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MVB to [Edwin Croswell], 26 May 1824

Dear Sir,

The treaty with Great Britain giving the right of search for the Suppression of the slave trade has been ratified with important amendments. The proceedings have been orderd to be published by which you will see that several of us felt it our duty to vote agt. the right in any shape & as the whole matter will doubtless be made the subject of newspaper discussion I drop you some hasty notes in regard to it. The substance of which you will extract & give to our friend the Major keeping his letter to yourself. It is impossible I think that the public sensibility can fail to be raised on the subject. It would be injudicious to give such remarks as may be made the shape of a attack on Mr Adams. If the people think the measure wrong they will have no difficulty in fixing the responsibility where it ought to be. We opposed the right of search

I Because it was giving to Great Britain a right which when exercised for other purposes viz search for contraband articles she has always abused—which it is impossible to exercise without giving rise to excitements & producing collisions, which for the— That the great superiority of the British navy &c the right woud not be reciprocal &c. &c.

2d. Because it was not necessary to evince our sincerity in our efforts to effect the abolition of the Slave trade as we have been the first to convene a series of legislation on the subject & have gone farther than any other country by making it piracy. That having done so we should have contented ourselves with insisting other nations to do the like & which if they had done would of itself have been sufficient but if not it would then have been time enough to yield the delicate privilege of bringing too & searching our vessels by British officers.

3d. That such was once the opinion of Mr Monroe & Mr Adams you will find supported by Mr Adams Letter of the 31st March 1823 the concluding part & by his letters to Nelson Rodney & Anderson.

4th. By the correspondence you will find that before the act was declared piracy they stead fastly refusd to yield the right of Search. The fact of declaring it so did not alter the case. We could not make it Piracy by the law of nations. We could only express our willingness that it should be so & untill it was made so the right of seizure belonged only to our country (see Adams letter 24th June) If we had waited untill other nations had complied with this invitation the right of search would have been unnecessary as the practice would become extinct or at least if necessary at all would have been so to a small extent. Now it may remain for many years & will do so as the powers of Europe never will agree to the right of search. This course was undoubtedly the one Mr Monroe intended to pursue untill he would was tickeled with British alliance and cooperation with respect to South america &c &c.

5. By the correspondence betwn the British minister & the Allied sovereigns at Aix La Chapelle in 1818 you will find how strenuously they resisted this right in much more modified form than we have agreed to it.

6. The resolution of the house of Representatives under which the treaty is now attempted to be supported you will find extends only to making it piracy & by Mr Adams letter to Mr Rush of the 24th. June you will see that the house fully expressed their feelings agt. giving the right of search. It is important to keep up the distinction betwen Statute piracy & piracy by the law of nations—the latter all nations can punish the former the govmt which makes it so can only punish. By the treaty we subject our citizes to the right of being stopped on suspicion of piracy whilst those of other nations are not. If they were all placed on the same footing the search would be unnecessary because the trade would be broken up &c. ☞ see loose sheet marked No. 2.

No. 2 Although the provision of the treaty is sufficient where one of our vessels is improperly sent in (which is not likely to happen) the Stipulation for relief for bringing the a stopping & searching our vessels on the high seas without cause or for doing it in an offensive manner will be found wholly insufficient. It is from those sources that abuses will spring. The right to search includes the right to fire upon the vessel if she does not come to when <illegible> ordered to do so. It is scarcely possible that if a British naval officer should stop an ^innocent^ american merchantman upon so odious a suspicion that the search could be made without producing excitement & violence. The jealousy of the two powers—the apprehension that they mean to look for British sailors, the nature of the whole affair must lead to such results. The injuries would generally be those to the feelings only—such as abusive words the discharge of a gun without danger &c. For injuries of that character the American captain may follow the British officer to England—attend there with his ship crew as witnesses & be confronted by the ^British^ officers & crew & possibly though not probably recover nominal damages. It is plain that no redress would in one case out of a hundred be obtained under this Stipulation.

For these & many others reasons we voted agt.the treaty even with the amendmts but the latter were the chief objects of our Solicitude. They are the followg—

I. In the offer made by Great Britain to the allied sovereigns at Aix La Chapelle she proposed a temporary arrangement by way of experiment. In Mr Cannings letters here he proposed the same thing & in the reports of the committee of the house of Representatives which are relied upon by the Administration (but which never disagreed to as already stated) the proposed concession was expressly a limited one—notwithstanding all which the treaty was perpetual & we could only have got rid of it by a violation of our faith & possible war. He amended the treaty so as to enable us to rescind it or giving six months notice.

2d. The second offer at Aix La Chapelle the correspondence of Canning & the report of our committee also confird the right proposed to be stipulated for to the coast of Africa, The treaty extends it to the Coast of America & the West Indies. This was peculiarly objectionable. Whilst a British vessel had the right to stop our vessels coming out or going in to the harbour of Newyork &c. if he ^chose^ to seaport here, the Coast of England Ireland Scotland France &c was excluded. There was in this a want of neutrality of the most degrading character. OurNorth America or rather the U. States are as free from all participation in the trade as Engld. & it would have been humilitating to our pride to have made so marked a distinction between the two countries. If South America ought to have included the U States <Navy> should have been included. (By the course of proceedings in the Senate & with our number of votes we could leave out but we would not insert ^^on the question shall these words stand as part of the treaty two thirds are required to support it, but to insert you want two thirds.^^ We therefore so amended the treaty as to leave out America.) This is a strong point.

3dly. In consequence of the second & part of the seventh articles taken in connexion it was in the power of a British officer seizing a ^chartered^ vessel at sea engaged in the Slave trade to send to England for trial a naturalized Citizen on this principle that no subject can absolve his allegiance & thus put in operation the odious doctrine contended for in the case of Johnathan Robbins. It is not a little singular that this treaty contains so many stipulations agt. which the Republicans in the better days of the party so manfully struggled.

Although it is not certain that Robbins was an American Citizen it was ^in part^ on the assertion that he was so that so much opposition was made to his being sent to a foreign country for trial. Look at this part of the case minutely with the aid of ^the Genl^ Mr Talcott & Butler.

You will of course keep my name out of view


Written in the left-hand margin of pg. 8:

This you need not notice

Source: DLC Library of Congress
Collection: MVB Papers (DLC)
Series: Series 4 (3 December 1821-31 December 1824)