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in her intercourse with foreign nations, America has been in the habit of assuming an unscrupulous and overbearing tone, or whether she has been the victim of those qualities on the part of others.
After the short-lived peace of Amiens, a new war, of truly Titanic proportions, broke out between France and England. In the progress of this tremendous struggle, and for the purpose of mutual destruction, a succession of Imperial decrees and Royal Orders in Council were issued by the two powers, by which all neutral commerce was annihilated. Each of the great belligerents maintained that his adversary's decree was a violation of International Law; each justified his own edict on the ground of retaliation, which of course as far as the neutral was concerned was no justification ; — and between these great conflicting forces the rights and interests of neutrals were crushed. Under these orders and decrees, it is estimated that one hundred millions of American property were swept from the ocean ; — of the losses and sufferings of our citizens, in weary detention for years at Courts of Admiralty and Vice-Admiralty all round the globe, there can be no estimate. But peace returned to the world ; time wore away; and after one generation of the original sufferers had sunk, many of them sorrowstricken and ruined, into the grave, the government of King Louis Philippe, in France, acknowledged the wrong of the Imperial régime, by a late and partial measure of indemnification, obtained by means of the treaty negotiated with great ability, by Mr. Rives, of Virginia. England, in addition to the capture of our ships and the confiscation of their cargoes, had subjected the United States to the indignity of taking her seamen by impressment from our vessels, — a practice which, in addition to its illegality even under the law of England, and its cruelty, which have since caused it to be abandoned at home, often led to the impressment of our own citizens, both naturalized and native. For this intolerable wrong (which England herself would not have endured a day, from any foreign power), and for the enormous losses accruing under the Orders in Council, the United States not only never received any indemnification, but the losses and sufferings of a war of two years and a half duration, to which she was at length driven, were superadded. These orders were at the time regarded by the liberal school of British statesmen as unjust and oppressive towards neutrals; and though the eminent civilian, Sir William Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell), who presided in the British Court of Admiralty, and who had laid the foundations of a princely fortune by fees accruing in prize causes,*
* Sketch of the Lives of Lords Stowell and Eldon, by William Edward Surtees, D.C.L. (a relative], p. 88.
deemed it “ extreme indecency” to admit the possibility, that the Orders in Council could be in contravention of the public law, it is now the almost universal admission of the text-writers, that such was the case. As lately as 1847, the present Lord Chancellor, — then Lord Chief Justice of England, — used this remarkable language : “Of these Orders in Council, Napoleon had no right to complain ; but they were grievously unjust to neutrals ; and it is now generally allowed, that they were contrary to the law of nations, and to our own municipal law !”
These liberal admissions have come too late to repair the ruined fortunes or to heal the broken hearts of the sufferers: they will not recall to life the thousands who fell on hard-fought fields, in defence of their country's rights. But they do not come too late to rebuke the levity with which it is now intimated, that the United States stand at the august bar of the Public Law, not as reasoning men, but as spoiled children; not too late to suggest the possibility to candid minds, that the next generation may do us the like justice, with reference to more recent controversies.*
Thus, Fellow-Citizens, I have endeavored, without vainglorying, with respect to ourselves, or bitterness
* Lord Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, vol. vii. p. 218: Story's Miscellaneous Writings, p. 283; Phillimore's International Law, vol. iii. pp. 250, 539; Manning's Commentary on the Law of Nations, p. 330; Wildman's Institutes of International Law vol. ii. pp. 183, 185; also, the French publicists, Hautefeuille and Ortolan, under the appropriate heads.
toward others, but in a spirit of candor and patriotism, to repel the sinister intimation, that a fatal degeneracy is stealing over the country; and to show that the eighty-fourth anniversary finds the United States in the fulfilment of the glowing anticipations, with which, in the self-same instrument, their INDEPENDENCE was inaugurated, and their Union first proclaimed. No formal act had as yet bound them together; no plan of confederation had even been proposed. A common allegiance embraced them, as parts of one metropolitan empire; but when that tie was sundered, they became a group of insulated and feeble communities, not politically connected with each other, nor known as yet in the family of nations. Driven by a common necessity, yearning toward each other with a common sympathy of trial and of danger, piercing with wise and patriotic foresight into the depths of ages yet to come,- led by a Divine Counsel, — they clung together with more than elective affinity, and declared the independence of the UNITED STATES. North and South, great and small, Massachusetts and Virginia, the oldest and then the largest; New York and Pennsylvania, unconscious as yet of their destined preponderance, but already holding the central balance ; Rhode Island and Delaware, raised by the Union to a political equality with their powerful neighbors, joined with their sister republics in the august Declaration, for themselves and for the rapidly multiplying family of circled the globe. Nor let us fear that its force is exhausted, for its principles are as broad as humanity, as eternal as truth. And if the visions of patriotic seers are destined to be fulfilled ; if it is the will of Providence that the lands which now sit in darkness shall see the day; that the south and east of Europe and the west of Asia shall be regenerated; and the ancient and mysterious regions of the East, the cradle of mankind, shall receive back in these latter days from the West the rich repayment of the early debt of civilization, and rejoice in the cheerful light of constitutional freedom, — that light will go forth from Independence Hall in Philadelphia; that lesson of constitutional freedom they will learn from this day's Declaration.