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wise, it is quite manifest, that, by the device of sending the
application to a standing committee when that committee
was known to be favorable, and to a select committee when
the appropriate standing committee was known to be ad-

1 Mr. Speight. 2 ]\Xr. Fairfield.



FKENCH SPOLIATIONS. 65

verse, the merits of the appHcatlon, according to this test,
would every year become more apparent, and we should
ultimately have a mass of evidence in their favor that would
be irresistible. And here I will leave so much of the argu-
ment in favor of these claims as is founded upon the numer-
ical force of reports of committees.

But it is time to look into the merits of the application,
and I will do so in the briefest manner possible.

The most ancient treaties to be found on our statute-book
are a treaty of amity and commerce, and a treaty of alliance,
(I name them in the order in which they were concluded,)
between the United States and France ; or, to use the lan-
guage of the treaties, between the United States and his
most Christian Majesty. They were executed on the 6th of
February, 1778, and they preceded by a few months the
earliest treaty on record between us and any of the Indian
tribes on this continent. The dissolution of the political con-
nection between Great Britain and the United States had
been formally proclaimed to the world nineteen months be-
fore ; we were engaged in a determined struggle to main-
tain the independent attitude we had thus taken; and France,
by the treaty of alliance referred to, soon became a party to
the contest. I say she soon became a party to the contest,
because the treaty of alliance was not designed to be carried
immediately into full effect. It was in its main stipulations
conditional, eventual, prospective; — conditional, on the event
of a rupture between France and Great Britain ; or, if such
a rupture should not take place, then on the termination of
the war between Great Britain and the United States. It
was not designed to be made public; and when the Congress
of the United States, " in a moment of exultation," as Mar-
shall, in his " Life of Washington," says, published it with
the treaty of amity and commerce, which was an open treaty,
the publication was not approved by the Cabinet of Ver-
sailles; and he adds, "that treaty, being only eventual, ought
not to have been communicated to the public but by mutual

9



QQ SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

consent."-^ But the condition on which it depended was soon
fulfilled, and France became involved in our contest for inde-
pendence. Of the valuable assistance which she rendered
us, it is needless to speak. This portion of our history is not
likely to be effaced from our memory, nor, I trust, from the
memory of our descendants ; and especially all that concerns
the gallant Frenchmen, who, like Lafayette, periled their
lives and fortunes in our cause. I believe there was then,
as now, a strong chord of sympathy between the people of
the two countries, which I hope may never be broken. But
it is due to the impartiality of history to say, that the Gov-
ernment of France was not so clearly actuated by the purely
disinterested motives which have been ascribed to her. The
whole history of our negotiations with her in 1777 shows
that she had her own interest in view in the part she took in
our struggle for indej)endence, and that the encouragement
she gave us in the early stages of that contest varied with
the varying phases of our fortune. But disinterestedness
and generosity, I apprehend, are not the virtues of govern-
ments. They are peculiarly and eminently attributes of in-
dividual character. They are not even the virtues of men
in their associated state; and in the intercourse of nations
they dwindle to mere names. I believe the highest qualities
to be looked for in the communications of governments with
each other, are justice and courtesy.

The Senator from Delaware has referred to the epoch of
these treaties as " the darkest hour in our whole Revolution-
ary struggle." I have not been accustomed so to consider it.
They were concluded immediately after the campaign of
1777- I have always regarded this as the great campaign
of the war, and the period which succeeded, notwithstand-
ing the embarrassments and suffierings it brought, as one of
strong confidence in the ultimate success of the contest for
independence. The Senator has drawn a striking picture of
the privations and sufferings endured by the American army

1 Vol. I. p. 237.



FREI^CH SPOLIATIONS. Q^

at Valley Forge ; and I will not say that it is over-colored.
But as a picture of the epoch, it seems to me incomplete. I
certainly think the Senator has thrown in all the shadows,
and left out all the lights — nay, I will say, the brilliant
colors — which equally belong to a true picture of that
period. I will, with the permission of my honorable friend
from Delaware, borrow his canvas, and add what I consider
the omitted parts. The Senator from Delaware commenced
his sketch with the battle of Brandywine, which was fought
on the 11th of September. I will only go about four weeks
farther back. I will commence with the 16th of Aueust,
when Colonel Baum was defeated at Benninsfton b*^ Stark.
Colonel St. Leger, with his Indian allies, was driven from
Fort Stanwix and the Valley of the Mohawk on the S2d
August, after the bloody battle of Oriskany. Burgoyne,
on the 13th October, — more than a month after the battle
of Brandywine, — surrendered at Saratoga, with one of the
best-appointed armies Great Britain ever had on this con-
tinent ; and an American historian has denominated his sur-
render " the hinge on which the Revolution turned." Sir
Henry Clinton had failed in his attempt to cooperate with
the army of Burgoyne by the Hudson River, and had re-
turned to the city of New York ; and Washington, though
laboring under the greatest disadvantages, with an army
vastly inferior in numbers to that of his adversary, and ill-
provided with the munitions of war, had, by a series of
masterly movements and well-contested engagements, neu-
tralized, to a considerable extent, the operations of General
Howe in the Middle States. The British general had suc-
ceeded in occupying Philadelphia, and made it his winter-
quarters ; but when the intelligence reached Paris, Dr.
Franklin said, (and the saying, I believe, became a by-
word on both sides of the Atlantic,) that Philadelphia had
taken General Ho'.ve. History had pronounced the opera-
tions of that general barren victories ; and these were almost
the only shadows on the face of the campaign. Nearly



68 SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

everywhere else fortune had sided with the Americans.
The campaign was, with these and some other trifling ex-
ceptions, a series of successes, — decided, marked, brilliant
successes. They electrified the friends of the Revolution at
home and abroad, as the intelligence of the alliance between
France and the United States, according to the eloquent
description of the Senator from Delaware, electrified the
army of Washington. The United States, alone and almost
unaided, had achieved these great successes, and they had
placed the establishment of their independence, in the eyes
of the world, beyond all reasonable doubt. It was at this
juncture that the treaty of amity and commerce, and the
treaty of alliance, were concluded between France and the
United States. She came to our aid, not because she
thought us in the depths of distress, but in the hour of vic-
tory, when our triumph seemed no longer doubtful ; and
unless the testimony of all history is to be discarded, these
treaties, but for the successes of 1777? rnight never have
been formed. I do not say this for the purpose of with-
holding from the Government of France any merit which
may justly be claimed for it in siding with us. It was
doubtless actuated by an enlightened view of the interest of
that kingdom ; and it would have been too nmch to expect
it to take part with us in a matter so grave as that of a
dissension between the colonies of a European power and
the parent State, until it was quite manifest that the resist-
ance would be successful.

These treaties have become connected with the claims
under consideration, and the claimants would have us be-
lieve inseparably connected with them. I differ totally with
them in opinion ; and in order to explain the difference be-
tween us, it will be necessary to advert to the nature of the
treaties, between which and the claims before us this con-
nection is supposed to exist.

The treaties were designed, as their titles import, to es-
tablish and regulate commercial relations between the two



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS.



69



countries, and to form an alliance for purposes of defence.
The essential object of the treaty of alliance was to maintain
the independence of the United States. Its stipulations
were not limited to the contest then in progress. They were
only to take full effect on the contingency I have already
referred to. They were designed to extend far beyond that
contest. They expressly guaranteed forever, on the part of
France, the liberty, sovereignty, and independence of the
United States in government and commerce ; and on the
part of the United States, the possessions of the crown of
France in America. The stipulations of the treaty of alli-
ance were reciprocal, creating mutual advantages, and hold-
ing out the promise of reciprocal aid. The treaty of amity
and commerce was of the same character, embracing common
provisions for the mutual benefit of the contracting parties.
I desire to state thus distinctly the nature of these treaties,
in order that it may be kept steadily in view in the sequel.
In the language of an American historian, they placed the
two countries " on the footing of the most perfect equality
and reciprocity"; — the treaty of amity and commerce, by
conferring reciprocal commercial advantages, and the treaty
of alliance, by rendering the establishment of our indepen-
dence more easy and certain, by the expulsion of Great Brit-
ain from a large portion of this continent, diminishing the
strength of a dangerous rival of France, and opening a new
and vast field to her commerce and a valuable market for the
products of her industry. The amicable relations thus estab-
lished between the United States and France survived the
war of the Revolution, and continued uninterrupted until
1793. On the 28th of January of that year, France de-
clared war against Great Britain, and both these powers
were soon engaged in a series of unprovoked and unwarrant-
able depredations on our commerce. As early as the 9th of
May, but little more than three months after the declaration
of hostilities, France, by a decree of her National Conven-
tion, under the pretext that Great Britain had seized our



nQ SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

vessels laden with provisions and carried them into her
ports, taking the provisions for her own use at her own
price, and committed other violations of neutral rights, for-
mally declared that the French people were " no longer per-
mitted to fulfil, towards the neutral powers in general, the
vows [wishes] they have so often manifested for the full and
entire liberty of commerce and navigation." — I refer to page
43 of Senate Document No. 102, 19th Congress, 1st Session;
and all my references, unless otherwise expressed, will be to
this volume. — The decree then authorized French ships of
war to arrest and carry into the ports of the Republic neu-
tral vessels, laden wholly or in part either with articles of
provisions belonging to neutral nations and destined to an
enemy's port, or with merchandises belonging to an enemy ;
the merchandises to be confiscated, and the provisions to be
paid for according to their value in the place to which they
were destined. On the remonstrance of the Minister of the
United States, complaining of the decree as a violation of jus-
tice and good ftnth in respect to vessels of the United States,
(pages 41 and 44,) this decree was declared, on the 23d of
May, not to be applicable to them. On the 28th of the
same month it was again made applicable to them, so far as
to place in a state of provisional sequestration property seized
under the decree of the 9th (page 46). On the 1st of July,
vessels of the United States were again exempted from its
operation (page 50); and on the 27th of July, it was again
applied (pages 50 and 161); and I do not find that it was
ever afterwards removed.

When this decree was made, France, by the treaty of
amity and commerce with the United States, which was
still in force, had stipulated that free ships should make
free goods, or, in other words, that the property of an
enemy in the ship of a friend should be exempt from
seizure and confiscation. She had also specified by the
same treaty the articles which should be treated as con-
traband of war, and liable to seizure w^hen bound to an



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS. 7I

enemy's port ; ami from tliis specification provisions were
expressly excluded. I will not say that I regard the
seizure of provisions, with the promise of payment, equiv-
alent to treating them as contraband ; but, taken in con-
nection with the other parts of the decree, I consider the
conduct of France an open and j)alpable repudiation of
the treaty of 177^ ; and it was subsequently followed by
more flagrant violations of her engagements. The vessels
of the United States were seized, detained, condemned,
and confiscated, under the most unjustifiable pretexts, until
in July, 1796, (page 14-9,) she proclaimed, by a resolve
of her Executive Directory, the principle of treating neutral
vessels, as to confiscations, searches, and captures, in the
same manner as the English were allowed to treat them.
The practical effect of this doctrine was, to make the
example of Great Britain her own guide and her justifica-
tion in depredations on our commerce. The infraction of
the treaty of amity and commerce with us, under the decree
of the 9th of May, preceded any act, or certainly the knowl-
edge by France of any act, on our part in respect to the
belligerents, to which she could take exception. It was
equally unprovoked and unjustifiable.

On the '^2d of April, 1793, the President of the United
States, General Washington, issued his celebrated Procla-
mation of Neutrality, (page 248,) the chief object of which
was, to advise the citizens of the United States that we
were at peace with the belligerents, to warn them against
committing acts of hostility, and to point out the risks they
would incur by carrying contraband articles to the ports
of either. On the very day this proclamation was issued,
the Government was informed that Citizen Genet, as Min-
ister from France, had landed at Charleston, (page 51-,)
and shortly afterwards that he was engaged in fitting out
privateers to cruise against British vessels. He claimed
this right by virtue of the 22d article of the Treaty of
Amity and Commerce, which denied to foreign privateers,



7i2 SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

under commissions from powers at war with France or
the United States, the right to fit out ships in the ports
of either ; alleging that this denial of a right to others
was a virtual concession of it to France. This interpre-
tation of the article was uniformly denied, and all attempts
to give it effect resisted by the United States. The
article is in these words : —

" Art. 22. It shall not be lawful for any foreign privateers not
belonging to subjects of the Most Christian King, nor citizens of the
said United States, who have commissions from any other Prince or
State in enmity with either nation, to fit their ships in the ports of
either tlie one or the other of the aforesaid parties, to sell what they
have taken, or in any other manner to exchange their ships, merchan-
dises, or any other lading ; neither shall they be allowed even to pur-
chase victuals, except such as slioll be necessary for their going to the
next port of that Prince or State from which they have commissions."

Citizen Genet also claimed, under the 8th article of
a convention between the United States and France, ex-
ecuted in November, 1788, defining the duties and privi-
leges of consuls, the exclusive right of deciding, through
the consulates established by France in the United States,
whether vessels taken by her cruisers were lawful prize
or not. This was virtually claiming for the French con-
sulates the powers of courts of admiralty to be exercised
within the jurisdiction of the United States. This assump-
tion was also denied by us. We did not claim the right
of trying in our courts the validity of captures made on
the high seas by France ; but we denied the right of France
to determine such questions within the United States, in-
sisting that they belonged to the sovereign of the captor,
and that resort must be had to his courts. We did, how-
ever, claim that the United States were bound to protect
vessels within their own waters ; and where captures were
made by French cruisers within our jurisdiction, that it
belonged to the United States to punish these violations
of our sovereignty, and to restore the property thus ille-
gally captured. The cogency of this reasoning will be best



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS. yg

understood from an examination of the article, which is as
follows : —

" Art. 8. The consuls or vice-consuls shall exercise police over all
the vessels of their respective nations, and shall have on board the said
vessels all power and jurisdiction in civil matters, in all the disputes
which may there arise ; they shall have an entire inspection over the
said vessels, their crew, and the changes and substitutions there to be
made. For which piirpose they may go on board the said vessels
whenever they may judge it necessary. Well understood that the func-
tions hereby allowed shall be confined to the interior of the vessels,
and that they shall not take place in any case which shall have any in-
terference with the police of the ports where the said vessels shall be."

Another claim on the part of Citizen Genet was, that
the 17th article of the treaty gave the armed vessels of
France the privilege of sending their prizes into the United
States, and selling them free of duty, though, as Mr.
Jefferson said, the privilege of selling prizes in the United
States was not given at all. But the whole groundwork
of the claim was shown by Mr. Jefferson to be unten-
able, by asserting and maintaining the construction that
the 17th article was intended only to confer the right of
sending their prizes, in the first instance, wheresoever they
pleased, without paying duty, and of departing to some
other place named in their commissions within the juris-
diction of their sovereign, where the validity of the capture
was to be finally adjudged. The article is in the follow-
ing words : —

" Art. 17. It shall be lawful for the ships of war of either party,
and privateers, freely to carry whithersoever they please the ships and
goods taken from their enemies, without being obliged to pay any duty
to the officers of the admiralty or any other judges ; nor shall such
prizes be arrested or seized when they come to or enter the ports of
either party ; nor shall the searchers or other officers of those places
search the same, or make examination concerning the lawfulness of
such prizes ; but they may hoist sail at any time, and depart and carry
theu- prizes to the places expressed in their commissions, which the
commanders of such ships of war shall be obliged to show ; on the con-
trary, no shelter or refuge shall be given in their ports to such as shall
have made prize of the subjects, people, or property of either of the
10



(74, SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

parties ; but if sucli shall come in, being foi'cecl by stress of weatber,
or the danger of the sea, all proper means shall be vigorously used,
that they go out and retire from thence as soon as possible."

Citizen Genet also complained, that, by the adoption of
the principle that free ships make free goods, in the treaty
of 17785 France could not take out of vessels of the
United States property belonging to the subjects of Great
Britain, then her enemy ; while the commercial intercourse
between the United States and Great Britain being reg-
ulated by no such treaty-stipulation, but being subject to
the rule of international law, as it was understood at the
time, that enemy's property may be taken in a neutral
bottom, Great Britain might take out of vessels of the
United States property belonging to the citizens of France ;
and he insisted that we were bound to prevent it. Mr.
Jefferson replied, by asserting the principle of the law of
nations as before stated, and insisting that the inconven-
ience to France, if there was any, resulted from the fact
that the treaty-stipulation between her and the United
States was an exception to the rule, and that she had no
iust cause to complain of an agreement to which she had
voluntarily consented.

I refer to these complaints of Citizen Genet as the
earliest evidences of the dissatisfaction with which France
regarded the position of neutrality taken by the Govern-
ment of the United States. She complained of us as bav-
in of violated the enffaofements into which we had entered
by the treaties of ITV^, and made our refusal to comply
with her requisitions the pretext for her depredations on
our commerce. But we have seen that the first infrac-
tion of those treaties was committed by herself, through
the decree of the 9th of May, 1793, before she knew we
had taken such a position of neutrality ; and I believe it
to be difficult for any one, who examines carefully the
able expositions made by Mr. Jefferson and INIr. Ran-
dolph, of our obligations arising under those treaties, to



FRENCH SPOLIATIONS. "^5

charge us with any violation of our engagements. On
the other liand, the spoMations committed by France on
our commerce were in open and palpable violation of the
stipulations of the treaty, — so much so, that she did not
always even pretend to excuse them, except by the pre-
text of her necessities.

I will not detain the Senate by entering into a detail
of these aggressions, perpetrated at last without even a
color of justification, and in disregard of the most per-
severing and earnest remonstrances on the part of the
United States. It suffices to say, that they commenced
in 179-3, and continued, with occasional intermissions, till
1800. During much of this period, France, it is true,
protested that she had no unfriendly designs in respect to
the United States, and that she was willing to make rep-
aration where it was justly due. But these protestations,
instead of palliating her conduct, served but to aggravate
and give point to her depredations. I desire to say, in
reference to all these aggressions, that they were com-
mitted during a period of political agitation in France,
which shook the fabric of society to its foundation, and
that they are to be regarded, in some degree, as the fruit
of the disturbed order of things under which they occurred.

The treaty of November, 1794*? between the United
States and Great Britain, (commonly called Jay's Treaty,)
gave new offence to France. She complained that we
had abandoned in that treaty the principle that free ships
make free goods ; that, in the stipulations relating to con-
traband of war, a rule had beeii adopted different from
that contained in our treaty of 1778, with her ; and that
we had thus violated the principles of reciprocity, which
we were bound to observe towards her. The answer
to this complaint was, that in this treaty we had adopted,
in the two particulars referred to, the rules of law rec-
ognized by civilized States ; and that we had specially
stipulated that nothing contained in it should be construed



^Q SPEECHES IN THE SENATE.

to Impair our obligations to other Powers under preexist-
ing" treaties.

On the 11th of December, 1796, Mr. Monroe, our
Minister to France, after presenting his letter of recall,
and the credentials of his successor, Mr. Charles Cotes-
worth Pinckney, to the Executive Directory, was noti-
fied that the Directory would " no longer recognize nor
receive a minister plenipotentiary from the United States,
until after a reparation of the grievances demanded of the
American Government, and which the French Republic
has a right to expect." (Page 150.J

On the 11th February, 1797? two months afterwards, the
Secretary of State of the United States wrote to Mr.



Online LibraryJohn A. (John Adams) DixSpeeches and occasional addresses (Volume 1) → online text (page 7 of 40)