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The government of the United States was not insensible to the crying evils of the traffic in slaves. In the treaty of Ghent, it had concurred in reprobating the traffic as “irreconcilable with the principles of humanity and justice," and had pledged its best endeavors to accomplish its entire abolition. But, while always acknowledging, as it did in the WebsterAsburton treaty, the duty to employ its naval forces for the redemption of that pledge, it insisted that American vessels on the high seas should be liable to search only by American cruisers; and it conceded a similar exemption to the vessels of other nations. In 1858 this principle was at length formally accepted by the British government; and in the same year the Senate of the United States unanimously reaffirmed it. Since that time, the United States has in three instances consented to a qualified departure from its observance: in the treaties with Great Britain, concluded April 7, 1862, and February 17, 1863, during the civil war, admitting a reciprocal search for slavers within two hundred miles from the African coast southward of the thirty-second parallel of north latitude, and within thirty leagues of the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, and Madagascar; in the general act of Brussels of July 2, 1890, permitting, for the purpose of repressing the slave-trade, a mutual search within a defined zone on the eastern coast of Africa of vessels of less than five hundred tons bur
den; and in the agreements for the protection of the fur seals in Bering Sea. By the abolition of slavery in the Spanish Antilles, the most doubtful concession made in the treaties with Great Britain soon ceased practically to cause anxiety; nor was the integrity of the general principle impaired by the exceptional and temporary relaxation of its observance by mutual agreement. It may indeed be said that the making of such agreements by the United States was rendered possible by the previous unqualified acceptance of the principle of the freedom of the seas by Great Britain and other mari
The disposition of the United States to maintain its general and time-honored rule was signally exemplified in the case of the steamer Virginius. On October 31, 1873, the Virginius, while sailing under an American register and flying the American flag, was chased and seized on the high seas off the coast of Cuba by the Spanish man-of-war Tornado. The captive vessel was taken to Santiago de Cuba, where, after a summary trial by court - martial, ostensibly on a charge of piracy, fifty-three of her officers, crew, and passengers, embracing Americans, British subjects, and Cubans, were condemned and shot. The rest were held as prisoners. No foundation was shown for the charge of piracy beyond the fact that the vessel was employed by Cuban insurgents in conveying arms, ammunition, and men to Cuba, an employment which obviously did not constitute piracy by law of nations. The government of the United States therefore demanded the restoration of the vessel, the surrender of the captives, a salute to the American flag, and the condign punishment of the Spanish officials. On proof that the register of the Virginius was fraudulent, and that she had no right to American colors, the salute to the flag was afterwards dispensed with; but the vessel and the survivors of her passengers and crew were duly delivered up; and an indemnity was eventually obtained by the United States for the relief of the sufferers and of the families of those who were put to death, with the exception of the British subjects, for whom compensation was obtained from Spain by their own government. It is often stated that the United States in this case maintained that the Virginius was exempt from search merely because she bore the American flag, even though her papers were false and she had no right to fly it. This supposition is contradicted by the fact that the salute to the flag was dispensed with. The demands of the United States in their last analysis rested chiefly upon the ground that the vessel was unlawfully seized on a spurious charge of piracy, and that the proceedings at Santiago de Cuba were conducted in flagrant disregard of law and of the treaties between the two countries. In March, 1895, the American steamer, Alliança, bound from Colon to New York, was fired on by a Spanish gunboat off the coast of Cuba outside the threemile limit. The Spanish government promptly disavowed the act and expressed regret, and, by way of assurance that such an event would not again occur, relieved the offending officer of his command. Incidents such as these serve to show that the principle of the freedom of the seas has lost neither its vitality nor its importance. It may indeed be said that the exemption of vessels from visitation and search on the high seas in time of peace is a principle which rather grows than diminishes in the estimation of mankind; for in the light of history, its establishment is seen to mark the progress of commerce from a semi-barbarous condition, in which it was exposed to constant violence, to its present state of freedom and security. Nor is there any page in American diplomacy more glorious than that on which the successful advocacy of this great principle is recorded.
While maintaining the freedom of the seas, the United States has also contended for the free navigation of the natural channels by which they are connected. On this principle, it led in the movement that brought about the abolition, in 1857, of the dues levied by Denmark on vessels and cargoes passing through the sound and belts which form a passage from the North Sea into the Baltic. These dues, which were justified by the Danish government on the ground of immemorial usage, sanctioned by a long succession of treaties, and of the benefit conferred on shipping by the policing and lighting of the waters, bore heavily on commerce, and the United States, after repeatedly remonstrat ing, at length gave notice that it would no longer submit to them. This action led to the calling of a conference in Europe. The United States declined to take part in it, but afterwards co-operated, by a treaty with Denmark, in giving effect to the plan under which the dues were capitalized and removed.
An artificial channel necessarily involves special consideration; but, reasoning by analogy, Mr. Clay, as Secretary of State, declared that if a canal to unite the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans should ever be constructed, “the benefits of it ought not to be exclusively appropriated to any one nation, but should be extended to all parts of the globe upon the payment of a just compensation or reasonable tolls.” This principle was approved by the Senate in 1835, and by the House of Representatives in 1839, and was incorporated in the treaty which was concluded at Washington, April 19, 1850, by John M. Clayton, Secretary of State, on the part of the United States, and by Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, British minister at Washington, on the part of Great Britain. Although the ratifications of this treaty were promptly exchanged (July 4, 1850), prob
4 ably no other diplomatic document to which the