« AnteriorContinua »
SIXTEENTH CONGRESS-SECOND SESSION.
FEBRUARY 9, 1821.
Report of the committee, consisting of Mr. Hemphill, Mr. Mercer,
Mr. Strong of New York, Mr. Edwards of Pennsylvania, Mr. Rogers, Mr. McCreary, and Mr. Folger, to which was referred so
much of the President's message as relates to the Slave Trade. The committee to which is referred so much of the President's message as
relates to the Slave Trade, and to which are 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 enclosed documents, relating to the negotiation for the suppression of the Slave Trade, report:
That the committee have deemed it advisable, previous to entering into a consideration of the proposed co-operation to exterminate the slave trade, to make a summary review of the Constitution and laws of the United States relating to this subject. It will disclose the earnestness and zcal with which this nation has been actuated, and the laudable ambition that has animated her councils to take a lead in the reformation of a disgraceful practice, and one which is productive of so much human misery; it will, by displaying the constant anxiety of this nation to suppress the African slave trade, afford ample testimony that she will be the last to persevere in measures wisely digested tu effectuate this great and most desirable object, whenever such measures can be adopted in consistency with the leading principles of her local institutions.
In consequence of the existence of slavery in many of the States, when British colonies, the habits, and means of carrying on industry, could not be suddenly changed; and the Constitution of the United States yielded to the provision, that the migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808.
But, long antecedent to this period, Congress legislated on the subject wherever its power extended, and endeavored, by a system of rigorous penalties, to suppress this unnatural trade.
The act of Congress of the 22d of March, 1794, contains provisions that no citizen or citizens of the United States, or foreigner, or any other person, coming into, or residing within, the same, shall, for himself, or any other person whatsoever, either as master, factor, or owner, build, fit, equip, load, or otherwise prepare, any ship or vessel within any port or place of the United States, nor shall cause any ship or vessel to sail from any port or place within the same, for the purpose of carrying on any trade or traffic in slaves to any foreign country ; or for the purpose of procuring from any foreign kingdom, place, or country, the inhabitants of such kingdom, place or country, to be transported to any foreign country, port, or place whatever, to be sold or disposed of as slaves, under the penalty of the forfeiture of any such vessel, and of the payment of large sums of money by the persons offending against the directions of the act.
By an act of the 3d of April, 1798, in relation to the Mississippi territory, to which the constitutional provision did not extend, the introduction of slaves, under severe penalties, was forbidden, and every slave imported contrary to the act was to be entitled to freedom.
By an act of the 10th of May, 1800, the citizens or residents of this country were prohibited from holding any right or property in vessels employed in transporting slaves from one foreign country to another, on pain of forfeiting their right of property, and also double the value of that right in money, and double the value of their interest in the slaves; nor were they allowed to serve on board of vessels of the United States employed in the transportation of slaves from one country to another, under the punishment of fines and imprisonment; nor were they permitted to serve on board of foreign ships employed in the slave trade. By this act, also, the commissioned vessels of the United States were authorized to seize vessels and crews employed contrary to the act.
By an act of the 28th of February, 1803, masters of vessels were not allowed to bring into any port (where the laws of the State prohibited the importatation) any negro, mulatto, or other person of color, not being a native, a citizen, or registered seaman, of the United States, under the pain of heavy penalties; and no vessel, having on board of the above description, was to be admitted to an entry; and if any such person should be landed from on board of any vessel, the same was to be forfeited.
By an act of the 2d March 1807, the importation of slaves into any port of the United States was to be prohibited after the first of January, 1808, the time prescribed by the constitutional provision. This act contains many severe provisions against any interference or participation in the slave trade, such as heavy fines, long imprisonments, and the forfeitures of vessels; the President was also authorized to employ armed vessels to cruise on any part of the coast where he might judge attempts would be made to violate the act, and to instruct the commanders of armed vessels to seize, and bring in, vessels found on the high seas contravening the provisions of the law.
By an act of the 20th of April, 1818, the laws in prohibition of the slave trade were further improved; this act is characterized with a peculiarity of legislative precaution, especially in the eighth section, which throws the labor of proof upon the defendant, that the colored persons brought into the United States by him, had not been brought in contrary to the laws.
By an act of the 3d of March, 1819, the power is continued in the President to employ the armed ships of the United States, to scize, and bring into port, any vessel engaged in the slave trade by citizens or residents of the United States, and such vessels, together with the goods and effects on board, are to be forfeited and sold, and the proceeds to be distributed, in like manner as provided by law for the distribution of prizes taken from an enemy; and the officers and crew are to undergo the punishments inflicted by previous acts. The President, by this act, is authorized to make such regulations and arrangemerts as he may deemn expedient, for the safe-keeping, support, and removal beyond the limits of the United States, of all such ne. groes, mulattoes, or persons of color, as may have been brought within its jurisdiction, and to appoint a proper person or persons residing on the coast of Africa, as agent or agents for receiving the negroes, mulattocs, or persons of color, delivered from on board of vessels seized in the prosecution of the
And in addition to all the aforesaid laws, the present Congress, on the 15th of May, 1820, believing that the then existing provisions would not be sufficiently available, 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 in 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 shall suffer death.
The immoral and pernicious practice of the slave trade has attracted much public attention in Europe, within the last few years; and in a Congress at Vienna, on the Sth of February, 1815, five of the principal Powers made a solemn engagement, in the face of mankind, that this traffic should be made to cease; in pursuance of which these Powers have enacted municipal laws to suppress the trade. Spain, although not a party to the original engagement, did, soon after, in her treaty with England, stipulate for the immediate abolition of the Spanish slave trade to the North of the Equator, and for its final and universal abolition on the 30th of May, 1820.
Portugal likewise, in her treaty in 1817, stipulated, that the Portuguese slave trade on the coast of Africa should entirely cease to the Northward of the Equator, and engaged that it should be unlawful for her subjects to purchase or trade in slaves except to the Southward of the line; the precise period at which the entire abolition is to take place in Portugal does not appear to be finally fixed; but the Portuguese ambassador, in the presence of the Congress at Vienna, declared, that Portugal, faithful to her principles, would not refuse to adopt the term of eight years, which term will expire in the year 1823.
At this time, among the European States, there is not a flag which can le. gally cover this inhuman traffic, to the North of the line: nevertheless, experience has proved the inefficacy of the various and rigorous laws which have been made in Europe, and in this country; it being a lamentable fact, that the disgraceful practice is even now carried on to a surprising extent. During the last year, Captain Trenchard, the commander of the United States sloop of war the Cyane, found that part of the coast of Africa which he visited lined with vessels, engaged, as it is presumed, in this forbidden traffic; of these he examined many; and five, which appeared to be fitted out on American account, he sent into the jurisdiction of the United States, for adjudication; each of them, it is believed, has been condemned, and the commanders of two of them have been sentenced to the punishment prescribed by the laws of the United States.
The testimony recently published, with the opinion of the presiding judge of the United States' court of the Southern district in the state of New York, in the case of the schooner Plattsburg, lays open a scene of the grossest fraud that could be practised to deceive the officers of Government, and conceal the unlawful transaction.
The extension of the trade for the last 25 or 30 years must, in a degree, be conjectural, but the best information that can be obtained on the subject furnishes good foundation to believe, that, during that period, the number of slaves withdrawn from Western Africa amounts to upwards of a million and a half; the annual average would be a mean somewhere between fifty and eighty thousand.
The trade appears to be lucrative in proportion to its heinousness; and, as it is generally inhibited, the unfeeling slave dealers, in order to elude the Jaws, increase its horrors; the innocent Africans, who are mercilessly forced from their native homes in irons, are crowded in vessels and situations which are not adapted for the transportation of human beings; and this cruel. ty is frequently succeeded, during the voyage of their destination, with dreadful mortality. Further information on this subject will appear in a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, enclosing two other letters, marked i and 2, and also by the extract of a letter from an officer of the Cyane, dated April 10, 1820, which are annexed to this report. While the slave trade exists, there can be no prospect of civilization in Africa.
However well disposed the European Powers may be to effect a practical abolition of the trade, it seems generally acknowledged, that, for the attainment of this object, it is necessary to agree upon some concerted plan of cooperation; but, unhappily, no arrangement has as yet obtained universal consent.
England has recently engaged in treaties with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, in which the mutual right of visitation and search is exchanged; this right is of a special and limited character, as well in relation to the number and description of vessels, as to space; and, to avoid possible inconveniences, no suspicious circumstances are to warrant the detention of a vessel; this right is restricted to the simple fact of slaves being on board.
These treaties contemplate the establishment of mixed courts, formed of an equal number of individuals of the two contracting nations, the one to reside in a possession belonging to his Britannic Majesty, the other within the territory of the other respective Power; when a vessel is visited and detained, it is to be taken to the nearest court, and if condemned, the vessel is to be declared a lawful prize, as well as the cargo, and are to be sold for the prosit of the two nations; the slaves are to receive a certificate of emancipation, and to be delivered over to the government on whose territory the court is which passes sentence, to be employed as servants or free laborers: each of the governments binds itself to guaranty the liberty of such portion of these individuals as may be respectively assigned to it. Particular provisions are made for remuneration, in case vessels are not condemned after trial, and special instructions are stipulated to be furnished to commanders of vessels possessing the qualified right of visitation and search.
These Powers entertain the opinion, that nothing short of the concession of a qualified right of visitation and search can practically suppress the slave trade; an association of armed ships is contemplated, to form a species of naval police, to be stationed principally in the African seas, where the commanders of the ships will be enabled to co-operate in harmony and concert.
The United States have been earnestly invited by the principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the British Government to join in the same, or similar arrangements; and this invitation has been sanctioned and enforce ed, by a nunanimous vote of the House of Lords and Commons, in a manner . that precludes all doubts as to the sincerity and benevolence of their designs.
In answer to this invitation, the President of the United States has expressed his regret that the stipulations in the treaties communicated are of a charac
ter to which the peculiar situation and institutions of the United States do not permit them to accede.
The objections made are contained in an extract of a letter from the Secretary of State, under date of the second of November, 1818; in which it is observed, that, “in examining the provisions of the treaties communicated by Lord Castlereagh, all the essential asticles appear to be of a character not adaptable to the institutions, or to the circumstances of the United States. The powers agreed to be reciprocally given to the officers of the ships of war of either party, to enter, search, capture, and carry into port sor adjudication, the merchant vessels of the other, however qualified and restricted, is most essentially connected with the institution, by each treaty, of two mixed courts, one of which to reside in the external or colonial possession of each of the two parties, respectively. This part of the system is indispensable to give it that character of reciprocity, without which the right granted to the armed ships of one nation, to search the merchant vessels of another, would be rathera mark of vassalage than of independence. Bui to this part of the system the United States, having no colonies, either on the coast of Africa, or in the West Indies, cannot give effect. That, by the Constitution of the United States, it is provided that the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in a supreme court, and in such inferior eourts as the Congress may, from time to time, ordain and establish. It provides that the judges of these courts shall hold their offices during good behavior; and that they shall be removable by impeachment, on conviction of crimes and misdemeanors. There may be doubts whether the power of the Government of the United States is competent to institute a court for carrying into execution their
penal statutes beyond the territories of the United States--a court consisting partly of foreign judges, not amenable to impeachment for corruption, and deciding upon statutes of the United States without appeal.
That the disposal of the negroes found on board of the slave trading vessels, which might be condemned by the sentence of these mixeil courts, cannot be carried into effect by the United States: for, if the slaves of vessels condemned by the inixed courts, should be delivered over to the Government of the United States as free men, they could not, but by their own consent, be employed as servants or free laborers. The condition of the blacks being, in this Union, regulated by the municipal laws of the separate states, the Government of the United States can 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. That the ad. mission of a right, in the officers of foreign ships of war, to enter and search the vessels of the United States in time of peace, under any circumstances whatever, would meet with universal repugnance in the public opinion of this country; that there would be no prospect of a ratification, by advice and consent of the Senate, to any stipulation of that nature; that the search by foreign officers, even in time of war, is so obnoxious to the feelings and recollections of this country, that nothing could reconcile them to the extension of it, however qualified or restricted, to a time of peace; and that it would be viewed in a still more aggravated light, if, as in the treaty with the Netherlands, connected with a formal adınission that even vessels under convoy of ships of war of their own nation, should be liable to search by the ships of war of another."
'I'he committee will observe, in the first instance, that a mutual right of search appears to be indispensable to the great object of abolition; for, while