« PreviousContinue »
clusions, yet it is not equally true that the article is of no importance. The friends of humanity at least find reason to judge otherwise of it. It is matter of sufficient notoriety that previous to the Treaty of Washington, Great Britain was most earnestly engaged in endeavouring to carry into effect the suppression of that traffic in human beings which all Christian powers had concurred in pronouncing detestable, but which, to a fearful extent, was still successfully carried on, in consequence of the persons fraudulently engaged in it hoisting a flag which did not belong to them, to secure them from being overhauled by British cruisers. Now, if Great Britain were to permit vessels thus atrociously and illegally employed to sail on with impunity, if she were to continue to hold the language of freedom to the persecuted Africans, and yet permit them constantly to be carried by thousands into unmitigated and hopeless slavery, what would it be but to connive at, and indirectly participate in, these criminal enterprises. Those, therefore, who would pretend to establish as a general principle, that vessels under strong suspicion of being slavers, are not to be visited for the mere purpose of ascertaining whether they do or not belong to the country whose flag they hoist, say in effect that
the traffic in slaves is not to be interrupted, and therefore that it shall be pursued with impunity; for nothing is more clear than that if any one flag is to be exempted from visitation, that particular flag will always be hoisted upon occasions when the vessel cannot avoid being overhauled: the American flag would always be hoisted when the pursuer was a British cruiser, and vice versd. But the parties interested, from various motives, in cramping and impeding the execution of the humane purpose of our country, have constantly endeavoured to excite a spurious alarm in the sensitive feelings of their fellow-countrymen, by confounding a friendly reciprocal visitation in time of peace, with the belligerent right of search. Now this right of visitation, the exercise of which is so evidently necessary for the suppression of the trade in human beings, is an act altogether distinct, both in its nature and avowed purpose, from that international right of search which is incident to the justifiable capture of enemies' property on board of neutral vessels; yet, nevertheless, is so subject to misrepresentation, that in countries where an abhorrence of slavery is not inherent, the most jealous national feelings are easily aroused by it, even in the bosoms of those who, in calmer moments, would approve of the high motive which sanctions it. This is E
the difficulty which has frequently made the justifiable conduct of British cruisers obnoxious to the Americans, and has not only embarrassed the relations between the two Governments, but clogged the exertions of Great Britain to give full effect to the extinction of the slave trade on the coast of Africa. Of late the subject has excited a great deal of attention, the American Government having decidedly objected to a friendly visitation of their flag, with or without the consent of their commanders, or under any circumstances whatsoever: so that if a vessel under every accumulated suspicion of being engaged in the slave trade, were to be met on the high seas carrying the American flag, and upon visitation by a British cruizer, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the flag was run up fraudulently or not, was found to be a bond fide American vessel, with a cargo of slaves on board, the act of visitation was to be deemed “a violation of national rights and sovereignty, and the incontestible principles of national law*.” But the letter which the Earl of Aberdeen addressed to Mr. Everett, December 20, 1841, is well known to contain an unanswerable refutation of a mode of reasoning which, if it were
* Mr. Stevenson's Letter to the Earl of Aberdeen, Oct. 21, 1841.
admitted, would give effectual protection to vessels employed in the slave-trade, as well as to those pursuing a career of higher infamy. That letter is indeed such a perfect exposition of the desire of Great Britain to regulate her just protection of the rights of humanity, by a most careful respect for the interests and honour of other powers, that a few of the most material extracts from it will now be inserted. “The Undersigned again renounces, as he “has already done, in the most explicit terms, “any right on the part of the British Govern“ ment to search American vessels in time of “peace. The right of search, except when “specially conceded by Treaty, is a purely “belligerent right, and can have no existence “ on the high seas during peace. “The Undersigned apprehends, however, “ that the right of search is not confined to “the verification of the nationality of the vessel, “but also extends to the object of the voyage, “ and the nature of the cargo. The sole pur“ pose of the British cruizers is to ascertain “whether the vessels they meet with are really “American or not. The right asserted has, in “truth, no resemblance to the right of search, “either in principle or in practice. It is simply “a right to satisfy the party who has a legiti“mate interest in knowing the truth, that the “vessel actually is what her colours announce. “This right we concede as freely as we exercise. “The British cruizers are not instructed to “ detain American vessels under any circum“stances whatever; on the contrary, they are “ ordered to abstain from all interference with “ them, be they slavers or otherwise. But where “reasonable suspicion exists that the American “flag has been abused, for the purpose of ‘covering the vessel of another nation, it would “appear scarcely credible, had it not been made “manifest by the repeated protestations of their “representative, that the Government of the “ United States, which have stigmatized and “ abolished the trade, should object to the “adoption of such means as are indispensably “necessary for ascertaining the truth. “The Undersigned had contended, in his “ former note, that the legitimate inference “from the arguments of Mr. Stevenson would “practically extend even to the sanction of “ piracy”, when the persons engaged in it should
* This passage has, within a very brief period, received an awful commentary in the unparalleled transactions which, according to the American newspapers, took place on the 1st of December, 1842, on board the United States' national brig, Somers, on her return home from the Coast of Africa. This vessel, it is alleged, had, before leaving New York, shipped some men who had formerly served on board of slavers, and that a youth, only aged 19, who was a midship