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Copy of a letter from Mr. Rush to Lord Castlereagh, dated
'LONDON, December 21, 1818.
The undersigned, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States, has the honor to present his compliments to Lord Castlereagh.
In the note of the twenty-third of June, which the undersigned had the honor to address to his Lordship, in answer to his Lordship's communication of the twentieth of the same month, relative to the slave trade, the undersigned had great pleasure in giving the assurance that he would transmit a copy of that communication to his Government, together with the documents which accompanied it, being copies of treaties entered into on the part of Great Britain, with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, for the more complete abolition of the odious traffic in slaves. He accordingly lost no time in fulfilling that duty, and has now the honor to inform his Lordship of the instructions with which he has been furnished by his Government in reply.
He has been distinctly commanded, in the first place, to make known the sensibility of the President to the friendly spirit of confidence in which these treaties, and the legislative measures of Parliament founded upon them, have been communicated to the United States and to the invitation which has been given, that they would join in the same or similar arrangements, the more effectually to accomplish the beneficent object to which they look. He is further commanded to give the strongest assurances that the solicitude of the United States for the universal extirpation of this traffic continues with all the earnestness which has so long and steadily distinguished the course of their policy in relation to it. Of their general prohibitory law of 1807, it is unnecessary that the undersigned should speak, his Lordship being already apprized of its provisions; amongst which the authority to employ the national force, as auxiliary to its execution, will not have escaped attention. But he has it in charge to make known, as a new pledge of their unremitting and active desire in the cause of abolition, that, so lately as the month of April last, another act of Congress was passed, by which not only are the citizens and vessels of the United States interdicted from carrying on, or being in any way engaged in the trade, but in which also the best precautions that legislative enactments can devise, or their penalties enforce, are raised up against the introduction into their territories of slaves from abroad, under whatever pretext attempted, and especially from dominions which lie more immediately in their neighborhood. A copy of this act is herewith enclosed for the more particular information of his Lordship. That peculiarity in the eighth section, which throws upon a defendant the labor of proof, as the condition of acquittal, the undersigned persuades himself will be regarded as signally manifesting an anxiety to suppress the hateful offence-departing, as it does, from the analogy of criminal jurisprudence, which so generally requires the independent and positive establishment of guilt as the first step in every public prosecution. To measures of such a character, thus early adopted, and sedulously pursued, the undersigned is further commanded to say, that the Government of the United States, acting within the pale of its constitutional powers, will always be ready to superadd any others that experience may prove to be necessary for attaining the desirable end in view.
But, on examining the provisions of the treaties, which your Lordship honored the undersigned by communicating, it has appeared to the President, that their essential articles are of a character not adapted to the circumstances or to the institutions of the United States.
The powers agreed to be given to the ships of war, of either party, to search, capture, and carry into port for adjudication, the merchant vessels of the other, however qualified, is connected with the establishment, by each treaty, of two mixed courts, one of which is to have its seat in the colonial possessions of the parties, respectively. The institution of such tribunals is necessarily regarded as fundamental to the whole arrangement; whilst their peculiar structure is doubtless intended, and would seem to be indispensable, towards imparting to it a just reciprocity. But to this part of the system, the United States, having no colonies upon the coast of Africa, in the West Indies, or elsewhere, cannot give effect.
Moreover, the powers of government in the United States, whilst they can only be exercised within the grants, are also subject to the restriction of the Federal Constitution. By the latter instrument, all judicial power is to be vested in a supreme court, and in such other inferior courts as Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. It further provides, that the judges of these courts shall hold their offices during good behavior, and be removable on impeachment and conviction of crimes and misdemeanors. There are serious doubts whether, obeying the spirit of these injunctions, the Government of the United States would be competent to appear as party to the institution of a court for carrying into execution their penal statutes in places out of their own territory-a court consisting partly of foreign judges, not liable to impeachment under the authority of the United States, and deciding upon their statutes without appeal.
Again. Obstacles would exist towards giving validity to the disposal of the negroes found on board the slave-trading vessels condemned by the sentence of the mixed courts. If they should be delivered over to the Government of the United States as freemen, they could not, but by their own consent, be employed as servants, or free laborers. The condition of negroes, and other people of color, in the United States, being regulated by the municipal laws of the separate States, the government of the former could neither guaranty their liberty in the States where they could only be received as slaves, nor control them in the States where they would be recognised as free. The provisions of the fifth section of the act of Congress, which the undersigned has the honor to enclose, will be seen to point to this obstacle, and may be taken as still further explanatory of its nature.
These are some of the principal reasons which arrest the assent of the President to the very frank and friendly overture contained in your Lordship's communication. Having their foundation in constitutional impediments, the Government of his Britannic Majesty will know how to appreciate their force. It will be seen how compatible they are with the most earnest wishes on the part of the United States, that the measures concerted by these treaties may bring about the total downfal of the traffic in human blood; and with their determination to co-operate, to the utmost extent of their constitutional power, towards this great consummation, so imperiously due at the hands of all nations to the past wrongs and sufferings of Africa. The undersigned prays Lord Castlereagh to accept the assurances of his distinguished consideration. RICHARD RUSH.
Mr. Rush to the Secretary of State.
LONDON, March 5, 1819.
"Lord Castlereagh sent me a few days ago the enclosed printed parliamentary document. It will be found to comprise a variety of interesting papers relating to the slave trade, exhibiting all that has lately been done by the Powers of Europe upon the subject, and the actual and precise footing upon which it now stands. Its receipt was the first notice that I had in any shape of the fact of the publication, or of there being any intention to publish my notes to this Government of the twenty-third of June and twentyfirst of December. It will be seen from one of the papers, how unequivocal and animated has been the refusal of France to allow her vessels to be boarded and searched at sea for slaves. Now, there is nothing more evident, as may be collected from my despatch of the fifteenth of last April, than that this is a result, which, at that period, Lord Castlereagh did not anticipate. Neverthelss, it would seem, from a passage in his Lordship's letter to lord Bathurst, from Paris, dated the 10th of December, the last paper in the collection, and written subsequently to all the conferences and declarations at Aix la Chapelle, that he still indulges a sanguine expectation, that "the French Government may be brought, at no distant period, to unite their naval exertions with those of the other allied Powers, for the suppression of the trade." Some of the evidence furnished by the African Society in London and from Sierra Leone, as to the extent in which the trade continues to be unlawfully carried on, may probably command attention in the United States.
"What communications may, at any former periods, have been made to the Government of the United States, by the Government of France, Russia, or Prussia, through any channel, either in Europe, or at Washington, of their intentions in regard to this naval combination for putting down the traffic, I am not informed. It is impossible to refrain from remarking, that to me they remained utterly unknown, until I saw them recorded in these pages of a document given to the world by England."
[Extract of a letter from Mr. Rush to the Secretary of State, dated LONDON, November 10, 1819.
"On the seventh of this month, I received a note from Lord Castlereagh, requesting that I would call upon him at his house on the ninth. I waited upon him at the hour appointed.
"His object, he stated, was to say to me, that the Government of Great Britain had lost none of its anxiety to see produced among nations a more universal and effective co-operation than had yet been witnessed, for the total abolition of the slave trade. It was still carried on, he observed, to an extent that was afflicting. In some respects, as the evidence collected by the African Institution, and from other sources, would show, the voyages were marked by more than all their original outrages upon humanity. It was the intention of the Prince Regent again to invite the United States to negotiate
pon the subject, in the hope, notwithstanding what had heretofore passed, that some practicable mode might still be adopted, by which they could consent to become party to the association for finally extirpating the traffic. That I was aware of the addresses which had been presented to his Royal Highness, by both Houses of Parliament, at the close of the last session, for the renewal of negotiations with the governments both of the United States and France, to effectuate this most desirable end-That it was his Lordship's design to enclose to me, at an early day, copies of these addresses, as a foundation upon which to build in the new endeavor which this Government was now prepared to make. In doing so, his object, however, merely would be, that of bespeaking my interposition towards making known to the President the measure contemplated; since it was intended that all further negotiation should be carried on at Washington. This he thought indispensable, after the past failure, as it could not be supposed that I was prepared with any new authority or instructions to resume it upon this side of the water. That the new minister, Mr. Canning, who, his Lordship now informed me, was to sail as early in the Spring as practicable, would accordingly have the whole subject in charge, and be prepared to enter upon it on his arrival, under ardent hopes for an auspicious termination to his labors.
"I replied, that I would, in the same spirit as before, make known the communication to my Government. I adverted again to the obstacles which the Constitution of the United States interposed to the project, and also to the peculiar and extreme caution with which the momentous question of search mingled with it would be looked at throughout every part of the country. I said, that these reasons superadded themselves to that derived from the failure of the attempt already made here, to give great propriety, as it struck me, to a change of the scene of negotiation; that, if any thing could be done, it could be done only, or at all events be done best, at Washington; tha the President, I was sure, continued to possess all his original sensibility to the importance of the subject, and would entertain any proposals, differently modified, that were submitted, with the same anxious dispositions as ever, for a favorable result to their objects.
"The conversation went off by a reference on my part to the Holy League. I remarked, that, as the Government of Great Britain had declared, that the principles of that league had its entire approbation, although it had not formally become a party to it, so the United States, acting within their constitutional limits, had long and earnestly striven, and would, it might be confidently affirmed, though restrained from going hand in hand with Europe, always continue their efforts in the same beneficent spirit, for putting down totally the slave trade. It is well known that the Earl of Liverpool, not longer ago than last February, described, in the House of Peers, the character of this league, as well as the insurmountable impediment which held back this country from signing it. He distinctly declared, that, as the signatures were all in the autograph of the respective sovereigns. England, in point of form, could never accede to it; for it was not consistent with her Constitution, that the Prince Regent should himself sign such an instrument, without the intervention of a responsible minister. Upon my reminding Lord Castlereagh of this declaration, which I was the more ready to do, since it was your wish that the illustration should be brought into view, he candidly admitted, that we, too, doubtless, had our constitutional embarrassments; but he nevertheless hoped, that such, and all others, might, by proper modifications of the plan, be overcome.
Mr. Canning to the Secretary of State.
The undersigned, his Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, took an early opportunity, after his arrival in the City of Washington, to inform Mr. Adams that, in pursuance of Lord Castlereagh's note, dated the 11th November, 1819, communicating to Mr. Rush an address of both Houses of Parliament, relating to the African slave trade, he was instructed to bring that important question again under the consideration of the American Government, in the hope of being found practicable so to combine the preventive measures of the two countries as materially to accelerate the total extinction of an evil which both have long united in condemning and opposing.
Mr. Adams will find no difficulty in recollecting the several conversations which have passed between him and the undersigned on this subject; he will remember that the last of those conversations, which took place towards the close of October, was terminated with an assurance on his part that the proposals of the English Government would be taken into full deliberation as soon after the meeting of Congress as the state of public business would allow, with a sincere disposition to remove any impediments which appeared at first sight to stand in the way of their acceptance.
An interval of considerable length having elapsed since that period, the undersigned is persuaded that Mr. Adams will shortly be at liberty to communicate the definitive sentiments of his Government on a subject which is of too deep and too general an importance not to engage the attention and benevolent feelings of the United States.
In this persuasion the undersigned conceives it unnecessary, on the present occasion, to go over the various grounds which formed the matter of his late conversations with Mr. Adams.
Notwithstanding all that has been done, on both sides of the Atlantic, for the suppression of the African slave trade, it is notorious that an illicit commerce, attended with aggravated sufferings to its unhappy victims, is still carried on; and it is generally acknowledged that a combined system of maritime police can alone afford the means of putting it down with effect.
That concurrence of principle in the condemnation and prohibition of the slave trade, which has so honorably distinguished the Parliament of Great Britain and the Congress of the United States, seems naturally and unavoidably to lead to a concert of measures between the two Governments the moment that such co-operation is recognised as necessary for the accomplishment of their mutual purpose. It cannot be anticipated that either of the parties, discouraged by such difficulties as are inseparable from all human transactions of any magnitude, will be contented to acquiesce in the continuance of a practice so flagrantly immoral, especially at the present favorable period, when the slave trade is completely abolished to the North of the Equator, and countenanced by Portugal alone to the South of that line.
Mr Adams is fully acquainted with the particular measures recommended by his Majesty's ministers as best calculated, in their opinion, to attain the object which both parties have in view; but he need not be reminded that the English Government is too sincere in the pursuit of that common object to press the adoption of its own proposals, however satisfactory in themselves, to the exclusion of any suggestions equally conducive to the same end, and more agreeable to the institutions or prevailing opinion of other