« PredošláPokračovať »
the practice, there can be no doubt.* To maintain the contrary would indeed be to deny, that Englishmen possess that perfect security of personal liberty, which has long been, and justly, their peculiar boast. Suppose, then, that the government of the United States should urge upon that of Great Britain for a series of years, in the name of common humanity, the propriety of putting in force these just and merciful statutes, and abolishing a practice equally barbarous and illegal, and should offer to station a regiment of American soldiers on Tower Hill to assist in releasing seamen apprehended by a press gang. Indiscretion, I suspect, would be the mildest term applied to such a proposition. Yet such is the precise character of the interference of Great Britain with the American government, in regard to the abolition of the slave trade. Indeed, the American government would really shew much less indiscretion, in making such proposals, because the cessation of the practice of impressment would remove one of the great points of difference between the two nations.
* It was highly honourable to the colonial courts in Massachusetts, that they uniformly refused to sanction the practice of impressment within their jurisdiction. A solemn decision to this effect, by the highest authorities, took place not long before the revolution, of which an account may be found in president Adams'' Inadmissible Principles of the king of England's proclamation. There was an earlier case of the same, or a similar kind, I think in the time of queen Anne, which is mentioned in Hutchinson. Considering the supposed difficulty of the subject, these decisions were perhaps still more noble proofs of an independent spirit, than the refusal by the same courts to sanction the relation of slavery, previously to the decisions in England to the same effect.
It is not however for the purpose of disapproving them, that I have pointed out the true character of these proceedings on the part of England. In so good a cause, indiscretion itself becomes a virtue ; and if, as I love to believe, the British government is moved exclusively by feelings of humanity and compassion for the unhappy Africans, I would exhort them myself to persevere in their efforts with other nations ; reminding them, however, that it would be more consistent to do in the first place at least as much at home, as the nation has done, which they undertake to stimulate ; and reserving to the other nations the right of rejecting propositions, however well meant, which violate the first principles of national independence, such as that of employing the British navy to enforce the laws of the United States. My object in making these remarks was to shew to what an extraordinary extent Great Britain had carried the practice of urging on other nations the adoption of political measures on grounds of mere humanity; and thus to strengthen the remark, that she could not, without manifest selfcontradiction, refuse to listen to such arguments,
when employed in favour of the principle of respecting private property in time of war, by sea as well as by land. Let us hope that this provision, which seems to be imperiously demanded by a regard for consistency, if by no higher motive, will become in time a part of the code of nations.
While the contrary practice continues, the abolition of privateering, which has been occasionally suggested by well-meaning persons in the United States, would be highly injudicious, and directly unfavourable to the cause of humanity. Privateers are the natural defence of a weaker maritime power against a stronger; and furnish the only possible resource for a commercial nation, which does not choose to load itself with the monstrous burden of a large standing navy. If the general practice of plundering private property at sea were abolished, privateering would of course disappear with it.
In the first chapter of these remarks, I have expressed the opinion, that civilization, including, as one of its branches, political improvement, is in a progressive state in every part of the christian world ; and in a subsequent chapter, I have stated, that the moral influence of the Russian power is already extending itself very fast through the neighbouring countries ; and that at no distant period it may very probably obtain an actual military dominion over the rest of Europe. As Russia is at present in a very low state of civilization, these opinions may appear at first view contradictory. The military occupation of the west of Europe by an uncivilized power would tend, it may be thought, to check, and perhaps entirely stop the further progress of improvement. Hence, if this event is probable, it might appear that civilization is not likely at present to proceed much further. In this concluding chapter, it will be my object to inquire into the probable results of the combined operation of these two different tendencies upon the political and moral situation of the christian world.
It may be remarked, in the first place, that these tendencies are not opposite or contradictory in such a sense, as, that if the existence of either be
supposed, that of the other must of necessity be denied. A community in a thriving and progressive state may be threatened from without by a barbarous or less civilized neighbour ; but an attack from this quarter, if it happens and destroys the principle of its prosperity, will not thereby shew that it did not exist. In reality, however, the prevalence of the Russian power,
should it happen to the full extent I have supposed, does not seem to be attended with any material danger to the progress of civilization, or with any other ill consequences of much importance. It appears, on the contrary, that it will exercise, in concurrence with the progress of civilization, a favourable operation upon the political forms of the European commonwealth ; and that, as it is the regular tendency of this progress to substitute a consolidated general government, established on rational principles, for the present irregular system of international relations, so the extension of the Russian power, without materially counteracting the progress of the effects of civilization in any other respect, will tend materially, by its operation on the existing political forms of the several nations, to expedite this general result.