Page images

publication of this decree, shall be admitted into any port.

“7. Every vessel that, by a false declaration, contravenes the foregoing disposition, shall be seized, and the ship and corgo confiscated as English property.

“8. [This article states, that the councils of prizes at Paris and Milan, shall have recognizance of what may arise in the empire and Italy under that present decree.]

• 9. Communications of this decree shall be made to the kings of Spain, Naples, Holland, Etruria, and to our other allies, whose subjects, as well as ours, are victims to the injuries and barbarity of the English maritime code.

“10. Our ministers of foreign relations, &c. are charged with the execution of the present decree.

NAPOLEON.' The injustice of this decree in its application to neutrals is manifest. For twelve months it was not enforced against American vessels, and the first condemnation of the French courts was accompanied with a recommendation of restitution. The condemnation of our vessels under this decree have in the end been paid for by France and her allies, as they were acts inconsistent with justice, and with the great principles of the Berlin decree, which acknowledged the perfect immunity of pri

vate persons and property, of enemies and others, at sea and on land during war. This noble principle still stands as a solemn admission on the part of France and her allies, of the soundness of our doctrine and a monument of the improvement of the age in ethical science and international law.

This entire exemption of non-combatants and their property from capture at sea, is the rule of international law sanctioned by reason and humanity. This improvement of the law of nations being an advance upon the principle of the treaty of Utretcht, and coming up to that of our first treaty with Prussia, will by its establishment supercede the old rule promulgated at Utretcht and continued for a long period.

The object of the United States and Prussia, in the liberal commercial provisions of the treaty of 1785, and in the exemption of private persons and property in war by sea and land from capture, by one of the articles, was noble and humane. The United States government had instructed our ministers to insert in all European treaties of commerce and navigation with our republic, provisions substantially like those in the Prussian treaty. The reasons assigned by Franklin, Adams and Jefferson in their report for the new improvements in public law in that treaty, are given by them in these words : “ By the original law of

nations, war and extirpation were the punishment of injury; humanizing by degrees, it admitted slavery instead of death; a farther step was, the exchange of prisoners instead of slavery; another, to respect more the property of private persons under conquest, and be content with acquired dominion. Why should not this law of nations go on improving? Ages have intervened between its several steps, but as knowledge of late increases rapidly, why should not those steps be quickened? why should it not be agreed to as the future law of nations, that in war hereafter, the following descriptions of men should be undisturbed, have the protection of both sides, and be permitted to follow their employments in security, viz:

“1st. Cultivators of the earth, because they labor for the subsistence of mankind.

“2d. Fishermen, for the same reason.

"3d. Merchants and traders in unarmed ships, who accommodate different nations by communicating and exchanging the necessaries and conveniences of life.

6 4th. Artists and mechanics inhabiting and working in open towns.

“ It is hardly necessary to add that the hospitals of enemies should be unmolested ; that they ought to be assisted.

“ If rapine is abolished, one of the encouragements to war is taken



peace therefore more likely to continue and be lasting.

The practice of robbing merchants on the high seas, a remnant of the ancient piracy, though it may be accidentally beneficial to particular persons, is far from being profitable to all engaged in it, or to the nation that authorizes it.” They add a strong condemnation of privateering. (See Diplomatic Correspondence vol. 2d, p. 237–8.)

Baron De Thulemeier, the Prussian minister, in a letter to our negotiators of December 10th, 1784, referring to the same subject said: “The 23d Article is dictated by the purest zeal in favor of humanity. Nothing can be more just than your reflections on the noble disinterestedness of the United States of America. It is to be desired that these sublime sentiments may be adopted by all the maritime powers without any exceptions. The calamities of war will be much softened and hos. tilities, often provoked by cupidity and the inordinate love of gain, will be of more rare occurrence.” (Ib. vol. 2d, p. 257.)

Such were the reasons for those new and im. proved principles of the law of nations, which call. ed forth the admiration of Washington and Napoleon, and in the end will secure the assent of all Christian nations.

The treaty of 1785 was truly declared by Washington in a letter to Lafayette, to form a new and happy era, marking the progress of nations 10wards a permanent state of peace. (See Spark's Writings of Washington, vol. 9th, p. 193—4.)

The French Republic, for a moment, became enamoured with our idea of limiting war to martial combatants, to public property and fortified places, and she urged upon England, by M. Chauvelin, the French minister, the adoption of this improvement in public law.

Our American authorities of the greatest value are to the same effect. Benjamin Franklin, one of the first philosophers, statesmen and philanthropists of which any age can boast, has, with his distinguished associates Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both afterwards presidents of the United States, given in our treaty with Prussia a solemn sanction to this doctrine. Speaking on the subject of captures of private persons and property in war, Franklin thus expressed his opinion: “It is time, it is high time, for the sake of humanity that a stop were put to this enormity." Again insisting on the introduction of a new rule of public law prohibiting such captures and privateering he said : “ This will be a happy improvement in the law of nations."

Hugh S. Legare, late Attorney General of the

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »