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sion,” now abandoned with so much scorn, or this claim, said, reproachfully, to have been first set up by the late administration, originated with George Washington. He put his own hand to it. He insisted on it; and he would not treat with England on the subject of the colonial trade without considering it.
In his instructions to Mr. Morris, under his own hand, in October, 1789, President Washington says:
“ Let it be strongly impressed on your mind, that the privilege of carrying our productions in our vessels to their islands, and bringing in return the productions of those islands to our own ports and markets, is regarded here as of the highest importance; and you will be careful not to countenance any idea of our dispensing with it in a treaty. Ascertain, if possible, their views on this subject; for it would not be expedient to commence negotiations without previously having good reasons to expect a satisfactory termination of them.”
Observe, Sir, that President Washington, in these instructions, is not speaking of the empty and futile right of sending our own vessels without cargoes to the British West Indies ; but he is speaking of the substantial right of carrying our own products to the islands, for sale and for consumption there. And whether these products were shut out by a positive act of Parliament, or by a tariff of duties absolutely and necessarily prohibitory, could make no difference. The object was to provide by treaty, if it could be done, that our products should find their way, effectually and profitably, into the markets of the British West Indies. This was General Washington's object. This was the “pretension” which he set up.
It is well known, Sir, that no satisfactory arrangement was made in General Washington's time respecting our trade with the British West Indies. But the breaking out of the French Revolution, and the wars which it occasioned, were causes which of themselves opened the ports of the West Indies. During the long continuance of those wars, our vessels, with cargoes of our own products, found their way into the British West India Islands, under a practical relaxation of the British colonial system. While this condition of things lasted, we did very well without a particular treaty. But on the general restoration of peace, in 1815, Great Britain returned to her foriner system; then the islands were shut against us; and then it became necessary to treat on the subject, and our ministers were, successively, instructed to treat, from that time forward. And, Sir, I undertake to say, that neither Mr. Madison, who was then President, nor his successor, Mr. Monroe, gave any authority or permission to any American minister to abandon this pretension, or even to waive it or postpone it, and make a treaty without providing for it. No such thing. On the contrary, it will appear, I think, if we look through papers which have been sent to the Senate, that, under Mr. Madison's administration, our minister in England was fully instructed on this subject, and expected to press it. As to Mr. Monroe, I have means of being informed, in a manner not liable to mistake, that he was on this subject always immovable. He would not negotiate without treating on this branch of the trade; nor did I ever understand, that, in regard to this matter, there was any difference of opinion whatever among the gentlemen who composed Mr. Monroe's cabinet. Mr. Adams, as Secretary of State, wrote the despatches and the instructions; but the policy was the policy of the whole administration, as far as I ever understood. Certain it is, it was the settled and determined policy of Mr. Monroe himself. Indeed, Sir, so far is it from being true that this pretension originated with Mr. Adams, that it was in his administration that, for the first time, permission was given, under very peculiar circumstances, and with instructions, to negotiate a treaty, waiving this part of the question. This has been already alluded to, and fully explained, by the honorable member from Kentucky.
So, then, Sir, this pretension, asserted in the instructions to have been first set up by the late administration, is shown to have had President Washington for its author, and to have received the countenance of every President who had occasion to act on the subject, from 1789 down to the time of the present administration.
But this is not all. Congress itself has sanctioned the same “ pretension.” The act of the 1st of March, 1823, makes it an express condition upon which, and upon which alone, our ports shall be opened to British vessels and cargoes from the West Indies on paying the same duties as our vessels and cargoes, that our products shall be admitted into those islands without paying any other or higher duties than shall be paid on similar productions coming from elsewhere. All this will be seen by reference to the third section of that act. Now remember, Sir, that this act of Congress passed in March, 1823, two years before the commencement of Mr. Adams's administration. The act originated in the Senate. The honorable Senator from Maryland,* who has spoken on this subject to-day, was then a member of the Senate, and took part in the discussion of this very bill ; and he supported it, and voted for it. It passed both houses, without material opposition in either. How is it possible, after referring to this law of 1823, to find any apology for the assertion contained in these instructions, that this claim is a pretension first set up by Mr. Adams's administration? How is it possible that this law could have been overlooked or not remembered? In short, Sir, with any tolerable acquaintance with the history of the negotiations of the United States or their le islation, how are we to account for it that such an assertion as these instructions contain should have found its way into them?
But the honorable member from Georgia asks why we lay all this to the charge of the Secretary, and not to the charge of the President. The answer is, the President's conduct is not before us. We are not, and cannot become, his accusers, even if we thought there were any thing in his conduct which gave cause for accusation. But the Secretary is before us. Not brought before us by any act of ours, but placed before us by the President's nomination. On that nomination we cannot decline to act. We must either confirm or reject it. As to the notion that the Secretary of State was but the instrument of the President, and so not responsible for these instructions, I reject at once all such defence, excuse, or apology, or whatever else it may be called. If there be any thing in a public despatch derogatory to the honor of the country, as I think there is in this, it is enough for me that I see whose hand is to it. If it be said, that the signer was only an instrument in the hands of others, I reply, that I cannot concur in conferring a high public diplomatic trust on any one who has consented, under any circumstances, to be an instrument in such a case.
The honorable member from Georgia asks, also, why we have slept on this subject, and why, at this late day, we bring forward
complaints. Sir, nobody has slept upon it. Since these instructions have been made public, there has been no previous opportunity to discuss them. The honorable member will recollect, that the whole arrangement with England was made and completed before these instructions saw the light. The President opened the trade by his proclamation, in October, 1830; but these instructions were not publicly sent to Congress till long afterwards, that is, till January, 1831. They were not then sent with any view that either house should act upon the subject, for the whole business was already settled. For one, I never saw the instructions, nor heard them read, till January, 1831; nor did I ever hear them spoken of as containing these obnoxious passages. This, then, is the first opportunity for considering these instructions.
at they have been subjects of complaint out doors since they were made public, and of much severe animadversion, is certainly true. But, until now, there never has been an opportunity naturally calling for their discussion here. The honorable gentleman may be assured, that, if such occasion had presented itself, it would have been embraced.
I entirely forbear, Mr. President, from going into the merits of the late arrangement with England, as a measure of commercial policy. Another time will come, I trust, more suitable for that discussion. For the present, I confine myself strictly to such parts of the instructions as I think plainly objectionable, whatever may be the character of the agreement between us and England, as matter of policy. I repeat, Sir, that I place the justification of my vote on the party tone and party character of these instructions. Let us ask, If such considerations as these are to be addressed to a foreign government, what is that foreign government to expect in return? The ministers of foreign courts will not bestow gratuitous favors, nor even gratuitous smiles, on American parties. What, then, I repeat, is to be the return ? What is party to do for that foreign government which has done, is expected to do, or is asked to do, something for party? What is to be the consideration paid for this foreign favor ? Sir, must not every man see, that any mixture of such causes or motives of action in our foreign intercourse is as full of danger as it is of dishonor?
I will not pursue the subject. I am anxious only to make
my own ground fully and clearly understood; and willingly leave every other gentleman to his own opinions. And I cheerfully submit my own vote to the opinions of the country. I willingly leave it to the people of the United States to say, whether I am acting a factious and unworthy part, or the part of a true-hearted American, in withholding my approbation from the nomination of a gentleman as minister to England, who has already, as it appears to me, instructed his predecessor at the same court to carry party considerations, to argue party merits, and solicit party favors, at the foot of the British throne.
Note. — The circumstance did not occur to Mr. Webster's recollection at the moment he was speaking, but the truth is, that Mr. Van Buren was himself a member of the Senate at the very time of the passing of the law of 1823, and Mr. McLane was at the same time a member of the House of Representatives. So that Mr. Van Buren did himself certainly concur in setting up this pretension,” two years before Mr. Adams became President.