HumanitiesWeb.org - John Tyler and the slave trade by John Tyler
HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
WelcomeHistoryLiteratureArtMusicPhilosophyResourcesHelp
Regions Alphabetically Nationality Timelines Topics Glossary
pixel

Tyler
Index
Biography
Selected Works
Quotations
According To...
Suggested Reading
Chronology
Related Materials

Search

Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc
FEEDBACK

(C)1998-2013
All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013

John Tyler and the slave trade

by John Tyler

FROM THE MESSAGES AND PAPERS OF JOHN TYLER

SPECIAL SESSION MESSAGE.

WASHINGTON, June 1, 1841...

I shall also at the proper season invite your attention to the statutory enactments for the suppression of the slave trade, which may require to be rendered more efficient in their provisions. There is reason to believe that the traffic is on the increase. Whether such increase is to be ascribed to the abolition of slave labor in the British possessions in our vicinity and an attendant diminution in the supply of those articles which enter into the general consumption of the world, thereby augmenting the demand from other quarters, and thus calling for additional labor, it were needless to inquire. The highest considerations of public honor as well as the strongest promptings of humanity require a resort to the most vigorous efforts to suppress the trade.
WASHINGTON, January 19, 1842.

To the Senate of the United States:

I transmit to the Senate herewith a report* from the Secretary of State, with accompanying papers, in answer to their resolution of the 11th instant.

JOHN TYLER. *Transmitting correspondence relative to the action of the authorities of Nassau, New Providence, in the imprisonment of slaves charged with mutiny and murder, the refusal to surrender them to the United States consul for trial in the United States, and the liberation of slaves, all of said slaves being a part of the cargo of the United States brig Creole.
JANUARY 27, 1842.

To the House of Representatives:

I transmit herewith a report* of the Secretary of War, in answer to the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 9th August, 1841.

JOHN TYLER.

*Relating to the origin of the Seminole war, slaves captured during said war by United States troops, etc.
WASHINGTON, February 28, 1842.

To the House of Representatives:

I have the honor to submit copies of the correspondence* and other documents called for by the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 2d February.

I am not informed of the existence of any official opinion of the late Judge Johnson on the unconstitutionality of the act or acts of the State of South Carolina upon the subject referred to in the resolution.

JOHN TYLER.

*Relating to an act of the legislature of South Carolina providing for the imprisonment of free negroes found on board vessels entering any of the ports of that State, complaints of the British Government relative to the operation of said act, etc.
WASHINGTON, June 20, 1842.

To the House of Representatives:

A resolution of the House of Representatives of the 13th instant has been communicated to me, requesting, "so far as may be compatible with the public interest, a copy of the quintuple treaty between the five powers of Europe for the suppression of the African slave trade, and also copies of any remonstrance or protest addressed by Lewis Cass, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States at the Court of France, to that Government, against the ratification by France of the said treaty, and of all correspondence between the Governments of the United States and of France, and of all communications from the said Lewis Cass to his own Government and from this Government to him relating thereto."

In answer to this request I have to say that the treaty mentioned therein has not been officially communicated to the Government of the United States, and no authentic copy of it, therefore, can be furnished. In regard to the other papers requested, although it is my hope and expectation that it will be proper and convenient at an early day to lay them before Congress, together with others connected with the same subjects, yet in my opinion a communication of them to the House of Representatives at this time would not be compatible with the public interest.

JOHN TYLER.
WASHINGTON, August 11, 1842.

To the Senate of the United States:

I have the satisfaction to communicate to the Senate the results of the negotiations recently had in this city with the British minister, special and extraordinary.

These results comprise—

First. A treaty to settle and define the boundaries between the territories of the United States and the possessions of Her Britannic Majesty in North America, for the suppression of the African slave trade, and the surrender of criminals fugitive from justice in certain cases.

Second. A correspondence on the subject of the interference of the colonial authorities of the British West Indies with American merchant vessels driven by stress of weather or carried by violence into the ports of those colonies.

Third. A correspondence upon the subject of the attack and destruction of the steamboat Caroline.

Fourth. A correspondence on the subject of impressment.

If this treaty shall receive the approbation of the Senate, it will terminate a difference respecting boundary which has long subsisted between the two Governments, has been the subject of several ineffectual attempts at settlement, and has sometimes led to great irritation, not without danger of disturbing the existing peace. Both the United States and the States more immediately concerned have entertained no doubt of the validity of the American title to all the territory which has been in dispute, but that title was controverted and the Government of the United States had agreed to make the dispute a subject of arbitration. One arbitration had been actually had, but had failed to settle the controversy, and it was found at the commencement of last year that a correspondence had been in progress between the two Governments for a joint commission, with an ultimate reference to an umpire or arbitrator with authority to make a final decision. That correspondence, however, had been retarded by various occurrences, and had come to no definite result when the special mission of Lord Ashburton was announced. This movement on the part of England afforded in the judgment of the Executive a favorable opportunity for making an attempt to settle this long-existing controversy by some agreement or treaty without further reference to arbitration.

It seemed entirely proper that if this purpose were entertained consultation should be had with the authorities of the States of Maine and Massachusetts. Letters, therefore, of which copies are herewith communicated, were addressed to the governors of those States, suggesting that commissioners should be appointed by each of them, respectively, to repair to this city and confer with the authorities of this Government on a line by agreement or compromise, with its equivalents and compensations. This suggestion was met by both States in a spirit of candor and patriotism and promptly complied with. Four commissioners on the part of Maine and three on the part of Massachusetts, all persons of distinction and high character, were duly appointed and commissioned and lost no time in presenting themselves at the seat of the Government of the United States. These commissioners have been in correspondence with this Government during the period of the discussions; have enjoyed its confidence and freest communications; have aided the general object with their counsel and advice, and in the end have unanimously signified their assent to the line proposed in the treaty.

Ordinarily it would be no easy task to reconcile and bring together such a variety of interests in a matter in itself difficult and perplexed, but the efforts of the Government in attempting to accomplish this desirable object have been seconded and sustained by a spirit of accommodation and conciliation on the part of the States concerned, to which much of the success of these efforts is to be ascribed.

Connected with the settlement of the line of the northeastern boundary, so far as it respects the States of Maine and Massachusetts, is the continuation of that line along the highlands to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River. Which of the sources of that stream is entitled to this character has been matter of controversy and of some interest to the State of New Hampshire. The King of the Netherlands decided the main branch to be the northwesternmost head of the Connecticut. This did not satisfy the claim of New Hampshire. The line agreed to in the present treaty follows the highlands to the head of Halls Stream and thence down that river, embracing the whole claim of New Hampshire and establishing her title to 100,000 acres of territory more than she would have had by the decision of the King of the Netherlands.

By the treaty of 1783 the line is to proceed down the Connecticut River to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude, and thence west by that parallel till it strikes the St. Lawrence. Recent examinations having ascertained that the line heretofore received as the true line of latitude between those points was erroneous, and that the correction of this error would not only leave on the British side a considerable tract of territory heretofore supposed to belong to the States of Vermont and New York, but also Rouses Point, the site of a military work of the United States, it has been regarded as an object of importance not only to establish the rights and jurisdiction of those States up to the line to which they have been considered to extend, but also to comprehend Rouses Point within the territory of the United States. The relinquishment by the British Government of all the territory south of the line heretofore considered to be the true line has been obtained, and the consideration for this relinquishment is to inure by the provisions of the treaty to the States of Maine and Massachusetts.

The line of boundary, then, from the source of the St. Croix to the St. Lawrence, so far as Maine and Massachusetts are concerned, is fixed by their own consent and for considerations satisfactory to them, the chief of these considerations being the privilege of transporting the lumber and agricultural products grown and raised in Maine on the waters of the St. Johns and its tributaries down that river to the ocean free from imposition or disability. The importance of this privilege, perpetual in its terms, to a country covered at present by pine forests of great value, and much of it capable hereafter of agricultural improvement, is not a matter upon which the opinion of intelligent men is likely to be divided.

So far as New Hampshire is concerned, the treaty secures all that she requires, and New York and Vermont are quieted to the extent of their claim and occupation. The difference which would be made in the northern boundary of these two States by correcting the parallel of latitude may be seen on Tanner's maps (1836), new atlas, maps Nos. 6 and 9.

From the intersection of the forty-fifth degree of north latitude with the St. Lawrence and along that river and the lakes to the water communication between Lake Huron and Lake Superior the line was definitively agreed on by the commissioners of the two Governments under the sixth article of the treaty of Ghent; but between this last-mentioned point and the Lake of the Woods the commissioners acting under the seventh article of that treaty found several matters of disagreement, and therefore made no joint report to their respective Governments. The first of these was Sugar Island, or St. Georges Island, lying in St. Marys River, or the water communication between Lakes Huron and Superior. By the present treaty this island is embraced in the territories of the United States. Both from soil and position it is regarded as of much value.

Another matter of difference was the manner of extending the line from the point at which the commissioners arrived, north of Isle Royale, in Lake Superior, to the Lake of the Woods. The British commissioner insisted on proceeding to Fond du Lac, at the southwest angle of the lake, and thence by the river St. Louis to the Rainy Lake. The American commissioner supposed the true course to be to proceed by way of the Dog River. Attempts were made to compromise this difference, but without success. The details of these proceedings are found at length in the printed separate reports of the commissioners.

From the imperfect knowledge of this remote country at the date of the treaty of peace, some of the descriptions in that treaty do not harmonize with its natural features as now ascertained. "Long Lake" is nowhere to be found under that name. There is reason for supposing, however, that the sheet of water intended by that name is the estuary at the mouth of Pigeon River. The present treaty therefore adopts that estuary and river, and afterwards pursues the usual route across the height of land by the various portages and small lakes till the line reaches Rainy Lake, from which the commissioners agreed on the extension of it to its termination in the northwest angle of the Lake of the Woods. The region of country on and near the shore of the lake between Pigeon River on the north and Fond du Lac and the river St. Louis on the south and west, considered valuable as a mineral region, is thus included within the United States. It embraces a territory of 4,000,000 acres northward of the claim set up by the British commissioner under the treaty of Ghent. From the height of land at the head of Pigeon River westerly to the Rainy Lake the country is understood to be of little value, being described by surveyors and marked on the map as a region of rock and water.

From the northwest angle of the Lake of the Woods, which is found to be in latitude 45░ 23' 55" north, existing treaties require the line to be run due south to its intersection with the forty-fifth parallel, and thence along that parallel to the Rocky Mountains.

After sundry informal communications with the British minister upon the subject of the claims of the two countries to territory west of the Rocky Mountains, so little probability was found to exist of coming to any agreement on that subject at present that it was not thought expedient to make it one of the subjects of formal negotiation to be entered upon between this Government and the British minister as part of his duties under his special mission.

By the treaty of 1783 the line of division along the rivers and lakes from the place where the forty-fifth parallel of north latitude strikes the St. Lawrence to the outlet of Lake Superior is invariably to be drawn through the middle of such waters, and not through the middle of their main channels. Such a line, if extended according to the literal terms of the treaty, would, it is obvious, occasionally intersect islands. The manner in which the commissioners of the two Governments dealt with this difficult subject may be seen in their reports. But where the line thus following the middle of the river or water course did not meet with islands, yet it was liable sometimes to leave the only practicable navigable channel altogether on one side. The treaty made no provision for the common use of the waters by the citizens and subjects of both countries.

It has happened, therefore, in a few instances that the use of the river in particular places would be greatly diminished to one party or the other if in fact there was not a choice in the use of channels and passages. Thus at the Long Sault, in the St. Lawrence—a dangerous passage, practicable only for boats—the only safe run is between the Long Sault Islands and Barnharts Island (all which belong to the United States) on one side and the American shore on the other. On the other hand, by far the best passage for vessels of any depth of water from Lake Erie into the Detroit River is between Bois Blanc, a British island, and the Canadian shore. So again, there are several channels or passages, of different degrees of facility and usefulness, between the several islands in the river St. Clair at or near its entry into the lake of that name. In these three cases the treaty provides that all the several passages and channels shall be free and open to the use of the citizens and subjects of both parties.

The treaty obligations subsisting between the two countries for the suppression of the African slave trade and the complaints made to this Government within the last three or four years, many of them but too well founded, of the visitation, seizure, and detention of American vessels on that coast by British cruisers could not but form a delicate and highly important part of the negotiations which have now been held.

The early and prominent part which the Government of the United States has taken for the abolition of this unlawful and inhuman traffic is well known. By the tenth article of the treaty of Ghent it is declared that the traffic in slaves is irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and justice, and that both His Majesty and the United States are desirous of continuing their efforts to promote its entire abolition; and it is thereby agreed that both the contracting parties shall use their best endeavors to accomplish so desirable an object. The Government of the United States has by law declared the African slave trade piracy, and at its suggestion other nations have made similar enactments. It has not been wanting in honest and zealous efforts, made in conformity with the wishes of the whole country, to accomplish the entire abolition of the traffic in slaves upon the African coast, but these efforts and those of other countries directed to the same end have proved to a considerable degree unsuccessful. Treaties are known to have been entered into some years ago between England and France by which the former power, which usually maintains a large naval force on the African station, was authorized to seize and bring in for adjudication vessels found engaged in the slave trade under the French flag.

It is known that in December last a treaty was signed in London by the representatives of England, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria having for its professed object a strong and united effort of the five powers to put an end to the traffic. This treaty was not officially communicated to the Government of the United States, but its provisions and stipulations are supposed to be accurately known to the public. It is understood to be not yet ratified on the part of France.

No application or request has been made to this Government to become party to this treaty, but the course it might take in regard to it has excited no small degree of attention and discussion in Europe, as the principle upon which it is founded and the stipulations which it contains have caused warm animadversions and great political excitement.

In my message at the commencement of the present session of Congress I endeavored to state the principles which this Government supports respecting the right of search and the immunity of flags. Desirous of maintaining those principles fully, at the same time that existing obligations should be fulfilled, I have thought it most consistent with the honor and dignity of the country that it should execute its own laws and perform its own obligations by its own means and its own power.

The examination or visitation of the merchant vessels of one nation by the cruisers of another for any purpose except those known and acknowledged by the law of nations, under whatever restraints or regulations it may take place, may lead to dangerous results. It is far better by other means to supersede any supposed necessity or any motive for such examination or visit. Interference with a merchant vessel by an armed cruiser is always a delicate proceeding, apt to touch the point of national honor as well as to affect the interests of individuals. It has been thought, therefore, expedient, not only in accordance with the stipulations of the treaty of Ghent, but at the same time as removing all pretext on the part of others for violating the immunities of the American flag upon the seas, as they exist and are defined by the law of nations, to enter into the articles now submitted to the Senate.

The treaty which I now submit to you proposes no alteration, mitigation, or modification of the rules of the law of nations. It provides simply that each of the two Governments shall maintain on the coast of Africa a sufficient squadron to enforce separately and respectively the laws, rights, and obligations of the two countries for the suppression of the slave trade.

Another consideration of great importance has recommended this mode of fulfilling the duties and obligations of the country. Our commerce along the western coast of Africa is extensive, and supposed to be increasing. There is reason to think that in many cases those engaged in it have met with interruptions and annoyances caused by the jealousy and instigation of rivals engaged in the same trade. Many complaints on this subject have reached the Government. A respectable naval force on the coast is the natural resort and security against further occurrences of this kind.

The surrender to justice of persons who, having committed high crimes, seek an asylum in the territories of a neighboring nation would seem to be an act due to the cause of general justice and properly belonging to the present state of civilization and intercourse. The British Provinces of North America are separated from the States of the Union by a line of several thousand miles, and along portions of this line the amount of population on either side is quite considerable, while the passage of the boundary is always easy.

Offenders against the law on the one side transfer themselves to the other. Sometimes, with great difficulty, they are brought to justice, but very often they wholly escape. A consciousness of immunity from the power of avoiding justice in this way instigates the unprincipled and reckless to the commission of offenses, and the peace and good neighborhood of the border are consequently often disturbed.

In the case of offenders fleeing from Canada into the United States, the governors of States are often applied to for their surrender, and questions of a very embarrassing nature arise from these applications. It has been thought highly important, therefore, to provide for the whole case by a proper treaty stipulation. The article on the subject in the proposed treaty is carefully confined to such offenses as all mankind agree to regard as heinous and destructive of the security of life and property. In this careful and specific enumeration of crimes the object has been to exclude all political offenses or criminal charges arising from wars or intestine commotions. Treason, misprision of treason, libels, desertion from military service, and other offenses of similar character are excluded.

And lest some unforeseen inconvenience or unexpected abuse should arise from the stipulation rendering its continuance in the opinion of one or both of the parties not longer desirable, it is left in the power of either to put an end to it at will.

The destruction of the steamboat Caroline at Schlosser four or five years ago occasioned no small degree of excitement at the time, and became the subject of correspondence between the two Governments. That correspondence, having been suspended for a considerable period, was renewed in the spring of the last year, but no satisfactory result having been arrived at, it was thought proper, though the occurrence had ceased to be fresh and recent, not to omit attention to it on the present occasion. It has only been so far discussed in the correspondence now submitted as it was accomplished by a violation of the territory of the United States. The letter of the British minister, while he attempts to justify that violation upon the ground of a pressing and overruling necessity, admitting, nevertheless, that even if justifiable an apology was due for it, and accompanying this acknowledgment with assurances of the sacred regard of his Government for the inviolability of national territory, has seemed to me sufficient to warrant forbearance from any further remonstrance against what took place as an aggression on the soil and territory of the country. On the subject of the interference of the British authorities in the West Indies, a confident hope is entertained that the correspondence which has taken place, showing the grounds taken by this Government and the engagements entered into by the British minister, will be found such as to satisfy the just expectation of the people of the United States.

The impressment of seamen from merchant vessels of this country by British cruisers, although not practiced in time of peace, and therefore not at present a productive cause of difference and irritation, has, nevertheless, hitherto been so prominent a topic of controversy and is so likely to bring on renewed contentions at the first breaking out of a European war that it has been thought the part of wisdom now to take it into serious and earnest consideration. The letter from the Secretary of State to the British minister explains the ground which the Government has assumed and the principles which it means to uphold. For the defense of these grounds and the maintenance of these principles the most perfect reliance is placed on the intelligence of the American people and on their firmness and patriotism in whatever touches the honor of the country or its great and essential interests.

JOHN TYLER.
SECOND ANNUAL MESSAGE.

I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the happy change in the aspect of our foreign affairs since my last annual message. Causes of complaint at that time existed between the United States and Great Britain which, attended by irritating circumstances, threatened most seriously the public peace. The difficulty of adjusting amicably the questions at issue between the two countries was in no small degree augmented by the lapse of time since they had their origin. The opinions entertained by the Executive on several of the leading topics in dispute were frankly set forth in the message at the opening of your late session. The appointment of a special minister by Great Britain to the United States with power to negotiate upon most of the points of difference indicated a desire on her part amicably to adjust them, and that minister was met by the Executive in the same spirit which had dictated his mission. The treaty consequent thereon having been duly ratified by the two Governments, a copy, together with the correspondence which accompanied it, is herewith communicated. I trust that whilst you may see in it nothing objectionable, it may be the means of preserving for an indefinite period the amicable relations happily existing between the two Governments. The question of peace or war between the United States and Great Britain is a question of the deepest interest, not only to themselves, but to the civilized world, since it is scarcely possible that a war could exist between them without endangering the peace of Christendom. The immediate effect of the treaty upon ourselves will be felt in the security afforded to mercantile enterprise, which, no longer apprehensive of interruption, adventures its speculations in the most distant seas, and, freighted with the diversified productions of every land, returns to bless our own. There is nothing in the treaty which in the slightest degree compromits the honor or dignity of either nation. Next to the settlement of the boundary line, which must always be a matter of difficulty between states as between individuals, the question which seemed to threaten the greatest embarrassment was that connected with the African slave trade.

By the tenth article of the treaty of Ghent it was expressly declared that—

Whereas the traffic in slaves is irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and justice, and whereas both His Majesty and the United States are desirous of continuing their efforts to promote its entire abolition, it is hereby agreed that both the contracting parties shall use their best endeavors to accomplish so desirable an object.

In the enforcement of the laws and treaty stipulations of Great Britain a practice had threatened to grow up on the part of its cruisers of subjecting to visitation ships sailing under the American flag, which, while it seriously involved our maritime rights, would subject to vexation a branch of our trade which was daily increasing, and which required the fostering care of Government. And although Lord Aberdeen in his correspondence with the American envoys at London expressly disclaimed all right to detain an American ship on the high seas, even if found with a cargo of slaves on board, and restricted the British pretension to a mere claim to visit and inquire, yet it could not well be discerned by the Executive of the United States how such visit and inquiry could be made without detention on the voyage and consequent interruption to the trade. It was regarded as the right of search presented only in a new form and expressed in different words, and I therefore felt it to be my duty distinctly to declare in my annual message to Congress that no such concession could be made, and that the United States had both the will and the ability to enforce their own laws and to protect their flag from being used for purposes wholly forbidden by those laws and obnoxious to the moral censure of the world. Taking the message as his letter of instructions, our then minister at Paris felt himself required to assume the same ground in a remonstrance which he felt it to be his duty to present to Mr. Guiz˘t, and through him to the King of the French, against what has been called the "quintuple treaty;" and his conduct in this respect met with the approval of this Government. In close conformity with these views the eighth article of the treaty was framed, which provides "that each nation shall keep afloat in the African seas a force not less than 80 guns, to act separately and apart, under instructions from their respective Governments, and for the enforcement of their respective laws and obligations." From this it will be seen that the ground assumed in the message has been fully maintained at the same time that the stipulations of the treaty of Ghent are to be carried out in good faith by the two countries, and that all pretense is removed for interference with our commerce for any purpose whatever by a foreign government. While, therefore, the United States have been standing up for the freedom of the seas, they have not thought proper to make that a pretext for avoiding a fulfillment of their treaty stipulations or a ground for giving countenance to a trade reprobated by our laws. A similar arrangement by the other great powers could not fail to sweep from the ocean the slave trade without the interpolation of any new principle into the maritime code. We may be permitted to hope that the example thus set will be followed by some if not all of them. We thereby also afford suitable protection to the fair trader in those seas, thus fulfilling at the same time the dictates of a sound policy and complying with the claims of justice and humanity.
WASHINGTON, January 9, 1843.

To the Senate of the United States:

I have received a resolution of the Senate of the 27th of December, in the following terms:

Resolved, That the President be requested to inform the Senate, if compatible with the public interest, whether the quintuple treaty for the suppression of the slave trade has been communicated to the Government of the United States in any form whatever, and, if so, by whom, for what purpose, and what answer may have been returned to such communication. Also to communicate to the Senate all the information which may have been received by the Government of the United States going to show that the "course which this Government might take in relation to said treaty has excited no small degree of attention and discussion in Europe." Also to inform the Senate how far the "warm animadversions" and the "great political excitement" which this treaty has caused in Europe have any application or reference to the United States. Also to inform the Senate what danger there was that "the laws and the obligations" of the United States in relation to the suppression of the slave trade would be "executed by others," if we did not "remove the pretext and motive for violating our flag and executing our laws" by entering into the stipulations for the African squadron and the remonstrating embassies which are contained in the eighth and ninth articles of the late British treaty. Also that the President be requested to communicate to the Senate all the correspondence with our ministers abroad relating to the foregoing points of inquiry. Also that the President be requested to communicate to the Senate all such information upon the negotiation of the African squadron articles as will show the origin of such articles and the history and progress of their formation.

I informed the Senate, in the message transmitting the treaty with England of the 9th of August last, that no application or request had been made to this Government to become a party to the quintuple treaty. Agents of the Government abroad, regarding the signature of that treaty as a political occurrence of some importance, obtained, unofficially, copies of it, and transmitted those copies to the Department of State, as other intelligence is communicated for the information of the Government. The treaty has not been communicated to the Government of the United States from any other quarter, in any other manner, or for any other purpose.

The next request expressed in the resolution is in these words:

Also to communicate to the Senate all the information which may have been received by the Government of the United States going to show that the "course which this Government might take in relation to said treaty has excited no small degree of attention and discussion in Europe." Also to inform the Senate how far the "warm animadversions" and the "great political excitement" which this treaty has caused in Europe have any application or reference to the United States.

The words quoted in this part of the resolution appear to be taken from my message above mentioned. In that communication I said:

No application or request has been made to this Government to become a party to this treaty, but the course it might take in regard to it has excited no small degree of attention and discussion in Europe, as the principle upon which it is founded and the stipulations which it contains have caused warm animadversions and great political excitement.

In my message at the commencement of the present session of Congress I endeavored to state the principles which this Government supports respecting the right of search and the immunity of flags. Desirous of maintaining those principles fully, at the same time that existing obligations should be fulfilled, I have thought it most consistent with the honor and dignity of the country that it should execute its own laws and perform its own obligations by its own means and its own power. The examination or visitation of the merchant vessels of one nation by the cruisers of another for any purposes except those known and acknowledged by the law of nations, under whatever restraints or regulations it may take place, may lead to dangerous results. It is far better by other means to supersede any supposed necessity or any motive for such examination or visit. Interference with a merchant vessel by an armed cruiser is always a delicate proceeding, apt to touch the point of national honor as well as to affect the interests of individuals. It has been thought, therefore, expedient, not only in accordance with the stipulations of the treaty of Ghent, but at the same time as removing all pretext on the part of others for violating the immunities of the American flag upon the seas as they exist and are defined by the law of nations, to enter into the articles now submitted to the Senate.

The treaty which I now submit to you proposes no alteration, mitigation, or modification of the rules of the law of nations. It provides simply that each of the two Governments shall maintain on the coast of Africa a sufficient squadron to enforce, separately and respectively, the laws, rights, and obligations of the two countries for the suppression of the slave trade.

These opinions were expressed by me officially upon the occasion of making to the Senate a communication of very great importance. It is not perceived how the accuracy of this general statement can be doubted by those who are acquainted with the debates of public bodies in Europe, the productions of the press, and the other modes by which public opinion is manifested in an enlightened age. It is not to be supposed that excited attention to public and national transactions or general political discussions in Europe on subjects open to all the world are known only in consequence of private information communicated to the Government, and feeling a strong persuasion that it would be improper in the Executive to go into any discussion or argument upon such a subject with the Senate, I have no further remarks to make upon this part of the inquiry.

The third inquiry is:

What danger there was that "the laws and the obligations" of the United States in relation to the suppression of the slave trade would be "executed by others" if we do not "remove the pretext and motive for violating our flag and executing our laws."

I have already quoted from the message the entire paragraph to a part of which this portion of the inquiry is supposed to refer.

As to the danger there was that the laws and the obligations of the United States in relation to the suppression of the slave trade would be executed by others if we did not remove the pretext and motive for violating our flag and provide for executing our laws, I might say that this depends upon notorious facts and occurrences, of which the evidence has been in various forms before the country and all the branches of the Government.

When I came to occupy the Executive chair I could not be ignorant of the numerous complaints which had been made on account of alleged interruptions of American vessels engaged in lawful commerce on the coast of Africa by British cruisers on the ground of their being engaged in the slave trade. I could not be ignorant, at the same time, of the well-grounded suspicions which pervaded the country that some American vessels were engaged in that odious and unlawful traffic. There were two dangers, then, to be guarded against—the one, that this traffic would continue to be carried on in American ships, and perhaps much increased, unless some new and vigorous effort should be made for its suppression; the other, that acquiescence in the capture of American vessels, notorious slave dealers, by British cruisers might give countenance to seizures and detentions of vessels lawfully employed on light or groundless suspicions. And cases had arisen under the administration of those who preceded me well calculated to show the extent and magnitude of this latter danger; and believing that very serious consequences might in time grow out of the obvious tendency and progress of things, I felt it to be my duty to arrest that progress, to rescue the immunity of the American flag from the danger which hung over it, and to do this by recommending such a provision for the execution of our own laws as should remove all pretense for the interference of others.

Among the occurrences to which I have alluded, it may be useful to particularize one case.

The schooner Catharine, an American vessel owned by citizens of the United States, was seized on the coast of Africa by the British cruiser called the Dolphin and brought into the port of New York in the summer of 1839. Upon being brought into port, Benjamin F. Butler, esq., district attorney of the United States for the southern district of New York, appeared in the district court of the United States for that district and in the name and behalf of the United States libeled the schooner, her apparel and furniture, for a violation of the several acts of Congress passed for the suppression of the slave trade. The schooner being arrested by the usual process in such cases and possession taken of her from the hands of the British captors by officers of the United States, the cause proceeded, and by a decree of the circuit court in December, 1840, a forfeiture was pronounced. From this decree an appeal was taken, which is now pending in the Supreme Court of the United States.

It is true that in another case, that of the Tigris, of like general character, soon after arising, the then Secretary of State, on the 1st of March, 1841, informed Mr. Fox, the British minister, that "however strong and unchangeable may be the determination of this Government to punish any citizens of the United States who violate the laws against the African slave trade, it will not permit the exercise of any authority by foreign armed vessels in the execution of those laws."

But it is evident that this general declaration did not relieve the subject from its difficulties. Vessels of the United States found engaged in the African slave trade are guilty of piracy under the acts of Congress. It is difficult to say that such vessels can claim any interference of the Government in their behalf, into whosesoever hands they may happen to fall, any more than vessels which should turn general pirates. Notorious African slave traders can not claim the protection of the American character, inasmuch as they are acting in direct violation of the laws of their country and stand denounced by those laws as pirates. In case of the seizure of such a vessel by a foreign cruiser, and of her being brought into a port of the United States, what is to be done with her? Shall she be libeled, prosecuted, and condemned as if arrested by a cruiser of the United States? If this is to be done, it is clear that the agency of a foreign power has been instrumental in executing the laws of the United States. Or, on the other hand, is the vessel, with all her offenses flagrant upon her, to be released on account of the agency by which she was seized, discharged of all penalties, and left at liberty to renew her illegal and nefarious traffic?

It appeared to me that the best, if not the only, mode of avoiding these and other difficulties was by adopting such a provision as is contained in the late treaty with England.

The Senate asks me for the reasons for entering into the stipulations for the "remonstrating embassies" contained in the late treaty. Surely there is no stipulation in the treaty for any "remonstrating embassies," or any other embassies, nor any reference or allusion to any such thing. In this respect all that the treaty provides is in the ninth article and is in these words:

The parties to this treaty agree that they will unite in all becoming representations and remonstrances with any and all powers within whose dominions such markets [for African slaves] are allowed to exist, and that they will urge upon all such powers the propriety and duty of closing such markets effectually, at once and forever.

It always gives me sincere pleasure to communicate to both Houses of Congress anything in my power which may aid them in the discharge of their high duties and which the public interest does not require to be withheld. In transmitting the late treaty to the Senate everything was caused to accompany it which it was supposed could enlighten the judgment of the Senate upon its various provisions. The views of the Executive, in agreeing to the eighth and ninth articles, were fully expressed, and pending the discussion in the Senate every call for further information was promptly complied with, and nothing kept back which the Senate desired. Upon this information and upon its own knowledge of the subject the Senate made up and pronounced its judgment upon its own high responsibility, and as the result of that judgment the treaty was ratified, as the Journal shows, by a vote of 39 to 9. The treaty has thus become the law of the land by the express advice of the Senate, given in the most solemn manner known to its proceedings. The fourth request is—

That the President be requested to communicate to the Senate all the correspondence with our ministers abroad relating to the foregoing points of inquiry.

If this branch of the resolution were more definite, some parts of it might perhaps be met without prejudice to the public interest by extracts from the correspondence referred to. At a future day a communication may be expected to be made as broad and general as a proper regard to these interests will admit, but at present I deem any such communication not to be consistent with the public interest.

The fifth and last is—

That the President be requested to communicate to the Senate all such information upon the negotiation of the African squadron articles as will show the origin of such articles and the history and progress of their formation.

These articles were proposed to the British minister by the Secretary of State under my express sanction and were acceded to by him and have since been ratified by both Governments. I might without disrespect speak of the novelty of inquiring by the Senate into the history and progress of articles of a treaty through a negotiation which has terminated, and as the result of which these articles have become the law of the land by the constitutional advice of the Senate itself. But I repeat that those articles had their origin in a desire on the part of the Government of the United States to fulfill its obligations, entered into by the treaty of Ghent, to do its utmost for the suppression of the African slave trade, and to accomplish this object by such means as should not lead to the interruption of the lawful commerce of the United States or any derogation from the dignity and immunity of their flag. And I have the satisfaction to believe that both the Executive, in negotiating the treaty of which these articles form part, and the Senate, in advising to its ratification, have effected an object important to the Government and satisfactory to the people.

In conclusion I hope I may be permitted to observe that I have, out of a profound respect for the Senate, been induced to make this communication in answer to inquiries some of which at least are believed to be without precedent in the history of the relations between that body and the executive department. These inquiries were particularly unexpected to me at the present moment. As I had been so fortunate as to find my own views of the expediency of ratifying the late treaty with England confirmed by a vote of somewhat more than four-fifths of the Senators present, I have hitherto flattered myself that the motives which influenced my conduct had been fully appreciated by those who advised and approved it, and that if a necessity should ever arise for any special explanation or defense in regard to those motives it could scarcely be in that assembly itself.

JOHN TYLER.
WASHINGTON, February 27, 1843.

To the House of Representatives:

In compliance with the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 22d instant, requesting me to communicate to the House "whatever correspondence or communication may have been received from the British Government respecting the President's construction of the late British treaty concluded at Washington as it concerns an alleged right to visit American vessels," I herewith transmit a report made to me by the Secretary of State.

I have also thought proper to communicate copies of Lord Aberdeen's letter of the 20th December, 1841, to Mr. Everett, Mr. Everett's letter of the 23d December in reply thereto, and extracts from several letters of Mr. Everett to the Secretary of State.

I can not forego the expression of my regret at the apparent purport of a part of Lord Aberdeen's dispatch to Mr. Fox. I had cherished the hope that all possibility of misunderstanding as to the true construction of the eighth article of the treaty lately concluded between Great Britain and the United States was precluded by the plain and well-weighed language in which it is expressed. The desire of both Governments is to put an end as speedily as possible to the slave trade, and that desire, I need scarcely add, is as strongly and as sincerely felt by the United States as it can be by Great Britain. Yet it must not be forgotten that the trade, though now universally reprobated, was up to a late period prosecuted by all who chose to engage in it, and there were unfortunately but very few Christian powers whose subjects were not permitted, and even encouraged, to share in the profits of what was regarded as a perfectly legitimate commerce. It originated at a period long before the United States had become independent and was carried on within our borders in opposition to the most earnest remonstrances and expostulations of some of the colonies in which it was most actively prosecuted. Those engaged in it were as little liable to inquiry or interruption as any others. Its character, thus fixed by common consent and general practice, could only be changed by the positive assent of each and every nation, expressed either in the form of municipal law or conventional arrangement. The United States led the way in efforts to suppress it. They claimed no right to dictate to others, but they resolved, without waiting for the cooperation of other powers, to prohibit it to their own citizens and to visit its perpetration by them with condign punishment. I may safely affirm that it never occurred to this Government that any new maritime right accrued to it from the position it had thus assumed in regard to the slave trade. If before our laws for its suppression the flag of every nation might traverse the ocean unquestioned by our cruisers, this freedom was not, in our opinion, in the least abridged by our municipal legislation.

Any other doctrine, it is plain, would subject to an arbitrary and ever-varying system of maritime police, adopted at will by the great naval power for the time being, the trade of the world in any places or in any articles which such power might see fit to prohibit to its own subjects or citizens. A principle of this kind could scarcely be acknowledged without subjecting commerce to the risk of constant and harassing vexations.

The attempt to justify such a pretension from the right to visit and detain ships upon reasonable suspicion of piracy would deservedly be exposed to universal condemnation, since it would be an attempt to convert an established rule of maritime law, incorporated as a principle into the international code by the consent of all nations, into a rule and principle adopted by a single nation and enforced only by its assumed authority. To seize and detain a ship upon suspicion of piracy, with probable cause and in good faith, affords no just ground either for complaint on the part of the nation whose flag she bears or claim of indemnity on the part of the owner. The universal law sanctions and the common good requires the existence of such a rule. The right under such circumstances not only to visit and detain but to search a ship is a perfect right and involves neither responsibility nor indemnity. But, with this single exception, no nation has in time of peace any authority to detain the ships of another upon the high seas on any pretext whatever beyond the limits of her territorial jurisdiction. And such, I am happy to find, is substantially the doctrine of Great Britain herself in her most recent official declarations, and even in those now communicated to the House. These declarations may well lead us to doubt whether the apparent difference between the two Governments is not rather one of definition than of principle. Not only is the right of search, properly so called, disclaimed by Great Britain, but even that of mere visit and inquiry is asserted with qualifications inconsistent with the idea of a perfect right.

In the dispatch of Lord Aberdeen to Mr. Everett of the 20th of December, 1841, as also in that just received by the British minister in this country made to Mr. Fox, his lordship declares that if in spite of all the precaution which shall be used to prevent such occurrences an American ship, by reason of any visit or detention by a British cruiser, "should suffer loss and injury, it would be followed by prompt and ample remuneration;" and in order to make more manifest her intentions in this respect, Lord Aberdeen in the dispatch of the 20th December makes known to Mr. Everett the nature of the instructions given to the British cruisers. These are such as, if faithfully observed, would enable the British Government to approximate the standard of a fair indemnity. That Government has in several cases fulfilled her promises in this particular by making adequate reparation for damage done to our commerce. It seems obvious to remark that a right which is only to be exercised under such restrictions and precautions and risk, in case of any assignable damage to be followed by the consequences of a trespass, can scarcely be considered anything more than a privilege asked for and either conceded or withheld on the usual principles of international comity.

The principles laid down in Lord Aberdeen's dispatches and the assurances of indemnity therein held out, although the utmost reliance was placed on the good faith of the British Government, were not regarded by the Executive as a sufficient security against the abuses which Lord Aberdeen admitted might arise in even the most cautious and moderate exercise of their new maritime police, and therefore in my message at the opening of the last session I set forth the views entertained by the Executive on this subject, and substantially affirmed both our inclination and ability to enforce our own laws, protect our flag from abuse, and acquit ourselves of all our duties and obligations on the high seas. In view of these assertions the treaty of Washington was negotiated, and upon consultation with the British negotiator as to the quantum of force necessary to be employed in order to attain these objects, the result to which the most deliberate estimate led was embodied in the eighth article of the treaty.

Such were my views at the time of negotiating that treaty, and such, in my opinion, is its plain and fair interpretation. I regarded the eighth article as removing all possible pretext on the ground of mere necessity to visit and detain our ships upon the African coast because of any alleged abuse of our flag by slave traders of other nations. We had taken upon ourselves the burden of preventing any such abuse by stipulating to furnish an armed force regarded by both the high contracting parties as sufficient to accomplish that object.

Denying as we did and do all color of right to exercise any such general police over the flags of independent nations, we did not demand of Great Britain any formal renunciation of her pretension; still less had we the idea of yielding anything ourselves in that respect. We chose to make a practical settlement of the question. This we owed to what we had already done upon this subject. The honor of the country called for it; the honor of its flag demanded that it should not be used by others to cover an iniquitous traffic. This Government, I am very sure, has both the inclination and the ability to do this; and if need be it will not content itself with a fleet of eighty guns, but sooner than any foreign government shall exercise the province of executing its laws and fulfilling its obligations, the highest of which is to protect its flag alike from abuse or insult, it would, I doubt not, put in requisition for that purpose its whole naval power. The purpose of this Government is faithfully to fulfill the treaty on its part, and it will not permit itself to doubt that Great Britain will comply with it on hers. In this way peace will best be preserved and the most amicable relations maintained between the two countries.

JOHN TYLER.
THIRD ANNUAL MESSAGE.

I am happy to inform you that the cases which have from time to time arisen of the detention of American vessels by British cruisers on the coast of Africa under pretense of being engaged in the slave trade have been placed in a fair train of adjustment. In the case of the William and Francis full satisfaction will be allowed. In the cases of the Tygris and Seamew the British Government admits that satisfaction is due. In the case of the Jones the sum accruing from the sale of that vessel and cargo will be paid to the owners, while I can not but flatter myself that full indemnification will be allowed for all damages sustained by the detention of the vessel; and in the case of the Douglas Her Majesty's Government has expressed its determination to make indemnification. Strong hopes are therefore entertained that most, if not all, of these cases will be speedily adjusted. No new cases have arisen since the ratification of the treaty of Washington, and it is confidently anticipated that the slave trade, under the operation of the eighth article of that treaty, will be altogether suppressed.
WASHINGTON, February 20, 1844.

To the Senate of the United States:

I transmit to the Senate a report* from the Secretary of State, with accompanying documents, in answer to their resolution of the 31st of January last.

JOHN TYLER.

* Relating to slaves committing crimes and escaping from the United States to the British dominions since the ratification of the treaty of 1842, and the refusal of the British authorities to give them up, and to the construction which the British Government puts upon the article of said treaty relative to slaves committing crimes in the United States and taking refuge in the British dominions.
WASHINGTON, March 7, 1844.

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

I transmit to the House of Representatives a report* from the Secretary of State, with documents, containing the information requested by their resolution of the 26th ultimo.

JOHN TYLER.

* Relating to the colony of Liberia, in Africa.
WASHINGTON, March 9, 1844.

To the Senate of the United States:

I transmit to the Senate, in answer to their resolution of the 21st ultimo, a report* from the Secretary of State, with accompanying papers.

JOHN TYLER.

* Relating to the abuse of the United States flag in subservience to the African slave trade, and to the taking away of slaves the property of Portuguese subjects in vessels owned or employed by citizens of the United States.
WASHINGTON, May 18, 1844.

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

In answer to a resolution of the House of Representatives of the 3d of January last, requesting the President of the United States "to cause to be communicated to that House copies of all the instructions given to the commanding officers of the squadron stipulated by the treaty with Great Britain of 9th of August, 1842, to be kept on the coast of Africa for the suppression of the slave trade," and also copies of the "instructions given by the British Government to their squadron stipulated by the same, if such instructions have been communicated to this Government," I have to inform the House of Representatives that in my opinion it would be incompatible with the public interests to communicate to that body at this time copies of the instructions referred to.

JOHN TYLER.
FOURTH ANNUAL MESSAGE.

It would have given me the highest gratification in this my last annual communication to Congress to have been able to announce to you the complete and entire settlement and adjustment of other matters in difference between the United States and the Government of Her Britannic Majesty, which were adverted to in a previous message. It is so obviously the interest of both countries, in respect to the large and valuable commerce which exists between them, that all causes of complaint, however inconsiderable, should be with the greatest promptitude removed that it must be regarded as cause of regret that any unnecessary delays should be permitted to intervene. It is true that in a pecuniary point of view the matters alluded to are altogether insignificant in amount when compared with the ample resources of that great nation, but they nevertheless, more particularly that limited class which arise under seizures and detentions of American ships on the coast of Africa upon the mistaken supposition indulged in at the time the wrong was committed of their being engaged in the slave trade, deeply affect the sensibilities of this Government and people. Great Britain, having recognized her responsibility to repair all such wrongs by her action in other cases, leaves nothing to be regretted upon the subject as to all cases arising prior to the treaty of Washington than the delay in making suitable reparation in such of them as fall plainly within the principle of others which she has long since adjusted. The injury inflicted by delays in the settlement of these claims falls with severity upon the individual claimants and makes a strong appeal to her magnanimity and sense of justice for a speedy settlement. Other matters arising out of the construction of existing treaties also remain unadjusted, and will continue to be urged upon her attention.

The operations of the squadron on the coast of Africa have been conducted with all due attention to the object which led to its origination, and I am happy to say that the officers and crews have enjoyed the best possible health under the system adopted by the officer in command. It is believed that the United States is the only nation which has by its laws subjected to the punishment of death as pirates those who may be engaged in the slave trade. A similar enactment on the part of other nations would not fail to be attended by beneficial results.
Personae

Terms Defined

Referenced Works