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PRECEDENTS OF AMERICAN NEUTRALITY.
EXPULSION AND SEIZURE OF GENET'S PRIVATEERS IN 1793-4. - A
PRIVATEER CONSIDERED A PUBLIC SHIP OF WAR.
The late speech of the Attorney-General of England, Sir Roundell Palmer, made in the debate in the British House of Commons on the 13th ultimo, on the question of admitting the Confederate ship Georgia into the port of Liverpool, contains so many misrepresentations, or misstatements concerning American law and statesmanship — based, for the most part, on the pretended authority of Mr. Justice Story — that, as one interested in the just record of his country's history, and in the correct appreciation of the opinions of that eminent jurist and publicist, the writer feels impelled to notice and to reply to them.
He is well aware that it is a thankless task to endeavor to enlighten or persuade most Englishmen of rank or station as to the law, or the morality of our struggle. But as the Attorney-General, on various occasions, has shown himself so well disposed toward our cause, and, in the matter of International law in particular, has so often manifested such a high-toned candor in submitting to be instructed by American precedents, and in urging them upon the consideration of English judges and legislators, it may not be labor lost to endeavor to convince him, and through him, impartial Englishmen, that he has not yet read aright an important chapter in our national politics and jurisprudence, and that the next time he invites the British House of Commons to follow the lead of American authority, it should be to a practical result, diametrically opposite from that arrived at on the occasion referred to.
To state the proposition put forth and advocated by Sir Roundell Palmer, would be, to all well-informed Americans, to answer it. He contended — in the debate referred to, which ensued on Mr. Thomas Baring's motion, that the Georgia should be ordered away from British ports — that the Americans themselves would not have ordered away a vessel, circumstanced like the Georgia, under their precedents of 1793, nor, under the practice established by the later decisions of the United States Supreme Court. “Why!” — an American would reply:-“ They not only would order away a vessel like the Georgia, but they did do it, time and time again. Did they not arrest and try Gideon Henfield for enlisting on board the Sans Culottes, long before there was any Foreign Enlistment Act ? Did they not seize the prizes brought in by Genet's privateers, as fast as they appeared in American ports ? Did they not seize French privateers, themselves, while in the process of arming, and compel them to dismantle or undergo confiscation ? Did they not finally take the British minister's list of French privateers illegally fitted out in American ports, the Sans Culottes, the Citoyen Genet, and all that tribe, and give them notice, one and all to quit, and never show them
selves again ? Here was the very thing itself; a matter of • common notoriety. Why raise a question whether the Americans would do it.”.
We can hardly suppose that these well-verified facts of history have escaped the attention of the Attorney-General; especially as the letters of Mr. Jefferson, detailing them to the British and French ministers of that day, have often been reproduced and commented on. But by way of fixing them in the public mind, and of refreshing Sir Roundell Palmer's memory, if he happens to have forgotten them, we will briefly recall a few of the leading precedents, diplomatic and judicial, belonging to the periods referred to, and bearing upon the issue
which the Attorney-General raises with this country. We shall select only those, for the most part, which it is believed have not yet caught the English eye, or been adequately noticed on the English side of the water.
We commence with two Circulars, addressed by Washington's Administration to the Governors of the several sea-board States, directing the enforcement by them of the orders of exclusion of these same privateers of Genet's, within the limits of their respective States. They happen to be addressed in this instance to the Governor of Massachusetts, and are to be found in the Massachusetts State archives, where we copied them, under the general right of access permitted to the public at large:
From the Secretary of War, General Knox, to Governor Hancock.
“ WAR DEPARTMENT, Aug. 16, 1793. “To His ExcELLENCY, THE GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS :
“SIR, - It has, heretofore, been made known, that the fitting out of privateers, in the ports of the United States, was considered as incompatible with our present state of neutrality.
“ The Executive, after trying other measures, in vain, to prevent a continuance of the practice, finds itself, at length, constrained to resort to means more decisive than have been hitherto employed. To avoid, therefore, a further infraction of our rights, and a further commitment of our peace, the President of the United States, after mature deliberation, has decided that no armed vessel, which has been,
shall be, originally fitted out in any port of the United States as a cruiser, or privateer, by either of the parties at war, is to have asylum in any ports of the United States.
“I am directed to inform your Excellency of this decision, and to request that in case any vessel, within the foregoing description, should arrive in any port, or harbor, in the State of Massachusetts, that you would cause her to be ordered to depart immediately; and in case of her refusal, that you would take effectual measures to oblige her to depart.
“It is, at the same time, the desire of the President, that force may not be resorted to, until every proper effort has been previously made to procure the early departure without it. And the President has further directed me to request that, in case any such vessel shall have sent, or brought, subsequent to the 5th inst., or should hereafter send or bring, any prize or prizes into any port or harbor of your State, that you would cause such prize or prizes to be immediately secured ' by the militia, for the purpose of being restored to the former owners.
" It is also requested, that you would please to transmit, in writing, all the cases and the evidence thereon, which may occur in pursuance of this communication. The following are the names of the privateers, comprehended within the meaning of this letter, that have hitherto come to the knowledge of the Government :
fitted out at Charleston, S. C.
“ I have the honor to be, &c.,
“KNOX, Secretary of War. “ His Excellency, John Hancock.”
From the Secretary of the Treasury, General Hamilton, to the Governor of Massachusetts.
“PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 18, 1794. The Secretary of War being absent from the seat of Government, I am directed by the President to write to you on the subject of those French privateers, fitted out in our ports, which you have heretofore been informed were to be denied asylum within the United States, except upon the condition of being dismantled of their military equipments..
“ The subsequent conduct of some of these vessels, is a matter of real embarrassment and dissatisfaction. By running from one port to another, they have, in effect, enjoyed the asylum which it was intended to deny them, and have thereby placed the Government in the unpleasant situation, not only of seeing itself trifled with, but of being liable to the suspicion of connivance in an evasion of its positive assurances to foreign powers.
“It is inadmissible that such a state of things should continue, and therefore, the President has come to a resolution, to cause every such vessel, which, since the promulgation of his instruction to refuse them asylum, shall have been in a port of the United States, so as to have had an opportunity to acquire a knowledge of that instruction, and which shall hereafter be found in any port or district of the United States, to be deprived of her military equipments. I have it in instruction from him to communicate this resolution to you, and to request your effectual coöperation in carrying it into execution within the State of Massachusetts. While the reasons which have been assigned beget a solicitude in the President, that the measure may be punctually and completely executed, there are weighty considerations which induce him to wish that it may be found practicable to accomplish it in each case, without bloodshed. To this end, it will be useful that any force which may be employed for the purpose, should be such as will control a disposition to resist.
“ With perfect respect,
“ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Secretary of Treasury. “His Excellency, The Governor of Massachusetts.”
Now, if the Attorney-General did not need the reminder of such documents as the above, to refresh his recollection of how the Americans dealt with French cruisers in 1793–4, we can only characterize as disingenuous, the turn by which he sought to do away with the force of those precedents, when Mr. Baring quoted Historicus's deductions from them, to the same effect, as we have above intimated. Historicus's letter to the London Times, of February 17th, as our readers may be aware, had unreservedly insisted that the British Government could do no less than exclude such vessels as the Alabama and Florida from English ports, on the authority of what the Americans themselves had done on former occasions. But the Attorney-General, without noticing Historicus's frank and honorable concession, invents a formula, or, as the lawyers would call it, frames a special plea, by which he hopes to “ avoid,” without even “ confessing," the merits of these American precedents. According to the elaborate report of his speech in the Times, of May 14th, which we suspect must have been submitted to Sir Roundell's personal revision, he says:
“I do not find that the United States, which have really settled all the doctrines of law applicable to this kind of neutrality, by fitting out vessels in their ports for belligerent na