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to permit this trade to be carried on exclusively in British vessels.
There was no reason, which could justify the exclusion of American navigation from that trade, that was not equally ap plicable to the direct trade with England.
All the negotiations of the American government were directed to the arranging the intercourse upon terms of reciprocity; and after ineffectually endeavouring to accomplish that object for more than a quarter of a century, it was at length reluctantly obliged to put an end to the intercourse altogether. This course was adopted at the earnest request of the shipping merchants in the principal seaports, who found that the advantages afforded to British vessels through the circuitous voyage by way of the West Indies, were such as to enable them to carry on the direct trade with England upon better terms than in our vessels. Upon their representations, Congress passed acts in 1818, 1820, and 1823, which effectually closed our ports to all British vessels seek ing to supply the islands. The British government was thus reduced to the necessity of supplying the colonies at a cost beyond their value, or of partly giving up their colonial system.
They chose the latter, and by the act of July, 1825, the West India islands were opened, upon certain terms, to the commerce of all nations.
The nature of this offer, and the negotiations growing out of
this proposition, were fully de tailed in the Annnal Register for 1826-7, and it is unnecessary to state more, than that the negotiations terminated in an entire suspension of the trade.
In all these transactions and negotiations, the principle of reciprocity was strictly adhered to. Trade upon equal terms, or no trade, was the only alternative offered by the American government. More than that was not sought, and less than that would have heen incompatible with national dignity.
That was the sole object of all the negotiations, and the only subject of dispute. When, therefore, it was proposed to confer upon the president power to open the ports of the United States to vessels from the British West Indies, Mr. Cambreleng, who presented the law to the house only four days before the close of the session, stated that it contained no new principle, but conformed to the instructions given by Mr. Clay to Mr. Gallatin.
As these instructions maintained, in its fullest extent, the principle of reciprocity, the law was passed without much opposition.
This act provided, that when the president should be satisfied, that Great Britain will open her colonial ports; and that American vessels and their cargoes shall not be subject to higher duties than British vessels and their cargoes arriving from the United States; and that American vessels may be permitted to carry on any trade between the islands and the United States, or any export trade between the islands
keep the word of promise to the ear, and break it to the hope."
Besides, it opened our ports to British vessels several months before our vessels could partici
and foreign countries, except British possessions, that British vessels can carry on,-leaving the trade between the United States and the northern colonies upon its former footing, the pre-pate in the trade; and thus consident shall then be authorized to ceded the point, that all particiissue a proclamation, opening pation in the colonial trade was the ports of the United States to a boon, to be granted or denied British vessels from the colonies, at the pleasure of England. upon the same terms as to American vessels, and also to suspend or absolutely repeal the retaliatory acts of 1818, 1820, and 1823. In this act, the principle of reciprocity is thoroughly maintained, and the discretionary power entrusted to the president, was one often confided to his predecessors, and by them never exercised to the detriment of American
The fault was in authorizing the president to open our ports, not when Great Britain should open hers, but when he should be satisfied that she would open hers. This exposed him to be overreached, by taking a final step, before the British government had taken any on the part of that country.
The ports of the United States were to be opened, and the terms of the intercourse, so far as our government could act, were to be adjusted upon an understand ing, that the West India ports should be opened at some future time.
The terms on one side were to be definite, and carried into effect, while on the other, the understanding was yet to be executed, and could be so varied by an order in council, "as to
The disadvantageous position in which the United States was placed by this indiscreet eagerness of the administration, was not overlooked by the British government.
Finding that the opening of this trade was sought, and even solicited, with an earnestness altogether disproportionate to its importance, Lord Aberdeen determined to take this occasion to obtain from the American government an abandonment of the principle of reciprocity.
The steadiness with which this principle had been maintained by the United States under every previous administration, and the obvious justice by which it was recommended to the favour of other nations, had given a marked superiority to the American government in its commercial negotiations with Great Britain.
That latter power foresaw in this policy, a fatal blow aimed at its celebrated navigation act, and through that at the maritime supremacy of England.
It thus eagerly embraced this moment to exact an abandonment of the principle; and when the act of congress was communicated to Lord Aberdeen, he intimated to Mr. M'Lane, that
it was not intended by the British government, to give to American vessels the privilege (possessed by British vessels) of importing into the islands, from the United States, articles not produced in the United States; nor would it give any pledge as to the future regulations of the trade with the northern colonies. As both these conditions were requisite, in order to maintain the principle of reciprocity, and were, in fact, required by the act of congress, a departure from that act was demanded by the British government, before it would assent to opening the colonial ports upon the terms proposed by Mr. McLane.
Here, therefore, was an issue between the American government, demanding perfect and entire reciprocity, and the British government refusing it.
Congress had authorized no departure from that principle, and yet it must be given up, or the negotiation was at an end.
In this dilemma, Mr. M'Lane resolved to resort to his instructions given before the passage of the act, for such a construction of the law, as would enable him to meet the demands of Lord Aberdeen.
Disregarding the plain import of the act of congress, and taking his instructions for his guide, he inferred that because the president had authorized him to accede to the terms proposed in the act of July 5, 1825, the act of congress passed upon the recommendation of the executive, must have been intended as an assent to those terms.
He, therefore, hastened to assure Lord Aberdeen that the act of congress should be so construed as to yield the points required. Upon this assurance the understanding was entered into, and information being communicated to the president, he issued his proclamation, dated October 5, 1830, opening the ports, and absolutely repealing the retaliatory acts of 1818, 1820, and 1823.
The point so long and steadily contended for by the United States was thus yielded, and an additional advantage was given to England, by opening the ports of this country to British vessels more than two months before American vessels were enabled to participate in the trade.
This departure from the established policy of the country, and that, too, in violation of the plain import of the act of congress, was subsequently sanctioned by the president, and thus became the act of the government, so far as the executive could make it so.
In the letter from the state department to Mr. M'Lane, Mr. Van Buren assures him that the president had "adopted, without reserve, the construction given to the act of congress by Lord Aberdeen and himself," and authorizes him to express "to the British minister the satisfaction of the president-in not suffering the inadvertencies of our legislation, attributable to the haste and confusion of the closing scenes of the session, to defeat or delay the adjustment."
This mortifying assurance was conveyed to the British govern
ment, and thus, by an arrangement made without the sanction of any department of the government except the executive, an act of congress was virtually overruled; the principle of reciprocity abandoned; the wise policy adopted at the commencement of the government, and hitherto steadily persevered in, frustrated; and the intercourse between the United States and the West Indies placed under the control of British legislation. The policy of the British government now began to develope itself.
Upon receiving the assurances authorized by the president, and a copy of the proclamation, an order in council was issued, opening the colonial ports to American vessels from the U. States, with the produce of the U. States, and permitting them to export goods to all foreign countries.
Almost simultaneously with the adoption of this order, a schedule of duties was prepared, which ultimately became a law, and which was framed so as to give to British navigation a monopoly of the colonial trade.
This bill imposed heavy duties on various articles imported into the West Indies, from the United States, while it authorized their importation into the northern colonies free of duty.
By these duties the direct intercourse was so burdened, that the islands were supplied through the northern colonies, and as American vessels could not proceed from those colonies to the West Indies, the business was
chiefly carried on in British vessels.
Mr. M'Lane in vain remonstrated against the passage of this bill, and in his letter of November 30, 1830, complained that "it virtually destroyed the fair advantages of the direct intercourse between the United States and the West Indies." Lord Grey replied, that the British government had always insisted on the right to regulate this trade by law, instead of by treaty, and that "all its measures since 1825 had looked to the system of free ports in the northern colonies."
The remonstrances of the American minister did not consequently retard nor prevent the passage of the proposed law, and the new arrangement of the colonial trade went into effect, with a nominal equality between American and British vessels, in the direct intercourse, but so burdened with duties, that the trade was chiefly carried on through the northern colonies, where the longer voyage was exclusively secured to British vessels, with such advantages in the shorter voyages, as to enable them to appropriate a greater share of the carrying trade, than they could obtain in any really reciprocal intercourse.
The effect of this arrangement was, to greatly increase the trade with the northern colonies, and to diminish that with the West Indies, which was carried on almost altogether by British vessels.
The following extracts from the annual reports of 1828 and