MVB Senate speech on bill to suppress piracy, 1 February 1825
Mr. VAN BUREN was too sensible of the indulgence he had received from the Senate yesterday, to trespass longer on their time than would be required to notice one or two of the points touched on by the gentleman from South Carolina. That gentleman had done no more than justice to the enormities practised on our fellow citizens; the documents on our tables were replete with evidence of the most horrid atrocities: but it did not follow that we had a right to resort to any and every measure of which might be in our power, whatever might be their effect on the rights of others. However grievous our wrongs, we still owed it not only to ourselves, but to those nations with whom we are at peace, and against whom we have no cause of complaint, to resort to such remedies only as were lawful in us, and not injurious to them. The gentleman from South Carolina had labored to show that a declaration of war was not a necessary preliminary measure to the commencement of hostilities between nations. Mr. V.B. said, there was no doubt that in that the gentleman was correct; whatever might once have been thought upon the subject, the law and the practice had for a long time been different. War might be commenced by acts of aggression. But those acts should be of an appropriate character, such as reprisals, &c. or any act of force against the party by whom we had been injured. Was a blockade of their ports, in the first instance, an act of that character? This, said Mr. V.B. was the question, and the only question before the Senate. He contended that is was not, and that for the plainest of all reasons, because it operated, in the first instance, against our friends, against powers who were not only willing, but one of whom had efficiently and zealously co-operated with us in measures for the suppression of piracy. Against the commerce of those nations we were about to exercise acts of unwarranted violence—acts which could not but lead to the most injurious consequences. But it had been said, that, admitting that, by the law of nations, the right of blockade can only be exercised in time of war, this act itself would place us at war with Spain, and thus render the blockade lawful. Mr. V. B. said, that this argument, however imposing it might, on a first impression, appear, was liable to great and unanswerable objections: first, it was in the face of declaration of the committee, and professions of the Government, both of which disclaimed the idea of attaching such a consequence to the measure they propose: secondly, although Spain might consider it as the commencement of hostilities, she might not—she might consult her true interests, and do us the justice to give us credit for proper motives; if she did, our unwarrantable invasion of the rights of other nations would stand without apology: and even if she did not, and war ensued, we will have anticipated its rights at the expense of our respect for the public law, and for the feelings of friendly powers; either of which would, he thought, be unworthy of the American people.