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COMMERCE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN,
WILLIAM H, SEWARD,
SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES.
JULY 29, 1852.
BUELL & BLANCHARD.
SPEECH OF MR. SEWARD.
In Senate, July 29, 1852.
A bill reported by Mr. Seward, from the Committee on Commerce, for a survey and reconnoissance of Bhering's Straits, the Arctic Ocean, and the courses of trade between America and China, was read.
Mr. SEWARD rose and said:
Mr. President: Some years ago, when ascending the Alabama, I saw a stag plunge into the river, and gallantly gain the western bank, while the desponding sportsman, whose rifle he had escaped, sat down to mourn his ill luck under the deep magnolia forest that shaded the eastern shore. You, sir, are a dweller in that region, and are, as all the world knows, a gentleman of cultivated taste and liberal fortunes. Perhaps, then, you may have been that unfortunate hunter. Howsoever that may have been, I wish to converse with you now of the chase, and yet not of deer, or hawk, or hound, but of a chase upon the seas; and still not of angling or trolling, nor of the busy toil of those worthy fishermen who seem likely to embroil us, certainly without reluctance on our part, in a controversy about their rights in the Bay of Fundy, but of a nobler sport and more adventurous sportsmen than Izaak Walton, or Daniel Boone, or even Nimrod, the mightiest as well as most ancient \of hunters, ever dreamed of—the chase of the whale over his broad .range of the universal ocean.
Do not hastily pronounce the subject out of order or unprofitable, or unworthy of this high presence. The Phoenicians, the earliest mercantile nation known to us, enriched themselves by selling the celebrated Tyrian dye, and glass made of sand taken from the sea; and they acquired not only those sources of wealth, but the art of navigation itself, jin the practice of their humble calling as fishermen. A thousand years lago, King Alfred was laying the foundations of empire for Young England, as we are now doing for Young America. The monarch whom (men justly have surnamed the Wise as well as the Great, did not disjdain to listen to Octher, who related the adventures of a voyage along ithe coast of Norway, "so far north as commonly the whale hunters jused to travel;" nor was the stranger suffered to depart until he had submitted to the King "a most just survey and description" of the Northern Seas, not only as they extended upwards to the North Cape, but also as they bore away downwards along the southeast coast of Lapland, and so following the icy beach of Russia to where the river Dwina discharged its waters into the White Sea, or, as it was then called, the Sea of Archangel. Perhaps my poor speech may end in some similar lesson. The Incident I have related is the burthen of the earliest historical notice of the subjugation of the monster of the seas to the uses of man. The fishery was carried on then, and near six hundred years afterwards, by the Basques, Biscayans, and Norwegians, for the food yielded by the tongue, and the oil obtained from the fat of the animah Whalebone entered into commerce in the fifteenth century, and at first commanded the enormous price of seven hundred pounds sterling per ton, exceeding a value in this age of ten thousand dollars. Those were merry times, if not for science, at least for Royalty, when, although the material for stays and hoops was taken from the mouth, the law appropriated the tail of every whale taken by an English subject to the use of the Queen, for the supply of the Royal wardrobe.
In 1846 the Portuguese reached the Cape of Storms, and in happy augury of an ultimate passage to India, changed its ill-omened name to that of "Good Hope;" and immediately thereafter the Northern States of Europe, especially England and Holland, began that series of voyages, not even yet ended, in search of a passage to the East through the floating fields and rolling mountains of ice in the Arctic Ocean. The unsuccessful search disclosed the refuge of the whales in the bays and creeks of Spitsbergen. In 1575 a London merchant wrote to a foreign correspondent for " advice and direction as to killing the whale,"' and received instructions how to build and equip a vessel of two hundred tons, and to man it exclusively with experienced whale hunters of Biscay. The attraction of dominion was stronger in that age than the lust of profit. The English now claimed Spitzbergen, and all its surrounding ice and waters, by discovery. The Dutch, with truth, alleged an earlier exploration, while the Danes claimed the whole region as a part of Greenland—a pretension that could not then be disproved ; and all these parties sent armed forces upon the fishing ground, less to protect their few fishermen, than to establish exclusive rights there. After some fifty years, these nations discovered, first, that it was absurd to claim jurisdiction where no permanent possession could ever be established, by reason of the rigors of climate; and secondly, that there were fish enough and room enough for all competitors. Thenceforward, the whale fishery in the Arctic Ocean has been free to all nations*
The Dutch perfected the harpoon, the reel, the line, and the spear 7 as well as the art of using them. And they established, also, the system which we have since found indispensable, of rewarding all the officers and crews employed in the fishery, not with direct wages or salaries, but with shares in the spoils of the game, proportioned to skill and experience. Combining with these the advantages of favorable position, and of frugality and perseverance quite proverbial, the Dutch even founded a fishing settlement called Smeerenburgh, on the coast of Spitzbergen, within eleven degrees of the North Pole, and they took whales in its vicinity in such abundance that ships were needed to go out in ballast, to carry home the surplus oil and bone above the capacity of the whaling vessels. The whales, thus vigorously attacked, again changed their lurking place. Spitzbergen was abandoned by the fishermen, and the very site of Smeerenburgh is now unknown. In the year 1496, Sebastian Cabot, in the spirit of that age, seeking a northwestern passage to the Indies, gave to the world the discovery of Prima Vista, or, as we call it, Newfoundland, and the Basques, Biscayans,