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with France, and also forfeiting French vessels or cargoes if found within the United States. An act was also passed, allowing merchant vessels to defend themselves and oppose searches, to repel assaults, and capture any armed French vessels.
By act of July 7, 1798, the treaties with France were declared annulled, with a preamble asserting that the "just claims of the United States, for the reparation of injuries, had been refused, and their attempts to negotiate an amicable adjustment of all complaints between the two nations, had been repelled with indignity.”
France, on her part, claimed that according to principles of international law we had no right to cancel our obligations under the Treaty of Alliance of 1778, without her consent.
The hostile attitude of the two parties became daily more serious; but war was not declared, nor, in fact, did a state of war actually exist. If it had, no claim could have been made for compensation for the depredations in question.
The fact that a state of war did not exist, is abundantly proved by the statements of the two Governments and their diplomatic agents, both then and subsequently.
The two countries, however, heretofore so amicable, breathed against each other the spirit of fiercest hostility.
The United States were not passive. The celebrated alien and sedition laws were passed by Congress; and Washington, like another Cincinnatus, was taken from the plow, and confirmed as Lieutenant-General and Commander-in-Chief of all armies to be raised in the United States. Hamilton, Pinckney and Knox were appointed Major-Generals; and a large number of Brigadier-Generals were appointed from among the Revolution
Bills were passed appropriating moneys for cannon foundries, for supply. ing arms and military stores-a naval department was established, and appropriations made for building vessels of war, for harbor defense, and for enlisting troops and raising volunteers; and an act was passed prohibiting the exportation of arms.
All this was done under an active opposition in Congress, and the protests of the anti-Federalists and French sympathizers.
Our infant navy obtained its earliest prestige and some of its choicest laurels at this time in conflicts with the French men of war and privateers in the West India seas.
Bainbridge, Barry, Truxton, Decatur, Jones and Stewart vindicated the honor of their country and substantially put a stop to these French outrages. The French frigate “ L'Insurgente" struck her colors to Truxton, in the Constellation, off St. Kitts, and “ La Vengeance” was crippled and driven a wreck into Curaçoa, by Truxton, also in the Constellation. Our well-known frigates the United States, the Boston, and the Constitution also began their career of glory during these difficulties.
The effect of our threatening attitude, and active preparations for war, became apparent in the modified and mollifying tone of the communications from the French Government, through the astute Talley rand; in which a desire to preserve peace, and to open negotiations for a settlement of all questions in difference, was manifest.
The Directory, now, had ceased to exist. Bonaparte was First Consul. His policy was to conciliate America, in furtherance of his desire to unite all other nations in a league against Great Britain.
THE CONVENTION OF 1801. Finally, to avoid a war, that seemed imminent, it was agreed to settle all differences and claims, on either side, by a convention.
The negotiations for this convention were conducted at Paris.
On the proposition of the United States envoys, a clause was inserted in the articles of convention known as the article “ Second.” It provided that, as the plenipotentiaries of the two Governments were not then able to agree respecting the treaties of alliance and commerce of February 6, 1778, nor upon the indemnities mutually due or claimed, the consideration of these subjects should be postponed ; and until further considerations an agreement that the said treaties of 1778 should have no operation.
The Senate of the United States ratified the terms of the convention with the exception of the said second article, which was to be expunged, and with the addition that the convention should be in force for eight years.
The convention was then ratified by the President of the United States on the 18th February, 1801, and by Bonaparte, First Consul, for the French Republic, on the 31st of July of that year. The following important clause, however, was added by Bonaparte, as a part and condition of his ratification.
This clause is important as laying the foundation for the present claim as against the United States Government. It is as follows:
“The Govt of the U. S. having added to its ratification that the convention should be in force for the space of 8 years, and having omitted the 2d article the Govt of the French Repube consents to accept, ratify and confirm the above convention with the addition importing that the convention shall be in force for the space of 8 years, and with the retrenchment of the 24 article : provided, that by this retrenchment, the two States renounce the respective pretensions which are the object of the said article."
The mutual ratifications of the convention were thereupon exchanged on the basis of the French proviso, on the said 31st July, 1801, at Paris. The United States Senate subsequently ratified the convention as above concluded, and the President promulgated it as a ratified and binding contract on the 19th of December, 1801.
It will be seen, therefore, that the purport and effect of this convention of 1801 was, that the mutual claims by the two governments against each other were to be deemed balanced.
That this was the interpretation and effect of the convention and the suppression of the ed article, and the proviso inserted in behalf of France, is abundantly testified by the leading statesmen of that time and thereafter.
In a letter of instructions from Mr. Madison (then Secretary of State, under President Jefferson) to Mr. Pinckney, our Minister to Spain, of February 6, 1804, the secretary states:
“ The claims from which France was released were admitted by France, and the release was for a valuable consideration in a correspondent release of the United States from certain claims on them.”
In a letter from Timothy Pickering, who was Secretary of State between the years 1795 and 1800, to the late James H. Cansten, he writes:
“Thus the Government of the U. States bartered the just claims of our merchants on France to obtain a relinquishment of the French claim for a restoration of the old treaties, especially the burdensome treaty of alliance by which we were bound to guaranty the French Territories in America."
The ex-Emperor Napoleon, among his statements at St. Helena, said :
“ The suppression of the 2d article of the convention of 1800 at once put an end to the privileges which France had possessed by the treaty of 1778, and annulled the just claims which America might have made for injuries done in time of peace."
In February, 1807, a report was made to the House of Representatives, in which are these words:
“From a mature consideration of the subject, and from the best judgment your committee have been able to form on the case, they are of opinion that this Government, by the second article of our convention with France, of the 30th Sep., 1800, became bound to indemnify the memorialists for their just claims which they otherwise would rightfully have had on the Government of France, for the spoliations committed on their commerce by the illegal captures by the cruisers of France, and other armed vessels of that power, in violation of the law of nations, and in breach of treaties then existing between the two nations; which claims they were, by the rejection of the said article of the convention, forever barred from referring to the Govt. of France for compensation."
The effect of this convention therefore was that the mutual claims of France and America against each other were compromised and settled in this way, viz.: That the claims by France against the United States Government by reason of the violation on the part of the United States of the terms of its treaties with France of 1778, were to be liquidated and balanced by the claims due citizens of the United States upon France.
The gain to this country was great, by this barter or compromise of these mutual claims. The United States gained relief from her onerous obligations to France of a defensive alliance against Great Britain, and the guaranty of her possessions in this hemisphere, and from all claim for indemnification for liabilities incurred by other treaty violations.
It also paid her for the timely aid she gave us in the Revolutionary War—for her blood and treasure expended for us, without which we would probably not have now waving above us the Stars and Stripes that indi. cate us a nation.
As a matter of right the United States Government could not avail itself of these claims without a return compensation ; for it is a provision of Constitutional as well as of moral law, that private property cannot be taken for a public purpose without due compensation. Now, that property, to wit, these claims, was taken 85 years ago, and the compensation has never been made.
Now a few words as to the claims of our people for these spoliations.
Our Government has, at various times, put its estimate upon the amount due under these claims. It has estimated them at from fifteen to twenty millions of dollars.
At the first session of the 7th Congress in 1802 memorials were put in from about 270 claimants, residing in towns from Portland in Maine to Norfolk in Virginia. All these were destroyed by fire when the British army burned the Capitol, in 1814.
From the 7th Congress to the 35th about 4,500 more memorials were presented.
There has been no laches on the part of the claimants. Those interested in various ways, in vessel and cargo, amounted a few years ago, according to lists filed, to upward of six thousand.
The claims, as is sometimes alleged, are not held by purchasers and speculators, but they are still owned, as heirlooms, by the descendants and legal representatives of the enterprising merchants and mariners who sought to develop our infant commerce and fearlessly plowed the seas. The names of some few of the claimants are given from the list of memorialists.
We find from Salem the names of Cabot, Chase, Derby, Crowninshield, Goodhue, and Coffin. From Portsmouth and Newburyport, the names of Cutts, Coffin, Coolidge, Chase, Lunt, and Peabody. From Charleston, De Pau, De Sassure, Hamilton, Hargraves, and Morris. From New York we find Hoffman, Seton, Rhinelander, Gracie, Hoyt, Roosevelt, Aspinwall, Bowne, Bleecker, Minturn, Classon, Cruger, Howland, Champlin, De Peyster, Goelet, Gibbs, Kemble, Lawrence, Livingston, Laight, Murray, Van Horn, Verplank, Gouverneur, and McEvers. We find Brooks, Gray, Hancock, Goddard, and Thorndike from Boston, and Beverly and other old names from Virginia. From Connecticut we find Griswold, Goodrich, and Fitch. From Philadelphia, Biddle, Coxe, Fisher, McAlister, Stewart, and Girard. From Baltimore, Barney, Hoffman, Oliver, Rogers, and Stewart. And along the coast from every port from Maine to Alabama are found names of familiar and historic sound comprised among these claimants.
A single merchant from Gloucester, Massachusetts, is among the claimants as a loser of 23 vessels and their cargoes.
For the last eighty years the subject has been presented to Congress in many shapes, and over forty-two reports have been made by committees of Congress in favor of the validity and justice of the claims. Some of the committees reported also bills to be acted upon by Congress appropriating $5,000,000 for the payment of the claims. Inasmuch, however, as the losses amount to between fifteen and twenty millions there is no good reason why $5,000,000 should be forced upon the claimants.
It looks as if Congress took advantage of its absolute powers to make a forced compromise with creditors who were to be treated like beggars. There is no reason why the receivers of stolen goods should be entitled to keep three-fourths, and hand over the balance to the victim in full condonation.
Reports to Congress have been made in favor of these claims by our most learned jurists and statesmen. Among them are one by Henry Clay, three by Edward Everett, three by Edward Livingston, one by Daniel Webster, three by Caleb Cushing, three by Rufus Choate, four by Truman Smith, and three by Charles Sumner, the last of his reports being made in
1874. The Legislatures of the thirteen original States have also at various times passed resolutions urging the passage of a bill in favor of the claimants.
Senator Sumner says in his report: