« PreviousContinue »
there, or even here, under the circumstances, ought to be reprobated altogether. The honorable Senator from Connecticut, (Mr. TOUCEY,] asked what was the meaning of the notice published by the Secretary of State. Was it designed to induce our fishermen to retire from their pursuits—to invite us to surrender the rights secured to us by the convention of 1818? The honorable senator was pleased to express his sorrow that he could not have confidence in the administration, and also an opinion that it needed to be prompted. The honorable and esteemed Senator from Louisiana, (Mr. SOULE,] was more cautious; but even he complained that some of our rights in the fisheries had “brutally been torn away”“ in the midst of the most profound peace,” and “when England was incessantly receiving most profuse tokens and manifestations of condescension, and was allowed to turn to her own advantage and profit the good will indulged toward us by Nicaragua, and had been allowed to introduce her bankers into our treasury, as agents in the payment of our debt to Mexico. These, said the senator, “I repeat it again, are strange times indeed.” Again that senator argued, that Mr. Webster had erred when he said, in the notice published by him, that it was “an oversight in the American Government to have made so large a concession to Great Britain in the convention of 1818." Further the honorable senator said:
“ We may, for aught we know, have negotiated away, by treaty, a branch of our revenue, with the hope that we would silence the roaring lion ; but the lion still roars, it seems, and will roar until he frightens us out of those bounds the participation in which we acquired by original occupation, if not otherwise : which we retained as a constitutive element of our separate existence as a nation ; which war itself could not wrest from us ; which we hold under no grace or favor of any one, but under the sufferance of God alone, and under the highest sanctions of the laws of nations ; for, in the language of the now redeemed negotiators, who signed the convention of 1818, ours is a right which cannot exclusively belong to, or be granted by, any nation. Sir, I ask it of you, would that be an attitude becoming this great country? But I believe not in these rumors ; it cannot have escaped that wise and clear-sighted person who now holds the seals of the state, and whose great mind and exalted patriotism are equal to any emergencies, that to negotiate under such circumstances, and sign a treaty, whatever its merits in other respects be, were to sink in the dust what of pride, what of dignity, what of honor, we have grown to in the rapid race which we had been running since we became a nation."
I disclaim the idea, that these strictures impute want of patriotism or of fidelity to the administration; but, when taken together with the facts which they assume, they seem to me to import a censure of this effect and extent, viz: that her Britannic Majesty's government has recently set up a new construction of the convention of 1818, by which it proposes now to draw lines from chief headland to chief headland, and thus to exclude American fishermen from the Bays of Fundy, Chaleur, and Mirimachi, and also from the Straits of Northumberland and the Gut of Canso, all of which have hitherto been enjoyed by our fishermen ; and that her Britannic Majesty's government has sent a large naval force into those waters to enforce that new construction, and has so attempted to bring us to negotiate for maintaining national rights at the cannon's mouth; that the executive has not acted with sufficient promptness and decision, has not properly resented an insult and an indignity received, and has already negotiated, or may be negotiating, or about to negotiate, in the presence of that naval force, in derogation from the interest or dignity or honor of the United States, and that Great Britain has been emboldened and rendered thus insolent by previous diplomatic triumphs over the present administration.
Sir, I take leave to say that there is a presumption, a violent presumption, against the soundness and the justness of all such censures. There is no want of firmness or of boldness in asserting American rights here or in the House of Representatives. Experience has shown, that the executive department has generally been quite as firm and as bold as Congress. Sir, the fisheries are a commercial interest. By peculiar fidelity in guarding such interests, this administration has deservedly gained the confidence of the commercial classes, the conservative classes of the country. . The fisheries are practically and peculiarly a northern interest. In the geographical balance they were once weighed against the free navigation of the Mississippi. The President of the United States and the Secretary of State are northern men. Each began, and, when he shall have closed his public career, each will rest in the associations of the north.
More than this : the fisheries are an interest of the states of Massachusetts and Maine, which practically are undivided and inseparable in commercial fortunes. The Secretary of State, in whose department this properly belongs, is a man of Massachusetts—is it too much to
ocean, with its fisheries, washes the shore of the farm on which he dwells. Nay, sir, he is an angler himself, I am told, and of course he is a good one, for he is not half and half in anything. He tills the sea, and I fear his principal harvests are gathered upon it; are gathered with the line, and not with the sickle. There is a strong presumption that the Secretary would be faithful to an interest so near to himself and the constituency to whom he chiefly owes the long public life which he has enjoyed. A distinguished artist of our country has enriched our academies with a national painting. It represents the Secretary of State defending the honor and fame of Massachusetts against the assault of an eminent orator of South Carolina, [Mr. HAYNE.] That is a heroic piece ; let honorable senators here take care that they do not provoke the artist to produce a comic counterpart, in which the Senators from Arkansas and Louisiana (Mr. Borland and Mr. Soule] may be presented in the act of saving Massachusetts from desolation brought on through the timidity of her own, her chosen and honored statesman. Such a picture might enter into a new and interesting series of political illustrations, to be entitled “The Vagaries of a Presidential Election."
Mr. President, the statesman thus impeached for want of boldness and firmness in defending his country's maritime rights, is he who replied to Great Britain, when claiming for the last time the right to “search ” American vessels, “The ocean is the sphere of the law of nations; every vessel on the seas is, by that law, under the protection of the laws of her own nation.” “The practice of impressing seamen from American vessels cannot hereafter be allowed to take place.” “In every regularly-documented American merchant vessel, the crew who navigate it will find their protection in the flag which is over them.”
Sir, the statesman thus impeached for being unreliable in defending the interests of Massachusetts, is he who, in the memorable debate to which I have referred, achieved his triumph with the words :
· I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts. She needs none. There she is. Behold ber, and judge for yourselves. There is her history ; the world knows it by heart. The past is at least secure. There is Boston, and Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill-and there they will remain forever.”
I shall enter into no encomium on the Secretary of State—he needs none. I should be incompetent to grasp so great a theme, if it were needed. The Secretary of State! There he is. Behold him, and judge for yourselves. There is his history; there are his ideas—his thoughts spread over every page of your annals for near half a century. There are his ideas, his thoughts impressed upon and inseparable from the mind of his country and the spirit
of the age. The world knows them all by heart. There they are, and there they will be forever. The past is at least secure. The past is enough, of itself, to guarantee a future of fame unapproachable and inextinguishable.*
Mr. President, a simple narrative shall now accomplish the two purposes for which I address the Senate. It shall show that the censures of honorable Senators are erroneous, and it will lead us to an exact knowledge of the issue involved in the question which occupies the Senate.
I pass by the treaty of 1783. All the world knows that, in common with the people of England, we were subjects of the King of Great Britain, and that in the war which terminated that connection we secured not only independence, but also an equal right, in common with those who remained subjects, in the fisheries, which had before been enjoyed in common. I pass by the treaty of 1815. It was a treaty concluded at the end of our second war with Great Britain. In that treaty, no allusion whatever was made to the subject; and so Great Britain contended that our rights to the fisheries were gone with the war, because they had not been re-established by the treaty of peace. We maintained, on the contrary, that we retained all those rights, because they had not been surrendered in the treaty of peace. The convention of 1818 was a convention made for the purpose of settling this great dispute, and did settle it in this way. The United States took, under it, the equal right to fish in common with his Britannic Majesty's subjects, in the waters that wash the southern coast of Newfoundland, from Cape Ray to the Rameau Islands; on the northern and western coasts of Newfoundland, from Cape Ray to the Quirpon Islands; and also the right to fish along the Magdalene Islands, and from Mount Jolly, on the southern coast of Labrador, to and through the Straits of Belleisle, and thence northward indefinitely. Here, on this map, you see these common fishing grounds. By that convention, the United States renounced all right to fish anywhere within the distance of three miles of the shore, within any other of the coasts, bays, creeks, or harbors of his Majesty's dominions in North America, or to enter them for any cause but distress and want of wood and water. The fisheries to which this provision was applicable were on the excepted coasts
* Mr. Webster highly appreciated the magnanimity of Mr. Seward in this instance, and acknowledged it in the handsomest terms.-ED.
of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, Prince Edward's Island, and a portion of Canada, called Gaspe. You see them all here on the chart.
Will the Senate please to notice that the principal fisheries in the waters to which these limitations apply, are the mackerel and the herring fisheries, and that these are what are called “shoal fisheries ;" that is to say, the best fishing for mackerel and herrings is within three miles of the shore. Therefore, by that renunciation, the United States renounced the best mackerel and herring fisheries. Senators please to notice also, that the privilege of resort to the shore constantly, to cure and dry fish, is very important. Fish can be cured sooner; and the sooner cured, the better they are, and the better is the market price. This circumstance has given to the colonies a great advantage over us in this trade. It has stimulated their desire to abridge the American fishery as much as possible; and indeed they seek naturally enough to procure our exclusion altogether from the fishing grounds. Such was the convention of 1818, and such its effects.
On the 14th of June, 1819, the British parliament passed an act for the purpose of carrying the provisions of this treaty into effect, by which they authorized the king to issue orders in council. By orders in council, the government of Great Britain provided for the seizure of persons trespassing within the forbidden fishing grounds, or abusing the conceded privileges.
The provincial government of Nova Scotia, in 1836, passed a very stringent law for the purpose, or under the pretext, of preventing encroachments by American fishermen; and simultaneously with this act, they set up the claim to exclude the American fishermen from entering the great bays of Fundy and Chaleur, and all other great bays; and also to shut up the Gut of Canso, to prevent American fishermen from using that very necessary channel to reach the Straits of Northumberland and the Gulf of St. Law
That province asserted, at the same time, that by the true and just construction of the convention of 1818, we were excluded from the British harbors and waters, except in case of actual distress; and authorized the police to assume to judge absolutely what were cases of distress, and when the plea was at end; and declared it a cause of forfeiture, also, when a fisherman came in for wood or water, without showing that he had been well supplied when he left home. The province also declared it an abuse