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one side than the other ; but I wish to bar, in the first place, any
inference of an improper character which may be drawn from
that statement of the British Secretary of State for Foreign
Affairs. It was not that they looked forward to a change which
should bring gentlemen into power more pliable, or more agree
able to the purposes of England. No, Sir, those remarks of
Lord Palmerston, whether true or false, were not caused by any
peculiar stoutness or stiffness which Mr. Van Buren had ever
maintained on our side of the merits of the question. The mer
its of the boundary question were never discussed by Mr. Van
Buren to any extent. The thing that his administration dis
cussed was the formation of a convention of exploration and
arbitration to settle the question. A few years before this de
spatch of Lord Palmerston to Mr. Fox, the two governments,
as I have repeatedly said, had agreed how the question should
be settled. They had agreed that there should be an explora
tion. Mr. Van Buren had proposed and urged arbitration also.
England had agreed to this, at his request. The governments
had agreed to these two principles, therefore, long before the date
of that letter of Lord Palmerston ; and from the time of that
agreement, till near the close of Mr. Van Buren s administration,
the whole correspondence turned on the arrangement of details
of a convention for arbitration, according to the stipulation of
the parties. It was not, therefore, on account of any notion that
Mr. Van Buren stood up for American questions better than
others. It was because these subordinate questions respecting
the convention for arbitration had got into so much complexity,
were so embarrassed with projects and counter-projects, had
become so difficult and entangled ; and because every effort to
disentangle them had made the matter worse. On this account
alone, Lord Palmerston made the remark. I wish to draw no
inference that would be injurious to others, to make no imputa
tion on Mr. Van Buren. But it is necessary to remember, that
this dispute had run on for years, and was likely to run on for
ever, though the main principles had already been agreed on,
namely, exploration and arbitration. It was an endless discus
sion of details and forms of proceeding, in which the parties
receded farther and farther from each other every day.


One thing more, Sir, by way of explanation. I referred yes
terday to the report made by General Wool, in respect to the
road from Kennebec. In point of fact, the place which General
Wool recommended, in 1838, to be fortified, was a few miles
farther east, towards the waters of the Penobscot River, than
Arnold s route ; but, generally, the remark I made was perfectly
true, that there has not been a road or passage at any consider
able distance east of that line. The honorable member from
New York yesterday produced extracts from certain debates in
Parliament respecting the importance of the territory ceded to
England, in a military point of view. I beg to refer to some
others which I hold in my hand, but which I shall not read ; the
speeches of Sir Charles Napier, Lord Palmerston, Sir Howard
Douglass, and others, as an offset to those quoted by the honor
able member. But I do not think it of importance to balance
those opinions against each other. Some gentlemen appear to
entertain one set of opinions, some another ; and, for my own
part, I candidly admit that, by both the one and the other, facts
are overstated. I do not believe, Sir, that any thing, in a mili
tary point of view, ceded by us to England, is of any great con
sequence to us or to her ; or that any thing important in that
respect was ceded by either party, always excepting Rouse s
Point. I do believe it was an object of importance to repossess
ourselves of the site of that fortress, and on that point I shall
proceed to make a few remarks that escaped me yesterday.

I do not complain here that the member from New York has
underrated the importance of that acquisition. He has not
spoken of it. But what I do complain of, if complaint it may
be called, is, that, when he spoke of cessions made to England
by the treaty of Washington, a treaty which proposed to pro
ceed on the ground of mutual concessions, equivalents, and con
siderations, when referring to such a treaty to show the conces
sions made to England, he did not consider it necessary to state,
on the other hand, the corresponding cessions made by England
to us. And I say again, that the cession of Rouse s Point by
her must be, and is, considered, by those best capable of appre
ciating its value, of more importance in a military light than
all the cessions W T C made to England. To show how our gov
ernment have regarded its importance, let me remind you, that,
immediately on the close of the last war, although the country


was heavily in debt, there was nothing to which the government
addressed itself with more zeal than the fortifying this point, as
the natural defence of Lake Champlain. As early as 1816, the
government paid twenty or thirty thousand dollars for the site,
and went on with the work at an expense of one hundred thou
sand dollars. But in 1818, the astronomers appointed on both
sides found it was on the English side of the boundary. That,
of course, terminated our operations. But that is not all. How
did our government regard the acquisition by the treaty of
Washington ? Why, the ink with which that treaty was signed
was hardly dry, when the most eminent engineers were de
spatched to that place, who examined its strength, and proceed
ed to renew and rebuild it. And no military work, not even the
fortifications for the defence of the Narrows, approaching the
harbor of New York, has been proceeded with by the govern
ment with more zeal. Having said so much, Sir, I will merely
add, that if gentlemen desire to obtain more information on this
important subject, they may consult the head of the engineer
eorps, Colonel Totten, and Commodore Morris, who went there
by instructions to examine it, and who reported thereon.

And here, Sir, I conclude my remarks on the question of the
northeastern boundary.

I now leave it to the country to say, whether this ques
tion, this troublesome, and annoying, and dangerous question,
which had lasted through the ordinary length of two genera
tions, having been taken up in 1841, was not promptly settled
and well settled; whether it was not well settled for Maine
and Massachusetts, and well settled for the whole country ;
and whether, in the opinion of all fair and candid men, the
complaint about it which we hear at this day does not arise
entirely from a desire that those connected with the accomplish
ment of a measure so important to the peace of the country
should not be allowed to derive too much credit from it.

Mr. President, the destruction of the steamboat " Caroline," in
the harbor of Schlosser, by a British force, in December, 1837,
and the arrest of Alexander McLeod, a British subject, compos
ing part of that force, four years afterwards, by the authorities
of New York, and his trial for an alleged murder committed by
him on that occasion, have been subjects of remark, here and


elsewhere, at this session of Congress. They are connected
subjects, and call, in the first place, for a brief historical narra

In the year 1837, a civil commotion, or rebellion, which had
broken out in Canada, had been suppressed, and many persons
engaged in it had fled to the United States. In the autumn of
that year, these persons, associating with themselves many per
sons of lawless character in the United States, made actual war
on Canada, and took possession of Navy Island, belonging to
England, in the Niagara River. It may be the safest course to
give an account of these occurrences from official sources. Mr.
Van Buren thus recites the facts, as the government of the
United States understood them, in his message of December,
1838 :

44 1 had hoped that the respect for the laws and regard for the peace
and honor of their own country, which have ever characterized the citi
zens of the United States, would have prevented any portion of them
from using any means to promote insurrection in the territory of a power
with which we are at peace, and with which the United States are de
sirous of maintaining the most friendly relations. I deeply regret, how
ever, to be obliged to inform you that this has not been the case.

44 Information has been given to me, derived from official and other
sources, that many citizens of the United States have associated togeth
er, to make hostile incursions from our territory into Canada, and to aid
and abet insurrection there, in violation of the obligations and laws of
the United States, and in open disregard of their own duties as citizens.
This information has been in part confirmed by a hostile invasion actu
ally made by citizens of the United States, in conjunction with Cana
dians and others, and accompanied by a forcible seizure of the property
of our citizens, and an application thereof to the prosecution of military
operations against the authorities and people of Canada. The results
of these criminal assaults upon the peace and order of a neighboring
country have been, as was to be expected, fatally destructive to the
misguided or deluded persons engaged in them, and highly injurious to
those in whose behalf they are professed to have been undertaken. The
authorities in Canada, from intelligence received of such intended move
ments among our citizens, have felt themselves obliged to take precau
tionary measures against them, have actually embodied the militia, and
assumed an attitude to repel an invasion, to which they believed the col
onies were exposed from the United States. A state of feeling on both
sides of the frontier had thus been produced, which called for prompt
and vigorous interference."


The following is the British account of the same occur
rence :

" In this state of things, a small band of Canadian refugees, who had
taken shelter in the State of New York, formed a league with a number
of the citizens of the United States for the purpose of invading the Brit
ish territory, not to join a party engaged in civil war, because civil war
at that time in Canada there was none, but in order to commit, within
the British territory, the crimes of robbery, arson, and murder.

" By a neglect on the part of that government,* which seems to admit
of but one explanation, the storehouses which contained the arms and
ammunition of the State were left unguarded, and were consequently
broken open by this gang, who carried off thence, in open day, and in
the most public manner, cannon and other implements of war.

"After some days preparation, these people proceeded, without any
interruption from the government or authorities of the State of New
York, and under the command of an American citizen, to invade and
occupy Navy Island, and part of the British territoiy ; and having en
gaged the steamboat Caroline, which, for their special service, was cut
out of the ice, in which she had been inclosed in the port of Buffalo,
they had used her for the purpose of bringing over to Navy Island,
from the United States territory, men, arms, ammunition, stores, and

" The preparations made for this invasion of British territory by a
band of men organized, armed, and equipped within the United States,
and consisting partly of British subjects and partly of American citizens,
had induced the British authorities to station a military force at Chip-
pewa, to repel the threatened invasion, and to defend her Majesty s ter
ritory. The commander of that fort, seeing that the Caroline was used
as a means of supply and reinforcement for the invaders, who had
occupied Navy Island, judged that the capture and destruction of that
vessel would prevent supplies and reinforcements from passing over to
the island, and would, moreover, deprive the force on the island of the
means of passing over to the British territory on the mainland."

According to the British account, the expedition sent to cap
ture the Caroline expected to find her at Navy Island ; but when
the commanding officer came round the point of the island in
the night, he found that she was moored to the other shore. This
did not deter him from making the capture. In that capture a
citizen of the United States by the name of Durfree lost his life ;

* New York.


the British authorities pretend, by a chance shot from one of his
own party; the American, by a shot from one of the British

This transaction took place on the 29th of December, 1837,
in the first year of Mr. Van Buren s administration. No sooner
was it known here, and made the subject of a communication
by Mr. Forsyth to Mr. Fox, than the latter avowed it as an act
done by the British authorities, and justified it, as a proper and
necessary measure of self-defence. Observe, Sir, if you please,
that the Caroline was destroyed in December, 1837, and Mr.
Fox s avowal of that destruction as a government act, and his
justification of it, were made in January following, so soon as
knowledge of the occurrence reached Washington. Now, if the
.avowal of the British minister, made in the name of his gov
ernment, was a sufficiently authentic avowal, why, then, from
that moment, the government of Great Britain became respon
sible for the act, and the United States was to look to that gov
ernment for reparation, or redress, or whatever act or acknowl
edgment or apology the case called for. If Mr. Fox s letter
was proper proof that the destruction of the Caroline was an
act of public force, then the government of Great Britain was
directly responsible to the government of the United States ; and
of the British government directly, and the British government
only, was satisfaction to be demanded. Nothing was immedi
ately done ; the matter was suffered to lie, and grow cool ; but
it afterwards became a question at what time the United States
government did first learn, by sufficient evidence and authority,
that the British government had avowed the destruction of the
Caroline as its own act. Now, in the first place, there was the
direct avowal of Mr. Fox made at the time, and never disap
proved. This avowal, and the account of the transaction,
reached London in February, 1838. Lord Palmerston thinks
that, in conversations with Mr. Stevenson, not long subsequent,
he intimated distinctly that the destruction of the vessel would
turn out to be justifiable. At all events, it is certain, that, on
the 22d day of May, 1838, in an official note to Lord Palmers-
ton, written by instructions from this government, demanding
reparation for her destruction, Mr. Stevenson stated, " that the
government of the United States did consider that transaction
as an outrage upon the United States, and a violation of United


States territory, committed by British troops, planned and exe
cuted by the Lieutenant- Governor of Upper Canada." It is
clear, then, that the government of the United States so under
stood the matter, when it gave Mr. Stevenson the instructions
on which he made this demand. The administration knew,
full well, that the expedition was a public expedition, set on foot
by the authorities of Canada, avowed here, immediately, by Mr.
Fox, as an act of which the British government took upon itself
the responsibility, and never disavowed by that government at
any time or in any way.

And now, Sir, why was this aggression on the territory of the
United States, why was this indignity, suffered to remain un-
vindicated and unredressed for three years ? Why was no
answer made, and none insisted on, to Mr. Stevenson s official
and direct demand for reparation ? The jealous guardians of
national honor, so tenaciously alive to what took place in 1842,
what opiate had drugged their patriotism for so many years?
Whose fault was it that, up to 1841, the government of Great
Britain had been brought to no acknowledgment, no explana
tion, no apology ? This long and unbroken slumber over public
outrage and national indignity, who indulged in it ? Nay, if the
government of the United States thought it had not sufficient
evidence that the outrage was, as it had declared it to be itself,
a public outrage, then it was a private outrage, the invasion of
our territory, and the murder of an American citizen, without
any justification, or pretence of justification ; and had it not
become high time that such an outrage was redressed ?

Sir, there is no escape from this. The administration of Mr.
Van Buren knew perfectly well that the destruction of the Car
oline was an act of public force, done by the British authorities
in Canada. They knew it had never been disavowed at home.
The act was a wrongful one on the part of the Canadian forces.
They had no right to invade the territory of the United States.
It was an aggression for which satisfaction was due, and should
have been insisted on immediately, and insisted on perse ver-
ingly. But this was not done. The administration slept, and
slept on, and would have slept till this time, if it had not been
waked by the arrest of McLeod. Being on this side of the line,
and making foolish and false boasts of his martial achievements,
McLeod was arrested in November, 1840, on the charge of the


murder of Durfree, in capturing the Caroline, and committed to
prison by the authorities of New York. He was bailed ; but
violence and mobs overawed the courts, and he was recommit
ted to jail.

This was an important and very exciting occurrence. Mr.
Fox made a demand for his immediate release. The adminis
tration of Mr. Van Buren roused itself, and looked round to
ascertain its position. Mr. Fox again asserted, that the destruc
tion of the Caroline was an act of public force, done by public
authority, and avowed by the English government, as the
American government had long before known. To this Mr.
Forsyth replied, in a note of December 26th, 1840, thus : " If
the destruction of the Caroline was a public act of persons in
her Majesty s service, obeying the order of their superior author
ities, this fact has not been before communicated to the govern
ment of the United States by a person authorized to make the
admission." Certainly, Mr. President, it is not easy to reconcile
this language with the instructions under which Mr. Stevenson
made his demand of May, 1838, and which demand he accom
panied with the declaration, that the act was planned and exe
cuted by the authorities of Canada. Whether the act of the
Governor had or had not been approved at home, the government
of the United States, one would think, could hardly need to be
informed, in 1840, that that act was committed by persons in
her Majesty s service, obeying the order of their superior au
thorities. Mr. Forsyth adds, very properly, that it will be for
the courts to decide on the validity of the defence. It is worthy
of remark, that, in this letter of the 26th of December, 1840,
Mr. Forsyth complains, that up to that day the government of
the United States had not become acquainted with the views
and intentions of the government of England respecting the
destruction of the Caroline ! Now, Mr. President, this was the
state of things in the winter of 1840-41, and on the 4th of
March, 1841, when General William Henry Harrison became
President of the United States.

On the 12th of that same month of March, Mr. Fox wrote
to the Department of State a letter, in which, after referring to
his original correspondence with Mr. Forsyth, in which he had
avowed and justified the capture of the Caroline as an act of
necessary defence, he proceeds to say :

VOL. V. 11


" The undersigned is directed, in the first place, to make known to
the government of the United States, that her Majesty s government
entirely approve of the course pursued by the undersigned in that cor
respondence, and of the language adopted by him in the official letters
above mentioned.

" And the undersigned is now instructed again to demand from the
government of the United States, formally, in the name of the British
government, the immediate release of Mr. Alexander McLeod.

" The grounds upon which the British government make this demand
upon the government of the United States are these : That the transac
tion on account of which Mr. McLeod has been arrested, and is to be
put upon his trial, was a transaction of a public character, planned and
executed by persons duly empowered by her Majesty s colonial authori
ties to take any steps, and to do any acts, which might be necessary for
the defence of her Majesty s territories, and for the protection of her
Majesty s subjects ; and that, consequently, those subjects of her Majes
ty who engaged in that transaction were performing an act of public
duty, for which they cannot be made personally and individually answer
able to the laws and tribunals of any foreign country.

" The transaction may have been, as her Majesty s government are
of opinion that it was, a justifiable employment of force for the purpose
of defending the British territory from the unprovoked attack of a band
of British rebels and American pirates, who, having been permitted to
arm and organize themselves within the territory of the United States,
had actually invaded and occupied a portion of the territory of her
Majesty ; or it may have been, as alleged by Mr. Forsyth in his note to
the undersigned of the 26th of December, 4 a most unjustifiable invasion,
in time of peace, of the territory of the United States. But it is a
question essentially of a political and international kind, which can be
discussed and settled only between the two governments, and which the
courts of justice of the State of New York cannot by possibility have
any means of judging, or any right of deciding."

The British government insisted that it must have been
known, and was well known, long before, that it had avowed
and justified the capture of the Caroline, and taken upon itself
the responsibility. Mr. Forsyth, as you have seen, Sir, in his
note of December 26th, had said that fact had not been before
communicated by a person authorized to make the admission.
What, then, was to be done ? Here was a new, fresh, and
direct avowal of the act by the British government, and a formal
demand for McLeod s immediate release. And how did Gen
eral Harrison s administration treat this ? Sir, just as it ought


to have treated it. It was not poor and mean enough, in its
intercourse with a foreign government, to make any reflections
on its predecessor, or appear to strike out a new path for itself.
It did not seek to derogate, in the slightest degree, from the pro
priety of what had been said and done by Mr. Van Buren and
Mr. Forsyth, whatever eminent example it might have found for
such a course of conduct. No ; it rather adopted what Mr.
Forsyth had said in December, to wit, that at that time no
authentic avowal had been communicated to the United States.
But now an avowal had been made, on the authority of the gov
ernment itself; and General Harrison acted, and rightly acted,
on the case made by this avowal. And what opinions did he
form, and what course did he pursue, in a crisis, and in regard
to transactions, so intimately connected with the peace and
honor of the country ?

Sir, in the first place, General Harrison was of opinion, that
the entering of the United States territory by British troops, for
the purpose of capturing or destroying the Caroline, was unjus
tifiable. That it was an aggression, a violation of the territory
of the United States. Not that the British forces might not
have destroyed that vessel, if they could have found her on their
own side of the line ; for she was unlawfully employed, she was
assisting to make war on Canada. But she could not be fol
lowed into a port of the United States, and there captured.
This was an offence against the dignity and sovereignty of this
government, for which apology and satisfaction ought long since
to have been obtained, and which apology and satisfaction it
was not yet too late to demand. This was General Harrison s

In the next place, and on the other hand, General Harrison
was of opinion, that the arrest and detention of McLeod were

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 12 of 53)