Obrázky stránek

notice an oversight of the Committee, who made the report of April, 1802. They state, that the decree of May 9th, after having been several times repealed and reenacted, was finally repealed on the 27th of July following.' Far otherwise. The decree of May 9th, after having been twice revoked, was finally restored, in its application to American vessels, July 27th, in permanent violation of the iwentythird article of the treaty of 1778. The only relaxation made, was the exemption from capture of American vessels, bound with provisions to an enemy's ports.

In the course of the years 1793 and 1794, a new source of injury arose, in a long and distressing embargo at Bordeaux. A list of one hundred and three American vessels detained under this embargo, to the incalculable detriment of the property embarked in them, was drawn up by Mr Skipwith, on ihe 20th of November, 1795. As the claims for indemnity, for losses sustained by this embargo, formed a portion of those provided for by the Louisiana Convention, no further account of them would be here in place.

The number of American vessels seized and sent into France, under the decree of May 9th, 1793, or detained by the embargo, or in other ways, was so great, that Mr Monroe, who succeeded Mr Morris, was led to constitute Mr Skipwith a general agent, for collecting and presenting them to himself and the French government. In the performance of this duty, an amount of injury and outrage inflicted by France, on our commercial interests, was disclosed, which can now scarcely be credited. Mr Skipwith drew up a report, bearing date October, 1794, and addressed to Mr Monroe. After observing, that he has not as yet received from the consuls all the documents, necessary for presenting a full view of these injuries and outrages, he adds, ' from the communication, however, already received from the different ports, and from the information I have collected from the captains present, I can assure you there are near three hundred sail of American vessels, now in the ports of France, all of whom have suffered, or are suffering, more or less delay and difficulties, of which the examples annexed will afford you a general view.'

Mr Skipwith then proceeds to enumerate and classify the modes and forms of the oppressive treatment, imposed upon the Americans, and names first,

* The capture indiscriminately of our vessels at sea, by the vessels of war of the republic.'

A copy of this report, accompanied with documents illustrative of its statements, was laid before the French government, and produced a joint decree of the committees of public safety, finance, commerce, and supplies, dated November 15th, 1794. This decree* revived and declared in force that of July 27th, 1793, above mentioned; it declared, that the principle of 'free ships free goods' should not be recognised in favor of the goods of any enemy, by whom it was not also recognised. It provided for the compensation of losses sustained by neutral vessels, in consequence of the embargo at Bordeaux, and for the payment of supplies furnished by Americans to St Domingo. The satisfaction yielded under these two last heads was partial, inadequate, and attended with great delay, while the provisions of the decree perpetuated some of the most serious violations of the treaty of 1778. This being the subject of continued and persevering complaints, made on behalf of our merchants, on the 4th of January, 1795, the committee of public safety repealed those parts of the decree of November preceding, which violated the treaty of alliance. The leaders in France, at this time, appear to have felt a wish to conciliate America, and such were the advices from our minister there, that General Washington, in his message to Congress, February 28th, 1795, makes the sollowing statement. • Our minister near the French republic has urged compensation for the injuries, which our commerce has sustained from captures by French cruisers, from the nonfulfilment of the contracts of the agents of that republic with our citizens, and for the embargo at Bordeaux. He has also pressed an allowance for the money voted by Congress, for relieving the inhabitants of St Domingo. It affords me the highest pleasure to inform Congress, that perfect harmony reigns between the two republics; and that those claims are in a train of being discussed with candor, and of being amicably adjusted.'

In fact, as we have observed, the republic, at this time, seems to have been disposed to act with justice. Mr Skip

* It may be found in State Papers, III, 53. † Wait's State Papers, X, 402.

with was incessantly employed in prosecuting the various classes of claims, and large sums of money were actually paid, partly in specie, and partly in assignats, to our shipmasters and merchants. * Had the suins of money, thus appropriated, been promptly applied to a liquidation of each case of injury as it accrued, it is not impossible that they might have covered no small portion of what was due. The cruel delays, the subsequent destruction of perishable cargoes, the rotting of vessels at the wharves, ihe rapid depreciation of paper, produced the unfortunate result of a large provision made by the French, with very little benefit to the claimants.

The friendly disposition of the French government invariably fluctuated, with their political prospects. The success of Bonaparte in Italy, raised the crest of the conquering republic, and in the course of the year 1796, the old causes of complaint were revived, and new ones added. On the 2d of July, 1796, the favorable decree of January, 1795, was repealed by a new decree of the following purport, that all neutral or allied powers shall without delay be notified, that the flag of the French republic will treat neutral vessels, either as to confiscation, as to searches, or captures, in the saine manner as they shall suffer the English to treat them.' Under color of this decree, the most wide spread devastation was let loose upon our commerce.

The subordinate agents of the Directory were forward to emulate the example of the government at home. On the 1st of August, 1796, Victor Hugues and Lebas, special agents of the Directory to the Windward Islands, made a decree, that all vessels loaded with contraband articles, were liable to seizure and condemnation, without making any discrimination in favor of those which might be bound to neutral, and even to French ports. The manner in which this and other similar decrees were enforced, was, if possible, more oppressive, than the decrees themselves. All legal forms were disregarded, and the mode of proceeding was reduced to the exercise of brute force. One example may suffice. The Patty sailed from New London on the 31st July, 1795, (of course before the decree last mentioned was made in the

* The document marked D, State Papers, III, 56, will sufficiently illustrate this remark.

West Indies, to say nothing of being known in America,) bound to St Barts. On the 2d of September, the vessel was captured by a French cruiser, and carried into Guadaloupe. The captain was taken before Victor Hugues, whose first words, accompanied by his fist thrust into the captain's face, were, “I have confiscated your vessel and cargo, you

rascal.' Three days after, the captain inquired of Victor Hugues wben his vessel and cargo would be tried ; and the answer was, they had already been tried, and the captain might go about his business. The captain afterwards received a certificate of bis trial and copdemnation ; but in many cases even this poor favor was insultingly refused; and our unfortunate ship masters, ignorant of the language, without friends, beset by the harpies of office, stripped even to their clothes, and often personally assaulted, were left to beg their way to some neutral island, before they could even make their protest.

These crying insults seemed to grow into a sort of pastime, with the petty tyrants of the day. On the 27th of November, the same year, another decree was passed by a new set of commissioners to the Windward Islands, which ought to be quoted entire.

"The Commission resolves, that the captains of French national vessels and privateers, are authorised to stop and bring into the ports of the colony, American vessels bound to English ports, or coming from the said ports.'

"The vessels, which are already taken, or shall be hereafter, shall remain in the ports of the colony, till it shall be otherwise ordered.

“At the Cape, the 7th Frimaire, in the fifth year of the French republic, one and indivisible.'

Signed on the record of the procès verbal; Leblane, president; Santhonax, Raimond, commissioners; Pascal, secretary general.'*

This most extraordinary violence was not confined to the petty tribunal, from which the decree in question was issued. Captures were made by the French privateers, in Europe, on the ground that all American vessels coming from, or bound to England, were good prize, and the French consul at Cadiz avowed his determination to condemn them, appealing to the decree of the Directory of July 2d, 1796, for his warrant.

* State Papers, III, 55.


On the 5th of February, 1797, another decree of Hugues and Lebas authorised the capture of all neutral vessels, destined to any of the Windward or Leeward Islands, in America, which had been delivered up to the English, and occupied or defended by emigrants, viz; Martinique, St Lucie, Tobago, Demarara, Berbice, and Essequibo, for the windward isles; and Port au Prince, St Marc, L'Archaye, and Jeremie, for the leeward. All vessels sailing to and from any of the islands, are, with their cargoes, declared good prize by this decree, as well as all vessels, which shall have cleared out under the vague denomination of the West Indies.'

On the 2d of March, 1797, the Directory issued a decree, prefaced by a laborious preamble, in which almost all the previous oppressive regulations were reenacted, and new and exceedingly injurious ones added, especially that notorious one relative to the Role d'Equipage, which swept so much of the remnant of our commerce from the seas. This decree formally declared, that the treaty of 1778 should be modified, in conformity with the provisions of Jay's treaty with England; in other words, that, in some of its most characteristic features, it should be annulled.

The manner in which this, as well as all the other decrees, was enforced, added much to its severity. It was not merely applied from the date of its publication, but a retrospective action was given to it, against American ships, which had previously, on any other pretence, or no pretence, been sent into France. The number of vessels captured, under this last decree, was very great. Between August, 1796, and June, 1797, according to a list prepared for the Philadelphia Gazette, and probably not containing all the cases, three hundred and eight American vessels suffered under the illegal decrees of the French; the greater part of them after that of March 2d was issued. Not content with the comprehensive terms of the decrees, the French officers and agents subjected the captains and seamen to personal violence, in order to extort from them, by extreme pain, testimony that would condemn their vessels. Mr Rufus King, then, as now, our minister to London, in a letter bearing date April 19th, 1797, mentions the case of Captain Martin, of the Cincinnatus of

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PředchozíPokračovat »