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Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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These sentiments were received with loud and protracted cheering from both sides of the House. Lord John Russell, Mr. Hume, Mr. O'Connell, and others expressed their cordial concurrence. The bill was received in the Upper House with equal unanimity. It- has effectually answered its purpose, as no offence of the kind has since occurred, excepting the act of a lunatic, who about twenty years ago struck Her Majesty with a cane, and who escaped a public whipping out of regard to the feelings of his family and connections, and the attempt of O'Connor, on February 29, 1872.

Serious differences between England and the United States of America occupied the attention of both Governments during the years 1841 and 1842, and were brought to a satisfactory termination by the Ashburton treaty, referred to in the royal speech at the opening of Parliament in 1843. The questions at issue, which were keenly debated on both sides, related to the right of search and the Oregon boundary. The Government of Great Britain regarding the slave-trade as an enormous evil and a scandal to the civilised world, entered into arrangements with other nations for its suppression. For that purpose treaties were concluded, securing to each of the contracting parties the mutual right of search under certain limitations. The United States Government declined to be a party to these treaties, and refused to have their vessels searched or interfered with in time of peace upon the high seas under any pretence whatever. Notwithstanding these treaties, however, and the costly measures which England had recourse to for suppressing the nefarious traffic in human beings, the slave trade was carried on even by some of the nations that had agreed to the treaties; and in order to do this more effectually they adopted the flag of the United States. For the purpose of preventing this abuse, England claimed the right of search or of visitation to ascertain the national character of the vessels navigating the African Seas, and detaining their papers to see if they were legally provided with documents entitling them to the protection of any country, and especially the country whose flag they might have hoisted at the time. Lord Palmerston, as Foreign Secretary, argued that while his Government did not claim the right to search American merchantmen in times of peace, a merchantman could not exempt itself from search by merely hoisting a piece of bunting with the United States emblems and colours upon it. It should be shown by the papers that the vessel was entitled to bear the flag - that she was United States property, and navigated according to law. Mr. Stevenson, the American Minister, protested strongly against this doctrine, denying that there was any ground of public right or justice in the claim put forth, since the right of search was, according to the law of nations, a strictly belligerent right. If other nations sought to cover their to famous traffic by the fraudulent use of the American flag, the Government of the United States was not responsible; and in any case it was for that Government to take such steps as might be required to protect its flag from abuse. Lord Aberdeen, who succeeded Lord Palmerston in the Foreign Office, demonstrated the futility of any such remedy for the evil. The suspected vessels were not visited as American, but as piratical outlaws, possessing no claim to any flag or nationality whatever; yet, if they were found avowedly engaged in the slave trade, exhibiting the manacles, fetters, and other implements of torture, or had even a number of slaves on board, no British officers could interfere further, according to the American view of the question. He might give information to the cruisers of the United States, but it would not be in his power to arrest or impede the prosecution of the voyage, and the success of the undertaking. Unanswerable as these arguments undoubtedly are, they failed to convince the American Government, whose minister rejoined at great length, and came to the conclusion that if a power such as that asserted by Her Majesty's Government should be enforced, not only without consent, but in the face of a direct refusal to concede it, it could be regarded in no other light than a violation of national rights and sovereignty, and the incontestable principles of international law, leading, therefore, to consequences of a painful character, and deeply endangering the good understanding between the two countries.

Such being the state of our relations with America, and other sources of irritation haying arisen between the two Cabinets, Sir Robert Peel's Government determined to send to "Washington a special ambassador, who should be clothed with full powers to effect an amicable adjustment of all the causes of dispute. The gentleman selected for this purpose was Lord Ashburton. A more judicious selection could not possibly have been made. Mr. Alexander Baring, who had been raised to the peerage in 1835, having been previously President of the Board of Trade and Master of the Mint, was known throughout the world as one of our merchant princes, and was the son of an American lady, the daughter of Mr. William Bingham, of Philadelphia, a senator of the United States. This connection with America, coupled with his intimate knowledge of all commercial, financial, and international questions, as well as his high personal character, pointed him out as pre-eminently fitted for such a mission. The hopes which his mission excited were not disappointed. He sailed from England in February, 1842, and after a tedious and stormy passage, arrived at New York on the 1st of April. He immediately entered upon negotiations with Mr. Webster. They continued till the month of August, when a treaty was agreed upon and signed at Washington by the two plenipotentiaries, the mutual exchange of ratifications to take place in London within six months of that date. By that treaty the line of the north-western boundary was settled. It was stipulated that Great Britain and America should each maintain a sufficient squadron or naval force, carrying not less than eighty guns, for the purpose of enforcing, separately and respectively, the laws, rights, and obligations of each of the two countries for the suppression of *he slave trade, and to use their joint influence for suppressing the slave markets. They also provided for the mutual delivery to justice of all persons charged with murder, or assault with intent to murder, or with piracy, robbery, forgery, and arson committed within the jurisdiction of either country, should they be found within the territories of the other; but the evidence of criminality should be sufficient to warrant the committal for trial of the fugitive according to the laws of the country in which he was apprehended.

Lord Ashburton succeeded remarkably well in conciliating the Americans. On his departure he was entertained at a public banquet in New York, when the most cordial feelings towards this country were expressed by the Americans who were present. Lord Ashburton's speech on that occasion will be read with interest. He said: "I cannot but regard it as somewhat singular and auspicious, that the respectable gentleman who presides at this hospitable board should happen to be the immediate descendant of a man whose name will live in your memories so long as honour, patriotism, and virtue are venerated - I mean, the late Mr. Jay. That illustrious man stepped forward on an occasion somewhat similar to that which you now celebrate; and having visited England, happily succeeded in his errand of peace, although made under circumstances of a far more difficult nature than those which surrounded me on a mission which has had a like fortunate termination. The task imposed on Mr. Jay was indeed an arduous one. At that period wild passions were at work, and the voice of the messenger of peace could only with difficulty be heard. But amid all those trying circumstances, that great man and those who supported him did maintain the independence of this country, and saved both nations from a most serious war at that time, whilst war was raging amongst the nations of the earth; and undoubtedly he laid the foundation of great commercial prosperity. Fortunately, gentlemen, I have had much less difficulty to encounter; for when I add to the reception I met with at Washington from the President, from his Cabinet, from the Senate and House of Representatives, that cordial welcome which I received at Boston, the cradle of American liberty and independence; and also the reception with which I have been greeted here, as well as in your City Hall, where I have been told that I shook hands with upwards of 3,000 persons collected there by one common impulse - at this festive board, around which I see such a large number of your most respectable citizens, I naturally ask, Where is the danger of war between England and America? Whatever may be hidden, I do not pretend to scan; but of a verity I can say that I have seen nothing but the greatest and most unaffected cordiality, and good-will, and friendship. Still, although my mission has been made under peculiarly happy circumstances, I trust that I shall not be charged with vanity in saying that I, too, have done the State some service."

The object of Lord Ashburton's mission was referred to in the Queen's speech at the opening of the Session of 1843, in the following terms: - "By the treaty which Her Majesty has concluded with the United States of America, and by the adjustment of those differences which, from their long continuance, had endangered the preservation of peace, Her Majesty trusts that the amicable relations of the two countries have been confirmed." In the debate on the address, Lord Brougham said he shared with all his countrymen whose opinion was worth having, in thanking, from the bottom of his heart, his noble friend Lord Ashburton, for the skill, the tempered firmness, and conciliation with which - partly from his own intrinsic qualities, and partly from accidental circumstances connecting him with the people of the United States, in such a way that he alone of all Her Majesty's subjects could have effected it - he had brought that negotiation to its present close, by which he not only gave peace, but restored cordial good understanding, and brought back the feeling of mutual good will that had unhappily been so long disturbed. In the House of Commons similar feelings were expressed as to the result of Lord Ashburton's mission. " I could have shown," said Sir Robert Peel, " if the policy of that noble lord had been called in question in this House, as it has been out of doors, that the treaty which was effected by him affords to the country everything which can be considered essential to the security of our North American possessions - not, perhaps, as much as we were justly entitled to, and had a right to expect, but, considering the uncertainty attached to the interpretation of the old treaty, considering the great length of time which has since elapsed, taking into account that the geography of the country was in a great degree unknown at the time of first assigning the boundaries, we should feel satisfied to accept such a division of the disputed district as secures our possessions in North America, and at the same time preserves our military communication intact." With regard to the dissatisfaction expressed out of doors, he remarked that Mr. Webster had been assailed in the United States just as Lord Ashburton had been here, with taunts that he had abandoned the interests of his country; and Mr. Webster admitted, in a letter to Mr. Everett, then Minister for the United States at the British Court, that Lord Ashburton had made no concession whatever on the subject of the right of search.

Great discredit, however, was brought upon the United States at this time by the repudiation of their debts, of which several of them had been guilty. One of the sufferers was the Rev. Sydney Smith, who avenged himself for his loss by the sarcasm and ridicule with which he assailed the unprincipled defaulters. In April, 1843, a petition from him was presented to Congress, containing an admirable statement of the case, which deserves to be transmitted to posterity, as an extremely interesting historical document: - " The humble petition of the Rev. Sydney Smith, to the House of Congress, at Washington. I petition your honourable House to institute some measures for the restoration of American credit, and for the repayment of debts incurred and repudiated by several of the States. Your petitioner lent to the state of Pennsylvania a sum of money, for the purpose of some public improvement. The amount, though small, is to him important, and is a saving from a life incomè, made with difficulty and privation. If their- refusal to pay (from which a very large number of English families are suffering) had been the result of war produced by the unjust aggressions of powerful enemies - if it had arisen from civil discord - if it had proceeded - from an improvident application of means in the first years of self-government - if it were the act of a poor state struggling against the barrenness of Nature, every friend of America would have been contented to wait for better times; but the fraud is committed in the profound peace of Pennsylvania, by the richest state in the Union, after the wise investment of borrowed money in roads and canals, of which the repudiators are every day reaping the advantage. It is an act of bad faith, which, all its circumstances considered, has no parallel and no excuse. Nor is it only the loss of property which your petitioner laments: lie laments still more that immense power which the bad faith of America has given to aristocratical opinions, and to the enemies of free institutions in the Old World. It is in vain any longer to appeal to history, and to point out the wrongs which the many have received from the few. The Americans, who boast to have improved the institutions of the Old World, have at least equalled its crimes. A great nation, after trampling under foot all earthly tyranny, has been guilty of a fraud as enormous as ever disgraced the worst king of the most degraded nation of Europe. It is most painful to your petitioner to see that American citizens excite, wherever they may go, the recollection that they belong to a dishonest people, who pride themselves on having tricked and having pillaged Europe; and this mark is fixed, by their faithless legislators, on some of the best and most honourable men in the world, whom every Englishman has been eager to see and proud to receive. It is a subject of serious concern to your petitioner that you are losing all that power which the friends of freedom rejoiced that you possessed, looking upon you as the ark of human happiness, and the most splendid picture of justice and wisdom that the world had yet seen. Little did the friends of America expect it, and sad is the spectacle to see you rejected by every State in Europe, as a nation with whom no contract can be made, because none will be kept; unstable in the very foundations of. social life, deficient in the elements of good faith; men who prefer any load of infamy, however great, to any pressure of taxation, however light. Nor is it only this gigantic bankruptcy, for so many degrees of longitude and latitude, which your petitioner deplores; but he is alarmed also by that total want of shame with which these things have been done - the callous '^.morality with which Europe has been plundered - that deadness of the moral sense which seems to preclude all return to honesty, to perpetuate this new infamy, and to threaten its extension over every State of the Union. To any man of real philanthropy, who receives pleasure from the improvements of the world, the repudiation of the public debts of America, and the shameless manner in which it has been talked of and done, is the most melancholy event which has happened during the existence of the present generation. Your petitioner sincerely prays that the great and good men still existing among you may, by teaching to the United States the deep disgrace they have incurred in the whole world, restore them to moral health, to that high position they have lost, and which, for the happiness of mankind, it is so important they should ever maintain; for the United States are now working out the greatest of all political problems, and upon that confederacy the eyes of thinking men are intensely fixed, to see how far the mass of mankind can be trusted with the management of their own affairs, the establishment of their own happiness."

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Pictures for Chapter LV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2

Daniel Webster
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Sir Robert Sale
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