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Report of the Committee on the Suppression of the Slave Trade; made in the House of Representatives, April 12, 1822.
The Committee on the suppression of the Slave Trade, to whom was referred a resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 15th of January last, instructing them to inquire whether the laws of the United States prohibiting that traffic have been duly executed; also, into the general operation thereof; and, if any defects exist in those laws, to suggest adequate remedies therefor; and to whom many memorials have been referred touching the same subject; have, according to order, had the said resolution and memorials under consideration, and beg leave to report:
That, under the just and liberal construction put by the Executive on the act of Congress of March 3d, 1819, and that of the 15th of May, 1820, inflicting the punishment of piracy on the African slave trade, a foundation has been laid for the most systematic and vigorous applica. tion of the power of the United States, to the suppression of that iniqui. tous traffic. Its unhappy subjects, when captured, are restored to their country, agents are there appointed to receive them, and a colony, the offspring of private charity, is rising on its shores, in which such as cannot reach their native tribes, will find the means of alleviating the calamities they may have endured before their liberation.
When these humane provisions are contrasted with the system which they supersede, there can be but one sentiment in favour of a steady adherence to their support. The document accompanying this report, and marked A., states the number of Africans seized or taken within or without the limits of the United States, and brought there, and their present condition.
It does not appear to your committee, that such part of the naval force of the country as has been hitherto employed in the execution of the laws against this traffic, could have been more effectually used for the interest and honour of the nation. The document marked B., is a statement of the names of the vessels, and their commanders, ordered upon this service, with the dates of their departure, &c. The first vessel destined for this service, arrived upon the coast of Africa in March, 1820, and in the few weeks she remained there, sent in for adjudication four American vessels, all of which were condemned. The four which have been since employed in this service, have made five visits, (the Alligator having made two cruises in the past summer,) the whole of which have amounted to a service of about ten months by a single vessel, within a period of near two years; and since the middle of last November, the commencement of the healthy season on that coast, no vessel has been, nor, as your committee is informed, is under orders for that service. The committee are thus particular on this branch of their inquiry, betause unfounded rumours have been in circulation, that other branches of the public service have suffered from the destination given to the inconsiderable force above stated, which, small as it has been, has, in every instance, been directed, both in its outward and homeward voyage, to cruise in the West India seas. Before they quit this part of their inquiry, your committee feel it their duty to state, that the loss of several of the prizes made in this service, is imputable to the size of the ships engaged in it. The efficacy of this force, as well as the health and discipline of the officers and crews, conspire to recommend the employment of no smaller vessel than a corvette or a sloop of war, to which it would be expedient to allow the largest possible complement of men; and, if possible, she should be accompanied by a tender, or vessel drawing less water. The vessels engaged in this service should be frequently relieved, but the coast should at no time be left without a vessel to watch and protect its shores. Your committee find it impossible to measure with precision the effect produced upon the American branch of the slave trade, by the laws above mentioned, and the seizures under them. They are unable to state, whether those American merchants, the American capital and seamen, which heretofore aided in this traffic, have abandoned it altogether, or have sought shelter under the flags of other nations. It is ascertained, however, that the American flag, which heretofore covered so large a portion of the slave trade, has wholly disappeared from the coasts of Africa. The trade, notwithstanding, increases annually, under the flags of other nations. France has incurred the reproach of being the greatest adventurer in this traffic, prohibited by her laws; but it is to be presumed, that this results not so much from the avidity of her subjects for this iniquitous gain, as from the safety which, in the absence of all hazard of capture, her flag affords to the greedy and unprincipled adventurers of all nations. It is neither candid nor just to impute to a gallant and highminded people, the exclusive commission of crimes, which the abandoned of all nations are alike capable of perpetrating, with the additional wrong to France herself, of using her flag to cover and protect them. If the vigour of the American navy has saved its banner from like reproach, it has done much to preserve, unsullied, its high reputation, and amply repaid the expense charged upon the public revenue by a system of laws to which it has given such honourable effect. But the conclusion to which your committee has arrived, after consulting all the evidence within their reach, is, that the African slave trade now prevails to a great extent, and that its total suppression can never be effected by the separate and disunited efforts of one or more states; and as the resolution to which this report refers, requires the suggestion of some remedy for the defects, if any exist, in the system of laws for the suppression of this traffic, your committee beg leave to call the attention of the House to the report and accompanying documents submitted to the last Congress, by the committee on the slave trade, and to make the same a part of this report. That report proposes, as a remedy for the existing evils of the system, the concurrence of the United States with one or all the maritime powers of Europe, in a modified and reciprocal right of search, on the African coast, with a view to the total suppression of the slave trade. It is with great delicacy that the committee have approached this subject; because they are aware that the remedy which they have presumed to recommend to the consideration of the House, requires the exercise of the power of another department of this government, and that objections to the exercise of this power, in the mode here proposed, have hitherto existed in that department. Your committee are confident, however, that these objections apply rather to a particular proposition for the exchange of the right of search, than to that modification of it which presents itself to your committee. They contemplate the trial and condemnation of such American citizens as may be found engaged in this forbidden trade, not by mixed tribunals, sitting in a foreign country, but by existing Courts of competent jurisdiction, in the United States. They propose the same disposition of the captured Africans now authorized by law; and, least of all, their detention in America. They contemplate an exchange of this right, which shall be in all respects reciprocal; an exchange which, deriving its sole authority from treaty, would exclude the pretension, which no nation, however, has presumed to set up, that this right can be derived from the law of nations; and further, they have limited it, in their conception of its application,
not only to certain latitudes, and to a certain distance from the coast of Africa, but to a small number of vessels to be employed by each power, and to be previously designated. The visit and search, thus restricted, it is believed, would insure the co-operation of one great maritime power, in the proposed exchange, and guard it from the danger of abuse.
Your committee cannot doubt that the people of America have the intelligence to distinguish between the right of searching a neutral on the high seas, in time of war, claimed by some belligerents, and that mutual, restricted, and peaceful concession by treaty, suggested by your committee, and which is demanded in the name of suffering humanity.
In closing this report, they recommend to the House the adoption of the following resolution, viz:
Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to enter into such arrangements as he may deem suitable and proper, with one or more of the maritime powers of Europe, for the effectual abolition of the slave trade.
The following resolution was submitted to the House of Representatives, on the 10th of February, 1823, and adopted the 28th of the same month :
Resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to enter upon, and to prosecute, from time to time, such negotiations with the several maritime powers of Europe and America, as he may deem expedient, for the effectual abolition of the African slave trade, and its ultimate denunciation, as piracy, under the law of nations, by the consent of the civilized world.
6. The introduction of negro slaves into America was one of the first measures which my predecessors dictated for the support and prosperity of those vast regions, soon after their discovery. The impossibility of inducing the Indians to engage in different useful though painful labours,
arising from their complete ignorance of the conveniences of life, and the very small progress they had made in the arts of social existence, required that the working of the mines, and the cultivation of the soil, should be committed to hands more robust and active than theirs. This measure, which did not create slavery, but only took advantage of that which existed through the barbarity of the Africans, by saving from death their prisoners, and alleviating their sad condition, far from being prejudicial to the negroes transported to America, conferred upon them not only the incomparable blessing of being instructed in the knowledge of the true God, and of the only religion in which the Supreme Being desires to be adored by his creatures, but likewise all the advantages which accompany civilization, without subjecting them, in their state of servitude, to a harder condition than that which they endured in freedom, when free in their native country. Nevertheless, the novelty of this system demanded prudence in its execution; and thus it happened, that the introduction of negro slaves into America depended always on particular licenses, which my predecessors granted according to circumstances of places and times, till the era when untrained slaves were generally permitted to be imported, both in national and foreign vessels, by the royal proclamations of the 28th of September, 1789, the 12th of April, 1798, and the 22d of April, 1804; in each of which the different places for their introduction were determined. All this clearly evinced, that the Christian wisdom of my predecessors considered always these provisions as exceptions to the law, and dependent on variable conditions. Although the license granted the 22d of April, 1804, had not expired, when Divine Providence restored me to the throne to which it had destined me, and of which an unjust usurper had perfidiously attempted to deprive me, the disturbances and dissentions excited in my American dominions, during my absence, immediately fixed my sovereign attention; and meditating incessantly on the most appropriate means of re-establishing good order in these remote possessions, and giving them all the encouragement of which they are capable, I was not slow in perceiving, that the circumstances which had induced my predecessors to permit the traffic in slaves on the coast of Africa, and their introduction into both Americas, had entirely changed. In these provinces the number of indigenous negroes has increased prodigiously, and even that of sree negroes, under the fostering care of a mild government, and the Christian humanity of the Spanish proprietors; the number of the white inhabitants has likewise been much augmented, and the climate is not now so prejudicial to the latter as it was before the Wol. X. F.