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SPEECH OF ALBERT GALLATIN,
THE BRITISH TREATY,
DELIVERED IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED
STATES, APRIL 26, 1796.
In committee of the whole on the following Resolution, Resolved,
as the opinion of this committee, that it is expedient to pass the - laws necessary for carrying into effect the treaty with Great
Britain : Mr. Gallatin spoke as follows :
MR. CHAIRMAN, I will not follow some of the gentlemen, who have preceded me, by dwelling upon the discretion of the legislature; a question which has already been the subject of our deliberations, and been decided by a solemn vote. Gentlemen, who were in the minority on that question, may give any construction they please to the declaratory resolution of the House; they may again repeat, that to refuse to carry the treaty into effect, is a breach of the public faith, which they conceive as being pledged by the President and senate. This has been the ground on which a difference of opinion has existed since the beginning of the discussion. It is because the House thinks that the faith of the nation cannot, on those subjects submitted to the power of Congress, be pledged by any constituted authority other than the legislature, that they resolved, that, in all such cases, it is their right and duty to con
sider the expediency of carrying a treaty into effect. If the House think the faith of the nation already pledged, they cannot claim any discretion; there is no room left to deliberate upon the expediency of the thing. The resolution now under consideration, is merely “ that it is expedient to carry the British treaty into effect,” and not whether we are bound by national faith to do it. I will, therefore, consider the question of expediency alone; and thinking, as I do, that the House has full discretion on this subject, I conceive that there is as much responsibility in deciding in the affirmative, as in rejecting the resolution, and that we shall be equally answerable for the consequences that may follow from either.
It is, however, true, that there was a great difference between the situation of this country, in the year 1794, when a negociator was appointed, and that in which we are at present; and that consequences will follow the refusal to carry into effect the treaty in its present stage, which would not have attended a refusal to negociate, and to enter into such a treaty. The question of expediency, therefore, assumes before us a different and more complex shape, than when before the negociator, the senate, or the President. The treaty, in itself and abstractedly considered, may be injurious; it may be such an instrument as, in the opinion of the House, ought not to have been adopted by the Executive; and yet, such as it is, we may think it expedient, under the present circumstances, to carry it into effect. I will, therefore, first take a view of the provisions of the treaty itself, and in the next place, supposing it is injurious, consider, in case it is not carried into effect, what will be the natural consequences of such refusal.
The provisions of the treaty relate either to the adjustment of past differences, or to the future intercourse of the two nations. The differences, now existing between Great Britain and this country, arose either from non-execution of some articles of the trea
ty of peace, or from the effects of the present Europe
The complaints of Great Britain, in relation to the treaty of 1783, were confined to the legal impediments, thrown by the several states in the way of the recovery of British debts. The late treaty provides adequate remedy on that subject; the United States are bound to make full and complete compensation for any losses arising from that source, and every ground of complaint on the part of Great Britain is removed.
Having thus done full justice to the other nation, America has a right to expect that equal attention shall be paid to her claims arising from infractions of the treaty of peace, viz. compensation for the negroes carried away by the British; restoration of the western posts, and indemnification for their detention.
On the subject of the first claim which has been objected to as groundless, I will observe, that I am not satisfied that the construction given by the British government to that article of the treaty, is justified even by the letter of the article. That construction rests on the supposition that slaves come under the general denomination of booty, and are alienated the moment they fall into the possession of an enemy, so that all those who were in the hands of the British when the treaty of peace was signed, must be considered as British, and not as American property, and are not included in the article. It will, however, appear, by recurring to Vattel when speaking of the right of Postliminium, that slaves cannot be considered as part of the booty which is alienated by the act of capture, and that they are to be ranked rather with real property, to the profits of which only the captors are entitled. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the construction given by America, is that which was understood by the parties at the time of making the treaty. The journals of Mr. Adams, quoted by a gentleman from Connecticut, (Mr. Coit,) prove this fully; for when he says, that the insertion of this article was
alone worth the journey of Mr. Laurens from London, can it be supposed that he would have laid so much stress on a clause, which, according to the new construction, now attempted to be given, means only that the British would commit no new act of hostilitywould not carry away slaves, at that time in possession of Americans ? Congress recognized that construction by adopting the resolution which has been already quoted, and which was introduced upon the motion of Mr. Alexander Hamilton; and it has not been denied that the British ministry, during Mr. Adams' embassy, also agreed to it.
But when our negociator had, for the sake of peace, waved that claim; when he had also abandoned the right which America had to demand an indemnification for the detention of the posts, although he had conceded the right of a similar nature, which Great Britain had for the detention of debts; when he had thus given up every thing which might be supposed to be of a doubtful nature, it might have been hoped that our last claim-a claim on which there was not, and there never had been any dispute—the western posts should have been restored according to the terms of the treaty of peace. Upon what ground the British insisted, and our negociator conceded, that this late restitution should be saddled with new conditions, which made no part of the original contract, I am at a loss to know. British traders are allowed, by the new treaty, to remain within the posts, without becoming citizens of the United States; and to carry on trade and commerce with the Indians living within our boundaries, without being subject to any control from our government. In vain is it said, that if that clause had not been inserted, we would have found it our interest to effect it by our own laws. Of this we are alone competent judges ; if that condition is harmless at present, it is not possible to foresee whether, under future circumstances, it will not prove highly injurious; and whether harmless or not, it is not less a perma
nent and new condition imposed upon us. But the fact is, that by the introduction of that clause, by obliging us to keep within our jurisdiction, as British subjects, the very men, who have been the instruments used by Great Britain to promote Indian wars on our frontiers; by obliging us to suffer those men to continue their commerce with the Indians living in our territory, uncontrolled by those regulations, which we have thought necessary in order to restrain our own citizens in their intercourse with these tribes, Great Britain has preserved her full influence with the Indian nations. By a restoration of the posts under that condition, we have lost the greatest advantage that was expected from their possession, viz. future security against the Indians. In the same manner have the British preserved the commercial advantages, which result from the occupancy of those posts, by stipulating as a permanent condition, a free passage for their goods across our portages, without paying any duty.
Another article of the new treaty, which is connected with the provisions of the treaty of 1783, deserves consideration ; I mean what relates to the Mississippi. At the time when the navigation of that river to its mouth, was, by the treaty of peace, declared to be common to both nations, Great Britain communicated to America a right, which she held by virtue of the treaty of 1763, and as owner of the Floridas; but since that cession to the United States, England has ceded to Spain her claim on the Floridas, and does not own, at the present time, an inch of ground, either on the mouth or on any part of that river. Spain now stands in the place of Great Britain, and by virtue of the treaty of 1783, it is to Spain and America, and not to England and America that the navigation of the Mississippi is at present to be common. Yet, notwithstanding this change of circumstances, we have repeated that article of the former treaty in the late one, and have granted to Great Britain the additional privilege of using our ports on the eastern side of the river.