Page images
PDF
EPUB

places, subservient to the impracticable plan of Chap. vi. starving an immense agricultural nation, was 1793( resisted with great strength of reasoning by the administration; and added not inconsiderably to the resentment felt by the body of the people.*

Hostilities on the ocean disclosed still another source of irritation, which added its copious stream to the irresistible torrent which threatened to sweep America into the war that desolated Europe.

The practice of manning their fleet by impressment, was one to which the British government had long been accustomed to resort. The exercise of this prerogative had not been confined to the land. Merchantmen in their ports, and even at sea, were visited, and mariners were taken out of them, to be employed in the royal navy. The profits of trade enabling neutral merchants to give high wages, British sailors were tempted in great numbers to enter their service; but the neutral ship furnished no protection. Disregarding the bottom in which they sailed, the officers of- the navy impressed them wherever found, often leaving scarcely hands enough to navigate the vessel into port.

To the abuses to which such usages are liable, the Americans were peculiarly exposed. Descended from the same ancestors, and speaking the same language, the distinction between them and the English, though in general sufficiently

See Note JVo. XI. at the end of the volume.

Chap. vi. marked, was not always so visible as to prevent 1793. unintentional error; nor were the captains of ships of war at all times very solicitous to avoid mistake. Native Americans therefore were frequently impressed, and compelled to serve against the French republic.

The British cabinet could not attempt so excessive an outrage on the sovereignty of the United States as a justification of this measure would have been. A right to impress real American citizens was disavowed; and a willingness to discharge them, on the establishment of their citizenship, was officially expressed. Buttimewas necessary to procure the requisite testimonials; and those officers who had notoriously offended in this respect, experienced no disapprobation on the part of their government which might deter them from a repetition of the offence. There was too, one class of citizens, concerning whose rights a difference of opinion prevailed, which has not even yet been adjusted. These were British subjects who had migrated to, and been adopted by the United States. In Britain, as in most other governments, the principle had, from time immemorial, been asserted, that a subject could never, by his own act, divest himself of those obligations which were created at his birth. The right therefore to impress persons of this description was perseveringly maintained.

The continuance of the Indian war added still another item to this catalogue of discontents.

The efforts of the United States to make a treaty with the savages of the Miamis had proved abortive. The negotiations, after being protracted Chap. Vi. through the summer, terminated unfavourably. 179$.

In the spring, the American commissioners arrived at Niagara, where they experienced from general Simcoe the governor of Upper Canada, a polite, and apparently, a friendly reception: but the Indians could not meet them until July. General Wayne was making such dispositions of his army as would be necessary for the prosecution of a vigorous campaign in the event of an unfavourable issue to the negotiation; and the hostile chiefs were watching his motions instead of attending the treaty. Until his movements should be suspended, they refused to meet the agents of the United States; and after they had assembled, they demanded that the Ohio should be the boundary between themselves and the whites. To this demand it was impossible to accede. An extensive tract of country northwest of that river had been purchased at the treaty of fort Harmar, a part of which had been appropriated in satisfaction of military services performed during the war of the revolution, and a part had been sold to individuals. The American commissioners were instructed to contend for the lines established by that treaty; and, if the money paid for the purchase of the country should be deemed inadequate, or if other tribes than those who sold should appear to have an interest in it, to make a liberal additional compensation for a full cession of all rights whatsoever. These propositions, as well as others requiring the Indians to propose some line less favourable to the United States than that agreed

[graphic]

Chap. vi. upon at fort Harmar, were finally rejected, and 17S3. the savages adhered inflexibly to their claim that the Ohio should be the boundary.

It was extensively believed in America, and information collected from the Indians countenanced the opinion, that they were encouraged by the government of Canada to persevere in this claim, and that the treaty was defeated by British influence. The conviction was universal that this influence would continue so long as the posts south of the lakes should be occupied by British troops; and the uneasiness which the detention of those posts created, daily acquired strength. Unfortunately, the original pretext for detaining them was not yet removed. The courts of the United States had not yet declared that British debts contracted before the war were recoverable. In one of the circuits a decision had been recently made, partly favourable and partly unfavourable to the claim of the creditor. To this decision writs of error had been brought, and the case was depending before the supreme court. The motives therefore originally assigned for holding the posts on the lakes still remained; and as it was a maxim with the executive " to place an adversary clearly in the wrong," and as it was expected that the existing impediments to a fulfilment of the treaty on their part would soon be done away, it was thought unadvisable, had the military force of the union even been equal to the object, to seize those posts until their surrender could be required in consequence of a complete execution of the treaty. In the mean time, the British minister was ear

V

nestly pressed upon the subject. This prudent Chap.vi. conduct was far from being satisfactory to the 1793. people. Estimating at nothing, infractions made by themselves, and rating highly those committed by the opposite party, they would, in any state of things, have complained loudly of this act of the British government. But, agitated as they were by the various causes which were perpetually acting on their passions, it is not wonderful that an increased influence was given to this measure, that it should be considered as conclusive testimony of British hostility, and should add to the bitterness with which the government was reproached for attempting a system "alike friendly and impartial to the belligerent powers."

The causes of discontent which were furnished by Spain, though less the theme of public declamation, continued to be considerable.

The American ministers at Madrid could make no progress in their negotiation. The question of limits therefore remained unsettled, and the Mississippi was still closed against the Americans. In addition to these subjects of disquiet, the southern states were threatened with war from the Creeks and Cherokees, who were, with good reason, believed to be excited to hostility by the Spanish government. Of these irritating differences, the occlusion of the Mississippi was far the most operative, and the most embarrassing. The imagination, especially when warmed by discontent, bestows on a good which is with-held, advantages much greater than the reality will justify; and the people of the western country were

« PreviousContinue »