Page images

Chap, Vii. foreign bottoms, which, though hitherto inopc1793. rative in fact, was irritating in its tendencies.

It was also a singular trait in the character of the commerce between the United States and Great Britain, that of the commodities of the former imported into the latter, a great proportion was re-exported, subject of course to the charges of intermediate deposit and double voyage;... charges which were termed useless, and a continuance of which was dictated neither by reason nor by national interest.

Having reviewed the restrictions on the commerce and navigation of the United States, the attention of congress was next directed to the best mode of removing or counteracting them. As to commerce, two methods occurred. First. By friendly arrangements with the several nations with whom these restrictions exist: or 2ndly, by separate legislative acts for countervailing their effects.

A decided preference was given to friendly arrangements. "Instead of embarrassing commerce under piles of regulating laws, duties and prohibitions," it was desirable that it should "be relieved from all its shackles in all parts of the world. Would even a single nation begin with the United States this system of free commerce, it would be advisable to begin it with that nation. But should any nation, contrary to the wishes of America, suppose it may better find its advantages by continuing its system of prohibitions, duties, and regulations, it would behove the United States to protect their citizens, their

commerce, and navigation, by counter prohibi- Chap, Vh. tions, duties, and regulations, also." 1793.

The navigation of the United States was said to involve still higher considerations. As a branch of industry, it was valuable; but as a resource of defence, it was essential.

After noticing its value as a branch of industry, the report proceeded to add: "but it is as a resource for defence that our navigation will admit neither neglect nor forbearance. The position and circumstances of the United States leave them nothing to fear on their land board, and nothing to desire beyond their present rights. But on their sea board they are open to injury, and they have there too a commerce which must be protected. This can only be done by possessing a respectable body of citizen seamen, and of artists and establishments in readiness for ship building.

"Were the ocean, which is the common property of all, open to the industry of all, so that every person and vessel should be free to take employment wherever it could be found, the United States would certainly not set the example of appropriating to themselves, exclusively, any portion of the common stock of occupation. But if particular nations grasp at undue shares, and more especially if they seize on the means of the United States to convert them into aliment for their own strength, and withdraw them entirely from the support of those to whom they belong, defensive and protecting measures become necessary on the part of the nation whose marine resources are thus invaded, or it will be disarmed Chap, vii. of its defence, its productions will lie at the mercy 1793. of the nation which has possessed itself exclusively of the means of carrying them, and its politics may be influenced by those who command its commerce."

After pressing this argument much further, the report proceeds to recommend the principle of retaliating regulations and prohibitions, which should be co-extensive with those experienced by the United States; and which should apply to the colonial, as well as European possessions, of any power which might become its object.

This system was discussed at considerable length, and the report was concluded in the following manner.

"France has, of her own accord, proposed negotiations for improving, by a new treaty on fair and equal principles, the commercial relations of the two countries. But her internal disturbances have hitherto prevented the prosecution of them to effect, though we have had repeated assurances of a continuance of the disposition.

"Proposals of friendly arrangements have been made on our part, by the present government to that of Great Britain, as the message * states; but being already on as good a footing in law, and a better in fact, than the most favoured nation, they have not as yet discovered any disposition to have it meddled with.

"We have no reason to conclude that friendly arrangements would be declined by other nations

* Of February 1791

with whom we have such commercial intercourse Chap. Vh. as may render them important. In the mean 179s. while, it would rest with the wisdom of congress to determine whether, as to those nations, they will not surcease ex parte regulations, on the reasonable presumption that they will concur in doing whatever justice and moderation dictate should be done."

A letter accompanying this report states, that it had been prepared in time to have been laid before the preceding congress, since which, some alterations of the condition of American commerce with foreign nations had taken place. France had proposed to enter into a new treaty of commerce on liberal principles, and had, in the mean time, relaxed some of the restraints mentioned in the report. Spain had established New Orleans, Pensacola, and St. Augustine, into free ports for the vessels of friendly nations having treaties of commerce with her, and had excluded American rice from her dominions. The circumstances of the war had given them free access to the West India islands, but had drawn on their vessels vexations and depredations of the most serious nature.

On the 30th of December, an additional report was made, communicating the copy of a decree made by the national convention of France, authorizing provisions and certain other articles to be imported into the French West India islands, in American vessels, free from duty; the copy of the Spanish decree mentioned in the first report; and noticing an act of the British parliament, the Chap. Vii. effect of which was, to convert the proclamation

1793. regulating the direct intercourse of the United States with their West Indian islands into a standing law. This act had passed previous to his first report, but had escaped his attention.

This was the last official act of the secretary of state. Early in the preceding summer, he had signified to the president his intention to retire in

Hemigtu. September from the public service; and he had with some reluctance consented to postpone the execution of this intention to the close of the year. Retaining his purpose, he resigned his office on the last day of December.

This gentleman withdrew from political station at a moment when he stood particularly high in the esteem of his countrymen. His fixed opposition to the financial schemes which had been proposed by the secretary of the treasury, and approved by the legislative and executive departments of the government; his ardent and undisguised attachment to the revolutionary party in France; the dispositions which he was declared to possess in regard to Great Britain; and the popularity of his opinions respecting the constitution of the United States; had devoted to him that immense party whose sentiments were supposed to comport with his, on most, or all of these interesting subjects. To the opposite party he had of course, become particularly unacceptable. But the publication of his correspondence with Mr. Genet dissipated much of the prejudice which had been excited against him. He had, in that correspondence, maintained with great ability

« PreviousContinue »