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It was, in short, a state colonization law, and under it a host of men who had long been seeking grants of land at last obtained their contracts, and the settlement of Texas by citizens of the United States began in serious earnest. *
While citizens of the United States were thus planting slave colonies in Texas, Great Britain was striving to enlist the United States in an international effort to destroy the slave-trade. To break up this shameful traffic had long been part of British foreign policy. As early as 1807 + Parliament had absolutely forbidden it within the dominions of the British Crown, and from that day forward no treaty was made with any foreign power without an effort to bind the contracting party to take some steps toward the suppression or at least the limitation of the African slave-trade. Between 1810 and 1814 she secured such treaties from Portugal, Denmark, and Sweden; persuaded the Netherlands by royal decree to abolish the slave-trade; induced Spain to limit it to her own colonies; bound France to abolish it within five years; and obtained from the French Government a solemn promise to aid her in persuading the allies when they met in the Congress of Vienna " to decree the abolition of the slave-trade so that it should cease universally and forever.”
When that Congress met in 1814, France and Spain refused to go further than they had already gone, and, as the other powers hesitated to press them, little was accomplished. Yet that little was a distinct gain. It was agreed that an annual conference should be held on the subject, and a declaration was made that all civilized nations demanded the suppression of this traffic in human beings as soon as possible, and that till it was stopped the allied sovereigns would not consider their work done.
This pledge was, if possible, made more binding still by an additional article to the definitive treaty signed at Paris on November thirtieth, 1815. The high contracting parties
* Among the grants then made were: April 16, 1825, Robert Leftwich, 200 families; April 18, 1826, Hayden Edwards, 800 families ; June 4, 1826, Stephen Austin, 600 families; October 6, 1826, Green Dewitt, 300 families ; October 6, 1825, Martin de Leon, 180 families.
+ Statute 46 George III, ch. 62, 119; 47 George III, sess. I, ch. 36.
then declared that they had in their respective dominions prohibited their colonies and their subjects from taking any part in the slave-trave, and agreed to concert by their ministers at the court of London the most effective measures for the entire abolition of "the traffic so odious and so highly reproved by the laws of religion and Nature.”
To neither of these solemn engagements would Spain or Portugal consent to be a party. Their flags, therefore, at once became the cover for a trade more cruel, more extensive, and more defiant than ever before. Slavers now came in brigs and swift-sailing schooners, well armed, well manned, and flying the flags of Portugal and Spain, and scoured the coast from Sherbro and the Gallinas to Cape Appolonia. Many of them were American privateers of the late war, and in more than one encounter beat off the Princess Charlotte, one of the armed vessels Great Britain kept on the coast. Another sent an insolent challenge to the Prince Regent to meet her. Others were not taken till a desperate engagement had been fought. Others, by sailing in company, were enabled to defy any force that could be brought against them. The Governor of Sierra Leone declared, in 1817, that the slave-trade was raging dreadfully. All commerce was stopped, as no vessel with negro sailors dared venture to sea.
In this state of affairs Great Britain, in 1817, under the treaty of Paris, invited the Ministers of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and France to a conference, and concluded conventions with Portugal and Spain. Each agreed to the abolition of the slave-trade north of the equator at once, and south of the line at a time in the near future. Just when, Portugal would not say; but Spain fixed the time as May thirtieth, 1820.
In December, 1817, the ministers met at London. Castlereagh reminded them that since the treaty of 1815 the slave-trade had greatly revived; that it had been attended with new horrors caused by the dreadful crowding of slaves into ships not intended for the transportation of human beings, but for escape from armed cruisers; and that Great Britain had made earnest effort to crush the growing evil, but had found the difficulties almost irrepressible. In the first place, the right of search, which was a belligerent
right, had ceased with the war, and it had been found that unless the right was renewed and exercised in visiting ships engaged in this illicit trade, the trade would go on more prosperously than ever. In the second place, fraudulent papers were obtained so easily and real ownership hidden so adroitly that it was possible for the subject of any State to carry on the slave-trade while it remained legal for the subjects of any State. He proposed, therefore, that the five powers represented should frame a convention and agree to prohibit the importation of slaves into their dominion; to make the trafficking in slaves by their subjects a criminal offence; and to allow to their war ships the right to visit vessels suspected to be slavers; and that Portugal and Brazil should be urged to abolish the trade after May twentieth, 1820.
These propositions were at once sent off by the plenipotentiaries to their courts; but no answer was made till the second annual conference of the powers at Aix-la-Chapelle in October, 1818.
Meantime Castlereagh turned to the United States, and in June, 1818, transmitted to Richard Rush, our Minister in London, copies of treaties for the suppression of the slavetrade which Great Britain had concluded with Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, and formally invited the United States to join in like arrangements. But the thing was not to be thought of. The convention into which she would have us enter provided for mixed courts to be established in the colonial possessions of one of the parties. The United States had no colonies, nor was it clear that under the Constitution Congress could set up a court to execute its penal laws beyond its territorial limits--a court too whose judges were partly foreigners, who could not be removed by impeachment for corruption, and from whose decisions, even under the laws of the United States, there was no appeal. The convention would have provided again for a reciprocal right of search by such armed vessels of the two powers as might have especial authority and instructions. The admission of the right of search in time of peace for any purpose whatever would have raised a storm of indignation which no President and no party could then have withstood. For these reasons, there
fore, Monroe declined the invitation.* Great Britain, however, was too deeply in earnest to be convinced, and in 1819 once more returned to the subject, once more repeated the invitation,t and once more received the same firm refusal.
But the United States had not been heedless of the purpose Great Britain had in view. One act already on the statute-book provided that a person detected bringing negroes into the United States should be forced to prove to the satisfaction of a court that they were not introduced contrary to law. By another, Congress had given the President full power to do three things for the suppression of the slavetrade:* He could use armed ships to seize and bring into port any vessel engaged in the slave-trade if controlled by citizens or residents of the United States. He could make such regulations and arrangements as he might think proper for keeping, supporting, and removing beyond the limits of the United States negroes, mulattoes, and persons of color brought within its bound illegally; and he could appoint some one to live on the coast of Africa and receive negroes seized on board of slavers. By a third act the slave-trade was made piracy, and any citizen of the United States who landed from any ship's company on any foreign shore and seized or decoyed or forcibly brought away any negro or mulatto with intent to make such person a slave was declared to be a pirate, and, on conviction, was to suffer death.|| Acting under these laws, Monroe, during 1820 and 1821, despatched six armed vessels to Africa to patrol the coast and capture slavers. The reports brought back by the commanders of these vessels, the letters written by the agents of the Colonization Society, and the examination of the cases that came before the courts for adjudication, showed the slave-trade to be very far from languishing. More than six thousand captured Africans, it was stated, had been landed by English war ships at Sierra Leone. Not less than three hundred vessels were on the coast busily engaged in the traffic, and protected by two and even three sets of
* American State Papers. Foreign Relations, vol. 5, pp. 70-74, 112, 113. + Ibid., pp. 74–76.
* Act of March 3, 1819. Act of April 20, 1818.
| Act of May 18, 1820.
papers. The common method of proceeding was for an American or English ship to go with a cargo to Havana or to Teneriffe, make a nominal sale of ship and cargo to some Spanish house, obtain regular Spanish papers and a nominal Spanish captain, and with the real captain as supercargo or passenger sail for Africa. Once there the cargo would be delivered to a slave factor on shore, and a contract made for slaves; after which the ship would put to sea for a certain number of days, while the negroes, chained two and two, were brought down to the coast and placed in a rude shed near the beach. On the return of the vessel a signal would be made, and in an hour her hold would be packed with wretched Africans.
Shocked at these things, Monroe again brought the matter before Congress, and a House committee recommended that a limited right to search American vessels on the coast of Africa be granted, and that the President be authorized to negotiate with European powers for the suppression of the slave-trade.* Nothing came of it, nor of a similar resolution and recommendation made one year later.t Another twelve months brought better fortune, and, just as the Seventeenth Congress was about to expire, a resolution requesting the President to enter on negotiations passed the House almost unanimously. +
It was then too late for the Senate to act. But, as Great Britain was once more urging the United States to join with her in a convention granting a limited right of search,# Monroe took the sense of the House as a guide, and offered to negotiate with a view to making the slave-trade piracy under the law of nations. This Great Britain consented to do, and as soon as possible a convention was signed at London, and after much mutilation was ratified by the Senate, but never
* American State Papers. Foreign Relations, vol. v, pp. 92, 93. February 9, 1821.
| American State Papers, ibid., pp. 140, 141. April 12, 1822.