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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 5809

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: American grievances.]

[Sidenote: Neutral rights.]

Once more the English government neglected the favorable moment for securing the friendship of the United States. The grievances so much resented under the Confederation (§ 56) were continued: the Western posts were still occupied by the British; American vessels still paid unreasonable duties in British ports; the West India trade was still withheld. The war at once led to new aggressions. France and England throughout sought to limit American commerce by capturing vessels for violations of four disputed principles of international law. The first was that provisions are "contraband of war," and hence that American vessels carrying breadstuffs, the principal export of the United States, were engaged in an unlawful trade: the United States insisted that only military stores were "contraband of war." The second limiting principle was that, after notice of the blockade of a port, vessels bound to it might be taken anywhere on the high seas: the United States held that the notice had no validity unless there was an actual blockading force outside the port. The third principle was the so-called "Rule of 1756," that where a European country forbade trade with its colonies in time of peace it should not open it to neutrals in time of war: the United States denied the right of Great Britain to interfere in their trade with the French and Spanish colonies. The fourth principle was that a ship might be captured if it had upon it goods which were the property of an enemy. The United States asserted that "Free ships make free goods," that a neutral vessel was not subject to capture, no matter whose property she carried.

[Sidenote: Aggressions on the United States.]

[Sidenote: Impressment.]

[Sidenote: Danger of war.]

On May 9, 1793, the French ordered the capture of vessels loaded with provisions, although expressly excepted by the treaty of 1778. On June 8 the British issued a similar order; and in November the rule of 1756 was again put in force by the British government. Captures at once began by both powers; but the British cruisers were more numerous, did more damage, and thus inclined public sentiment in the United States against England. The pacific Jefferson now came forward as the defender of American interests: Sept. 16, 1793, he sent to Congress a report in which he set forth the aggressions upon American commerce, and recommended a policy of retaliation. Meantime a new grievance had arisen, which was destined to be a cause of the War of 1812. In time of war the commanders of British naval vessels were authorized to "impress" British seamen, even out of British merchant vessels. The search of American merchantmen on the same errand at once began, and was felt by the United States government to be humiliating to the national dignity. The whole country was outraged by the freque

nt seizure of native Americans, on the pretext that they were English born. Public feeling rose until on March 26, 1794, a temporary embargo was laid, forbidding vessels to depart from American ports. On April 17, a motion was introduced to cut off commercial intercourse with Great Britain. On April 19, therefore, the President appointed John Jay, Chief Justice of the United States, as a special envoy to make a last effort to adjust matters in England. Nevertheless, the non-inter course bill passed the House, and was defeated only by Adams's casting vote in the Senate.

[Sidenote: Jay's Treaty.]

Fortunately it was a time when communication with Europe was slow. Not until June did Jay reach England. A treaty was negotiated on November 19, but was not received by Washington until after the adjournment of Congress in March, 1795. The treaty had indeed removed some old grievances: the posts were to be evacuated; commissions were to settle the northeast boundary, and to adjust the claims for the British debts; but Jay got no indemnity for the negroes carried away by the British in 1783. The commercial clauses were far less favorable: the discriminating taxes against American shipping were at last withdrawn; but Jay was unable to secure any suitable guarantee for neutral trade, and could obtain no promise to refrain from searching American merchantmen, or seizing English-born sailors found thereon. Above all, the West India trade, which the United States so much desired, was granted only with the proviso that it should be carried on in vessels of less than seventy tons burden. In return for these meagre concessions, granted only for twelve years, the United States agreed not to export to any part of the world "molasses, sugar, coffee, cocoa, or cotton."

[Sidenote: Excitement in the United States.]

A special session of the Senate was summoned in June, 1795. and with great difficulty the necessary two-thirds majority was obtained. The twelfth article, containing the West India and the export clauses, was particularly objectionable, and the Senate struck it out. During the remainder of the year there was the fiercest popular opposition; the commercial and ship-building interest felt that it had been betrayed; Jay was burned in effigy; Hamilton was stoned at a public meeting; State legislatures declared the treaty unconstitutional. Washington was attacked so fiercely that he said the language used "could scarcely be applied to a Nero, to a notorious defaulter, or even to a common pickpocket." When Congress met in 1795 an effort was made to prevent the necessary appropriations for carrying out the treaty. It was only the great personal popularity of Washington that saved the country from a repudiation of the treaty and a war with England. Once in force, the treaty was found moderately favorable. Our commerce increased, and captures were much diminished.

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