Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

to which it belongs. The only inconvenience they can suffer from it arises from the immense expense, required for its maintenance, and for the conduct of the distant expeditions, which it tempts the government that wields it to undertake. It is, in like manner, not directly dangerous to the liberty and independence of other nations; unless, indeed, as has never yet happened, it should exist in connexion with a great development of military power.

In general, it makes no attempt upon the territorial security of foreigners, but, like other sea monsters, waits for its victims upon its own element. Hence a great naval power is, upon the whole, much less formidable to other nations, than a great military one, which is sure, in the end, to destroy the independence of every thing weaker within its reach. Still, within the limits which the laws of nature assign to its exercise, the former is equally liable to abuse, and has, indeed, within these limits, been abused in all ages to a still greater extent. The abuse of military power has at all times and places, where there existed any pretension to civilization, been confined to invade the national rights and public property of foreigners; while the property and person of the peaceful private citizen have been left unmolested. The abuse of naval power, on the contrary, has always partaken, in a greater or less degree, of a piratical spirit; and has uniformly been exercised upon private property employed in lawful commerce. The remnant of professed piracy has in these latter times been dignified with the title of a rule of law; and while it is reckoned uncivilized,

; inhuman, and against the law of nations, for an army to plunder private property on land, it is thought perfectly consistent with the same law, as well as with the dictates of humanity and the usages of civilized society, for a ship of war to plunder private property at sea.

Thus, what is a crime upon one element, becomes lawful and just upon another. In the wars of barbarous nations, there is no distinction between public and private property. Every thing, even to the persons of the conquered, becomes the prey of the conqueror. But it is one of the strongest inconsistencies among

the

many which disfigure the public law of Europe, that the milder spirit of civilization, which has introduced this distinction in military warfare, should have left in full force at sea the iron maxims of former times.

The determination of the laws and usages of war by land and sea depends, in a great measure, on the disposition and character of the dominant powers upon these respective elements, and the superior inhumanity of the maritime code is, consequently, not very honourable to England. Ever since the spirit of civilization began to mitigate the ancient horrors of war, England has enjoyed an almost undisputed ascendancy at sea. Her influence and practice have, of course, regulated the laws of naval warfare ; and to her must be mainly attributed the cruelty, by which it is still disgraced. England has not only continued with unrelenting rigour, up to the present day, the practice of plundering the private property of enemies at sea, but has pushed her pretensions to a most unwarrantable and vexatious extent, in regard to the private property of individuals of other nations, wholly unconnected with the quarrel. According to the maritime, which, as I have said, is in substance the British code of public law, two governments, by going to war, acquire a sort of superintending power over the lawful commerce of every other nation on the globe. The right of plundering the private property of enemies is, according to this system, so sacred and favourable, that it may be exercised upon such property, even in the hands of third persons; and although these persons, confessedly wholly innocent of the quarrel, may suffer very much by the operation. Hence

. arises the pretended belligerent right of searching the ships of every peaceful nation on the globe, to ascertain whether there is any private property of the enemy on board of them. These barbarous usages, instead of yielding to the progress of civilization, were pushed, during the last war, still farther than they had ever been before. Under pretence of prohibiting commerce with an enemy in munitions of war, which had previously been done, England undertook to interdict the trade in provisions and even medicines ; and the nation, which sometimes claims the praise of being more civilized than any other, was guilty of the crime of attempting to starve the whole innocent population of another country, and give it over to disease, because the two governments were at war.

Considered as a deduction from previously existing usages, the claim was perfectly absurd; and I regret, that it

. should have been sanctioned in a formal treaty by the government of the United States. Clothing and every other article of private and domestic use might as justly have been declared contraband, and all neutral commerce with an enemy interdicted at once. Indeed, the pretensions of Great Britain did finally arrive at this point; and, under pretence of declaring their coasts in a state of blockade, she actually prohibited for a length of time all neutral commerce with her enemies. The power of doing

. this, according to her civilians, conferred the right of doing it. It was fortunate, that they did not push the argument any farther, as it would have justified

.

them just as fully in cutting the throats of neutrals, as in seizing their property. Finally, Great Britain claimed the right of examining the crews of all neutral vessels found at sea, and compelling the citizens of every nation in the world to keep themselves constantly prepared to prove that they were not British subjects, under penalty of impressment. Such was the code of maritime law introduced by the freest and most enlightened nation in Europe, in this most enlightened age, which the world - has yet seen ; and it was for resisting these pretensions, that the government of the United States was denounced by that of England as partial to France.

For the last and most odious among these claims, such as the right of interdicting all commerce with an enemy, under pretence of a general blockade of his coasts, the right of impressment on board neutral vessels, and the extension of the character of contraband to provisions, little or no pretence of authority was ever adduced ; and they were generally supported by the summary argument, alluded to above, that power confers right. For some of the other claims, as the right of plundering the private property of enemies when found at sea, even in the hands of third persons, and the consequent right of general search, the right prohibiting all trade with the enemy in munitions of war, and finally the most

« PredošláPokračovať »