« AnteriorContinuar »
of March, 1794—which directed six frigates to be provided; the building of which was, however, to be suspended in the event of peace with Algiers." In reviewing the circumstances which led to the adoption of this measure, it manifestly appears that Congress was forced to take a step against which they seem to have felt a repugnance almost invincible. American commerce, emancipated by the establishment of our independence, was speedily pushed into every sea; no sooner were the stars and stripes displayed in the Mediterranean, than they attracted the attention of the Barbary powers, and finding that our commerce was wholly unprotected either by ships of war or by the usual treaties, the spirit of Turkish cupidity was roused, and some of our merchant vessels were seized, and their crews carried into captivity. As early as July, 1785, the schooner Maria, Captain Stevens, of Boston, and the ship Dauphin, Captain O'Brien, of Philadelphia, were seized by Algerine corsairs and carried into Algiers, where the vessels and cargoes were confiscated, and their crews, twenty-one in number, thrown into prison. These acts produced the greatest possible excitement throughout the country. The strongest indignation glowed in every bosomand yet from 1785 until 1794 (during the whole of which period these depredations were continued) no measures were adopted to oitain redress, beyond vain and fruitless efforts to conclude a treaty, and to ransom the prisoners. That the greatest anxiety was actually felt, both by the government and people of the United States, to effect these objects, does not admit of a doubt ; but it really seems not to have entered into the mind of any one, that the only effectual means was the immediate preparation of a naval force.
In the course of the negociations entered upon by the Executive on that occasion, it appears that ransom was at first offered, at the rate of two hundred dollars a man, and no unwillingness was expressed to stipulate for the annual payment of tribute. This proposal was rejected by the Dey with indignation, and he demanded a sum equal to two thousand eight hundred and thirty-three dollars a man, a higher price than had then been paid by any nation,-Spain having ransomed her subjects at the rate of one thousand six hundred dollars—Russia at one thousand five-hundred and forty-six dollars, and other nations at still lower sums,—the scale rising or falling in proportion to the wants of the Dey, and the power of the nation, whose citizens were outraged, to enforce redress. Such was the intense interest, however, felt by the people in the fate of our unfortunate brethren in captivity (an interest fostered and kept alive by the petitions and complaints of the captives representing the
"hard labour and rigorous slavery to which they were subjected, their being confined in slave prisons, with six hundred captives of other nations, and their exposure to that fatal disorder the plague”) that it is confidently believed that the ransom demanded by the Dey would have been paid, but for the obvious consideration that it would have operated as a temptation for the capture of American citizens in preference to those of other countries,-in the expectation of obtaining a larger sum for their ransom: the question was not so much, at what price the prisoners then in captivity should be purchased, as what standard should be fixed at which American captives should thereafter be ransomed; and with all the interest felt for the unfortunate Americans then held in bondage, every consideration of justice and policy seemed to forbid their being released on terms that must have operated as a bounty for the enslavement of every American found in the Mediterranean.
We must believe that if the eventual failure of these negotiations could have been foreseen, the government would at once have perceived the necessity of providing a naval force. But as the American people would not reconcile themselves to the idea of leaving their brethren exposed to all the hardships of a rigorous captivity until ships could be built, the public voice approved of the attempt of buying that peace which the country was supposed to be in no condition to enforce. In the cruel dilemma in which the administration was placed, the conduct of General Washington was in all respects considerate, and eminently judicious. It appears from Mr. Jefferson's report, made to Congress on the 28th of December, 1790, that after the failure of the direct negociation, the assistance of the Mathurins was obtained. “This was a religious order of France, instituted in ancient times for the redemption of Christian captives from the infidel powers.” They kept, we are informed, secret agents at the courts of those powers, constantly employed in seeking out and redeeming the captives of their own country, which they effected on much more reasonable terms than had ever been accomplished by the public agents of any government in Europe. This benevolent order of men readily undertook the task of acting as the secret agents of the United States, in redeeming American captives. It was, however, considered necessary to their success, that the idea should be held out, that the American government had determined to abandon their citizens to their fate. All public negociations therefore ceased; the daily allowance of provisions formerly made, and which we are told was so liberal as to evince that it came from a public source, was withdrawn, and to destroy every expectation of
a redemption by the United States; the bills of the Spanish Consul were not answered; and it was even found necessary (says Mr. Jefferson)"to go so far as to suffer the captives themselves, and their friends to believe, that no attention was paid to them, and that no notice would be taken of their letters." " It would have been unsafe (he continues) to trust them with a secret, the disclosure of which might forever prevent their redemption, by raising the demands of the captors to sums, which a due regard to our seamen, still in freedom, would forbid us to give. This was the most trying of all circumstances, and drew from them the most afflicting reproaches." But where there was a prospect of serving the cause of humanity, or promoting the welfare of their country, the President and his Secretary of State were not to be deterred from going boldly forward in the path of duty—though by so doing, they necessarily subjected themselves to imputations, which to men of refined sentiment and patriotic feelings, must have been, of all others, the most difficult to be borne in silence.
-All these efforts, however, failed. The French Revolution transferred the lands and revenues of the clergy to the people, and by withdrawing the means, seemed to have suspended the proceedings of the Mathurins. The Russians, the Neapolitans, and the Spaniards too, about the same time, redeemed at exorbitant sums, their captured citizens, and slaves had become so scarce, that they would hardly be sold at any price. The patience of General Washington was at length completely exhausted, and he was driven to the determination of redeeming our captives, even on the terms proposed by the Dey of Algiers himself. On the oth of May, 1792, he accordingly submitted to the Senate, in confidence, the question, whether they would sanction such a treaty, and receiving an answer in the affirmative, took measures to effect the object. But it was now too late to purchase peace on any terms.
The sudden and unexpected conclusion of a truce with Portugal (brought about as the American Ambassador, Colonel Humphreys, declares, “by the British court, not only without authority, but even without consulting the court of Portugal,” and which he denounces as “an execrable plot,'') by throwing open not only the Mediterranean, but the gates of the Atlantic to Algerine cruisers left our commerce and seamen entirely at their mercy, at a time when the United States did not possess a single vessel of war. The Dey would now listen to no terms whatever. His language was, “let the American Ambassador take care how he comes here under the protection of any flag whatever,-if I were to make peace with every body, what should I do with my corsairs." In the course of a single
eruize, undertaken at this period, the Algerine fleet, which consisted of only four small frigates and a few xebecks, captured ten American vessels, and carried upwards of one hundred of our citizens into slavery. Our affairs had now reached a crisis which seemed to leave the American government no alternative but to fit out a naval force, as speedily as possible, unless indeed, it had been prepared to abandon the navigation of the Mediterranean altogether. Colonel Humphreys, in his letter to the Secretary of State, dated 25th of December, 1793, earnestly pressed this view of the subject on the consideration of the gov
“If we mean (says he) to have a commerce we must have a naval force to defend it. It appears absurd to trust to the fleets of Portugal, or any other nation, to protect and convoy our trade.” The American Consul, O'Brien, in his letter to Colonel Humphreys, is even still more explicit. He declares, “that he sees no alternative, but for the United States, with all possible speed, to fit out a naval force," and adds, “that if this plan is not adopted, the corsairs of Algiers and Tunis will remain masters of the western ocean,—they will cruise in the channels of the western islands, and be tempted to go even on the coasts of the United States." The whole subject was at length submitted to Congress by the President, and on the 27th of March, 1794, an act was passed to provide a naval armament. The preamble of the act is in these words, viz:--"Whereas the depredations committed by the Algerine corsairs on our commerce, render it necessary that a naval force should be provided for its protection. Be it therefore enacted, &c." The act authorized the President to provide, equip, and employ four ships of 44 guns, and two of 36, or in lieu thereof, a naval force, not exceeding in the whole that directed by the act—no ship to carry less than 32 guns, and then follows a special provision, “that if a peace shall take place between the United States and the regency of Algiers, no further proceeding shall be had under this act.” Without this provision (says Goldsborough) it is well understood that this act wouldnot have passed, and even so restricted, the bill passed by a majority of only eleven votes.
If our limits permitted, it would be curious and somewhat amusing, to examine the arguments urged in Congress on that occasion, against a navy, and in favour of buying the friendship of the Barbary powers, and even, if necessary, of subsidizing some of the European naval powers to protect our trade. But this we must forego. Contrary to all expectation, a peace was concluded with Algiers on the 5th of September, 1795, and before a single vessel, authorized by the law, had been finished,
though so much progress had been made in building them, that it was expected all the frigates might have been launched and completely equipped in the course of the year 1796, and at an expense less than half of what had been already expended. Congress was now compelled to decide whether th: work should be abandoned, and all that had been done should be lost, or a navy of some description be suffered to exist. As usual in such cases, a middle course was adopted; and it was finally deci led to complete three of the frigates which were in a state of the greatest forwardness-applying for that purpose the appropriation theretofore made for the whole. In a table exhibited in the work before us, the expense of this treaty with Algiers is set forth, and it appears, from the statement of the Secretary of the Treasury, to have cost the United States nine hundred and ninety-two thousand, four hundred and sixty-three dollars-(over and above the annuity stipulated to be paid, and which it was estimated could not be paid at a cost to the United States of less than seventy thousand dollars per annum-an amount falling but little short of the whole estimated cost of the six frigates, which had they been provided in due season, would, probably, have afforded (as a much smaller force has since done) complete protection to our commerce, and repaid at once, the whole expense of their construction.
The next great era in the naval history of the country, was that created by our difficulties with France. In the wars which grew out of the French Revolution, it was scarcely to have been expected that American commerce could escape depredations. We accordingly find that as early as 1793, both England and France began to capture our ships, impress our seamen, and, in short, to pursue that system, from the effects of which we were only able finally to relieve ourselves, by adopting measures of retaliation against one of those powers, and waging open war against the other. By the report of the Secretary of State, accompanying the President's Message of March, 1794, it ap pears, that the vexations and spoliations on our commerce bad then reached such an alarming height as to threaten the ruin of our trade. These difficulties continued to increase until the latter end of the year 1795, when our differences with Great Britain were terminated by the ratification of Jay's treaty. Our differences with France, however, seemed rather to have been increased by that treaty, and on the 7th of December, 1796, President Washington, in his speech to Congress, called its attention to the subject of these depredations, and invoked it to remember “what was due to the character of the government and of the country." The message contains the first distinct VOL. II.--N0. 4.