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Mr. Canning to Mr. Adams.
WASHINGTON, January 29, 1823. Sir: To the complete abolition of the African slave trade, Great Britain, as you are well aware, has long devoted her anxious and unremitting exertions: she availed herself, during war, of her belligerent rights and ex. tended dominion in the colonies, to put down the inhuman traffic; in peace, she has spared no labor, and shrunk from no sacrifice, to supply, by a general co-operation of the maritime Powers, whatever has been withdrawn fom her peculiar control by the cessation of hos:ilities, and the colonial arrangements consequent on that event. It is matter of deep regret to his majesty's government, that the result of their exertions is far from corresponding either to the cause which demands or to the zeal which sustains them. The pest, which they have pledged themselves to destroy, if it be in human power io destroy it, not only survives, to the disgrace and affliction of the age, but seems to acquire a fresh capacity for existence with every endeavor for its destruction.
To whatever fatality it may be owing, that, while the obligation of adopting and enforcing measures for the extermination of the slave trade, is solemnly acknowledged by the civilized world, this great object seems rather to elude the grasp than to approach its consummation.
Great Britain perceives, in the postponement of her hopes, however mortifying for the inoment, no reason either to relax from her efforts, or to abandon the expectation of final success. Impelled by the noblest motives to persevere in the cause of abolition, and mindful by what slow laborious steps the 'present point has been attained, she looks forward, through surrounding obstacles, to that triumphant accomplishment of her purpose, the benefit and glory of which will only be rendered more signal by the difficulties attendant on its progress.
In calling on Europe and America to join with them in the discharge of this sacred duty, his Majesty and his Ministers have appealed, Sir, with the more confidence, to your Government, as the United States have long proclaimed their decided hostility to the slave trade, and are surpassed by no country in the vigor of their legislative enactments for its repression. The identity of principle existing on this subject between the two Governments is distinctly recorded in the treaty of peace; and, in answer to every proposal which has since, by his Majesty's command, been addressed to your cabinet, for redeeming that pledge, by a broad and effectual application of the principle, a fresh assurance has been given of the unceasing interest with which the United States continue to promote the cause of abolition. When, to this accord in principle and sentiment, is added the conviction, avowed by both parties, that, in spite of laws and treaties, the accursed traffic still thrives, under the eyes of an indignant world, it would seem impossible that the two Powers should be long prevented from concerting a joint system of measures against the common object of their abhorrence and just proscrip'tion. Whatever circumstances, views, or impressions, may have hitherto defeated this expectation, his Majesty's Ministers are still unwilling to despair of finding the United States at length prepared either to close with the system of concert already offered to their acceptance, or to suggest a plan of equal efficiency in its place. The alternative embraces a duty, for the performance of which both countries are responsible before God and man.
A deep sense of this duty, and a reliance, by no means relinquished, on the general disposition of the United States, have prompted the several communications on this question which have been addressed to you at successive periods, either through me or by means of the American Envoy in London. You will readily call to mind, Sir, that, in the course of last Summer, I apprised you of the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to press for an early re-consideration of the subject, submitting whether it might not prove agreeable to the American cabinet to anticipate that intended recurrence to it on the part of Great Britain, by some efficient proposal, originating with itself. I took occasion, in repeated conversations, to urge anew those various arguments which support and justify the opinion of his Majesty's Government; and I also placed in your hands the official papers, then recently printed by order of Parliament, in further evidence of the extent to which the traffic in human beings was still carried on from Africa, under circumstances of aggravated cruelty. In declaring, as on former occasions, the readiness of his Majesty's Ministers to examine, with respect and candor, whatever scheme of concert, if any, the American cabinet might think proper to bring forward, as a substitute for theirs, you will remember how strongly I expressed my belief that the only effectual measure devised, or likely to be devised, was a mutual concession of the right of search. In the exercise of that right, under such guards, and with such limitations, as may serve to tranquillize the most apprehensive and scrupulous minds, it is still conceived that the best and only cure for this intolerable mischief is to be found. You assured me, at a subsequent conference, that my representations had been duly submitted to the President. I wish it were in my power to add, that the cause which I pleaded had prevailed.
From the printed documents which I had the honor of communicating to you, it appears that the French flag is more particularly employed to cover the illicit irade on the coast of Africa. It would, perhaps, be unfair to conclude that French property and French subjects are concerned to the full proportion in which the colors of that nation are used; but it is manifest that both are engaged in this commerce of blood, to an extent which reflects discredit, if not on the motives of the French administration, at least on the efficiency of its measures, and makes it imperative on those governments which are pledged to each other for the suppression of the slave trade to declare their reprobation of what is at best a culpable remissness, and to omit nothing that may rouse the French cabinet to a more active exercise of its authority.
It was a part of my instructions to bring this point under your immediate consideration, and to intimate that the remonstrances of his Majesty' Ambassador at Páris might be attended with more effect, if the American envoy at that court were directed to concur with his Excellency in a joint representation on the subject. It would be idle at present to repeat the arguments adduced in executing this instruction. The answer which you returned in the name of the President, was unfavorable to the step I had suggested; and such was the result which it became my duty to announce to his Majesty's Secretary of State. But no doubt was started with respect to the grounds on which my application rested; and, of those notorious facts to which I referred, as calling for a joint and impressive appeal to the good faith and good feelings of the French Government, you seemed to be equally convinced with myself.
The reasons, indeed, which you allege for declining at that time to comply with a proposal, no less simple in its nature than useful in its object, I understood to be rather of a temporary character; and under this impression, I cannot but hope that the period is now arrived when they will no longer be found to stand in opposition to the great considerations involved in this question.
In repeating, therefore, the invitation which I have already had the honor to convey to you on the part of his Majesty's Government, it only remains for me to request an early communication of the intentions at present entertained on this head by the Government of the United States.
I beg, Sir, that you will accept the assurance of my distinguished consideration.
STRATFORD CANNING. To the Hon. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS,
Secretary of State, &c.
Mr. Adams to Mr. Canning.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE,
Washington, 31st March, 1823. E Sir: Your letter of the 29th of January was, immediately after being received, submitted to the consideration of the President of the United States. The delay which has hitherto procrastinated a reply to it has been occasioned, not by any abatement of the interest, on the part of the Government of the United States, with which it regards every effort and proposal for the full and final suppression of the African slave trade, nor by any hesitation with regard to the decision which had already been formed and declared respecting the proposal of submitting the vessels and citizens of the United States to the search of foreign officers upon the high seas; but by an expectation that measures contemplated by the national House of Representatives might, before the close of the session of Congress, indicate to the Executive government of this country views upon which it would be enabled to substitute a proposal for accomplishing the total abolition of the traffic, more effectual to its purpose, and less liable to objections, on other accounts, than that to which the United States cannot be reconciled, of granting the right of search. These measures were matured in the branch of the Legislature where they originated, only at the very termination of the session; and the Senate had not the opportunity of pronouncing its opinion upon them. There is, however, no doubt on the mind of the President that they would have obtained their sanction; and he has, therefore, no hesitation in acting so far upon the expressed and almost unanimous sense of the House, as to declare the willingness of this Union to join with other nations in the common engagement to pursue and to punish those who shall continue to practise this crime, so reprobated by the just and humane of every country as enemies of the human race, and to fix them, irrevocably, in the class, and under the denomination of pirates.
I have the honor of enclosing herewith, a copy of the 4th and 5th sections of a law of the United States, passed on the 15th of May, 1820; by which it will be seen, that 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 part, or navigated for, or in behalf of, any citizen or citizens of the United States, participating in the slave trade, is declared to have incurred the penalties of piracy, and made liable to atone for the crime with his life. The legislation of a single nation can go no further, to mark its abhorrence of this traffic, or to deter the people subject to its laws, from contamination, by the practice of others.
If the inference in your letter of the 29th of January, from the documents to which it refers, be correct, that the French flag is more particularly employed to cover the illicit trade on the coast of Africa; and the conjecture likewise suggested in it, that this flag is used to cover the property and the persons of individuals bound to other allegiances, be well founded, this statute makes every citizen of the United States, concerned in such covert traffic, liable, if detected in it, to suffer an ignominious death. The code of Great Britain herself, has, hitherto, no provision of equal severity in the pursuit of her subjects, even under the shelter of foreign banners, and to the covert of simulated papers and property.
I am directed by the President of the United States to propose, on their part, the adoption, by Great Britain, of the principle of this act; and to offer a mutual stipulation to annex the penalties of piracy to the offence of participating in the slave trade, by the citizens or subjects of the respective parties
. This proposal is made as a substitute for that of conceding a mutual right of search, and of a trial by mixed commissions, which would be rendered useless by it. Should it meet the approbation of your Government,
may be separately urged upon the adoption of France, and upon the other maritime Powers of Europe, in the manner most conducive to its ultimate success.
I have the honor of tendering to you the renewed assurance of my distinguished consideration.
JOHN QUINCY ADAMS. The Right Hon. STRATFORD CANNING, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary
from Great Britain.
Mr. Canning to Mr. Adams.
WASHINGTON, April 8, 1829. Sır: I have received your official letter, dated the 31st ultimo, in answer to that which I had the honor of addressing to you on the 29th of January; and, together with it, a transcript of the 4th and 5th sections of an act of Congress, approved the 15th of May, 1820.
From this communication, I learn that the Government of the United States is willing to join with other Powers in declaring the slave trade piracy, under the law of nations, and treating the perpetrators of this crime as enemies of the human race; that the American Government is further prepared to enter into a formal engagement with Great Britain, to the effect of carrying the principle just specified into immediate operation, reciprocally as to their respective subjects or citizens; and finally, that, as soon as this proposal
shall be accepted by the British Government, the United States will be ready to concur in pressing its adoption on the court of France, and other maritime Powers, in such manner as may afford the fairest prospect of suc
In whatever degree His Majesty's Government may be disposed to receive this offer, as an acknowledgment that measures more efficient than any now generally in force, are indispensable for the suppression of the slave trade, it is not difficult to foresee, that fresh sentiments of regret will be excited, by. the unfavorable view which the American administration continues to take of the principal measure suggested on the part of His Majesty. That measure, you are well aware, Sir, is a mutual limited concession of the right of search; and though, as I have frequently stated, his Majesty's Government, in adopting it by treaty with several of the maritime Powers, and in recommending it with earnestness to the acceptance of others, particularly of the United States, have never opposed the consideration of any other plan brought forward as equally effective; yet having, from the first, regarded it in conscience as the only true and practical cure for the evil in question, they are naturally anxious, from a deep sense of duty, to place it in its proper light, and to guard it, as far as possible, from prejudice or misconception. İ, therefore, deem it of importance, on this occasion, to bring into one point of view, the several limitations under which it is conceived, that the right of search might be so exercised, as to clear it of every imaginable difficulty. To give the intended limitations their just value, it is requisite to bear in mind the particular objections which have been urged against the interchange of a right of search; and for these, in their full extent, I can hardly be wrong in referring to your previous correspondence, since the last communication which I have received from you on this subject, though it describes the impressions of the American Government as remaining unaltered, does not exhibit any argument in support of their opinion.
In answer to that class of objections which relate to the mixed commissions established by treaty, between his Majesty and the courts of Lisbon, Brussels, and Madrid, it may suffice to remind you of the intimation, convey. ed through Mr. Rush, in the early part of last year, which I had subsequently the honor of confirming at the Department of State. It might be expected, that any arrangement for the adjudication of vessels engaged in the slave trade, independent of those tribunals, would either leave the detained vessels to be disposed of in the ordinary way, by the sentence of a court of admiralty, in the country of the captor, or place them under the jurisdiction of a similar court in the country to which they belonged. On the former suppo. sition, it is not to be anticipated that the United States could hesitate to admit the jurisdiction of a foreign court of admiralty, when sanctioned by mutual agreement, over the persons and property of citizens, abandoned to a pursuit so flagrantly iniquitous as to be classed by the Legislature of their country with crimes of the most heinous description, and which the American Government has declared its willingness to treat as piracy, under the law, of nations. Great Britain, for her part, desires no other than that any of her subjects, who so far defy the laws, and dishonor the character of their country, as to engage in a trade of blood, proscribed not more hy the acts of the legislature, than by the national feeling, should be detected and brought to justice, even by foreign hands, and from under the protection of her Aag. in either of the supposed cases, it is clear that all impediments