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· IN SECRET SESSION OF THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES,
ON THE NOMINATION OF MR. VAN BUREN AS MINISTER TO GREAT BRITAIN, JANUARY 24, 1832.
Mr. President: As it is highly probable that our proceedings on this nomination will be published, I deem it proper to state shortly the considerations which influenced my opinion, and will decide my vote.
I regard this as a very important and delicate question. It is full of responsibility; and I feel the whole force of all that responsibility. While I have been in the Senate, I have opposed no nomination of the President, except for cause ; and I have at all times thought that such cause should be plain and sufficient; that it should be real and substantial, not unfounded or fanciful.
I have never desired, and do not now desire, to encroach, in the slightest degree, on the Constitutional powers of the Chief Magistrate of the Nation. I have heretofore gone far, very far, in assenting to nominations which have been submitted to us. I voted for the appointment of all the gentlemen who composed the first Cabinet; I have opposed no nomination of a foreign Minister; and I have not opposed the nominations recently before us, for the re-organization of the administration. I have always been especially anxious, that, in all matters relating to our intercourse with other nations, the utmost harmony, the greatest unity of purpose, should exist between the President and the Senate. I know how much of usefulness such harmony and union are calculated to produce.
I am now fully aware, Sir, that it is a serious, a very serious matter, to vote against the confirmation of a Minister to a Foreign Court, who has already gone abroad, and has been received and accredited by the Government to which he is sent. I am aware, that the rejection of this nomination, and the necessary recall of the Minister, will be regarded by foreign States, at the first blush, as not in the highest degree favorable to the character of our Government. I know, moreover, to what injurious reflections one may subject himself, especially in times of party excitement,
by giving a negative vote on such a nomination. But, after all, I am placed here to discharge a duty. I am not to go through a formality ; I am to perform a substantial and responsible duty. I am to advise the President in matters of appointment. This is my Constitutional obligation; and I shall perform it conscientiously and fearlessly. I am bound to say, then, Sir, that, for one, I do not advise nor consent to this nomination. I do not think it a fit and proper nomination; and my reasons are found in the letter of instructions, written by Mr. Van Buren, on the 20th of July, 1829, to Mr. McLane, then going to the Court of England, as American Minister. I think these instructions derogatory, in a high degree, to the character and honor of the country. I think they show a manifest disposition, in the writer of them, to establish a distinction between his country and his party; to place that party above the country ; to make interest, at a foreign Court, for that party, rather than for the country ; to persuade the English Niinistry, and the English Monarch, that they had an interest in maintaining, in the United States, the ascendency of the party to which the writer belonged. Thinking thus of the purpose and object of these instructions, I cannot be of opinion that their author is a proper Representative of the United States at that Court. Therefore it is, that I propose to vote against his nomination. It is the first time, I believe, in modern diplomacy, it is certainly the first time in our history, in which a Minister to a foreign Court has sought to make favor for one party at home, against another; or has stooped, from being the Representative of the whole country, to be the Representative of a party. And as this is the first instance in our history of any such transaction, so I intend to do all in my power to make it the last. · For one, I set my mark of disapprobation upon it; I contribute my voice and my vote to make it a negative example, to be shunned and avoided by all future Ministers of the United States. If, in a deliberate and formal letter of instructions, admonitions and directions are given to a Minister, and repeated, once and again, to urge these mere party considerations on the foreign Government, to what extent, is it probable, the writer himself will be disposed to urge them, in his one thousand opportunities of informal intercourse with the agents of that Government?
I propose, Sir, to refer to some particular parts of these instructions ; but before I do that, allow me to state, very generally, the posture of that subject to which those particulars relate. That subject was the state of our trade with the British West India Colonies. I do not deem it necessary now to go minutely into all the history of that trade. The occasion does not call for it. All know, that, by the Convention of 1815, a reciprocity of intercourse was established between us and Great Britain. The
sapest Indies and retaliat ventually.t, offering a nations,
ships of both countries were allowed to pass, to and from each other respectively, with the same cargoes, and subject to the same duties. But this arrangement did not extend to the Britishi West Indies. There our intercourse was cut off. Various discriminating and retaliatory acts were passed by England and by the United States. Eventually, in the summer of 1825, the English Parliament passed an act, offering reciprocity, so far as the mere carrying trade was concerned, to all nations, who might choose, within one year, to accept that offer.
Mr. Adams's administration did not accept that offer; first, because it was never officially communicated to it; secondly, because, only a few months before, a negotiation on the very same subject had been suspended, with an understanding that it might be resumed; and, thirdly, because it was very desirable to arrange the whole matter, if possible, by treaty, in order to secure, if we could, the admission of our products into the British Islands for consumption, as well as the admission of our vessels. This object had been earnestly pursued ever since the peace of 1815. It was insisted on, as every body knows, through the whole of Mr. Monroe's administration. He would not treat at all, without treating of this object. He thought the existing state of things better than any arrangement, which, while it admitted our vessels into West India ports, still left our productions subject to such duties there, that they could not be carried.
Now, Sir, Mr. Adams's administration was not the first to take this ground. It only occupied the same position which its predecessor had taken. It saw no important objects to be gained by changing the state of things, unless that change was to admit our products into the British West Indies, directly from our ports, and not burdened with excessive duties. The direct trade, by English enactments and American enactments, had become closed. No British ship came here from the British West Indies. No American ship went from us to those places. A circuitous trade took place, through the Islands of third Powers; and that circuitous trade was, in many respects, not disadvantageous to us.
In this state of things, Sir, Mr. McLane was sent to England; and he received his instructions from the Secretary of State. In these instructions, and in relation to this subject of the colonial trade, are found the sentiments of which I complain. What are they? Let us examine, and see.
Mr. Van Buren tells Mr. McLane—" The opportunities which you have derived from a participation in our public councils, as well as other sources of information, will enable you to speak with confidence (as far as you may deem it proper and useful so to do) of the respective parts taken by those to whom the administration of this Government is now committed, in relation to the course heretofore pursued upon the subject of the colonial trade."
Now, this is neither more nor less than saying, “ You will be able to tell the British Minister, whenever you think proper, that you, and I, and the leading persons in this administration, have opposed the course heretofore pursued by the Government, and the country, on the subject of the colonial trade. Be sure to let him know, that, on that subject, we have held with England, and not with our own Government.” Now, I ask you, Sir, if this be dignified diplomacy? Is this statesmanship? Is it patriotism, or is it mere party? Is it a proof of a high regard to the honor and renown of the whole country, or is it evidence of a disposition to make a merit of belonging to one of its political divisions ?
The Secretary proceeds : “ Their views (that is, the views of the present administration) upon that point have been submitted to the people of the United States; and the counsels by which your conduct is now directed, are the result of the judgment expressed by the only earthly tribunal to which the late administration was amenable for its acts."
Now, Sir, in the first place, there is very little reason to suppose that the first part of this paragraph is true, in point of fact. I mean that part wbich intimates that the change of administration was brought about by public disapprobation of Mr. Adams's conduct, respecting the subject of the colonial trade. Possibly, so much was then said, on a subject which so few understood, some degree of impression may have been produced by it. But be assured, Sir, another cause will be found, by future historians, for this change; and that cause will be the popularity of a successful soldier, united with a feeling, made to be considerably extensive, that the preferences of the people in his behalf had not been justly regarded, on a previous occasion. There is, Sir, very little ground to say that “the only tribunal to which the late administration was amenable” has pronounced any judgment against it for its conduct on the whole subject of the colonial trade.
But, however this may be, the other assertion in the paragraph is manifestly quite wide of the facts. Mr. Adams's administration did not bring forward this claim. I have stated, already, that it had been a subject, both of negotiation and legislation, through the whole eight years of Mr. Monroe's administration. This the Secretary knew, or was bound to know. Why, then, does he speak of it as set up by the late administration, and afterwards abandoned by them, and not now revived ?
But the most humiliating part of the whole follows:-" To set up the acts of the late administration as the cause of forfeiture of privilege, which would otherwise be extended to the people