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consequence of the American legislature having, by their act of the 1st of March, 1811, provided, that British ships and merchandize should be excluded from the ports and harbours of the United States.
By this ins'rument, the only document produced by America as a repeal of the French decrees, it appears beyond a possibility of doubt or cavil, that the alleged repeal of the French decrees was conditional, as Great Britain had asserted; and not absolute or final, as had been maintained by America; that they were not repealed in conformity with a proposition simultaneously made to both belligerents, but that in consequence of a previous act on the part of the American government, they were repealed in favour of one belligerent to the prejudice of the other; that the American government having adopted measures restrictive upon the commerce of both belligerents, in consequence of the edicts issued by both, rescinded their measures as they affected that power which was the aggressor, whilst they put them in full operation against the party aggrieved; although the edicts of both powers continued in force; and, lastly, that they excluded the ships of war belonging to one belligerent, whilst they admitted into their ports and harbours the ships of war belonging to the other, in violation of one of the plainest and most essential duties of a neutral nation.
Although the instrument thus produced was by no means that general and unqualified revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees, which Great Britain had continually demanded, and had a full right to claim; and although this instrument, under all the circumstances of its appearance at that moment for the first time, was open to the strongest suspicions of its authenticity; yet as the minister of the United States produced it, as purporting to be a copy of the instrument of revocation, the government of Great Britain, desirous of reverting, if possible, to the ancient and accustomed principles of maritime war, determined upon revoking conditionally the orders in council. Accordingly, in the month of June last, his royal highness the prince regent was pleased to declare in council, in the name and on the behalf of his majesty, that the orders in council should be revoked as far as respected the ships and property of the United States from the first of August following. The revocation was to continue in force, provided the government of the United States should, within a time to be limited, repeal their respective laws against British commerce. His majesty's minister in America was expressly ordered to declare to the government of the United States, that “this measure had been adopted by the prince regent in the earnest wish and hope, either that the government of France, by further relaxations of its system, might render perseverance on the part of Great Britain in retaliatory measures unnecessary, or if this hope should prove delusive, that his majesty's government might be enabled, in the absence of all irritating and restrictive regulations on either side, to enter with the government of the United States into amicable explanations, for the purpose of ascertaining whether, if the necessity of retaliatory measures should unfortunately continue to operate, the particular measures to be acted upon by Great Britain could be rendered more acceptable to the American government, than those hitherto pursued.”
In order to provide for the contingency of a declaration of war on the part of the United States previous to the arrival in America of the said order of revocation, instructions were sent to his majesty's minister plenipotentiary accredited to the United States (the execution of which instructions, in conse. quence of the discontinuance of Mr. Foster's functions, were at a subsequent period entrusted to admiral sir John Borlase Warren), directing him to propose a cessation of hostilities, should they have commenced: and further, to offer a simultaneous repeal of the orders in council on one side, and of the restrictive laws on British ships and commerce on the other.
They were also respectively empowered to acquaint the American government, in reply to any inquiries with respect to the blockade of May, 1806, whilst the British government must continue to maintain its legality," that, in point of fact, this particular blockade had been discontinued for a length of time, having been merged in the general retaliatory blockade of the enemy's ports under the orders in council, and that his majesty's government had no intention of recurring to this, or any other of the blockades of the enemy's ports founded upon the ordinary and accustomed principles of maritime law, which were in force previous to the orders in council, without a new notice to neutral powers in the usual form.”
The American government, before they received intimation of the course adopted by the British government, had in fact proceeded to the extreme measure of declaring war and issuing "letters of marque," notwithstanding they were previously in possession of the French minister of foreign affairs' letter of the 12th of March, 1812, promulgating anew the Berlin and Milan decrees, as fundamental laws of the French VOL. II.
empire, under the false and extravagant pretext that the monstrous principles therein contained were to be found in the treaty of Utrecht, and were therefore binding upon all states. From the penalties of this code no nation was to be exempt, which did not accept it, not only as the rule of its own conduct, but as a law, the observance of which it was also required to enforce upon Great Britain.
In a manifesto accompanying their declaration of hostilities, in addition to the former complaints against the orders in council, a long list of grievances was brought forward; some trivial in themselves, others which had been mutually adjusted, but none of them such as were ever before alleged by the American government to be grounds for war. As if to throw additional obstacles in the
the Americar congress at the same time passed a law, prohibiting all intercourse with Great Britain, of such a tenor, as deprived the executive government, according to the president's own construction of that act, of all power of restoring the relations of friendship and intercourse between the two states, so far at least as concerned their commercial intercourse, until congress should re-assemble.
The president of the United States has, it is true, since proposed to Great Britain an armistice; not however, on the admission that the cause of war hitherto relied on was' removed; but on condition that Great Britain, as a preliminary step should do away a cause of war, now brought forward as such for the first time; namely, that he should abandon the exercise of the undoubted right of search, to take from American merchant vessels British seamen, the natural born subjects of his majesty; and this concession was required upon the mere assurance that laws would be enacted by the legislature of the United States, to prevent such seamen from entering into their service; but, independent of the objection to an exclusive reliance on a foreign state for the conservation of so vital an interest, no explanation was or could be afforded by the agent who was charged with this overture, either as to the main principles upon which such laws were to be founded, or as to the provisions which they should contain. This proposition having been objected to, a second proposal was made, again offering an armistice, provided the British
government would secretly stipulate to renounce the exercise of this right in a treaty of peace. An immediate and formal abandonment of its exercise as preliminary to a cessation of hostilities, was not demanded; but his royal highness the prince regent was required, in the name and on the
behalf of his majesty, secretly to abandon what the former overture had proposed to him publicly to concede.
This most offensive proposition was also rejected, being accompanied, as the former had been, by other demands of the most exceptionable nature, and especially of indemnity for all American vessels detained and condemned under the orders in council, or under what were termed illegal blockades a compliance with which demands, exclusive of all other objections, would have amounted to an absolute surrender of the rights on which those orders and blockades were founded.
Had the American government been sincere in representing the orders in council as the only subject of difference between Great Britain and the United States calculated to lead to hostilities, it might have been expected, so soon as the revocation of those orders had been officially made known to them, that they would have spontaneously recalled their “letters of marque,” and manifested a disposition immediately to restore the relations of peace and amity between the two powers. But the conduct of the government of the United States by no means corresponded with such reasonable expectations. The order in council of 230 June being officially communicated to America, the government of the United States saw nothing in the repeal of the orders in council, which should of itself restore peace, unless Great Britain were prepared in the first instance substantially to relinquish the right of impressing her own seamen, when found on board American merchant ships. The proposal of an armistice, and of a simultaneous repeal of the restrictive measures on both sides, subsequently made by the commanding officer of his majesty's naval forces on the American coast, were received in the same hostile spirit by the government of the United States. The suspension of the practice of impressment was insisted upon in the correspondence which passed on that occasion, as a necessary preliminary to a cessation of hostilities. Negociation, it was stated, might take place without any suspension of the exercise of this right; and also without any armistice being concluded; but Great Britain was required previously to agree, without any knowledge of the adequacy of the system which could be substituted, to negotiate upon the basis of accepting the legislative regulations of a foreign state, as the sole equivalent for the exercise of a right, which she has felt to be essential to the support of her maritime power.
If America, by demanding the preliminary concession, intends to deny the validity of that right, in that denial Great
Britain cannot acquiesce; nor will she give countenance to such a pretension, by acceding to its suspension, much less to its abandonment, as a basis on which to treat. If the American government has devised, or conceives it can devise, regulations which may safely be accepted by Great Britain, as a substitute for the exercise of the right in question, it is for them to bring forward such a plan for consideration. The British government has never attempted to exclude this question from amongst those on which the two stateś might have to negotiate: it has, on the contrary, uniformly professed its readiness to receive and discuss any proposition on this subject, coming from the American government: it has never asserted any exclusive right, as to the impressment of British seamen from American vessels, which it was not prepared to acknowledge as appertaining equally to the government of the United States, with respect to American seamen when found on board British merchant ships: but it cannot, by acceding to such a basis in the first instance, either assume or admit that to be practicable, which, when attempted on former occasions, has always been found to be attended with great difficulties; such difficulties as the British commissioners in 1806 expressly declared, after an attentive consideration of the suggestions brought forward by the commissioners on the part of America, they were unable to surmount.
Whilst the proposition transmitted through the British admiral was pending in America, another communication on the subject of an armistice was unofficially made to the British government in this country. The agent, from whom this proposition was received, acknowledged that he did not consider that he had any authority himself to sign an agreement on the part of the government. It was obvious that any stipulations entered into, in consequence of this overture, would have been binding on the British government, whilst the government of the United States would have been free to refuse or accept them, according to the circumstances of the moment. This proposition was therefore necessarily declined.
After this exposition of the circumstances which preceded and which have followed the declaration of war by the United States, his royal highness the prince regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty, feels himself called upon to declare the leading principles by which the conduct of Great Britain has been regulated in the transactions connected with these discussions.