obligations towards our provincial neighbors, the Canadians, and towards the more distant parent Government, our international allies, the English, can be tortured into either a fitting motive or a justifiable occasion for this ferocious attack upon the long-standing neutrality code of the United States.
Do General Banks and the House of Representatives really believe, that the people of the Union condemn President Johnson for simply obeying his oath of office in seeing to the enforcement of the laws of the country, or that his moderate and mild-tempered arrest of the misguided Fenian movement can have created a call for taking away from him altogether the power of suppressing such warlike outbreaks in future? If so, I must confess that the legislators of the Capitol hold a very different estimate of the good sense and love-for-law of the American people, from the opinion which, for one, I have grown up to entertain for them in these particulars.
I maintain, on the contrary, that not only have the great mass of the voters in the United States applauded this action of the President's, as the people of the United States have heretofore sustained Presidents Washington, Adams, and most of their official successors, including President Van Buren, at the trying period of the "Caroline" and "McLeod" affairs in 1838,in upholding the neutral policy of the country; but that no better test could be afforded of the salutary and peace-preserving efficacy of that system of laws which is now sought to be subverted, than is afforded by this very instance of the Fenian crusade.
My readers will not expect — probably do not desire — that I should argue the question of the relative popularity gained or lost by President Johnson in putting down the Canadian invasion, and so attempt to make good the first of my propositions. I leave it, therefore, to their decision, unargued. I will only add, that, in settling that issue according to their own judgments, I desire them to take into account the true American sense of the country, and not merely the opinions held by its Irish voters; though I believe it may be confidently predicated, even of this latter class, that a large portion of them view the movements both of Roberts and Stephens, and their respective adherents, with undisguised dislike.
It is, then, to the test and criterion of our neutrality laws afforded by Fenianism, that I wish now more particularly to direct my discussion.
If the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs would carry his hostility to our neutral system so far as to favor the repeal of all the neutrality laws, — and that certainly seems to be bis drift, as I shall presently have occasion to quote, - I beg to ask him, where the country would have found itself last spring, if it had encountered the uprising of the Fenians, at that time, without a statute to make known and prescribe to its Executive and the people their respective duties? What could a President of the United States have done in President Johnson's place, at that juncture, without any statutory power to control and repress that conglomeration of Irish filibusters which thronged up to the Canada frontier, and filled our northern cities and villages with its excitable and excited swarms? If Washington felt himself powerless to deal with a few American recruits, like Gideon Henfield, in 1793, who were disposed to jeopardize the national neutrality by enlisting on board French privateers; and after ineffectually causing him to be indicted and tried at common law, and under the law of nations, for an infraction of neutrality, had to demand of Congress the law of 1794, to specially invest him with powers adequate to preserve the peace of the country, — what opposition could President Johnson have offered to the late Fenian crusade in sufficient season to have saved a warlike conflagration, but for the much-reprobated neutrality code of 1818, perpetuating this very section of the law made to fit Henfield's case ?
Possibly General Banks thinks it unfortunate that the Fenians were not allowed to have free swing in attacking and sacking Canadian cities, or, at least, to the extent of retaliating in kind for the St. Albans raid of 1864. I cannot believe it; and do not doubt, that, had General Banks filled General Meade's place, he would have carried out the President's orders as cheerfully
perhaps as successfully — as the gallant commander just named. Perhaps, with his known magnanimity, General Banks would all the more cheerfully have set the Canadians an example of returning good for evil, in view of their having so little claim for the protection afforded them. It must be, then, on the general principle of allowing free scope to patriotic impulses, under our free institutions, — short of levying war on United-States soil, – that the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs indulges in those invectives about Irish rights and British wrongs which I have above quoted.
For would General Banks contend, on his responsibility as an American lawyer and legislator, that it is lawful for any set of native-born — or, if he prefers, naturalized — Irish-American citizens, to make the United States a basis of hostile operations, whence to carry on war against a friendly power, because the parents or ancestors of those citizens — or, if he prefers, because those citizens themselves - have suffered political grievances when residing at a former period in Ireland ? If they have quitted that country and cast their lot here, what right have they to stir up strife in their new domicile, and embroil the hospitable republic which has so kindly received and sheltered them? If they are not naturalized or domiciled American citizens, but are merely emigrant British subjects, transiently resident with us, a fortiori, what right have they to be carrying on war from our territory?
If such an invasion of Canada, then, as consummated, would have been a great
and a just cause even for offensive war on the part of Great Britain, why do General Banks and the House of Representatives undertake to palliate, nay, to patronize it, by reviving the story of Ireland's misgovernment and England's oppression ?
What have the opinions of Pitt and Wilberforce and Grote to do with the present duties of Irish-American citizens, more than the myths of the Scandinavian gods? Why go back to the " six centuries of inexcusable and ineffable wrong," and talk about "a reluctant, questionable, and even violent execution of our laws ” "against a race to which our country is deeply indebted," when the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs knows that every Fenian crossing the Canada line with a musket in his hand was a flagrant offender against the laws of the United States and the peace of the Union, whom it would have been his duty, had he himself filled President Johnson's place, to have ordered to have stopped, at all hazards and with any extremity of force? Furthermore, does General Banks mean to concede to the British House of Commons the same right to discuss questions of the domestic policy of the Union for instance, the admission or exclusion of the rebel States from representation in Congress - that he and his committee claim to exercise in reference to Irish participation in English privileges ?
Is it in behalf of oppressed Ireland, then, — either as a matter of political effect or of serious statemanship, - that the Committee on Foreign Affairs have proposed, and the House of Representatives of the United States have unanimously voted for, the repeal of the two following clauses of the present American Neutrality Act :
“Sec. 6. — If any person shall, within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, begin or set on foot, or provide or prepare the means for, any military expedition or enterprise, to be carried on from thence against the territory or dominions of any foreign prince or State, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States are at peace, every person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a high misdemeanor, and shall be fined not exceeding three thousand dollars, aud imprisoned not more than three years." SEC. 8.
It shall be lawful for the President of the United States ... to employ ... the land or naval forces of the United States, or the militia thereof, ... for the purpose of preventing the carrying-on of any such expedition or enterprise from the territories or jurisdiction of the United States against the territories or dominions of any foreign prince or State, or of any colony, district, or people with whom the United States are at peace.”
I beg the reader's attention to the explanation given of this proposed repeal by General Banks in his place in the House, he having omitted any reference to it in his Report. I emphasize a few passages with italics, to help the reader to the General's points :
“ The effect of that [the sixth] section (of the existing law] is to enable the Government to hold a single man, a society or association of men, responsible for acts committed by a people. It is not contained in the English law. Instead of this, the [new] Bill proposes that every man engaged in any enterprise prohibited by the provisions of this act or the laws of the country shall be held responsible for what he himself does, and shall be punished for any violation of the law. ... The Government is remanded to the persons by whom the offences are committed. ... [The Bill] prohibits and punishes the organization of any expedition within the United States against other governments by making every man engaged therein responsible for his crime. It gives to the President, the same as the law of 1818, power to use the land and naval forces to execute the law, and also to com-pel foreign vessels, if necessary, to depart from the country.”
I suspect that there is some misreporting of the chairman's words, by the stenographer, in this last sentence; and that, instead of saying, " It gives to the President, the same as the law of 1818, power to use the land and naval forces to execute the law, and also to compel,” &c., it should read, " It gives to the President, the same as the law of 1818, power to use the land and naval forces to execute the law in regard to detaining vessels with their prizes, and to restoring such prizes where the capture had been made in violation of neutrality; it also gives the President power to compel foreign vessels, if necessary [as by sec. 9], to depart from the country.” I make the suggestion, because, with the proposed repeal of the last clause of sec. 8, above quoted, it cannot be true (within General Banks's reported declaration), that the new law leaves with the President the same power to use the land and naval forces to execute the law, which he now possessed under the present law. On the contrary, the proposed law expressly repeals the provision under which, as I understand, General Meade was ordered to use the United - States troops to suppress the Fenian outbreak, and under which, I venture to say, he rendered an honorable and patriotic service to the country by so speedily and yet so quietly bringing it to the ground.