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قراءة كتاب A History, of the War of 1812-15 Between The United States and Great Britain

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‏اللغة: English
A History, of the War of 1812-15 Between The United States and Great Britain

A History, of the War of 1812-15 Between The United States and Great Britain

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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would only be limited by the number of opportunities to desert. Many of the deserters undoubtedly found employment on American ships, where British captains soon established the custom of searching for and reclaiming them. This was a gross violation of the sovereignty of the United States, for the deck of an American vessel is to all intents and purposes American territory; yet our Government permitted it, and only complained of what were considered its incidental abuses.

The troubles that followed from this beginning remind us of the fable of the camel and the tailor. England's next step was to claim that no British subject had a right to enter any military or marine service but the British, and that any who did so might be taken by British authorities wherever found—just as if they were deserters.

But presently it appeared that something more was needed in order to give Great Britain the full benefit of these assumptions. An English war-vessel stops an American merchantman on the high sea, and sends an officer with armed men on board to inspect the crew and take off any that are British subjects. The officer selects some of the ablest seamen he finds, and claims them. Immediately a dispute arises; the seamen say they are American citizens—or at least not British subjects; the officer says they were born subjects of the English king, and can never throw off their allegiance. Here is a question of fact, and by all the principles of law and justice it would devolve upon the officer to prove his claim. But as the purpose was, not to do justice, but to recruit the British navy, the admission of any such principle would hardly answer the purpose. So the British Government set up the doctrine that the burden of proof rested with the accused; that is, any sailor who was unable to prove on the spot, to the satisfaction of the boarding officer, that he was not a British subject, was to be considered as such, and carried off to serve against his will on a British ship.

The English naval commanders were now fully equipped for this new method of recruiting, and it soon became the practice for them to board American merchantmen and take off as many of the best sailors as they happened to be in need of at the time, with very little reference to their nationality. Some of the men thus forcibly carried off were released by order of the Admiralty, on the application of the American Consul, with the apology that, as English and Americans spoke the same language and were of the same race, it was often difficult to distinguish between them. But as a matter of fact the sailors thus impressed included men of nearly every European nationality—Germans, Swedes, Danes, Portuguese, and even negroes. In 1811 it was believed that more than six thousand American sailors were serving under compulsion in the British navy; and Mr. Lyman, United States Consul at London, estimated the number at fourteen thousand.

This was only the natural result of the original error committed by our Government when it admit ted the right to search for and carry away deserters. And the impressments took place not only on the high seas but often within the three miles from shore to which a maritime country's jurisdiction extends, and sometimes in the very harbors of the United States. Coasting and fishing schooners were robbed of their men, and occasionally fired upon and plundered; while of larger vessels bound for distant waters, the crews were sometimes so depleted by visit from a British man-of-war that the voyage was broken up and the ship compelled to return to port.

The greatest of these outrages was the capture of the Chesapeake, a United States frigate, by the British man-of-war Leopard, June 23d, 1806. The Chesapeake, which had just left Hampton Roads for a cruise, had not been put in fighting trim; not a single gun was ready for use. Her commander, Commodore James Barron, refused to permit a search for British deserters, and the Leopard thereupon fired several broadsides into her, when she struck her flag. Three of her crew were killed, and eighteen wounded. The Leopard carried away four of her men, claiming them as deserters; but it was afterward proved that three of them were Americans, and they were released, while the fourth was tried and executed at Halifax.

When the Chesapeake returned to Norfolk, Va., with the news, it created the greatest excitement the country had seen since the Revolutionary war. Indignation meetings were held, and the people seemed almost unanimous in a desire to plunge at once into war. A schooner was sent to England by our Government, carrying instructions to the American Minister to demand apology and reparation. These were made, after a fashion; but the English Government refused to give up the right of search. President Jefferson, who thought anything, under any circumstances, was better than war, issued a proclamation ordering all British vessels of war then in United States waters to leave at once.

Meanwhile, England had attempted to revive what was known as "the rule of 1756." During the war of that year she had tried to establish a rule that neutral nations were not at liberty to trade with the colonies of a belligerent power from which, in times of peace, they were excluded by the parent state. For instance, if in time of peace France permitted none but her own vessels to trade at the ports of certain of her colonies, she should not be allowed, when at war, to have that trade carried on for her in vessels belonging to a neutral nation; and if such vessels attempted it, they should be liable to capture and confiscation by cruisers of the nation which was at war with France. Such a regulation of course belongs to the domain of international law, and cannot be established by one nation alone. This rule had been frequently disregarded by England herself, and had never received the sanction of other powers; but by orders in council, of November 6th, 1793, she secretly instructed her naval commanders to enforce it against American vessels trading to the French colonies of the West Indies. The United States Government sent commissioners to London, English commissioners were appointed to meet them, and a treaty of "amity, commerce, and navigation" was concluded, which was ratified by both governments in 1795. Yet the capture and condemnation of American vessels went on almost as before.

In the early European wars of this century, the days of paper blockade—a blockade which consists merely in a proclamation, without the presence of armed vessels to enforce it—were not yet over, and on May 16th, 1806, England declared the whole coast of the Continent, from Brest to the mouth of the Elbe, to be in a state of blockade. Napoleon retaliated by issuing from Berlin a counter decree, dated November 21st, 1806, which declared the entire coast of Great Britain to be under blockade, and prohibited any vessel which sailed from a British port from entering a Continental port. England then, by orders in council, published November 17th, 1807, prohibited all neutral trade with France and her allies, except in vessels that had first entered a British port. As paper and ink were cheap, and by this time so little was left of the rights of neutrals that it was hardly worth while to regard them at all, Napoleon tried his hand at one more decree. Under date of Milan, December 17th, 1807, he proclaimed that any vessel which should submit to search by British cruisers, or pay any tax to the British Government, should be forfeit as good prize.

These so-called measures of