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CHAP. a few redoubtable gun-boats, that lay in the harbors,
patiently waiting for the audacious cruisers to come within 1906. their range.
The condemnation of vessels taken by foreign cruisers, and the forfeiture of their cargoes to the amount of millions, caused an intense excitement among American mer chants. In all the seaport towns, especially, meetings were held to express the views of the people, and petitions asking protection, poured into Congress. These petitions only produced a recommendation of the President to that body to build more gun-boats. Is it strange the policy, which neglected the mercantile interests of the country, should be contrasted with the profusion in which money was spent to purchase territory, and to liquidate Indian claims ? Said one party, it is folly to provide a navy, which, in case of war, will fall into the hands of the British. The hardy seamen answered, give us the menof-war well armed, and we will see that they do not fall into the hands of the enemy.
Will not the same energy and spirit, which has extended American commerce to the ends of the earth, defend its interests, and maintain the honor of the country ?
In John Adams' administration, Congress brought to terms the French cruisers on American commerce ; it gave the merchants liberty to protect themselves, and they did it,—why not grant the same permission now?
To these complaints were added others equally as seri
The British government maintained the doctrine that no subject could expatriate himself, or transfer his allegiance to another country. The United States government maintained the reverse, and welcomed emigrants from other nations, and as adopted citizens afforded them protection. The commanders of British men-of-war were accustomed to board American merchant vessels, on the high seas, and search for deserters, as they termed those
THE IMPRESSMENT-COMMISSIONERS OF PEACE.
English or Irish sailors, who had thus entered the Ameri- CHAP. can service.
In these impressments great numbers of native born 1806. Americans were forcibly seized and consigned to the slavery of a British man-of-war. These high-handed measures, executed in an arrogant manner by the English officers, produced throughout the land a feeling of bitter hostility to England. The English government gave as an apology for these impressments, that in her present struggle she needed all her seamen, and if permission were given, they nearly all would desert, and enter American ships. England herself was to blame for this want of patriotism in her seamen. The iron hand of unfeeling rule had driven these men from her service ; her cruel press-gangs had crushed out their love of home. They had been seized when unprotected and hurried on board men-of-war, where brutal severities had obliterated their nobler feelings. Thus wantonly treated, the English seaman deserted whenever he had the opportunity.
Events were evidently tending toward a war, to avoid which the President sent William Pinckney, as joint commissioner with James Monroe, who was already minister April at the court of St. James. The English commissioners manifested a great desire not to impress American seamen, but to redress, as speedily as possible, any mistake of that character. They urged, that to relinquish the right of search for deserters, would be ruinous to the English navy in time of war. Suggesting, also, that stringent laws should be made by both nations, to prevent seamen from passing from the service of the one to the other. The prejudices of the English people would not permit, at least for the present, any formal relinquishment of the right of impressment; the commissioners further promised, that strict orders should be issued to the naval commanders not to abuse the right.
With the understanding that the question of impress
CHAP. ments was still open, and subject to future adjustment,
a treaty for ten years was negotiated between the two 1807. countries. This treaty was more advantageous, upon the Jan.
whole, to the United States, than the one negotiated by Jay, and was certainly better than the existing irritating relations of the two governments. France at this time, by virtue of the Berlin decree, continued to seize and confiscate American property, while Great Britain was anxious to be on as good terms with the United States as
her situation would permit. Yet the President, and Mar. Madison, his Secretary of State, arbitrarily rejected the
treaty, without either consulting the rest of the cabinet, or the Senate which was in session. The plea given for this extraordinary act was, that the treaty was not satisfactory on the impressment question. The rejection of the treaty left the relations of the two countries in a worse condition than ever, even endangering their peace. Washington and his cabinet, in ratifying the Jay treaty, secured to the country thirteen years of peace and unexpected prosperity ; the rejection of this treaty was succeeded by four years of ruinous evils, which resulted in plunging the nation into a war. Though the English government itself was disposed to conciliate, and friendly in its expressions, yet its naval commanders were exceedingly insolent in their intercourse with the Americans. The inability of the navy to maintain the nation's honor, tempted these unscrupulous commanders to insult its flag. Thus far they had confined their visits to merchantmen, presently they went a step farther.
The United States frigate Chesapeake, of thirty-eight guns, had enlisted four men who, it was said, were deserters from the British ship-of-war Melampus. It was afterward proved that only one of them was an Englishman.
Strict orders had been issued by the government to the recruiting officers not to enlist British subjects, knowing them to be such.