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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 21

Chapter XXI.

Extract from the Speech of the Prime Regent of Great Britain, to both Houses of Parliament—Review of that Speech by the Marquis Wellesley, in the House of Lords—Speech from the Throne reviewed in the House of Commons, by Mr. Canning—Remarks

The foregoing is the view of the war taken by Mr. Madison, at the close of the first year's campaign; and, on the last day of the same month in which the mes­sage was delivered, of which the preceding is a reca­pitulation as far as relates to this subject, the parliament of Great Britain was convened, to whom the Prince Regent delivered an address from which the following is extracted:

"The declaration of war by the government of the United States of America, was made under circumstan­ces which might have offered a reasonable expectation that the amicable relations between the two nations would not be long interrupted. It is with sincere regret that I am obliged to acquaint you, that the conduct and pretensions of that government have hitherto prevented the conclusion of any pacific arrangement. Their mea­sures of hostility have been directed against the adjoining provinces, and every effort has been made to seduce the inhabitants of them from their allegiance to His Majesty.

"The proofs, however, which I have received of loyalty and attachment, from His Majesty's subjects in North America, are highly satisfactory. The attempts of the enemy, to invade Upper Canada, have not only proved abortive, but, by the judicious arrangements of the governor-general, and by the skill and decision with which the military operations have been conducted, the forces of the enemy assembled for that purpose in one quarter have been compelled to capitulate, and in ano­ther have been completely defeated.

"My best efforts are not wanting for the restoration of peace and amity between the two countries; but until this object can be obtained without sacrificing the maritime rights of Great Britain, I shall rely upon your cordial support in a vigorous prosecution of the war."

In the House of Lords, the Marquis Wellesley took an able view of the speech from the throne; and, in adverting to the war with America, he said, that "no attack could be more unjustifiable than that made by America, and that no cause could be more righteous than that of Great Britain."

He denied that the Orders in Council was the cause of this war. "No," said he, "it was upon far different things—it was upon high and mighty interests of the British empire—interests which we could not move without throwing the trident of the ocean into the hands of America. America," said he, "was not to be soothed and fondled into peace—the heads of the government had long been influenced by a deadly hatred to this country, and (unusual as the epithet was,) by a deadly love to France.

"Our policy was plain: our wisest, nay, our most pacific measures would be, to show ourselves ready for the emergency—to present in front of America a force which would make her feel her danger, and feel the importance of purchasing her safety by peace. What had we done? Nothing to intimidate—nothing to pun­ish—nothing to interest her weakness or her wisdom. If there were any hope of putting a speedy end to the war, it was to be accomplished by boldness and decision, hy making the effort while it was still in our power, and by turning upon that war some part of the grand and superabundant strength of our country."

In the House of Commons, Mr. Canning, in reviewing the Prince Regent's address as far as related to the war, said that "it was his sincere and anxious wish, that two nations so related to each other by consanguinity, by one common language and by mutual interests, as Great Britain and America, should not only be in alliance, but, when disputes ran to so great an extent, when once the die was cast and hostilities had commenced, it became this country to be more prompt, by every exertion in our power, to bring the struggle of war to a speedy con­clusion. He would go to the extremest verge of forbearance to keep peace; but he would not dilute his war mea­sures into a weak and sickly regimen, unfit for the vigor of the occasion. He would not convert the acute dis­temper of war into a chronic distemper, and incorporate it with the system.

"The present dispute had grown up with petty profits and small gains, till at last actual war was fixed upon us. Two years ago to have prophesied that, after six months, open war between England and America—America should boast the only naval trophy, and that we could only say that we had not been conquered!—an English­man would have resented such a prophecy as an insult. He could not consider our military success in America as matter of great triumph. He never supposed we should be conquered by America. He never could have thought the mighty navy of Great Britain would have slept while her commerce was swept from the seas; and that, at the end of six months, we should be found proclaiming a speech from the throne, that the time had, at length, come to be active and energetic, and to show England and the world that England is what England was—never, that we should send our ambassador, with our own ships, to our own North American towns, and attack the American ports with our flags of truce. There, however, might remain cir­cumstances, yet to be disclosed, to account for this; but lie would say, that on the first appearance and on the declaration of war, there was evidently a studied deter­mination to postpone the period of accommodation.

"As for the desire of America to get possession of Canada, it was a project which he thought not likely to be frowned upon severely, even by those parties in America which were considered friendly to us. When urged upon the subject, I know that ministers will reply, that their motives for clinging, to the last, to conciliation were two-fold. First, that they had friends in the Uni­ted States; second, that before we venture on hostilities we ought to take care that we are indisputably in the right. In both these points I concur; for I have ever thought that the most splendid victories which ever glittered on the page of history were tarnished and ob­scured if justice did not hallow the cause in which they were achieved. I admit that it is also right to temper your conduct by a consideration of the party that favors your cause in the hostile state. In regard to the United States, this rule ought to be observed; and we ought to pay attention to those who were called good English­men—not meaning to deny that they are good Americans, but who hold the opinion that an alliance with England is preferable to a treaty with France. But are we quite sure that, by this system of mitigated hostility, we are not playing the game of the party opposed to us, and defeating the efforts of our friends? I cannot help think­ing that we injure our own cause by this dubious pusillanimity."

From the foregoing extracts from the two state papers of Great Britain and America, and the review taken in parliament of the Prince Regent's Address, it would appear that both the belligerents accused the adverse party of the original causes of the war, and held it responsible for its continuance; but it will be left to an impartial posterity, when the rancorous feelings which have been excited shall be no longer recollected, to say to which of the nations the blame was imputable.

America as a neutral nation, before the commence­ment of the war, certainly exercised a great deal of partiality towards France, while her conduct towards Great Britain was extremely hostile. It was permitted to public armed vessels of France to capture British vessels at the mouths of American harbors, (where they had just taken in valuable cargoes and paid all the requi­site duties,) and return them into the same port and sell them as legal prizes; while British vessels had not the common protection of a neutral harbor in any part of the United States.

With respect to the British Orders in Council, of which America had so long and so grievously complain­ed, it has been clearly shown in a former part of this work, that the government of Great Britain, in passing those edicts, was guided by a strict sense of honor towards America, as a neutral nation*.

But, in order to conciliate America, as it was evident a malignant spirit had long existed in that country towards the British government, though the whole Union was by no means infected, the Orders in Council were repealed, but without the slightest effect in allaying the hostile spirit already manifested. The law of nations has determined the boundaries of the right of blockade: that is therefore a question which of course admitted of no doubt; and on the question of Great Britain reclaiming her own subjects, her right had never been doubted, and any further she never yet claimed; but even made overtures to suspend hostilities in order to negotiate on the points in dis­pute.

*See page 27 on this subject.

Whereas the president, in his message to congress, has made known to the people of the United States, that the British Orders in Council have been repealed, "in such manner as to be capable of explanations meeting the views of the government" of the United States; and therefore none of the alleged causes of war with Great Britain now remain, except the claim of the right to take British subjects from the merchant ships of the United States—

And whereas, during the Administration of President Washing­ton and President Adams, this claim of Great Britain was not considered as a reasonable cause of war; and under the adminis­tration of President Jefferson, the government of Great Britain did offer to make an arrangement with the United States, which, in the opinion of Messrs. Monroe and Pinkney, their ministers placed this subject on a ground that was both honorable and advantageous to the United States, and highly favorable to their interests; and was, at the same time, a concession which had never before been made; and it is highly probable that the gov­ernment of Great Britain would still be willing to make an arrangement on this subject, which should be alike honorable and advantageous to the United States—

And whereas, under the administration of President Madison, when the arrangement of the matters in controversy between the United States and Great Britain was made with His Britannic Majesty's minister, David Montague Erskine, Esquire, the im­pressment of seamen was not considered of sufficient importance to make a conditios of that arrangement—

And whereas all the European powers, as well as the United States, recognize the principle that their subjects have no right to expatriate themselves, and that the nation has a right to the ser­vices of all its citizens, especially in time of war; and none of those powers respect the neutralization laws of others so far as to admit their operation in contravention of that principle—and it is manifestly unjust for a neutral power to make war upon one nation, in order to compel it to relinquish a principle which is maintained by the others—&c.

   Extract of a Preamble and Order adopted by the Legislature of Massachusetts, 5th February, 1813.

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.