« AnteriorContinuar »
2. For supplies furnished St. Domingo.
3. Cargoes of provisions, &c. detained for delay of payment. 4. Vessels detained by cruisers of the French republic in violation of the treaty of '78.
5. Vessels taken at sea as above.
The demands on France kept continually increasing to the close of the century, principally, however, for depredations in the West Indies. In another place, we have given a list of the decrees under the protection of which assaults were committed on our commerce and property. These claims, as created to the close of the century, were finally renounced on the part of the United States by the 2d article of the convention of 1800, provided France abandoned all her pretensions on the score of a guaranty. By this act the American government virtually assumed the demands of its own citizens. Not only the constitution forbids the government from taking "private property" for public use "without just compensation," but, in this case, a full equivalent, the surrender of the guaranty, was made by France for the adoption of the claims by the United States. But hardly was the instrument signed, when fresh claims arose on the construction of the provision, intended to constitute a final settlement. No one would have supposed that an article, inserted in a convention for the purpose of bringing this troublesome business to a close, would have made it necessary for our own government to enter into immediate explanations in behalf of its own citi
tual centre of the French government, to indemnify all the owners or captains, who, by operation of the embargo, have been obliged to remain a length of time in France, and that the proposition, which will soon be made to them, in the name of the committee, will be advantageous to both nations.'
"On the 18 November '94, a decree was passed, making provision to indemnify for the detention by the Bordeaux embargo, and for supplies (by contract and by force) furnished to the administration of St. Domingo; but the provision was not carried into effect, owing to the deranged state of the French finances. The decree itself, however, was a standing and conclusive proof of the obligation, the acknowledgment and the promise of the French government, to indemnify these claims."
zens, or that 20,000,000 of livres would have remained more than twenty years in the coffers of our treasury, expressly reserved, by a subsequent convention, for the payment of a portion of these claims. The restitutions, demanded by the United States, under the 4th article of the convention of 1800, comprised three descriptions of cases.
1. Cases of capture, where no judicial proceedings were held.
2. Cases, not definitively decided on in French tribunals the 30 September 1800.
3. Captures made, subsequent to that date.
Under the 3d and 4th articles these claims were just, and to withhold the property was, on the part of France, an act of complete injustice. It has been said, that by the 2d article of the convention of 1800, the United States adopted all the claims of its citizens, subject to the three reservations above written. This constitutes the first period in the history of these claims.
Then, as the next period, we have the third convention of 1803, by which this government agreed to assume claims on France, prior to the 30th Sept. 1800, for 20,000,000 livres, no settlement having been made of the disputed points under the convention of 1800. Hardly was this convention ratified, when a variety of difficulties again arose. Shall we call this a fatal influence these claims have not been able to shake off to this day, or were the instruments framed with haste, or, in the desire to be relieved, in the one case, of the guaranty of '78, and, in the other, to secure the acquisition of Louisiana, were objects of less weight and moment treated with precipitation? At any rate, in less than a year after the convention of 1803, instructions were sent to the minister in France to desire the French government to suspend all draughts in favour of persons, whose claims might have been liquidated, till all the claims were ascertained, and to
* A commission, appointed under this convention, for the adjustment of these claims, reported the sums allowed to the French minister of the treasury, who had an authority to draw on the American government.
propose a convention for the purpose of including, within that of 1803, the unsettled matters of 1800, or to distribute the 20,000,000 livres, provided by the convention of 1803, and make France debtor for such balance, as might exceed that sum ;-an arrangement we could not suppose France would be much disposed to accept. After the proofs we possessed of the extreme unwillingness of that government to satisfy the undeniable claims of our citizens,-to execute the 3d and 4th articles of the convention of 1800, it was a degree of generous confidence, by no means desirable or necessary among nations, to leave any point, whatever, for future discussion, particularly as the mode, in which American creditors were likely to be treated, was well known to Mr. Livingston in March 1802. We find him in that month writing to this effect to the government:
"As to the contract demands, the Minister of Marine told me, I might as well ask him to cut off his father's head, as to ask payment. However, on this subject I shall be better informed, when they reply to my note. I believe that they may possibly put the debt upon their 5 per cent. loan, which is now at 57, but will, in that case, fall considerably, so that, at most, the creditor, after waiting many years, will sink half his debt, but, as they hint, necessity has no law."
And, in the following May, to the Minister of Exterior Relations, to this effect:
"I find every possible obstruction thrown in their way, first in the liquidation of their debts, and next in affording a fund for their payment, when, after a tedious and expensive process, the debt is liquidated, I see the Board of Compatibility extending to part of them a law, which, at the present price of stock, would rob them of five-sixths of their capital; a law, which repeated declarations of past legislatures have shown not to have been intended to comprise foreigners, and in which they could not have been comprised without the most flagrant violation of public faith, but which, in every event, is superseded by the fifth article of the treaty, which expressly stipulates for the discharge of their debt.
"I see the commercial capital of my fellow citizens, the only means of their subsistence, withheld from them till the interest is
equal to the principal sum, and yet no allowance made for that interest in the liquidation of the account. I see others of them, after sustaining heavy losses by the destruction, committed at St. Domingo, compelled to become creditors of France by an act of power, And while the agent of France, in America, is declaring to the government of the United States, that every measure of justice is offered by the prize courts to the claimants here, I see those very claimants reduced to beggary by their decisions.
"While I am unable to obtain satisfaction for creditors here, and find my breast wrung by the distresses of men, who have wasted their substance and time in prosecuting their claims through a series of tribunals, I am in hourly expectation of seeing another set of creditors arrive with fresh demands for property, wrested from them by violence, or voluntarily given from too fond a reliance on the assurances of agents, who seek new credits by circulating in America reports of satisfaction, given for the old. If those demands, grounded in the strictest justice, and confirmed by a solemn convention, have hitherto been treated with neglect, on what foundation can I place the new ones, that will entitle them to equal attention? Can it be possible, sir, that France, great, rich and powerful as she is, should not have the means of satisfying the comparatively insignificant demands of the American creditors, while she is placing the debt, due to her own citizens, upon the most stable foundation, and astonishing the world with the magnitude of her undertakings? Can armies and fleets, sir, be sent to a distant quarter of the globe, so totally unprovided, as to make it necessary to violate the rights of a friendly nation, to seize upon her commercial capital, and enrol an additional number of her citizens in the list of hopeless creditors? You will admit, sir, that the attempt to include the American creditor in the list of those, who have had two-thirds of their debt struck off, and the total silence of the Boards, with respect to the interest, are not calculated to inspire confidence or to revive credit.
"You are already apprised, sir, that in restoring the French national ship, the Berceau, the government of the United States did not content themselves with restoring her in the state she was, but expended a very considerable sum of money in giving her a complete repair."
It never could have been said, that the convention of
1803 was an instrument to carry into execution the provisions of the one of 1800. It should, rather, be called a convention of exceptions to that, for no claim could be allowed under it, unless falling within some one of the following conditions:
1. Whether the debt was due in its origin to an American citizen.
2. Whether it existed before the 30th September 1800.3. Has such an American citizen established a house of commerce in foreign countries, in partnership with foreigners.
4. Can he, by the nature of his commerce, be considered as domiciliated abroad.
5. Has he, under the circumstances of his case, a right to the protection of the United States.
6. Was the merchandise, or other property, American, when it passed into the hands of the French govern
7. Does the claim arise from supplies, embargoes and captures made at sea, excluding from the word supplies freight, indemnity and demurrage, except where they are claimed, as incidental to embargoes.
In 1804 Mr. Livingston was instructed to negotiate a convention, additional to that of 1803, for the purpose of removing doubts on the subjects of freights and indemnities. 2. To provide compensation for the separate property of American citizens, connected with foreign partners; 3. and also for those vessels, that were taken after the convention of 1800, and before its ratification. To this proposition the following answer was made by the Minister of Exterior Relations:
"You will not have forgotten, that it was then agreed upon, between the two governments, to place, under the charge of the United States, all the claims of Americans upon France, and to make an approximate valuation of them. The respective plenipotentiaries agreed to take, as a basis, the sum of all the claims, as well liquidated as unliquidated, which have been presented to the French government by the Americans;-this sum amounted to