« ForrigeFortsett »
This report was laid before the French Government, and, added to the various representations of Mr. Monroe, and his predecessor, it produced a decree of the joint Committees of Public Safety, Finance, Commerce, and Supplies, dated the 15th November, 1794, a copy of which marked (C) is annexed. This decree, apparently calculated to remedy many of the evils complained of, afforded but a very partial, in respect to compensations a comparatively small relief; while it continued in force the principle of the decree of the 9th of May, 1793, which rendered liable to seizure and confiscation the goods of enemies found on board neutral vessels. American vessels had been declared exempt from that part of the decree of the 9th of May, which authorized the seizing of vessels going to an enemy's port with provisions, by the decree of the National Convention of the 27th of July, 1793.
On the appearance of the decree of the 9th of May, the American Minister at Paris remonstrated against it, as a violation of the treaty of commerce between France and the United States. In consequence hereof the convention, by a decree of the 23d of the same month, declare, “That the vessels of the United States are not comprised in the regulations of the decree of the 9th of May.” M. le Brun, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on the 26th of May, communicated this second decree to our Minister, accompanying with these words, “you will there find a new confirmation of the principles from which the French People will never depart, with regard to their good friends and allies the United States of America." Yet two days only had elapsed, before those principles were departed from: on the 28th of May, the Convention repealed their decree of the 23d. The owners of a French privateer that had captured a very rich American ship (the Laurens) found means to effect the repeal, to enable them to keep hold on their prize. They had even the apparent hardiness to say before hand, that the decree of the 23d would be repealed.
The American Minister again complained. So, on the first of July, the Convention passed a fourth decree, again declaring, “ that the vessels of the United States are not comprised in the regulations of the decree of the 9th of May; conformably to the sixteenth (it should be the twenty-third) article of the treaty concluded the 6th day of February, 1778.” The new Minister for Foreign Affairs, M. Desforgues, accompanies this new decree of July first with the following expression : “I am very happy in being able to give you this new proof of the fraternal sentiments of the French People for their allies, and of their determination to maintain to the utmost of their power the treaties subsisting between the two Republics." Yet this decree proved as unstable as the former : on the 27th of July it was repealed.
The next decree on this subject was that of the Joint Committees, of the 15th of November, 1794, already mentioned. Then followed the decree of the Committee of Public Safety, of the 4th of January, 1795, (14th Nivose, 3d year) repealing the 5th article in the decree of the i5th of November preceding, and in effect the articles in the original decree of the 9th of May, 1793, by which the treaty with the United States had been infringed. It is not necessary for the Secretary to
add, that the decree of the 4th of January, 1795, has been repealed by the Executive Directory of the 2d of July, 1796 ; under color of which are commttted the shocking depredations on the commerce of the United States, which are daily exhibited in the newspapers. The agents of the Executive Directory to the leeward Islands (Leblanc, Santhonax, and Raymond) on the 27th of November, 1796. passed a decree (marked C. C.) for capturing all American vessels bound to or from British ports. The Secretary presumes this is not an arbitrary unauthorized act of their own, but that it is conformable to the intentions of the Executive Directory; the privateers of the French Republic in Europe hav. ing captured some American vessels on the same pretence; and the consul of the Republic, at Cadiz, having explicitly avowed his determi. pation to condemn American vessels on that ground; pleading the decree of the Directory for his authority.
The Secretary has already intimated, that the decree of the 15th of November, 1794, was not followed by the extensively good effects expected from it. By a communication from Mr. Skipwith, of the 10th of last September (the latest communication from him in answer to the Secretary's request for information) it appears that the claims for detention of one hundred and three American vessels by the embargo at Bordeaux remained undetermined ; no funds having been appropriated by the Legislature for payment of them ; and that none of the bills drawn by the colonial ailministrations in the West Indies bad been paid to him; the Treasury having tendered payment in assignats, at their nominal value, and afterwards in another species of paper, called mandats, which had suffered a great depreciation, even before they were put into circulation; both which modes of payment were refused to be accepted. The progress madle by Mr. Skipwith in the adjustment of other claims, so far as known to the Secretary, will appear in the annexed printed statement marked (D); copies of which were transmitted ten months ago to the offices of the principal collectors of the customs, from the Department of State, for the information of our mercantile citizens.
That nothing might be left undone which could be accomplished by the Executive, the attention of General Pinckney, the present minister of the United States to France, was particularly directed to the subject of these claims : but the interval which has elapsed since his departure has not admitted of any interesting communication from him on this business.
In connexion with other spoliations by French armed vessels, the Secretary intended to mention those committed under a decree dated the 1st of August, 1796, issued by Victor Hughes and Lebas, the special agents of the Executive Directory to the windward Islands, declaring all vessels loaded with contraband articles of any kind liable to seizure and confiscation, with their entire cargoes; without making any discrimination in favor of those which might be bound to neutral or even to French porty. This decree has been enforced against the American trade, without any regard to the established forms of legal proceedings, as will appear from the annexed deposition (marked E)
of Josias Hempstead, master of the brigantine Patty, of Weathersfield. A copy of the decree marked (F) is also annexed.
The Secretary has received a printed copy of another decree of the same special agents to the Windward Islands, dated the thirteenth of Pluviose, fifth year, answering to February the 1st, 1797. authorizing the capture of all neutral vessels destined to any of the windward or leeward Islands in America, which have been delivered up to the Eng. lish, and occupied or defended by emigrants, naming Martinique, Saint Lucia, Tobago, Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo; and to leeward, Port au Prince, Saint Marc L’Archaye, and Jeremie ; declaring such vessels and their cargoes to be good prize ; as well as all vessels cleared out vaguely for the West Indies. A copy of this last decree will be added to this report, as soon as it shall be translated. All which is respectfully submitted.
TIMOTHY PICKERING. Department of State, February 27, 1797.
[EXTRACT.] 6 I at first supposed the condemnation of American vessels for want of sea letters, in the West Indies, was an arbitrary act of the Agents of the French Directory in their Islands; but I find by General Pinckney's communication of the report of Mr. Mountflorence, that, on the same pretence, they condemn our vessels in France : whence we may conclude, that it is a part of their system of unexampled aggression against a neutral Power and their ally. All our accounts from the West Indies, show that the French piracies are there continued, and with increasing outrage and abuse of our citizens."
(EXTRACT.] “The depredations of the French in the West Indies continue. Mr. Adet, a few days since, expressed to me his opinion that they are not authorized by the French Government, remarking that it is impossi. ble to restrain privateers from irregularities. But it happens unfortunately, that nearly all the vessels or cargoes, or both, which are
carried in by their privateers, are condemned by the civil officers on shore. Besides, when he mentions unauthorized captures, he cannot refer to the multitude which we complain of, as made in direct violation of our treaty with France, or of the law of nations, but which he bimself declared would be made, pursuant to the decree of the Directory on the second of July last.”
Secretary of State to Mr. King.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE, May 9, 1797.
DEAR SIR: On the 6th, in the evening. I received your letter of the 12th of March. General Pinckney, on the 18th of February, at Amsterdam, wrote me liis letter, No. 7, but, although he forwarded his No. 5 and No. 6, by quadruplicates, neither has come to hand, which I the more regret, as the sitting of Congress will commence on the 15th, and his Nos. 5 and 6 must contain interesting details relative to the final orders of the French Directory that he should quit the territories of the Republic.
The statement of affairs in relation to French captures of American vessels at the date of your letter, no doubt rendered your disapprobation of the project of a convoy very proper. I mean for vessels of the United States sailing from the ports of Great Britain ; but the piratical conduct of their privateers in the American seas, and even on the coast of Spain, must render any measure of protection and defence both eligible and lawful. If, therefore, the British Government, on the request of the merchants trading to America, or of the underwriters, or on their own motion, order convoys for the American vessels, under a change of circumstances which show that our commerce is in more danger than when you expressed your disapprobation of the measure, the convoys are certainly not to be refused. In the West Indies, where the French Agents and privateers capture and condemn every Ameri. can they meet, if bound to or from a British port, or even to their own ports, in a variety of instances, and strip and abuse our citizens ; these have, for some months past, been in the practice of accepting British convoys.
And what legal consequence can result from accepting a convoy in any case, except that of its being a cause of condemnation in case of capture, although the vessel should really be neutral ? It would then seem to be a matter of calculation, whether to accept or decline a convoy.
If the French permit the trade between Great Britain (or rather the British dominions in Europe) and the United States to be carried on as heretofore, without making the commerce with that Power a pretence for capturing and condemning our vessels and cargoes, then certainly a convoy should be declined, if the accepting a convoy is a law
ful cause for capture. On this head I will mention the answer of Dr. Nicholl to a question proposed by Mr. Bayard, in the case of the American vessels laden with flour for France, which sailed under convoy of two French men of war; but were taken, carried into Halifax, their cargoes condemned of course, and freight and demurrage and expenses denied, and the captured subjected to pay costs.
* Although (says Dr. Nicholl) a neutral ship may legally carry enemy's property, yet the belligerent has, on the other hand, a right to seize that property, paying the neutral his freight and expenses. If the neutral, in order to prevent the belligerent from exercising his legal right, puts himself under the enemy's convoy, the claim to freight and expenses is thereby forfeited. It is a departure from that impartiality which the neutral is bound to observe. The only question in this case would be, whether the ship itself was not, under the circumstances, liable to confiscation."
In another case, where the American vessel had been condemned with her cargo, Dr. Nicholl gave his opinion not to prosecute an appeal, because the circumstance of going under convoy was, in his judgment, a just cause of forfeiture. This latter opinion I have not in writing, but Mr. Wagner (the clerk charged with this business) well remembers it. But here the cause of forfeiture is not the simple act of going under convoy, but the attempting in a neutral vessel to shelter the goods of an enemy by means of the convoy ; and, therefore, if this distinction be correct, an American vessel with an American cargo may innocently go under convoy.
But why do this with neutral property? Because a belligerent Power, without regarding treaties or the law of nations, makes prize of such property. If, however, such unwarantable captures are not made, (and this I suppose you judge to be fact, in respect to our vessels trading with Great Britain and Ireland,) there can be no reason for seeking convoys; and the doing it might give offence to the Government against which it was requested. But whenever that Government has no scruple to interrupt and injure our lawful commerce, by means of her armed vessels, we can have no scruple to accept protection from convoys of her enemies. The only question then will be whether the Government shall formally request the convoy ? This is a question of some delicacy, as it regards the foreign Power to whom the request shall be made, on the score of obligation : But if, for the sake of preserving a lucrative or necessary trade, that Power voluntarily offers, or on the request of individuals, grants the requisite convoys, are we then to refuse them ? Clearly not ; and such is the sense of the President. I have the honor to be, &c.