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of any jurist or publicist of the least respectability, on the Continent, giving the shadow of countenance to such extraordinary positions, I must be permitted to decline, in the name of my country, the invidious honor he ascribed to her, and request him during the rest of the conversation to borrow an epithet for his own notions from the nation that, without venturing to shock the common sense of mankind by professing them formally herself, in the abstract, seemed disposed to make her weaker neighbors reduce them to practice for her benefit, and so might call them, if he pleased, the "English doctrine." By the request of the Count de Mérode, I had brought with me in my carriage Elliott's collection of American Treaties, for the purpose of shewing him how very usual the stipulations, that seemed so startling here, are in our diplomatic history. Beginning at the beginning, I opened the treaty with France in the course of the revolutionary war, and was proceeding to those with Holland and Prussia, etc., when M. Nothomb, asking the dates and learning them, manifested the greatest impatience, and put in a sweeping objection to all that had been done at the period of the Armed Neutrality, of which he had obviously made the acquaintance with a view to this very discussion, and which, in the hurry of a first introduction, he had mistaken for a league to change the law of nations by force, and to defeat or destroy the maritime ascendant of England by curtailing her hitherto admitted belligerent rights. To shew this he read me an extract from Schoell, which imported any thing else, as I observed to him; and, to convince him that the powers which made that memorable declaration regarded it then, and still adhere to it, as an exposition of the law of nations as it stood and now stands, I opened Marten's Guide Diplomatique, and begged him to read the admirable reply addressed, in December, 1800, by Count Bernstoff to Sir W. Drummond, the English Chargé d'Affaires at Copenhagen, who had been instructed by his Court to demand of that of Denmark some explanation as to the nature of its negotiations with Sweden and Russia. The opportunity was too tempting for me not to remark significantly to M. de Mérode that the letter of the Danish minister was, in more respects than one, applicable to the present case, and perfect not only as a model of diplomatic composition, but as an example of statesman-like wisdom and courage.
In the course of this discussion, M. Nothomb let it out that he stood, himself, committed to the doctrine of constructive blockade, in a speech he had made about the time of the coercive measures adopted by England and France against Holland, and he went farther and insisted, as he had done on a former occasion, that Belgium, by profiting, as he alleges that she did, in that instance by that doctrine, was estopped from disputing
I replied that I considered this government as in no wise responsible for the character of the measures (even admitting them to have been such as he represented them) which were adopted by two powers whose interference was their own act, warranted (if at all) by a law which the conference they represented had dictated to two weaker powers for the benefit of all Europe, that all that Belgium had done towards it was to call upon those powers to enforce the treaty they had imposed on her, or suffer her to right herself by the sword,-that by undertaking, for great political objects, the former part of this alternative, they had ipso facto declared her no party to the proceedings, etc. Pressed in the argument, though apparently as far as ever from being persuaded by it, M. Nothomb at length took the ground that M. Behr had exceeded his powers, and would, therefore, be disavowed, and, if the President demanded it, sacrificed by his government. I told him that was quite a different matter, and that (of course) if he could maintain his assertion, (which I had good reason to doubt,) H. M's. government would be free to do as it pleased. He replied that he should have no difficulty in doing so, and promised, if I would permit him, to call upon me at my house in a few days, and satisfy me, by shewing me the original powers and instructions given to M. Behr, that he was wholly unauthorised to treat with you about those high political questions which he had been in so much haste to settle. The conversation after this took a more free and familiar turn, and I endeavored to press upon them two points, as to which they seemed to me to entertain very erroneous ideas. The first was that the treaty was no declaration of principles, as that, for instance, between Prussia and the United States, but a mere arrangement between two friendly nations, as to their own conduct towards each other, in case either of them should become belligerent, whatever might be their rights and liabilities under the common law of nations. For this reason, all mankind would be revolted at the arrogance and selfishness of England if she ventured to express her disapprobation of so innocent an act, much less to do any thing revengeful towards Belgium in consequence of it. This, however, did not seem to tranquillize the apprehensions of these gentlemen, who appeared to have good reason for anticipating that their great maritime protector would not scruple to leave them in the lurch in any future emergency, unless she saw her interest in delivering them manifested by something less equivocal than treaties of amity, not censuring precisely, but then not sanctioning either, some of her practices in cases of pressing exigency. The other point was the immense difference between the prudence which avoids the possibility of giving offence, even by an innocent act, to a jealous superior, by abstaining from doing such an act, where no paramount mo
tive required it to be done, and the timidity which, after it has been done in good faith, shrinks back at the frown of a third power, and, by retracting or disavowing what it had a clear right to do, confesses, before all mankind, that it has no right to do any thing but what shall be agreeable to an officious and domineering neighbor. M. de Mérode dropped something about the difficulties of their situation, (which I am not disposed to underrate,) and that if all were over and peace and confidence established, it might be different, etc.
The conference took place on the 3d inst. The next evening I happened to meet with M. de Mérode at a party at the Count de Latour Maubourg's, (the French ambassador's,) and was rallying him about M. Nothomb's discoveries in the law of nations, when M. de Latour Maubourg himself coming up, and hearing what was the subject of our conversation, took part in it and joined me heartily in ridiculing the paper blockades of England as a system, for which he cited the recent case of her resistance to Don Miguel's attempt to shut up the Tagus, to shew how little respect she herself in reality entertained for it. He added, however, pleasantly, that he could not wonder at Belgium being inclined to favor the right of instituting the only sort of blockades that it would, in all probability, ever be in her power to impose. I was glad to hear him speak thus.
Not having received, within a reasonable time, the promised visit of M. Nothomb, and, at the same time, wishing to shew them at once the whole strength of the position they had undertaken to assail, I sent in the following note, with an extract from your despatch No. 5 accompanying it:
Mr. Legaré to Count F. de Mérode.
Legation of the United States of America,
Sir,-Having waited, not without some solicitude, during a period of nearly three weeks, for the visit with which, in the conversation I had the honor of holding with you and M. Nothomb at the hotel of your department, you promised I should be speedily favored by the Secretary General, for the purpose, among other things, of shewing me wherein M. Behr had transcended his powers in his negotiation with Mr. Livingston, and not having hitherto been fortunate enough to hear from M. Nothomb on the subject, I am led to suppose that you have altogether abandoned that intention, and the rather because I have good reason to think that the fulfilment of it would have been found, upon experiment, more difficult than you seemed to anticipate. Under this impression, I take the liberty of again calling your attention, in a formal manner, to the overture made to you in my letter of the 13th January, and requesting that you will, as soon as possible, consistently with your perfect convenience, do me the honor of communicating to me the purposes of His Majesty's government in regard to it.
You will, I am very sure, sir, pardon whatever of impatience may seem to be betrayed by me in thus pressing for a distinct and definitive answer,
when I remind you that it is now more than two months since I received the instructions, in compliance with which I immediately made that overture, that the Secretary of State of the United States appears to have been led, both by the correspondence of Gen. Goblet with me, and by that of M. Behr with him, to anticipate an unhesitating acceptance of it,-and, since it would be mere affectation, after what I must be permitted to call the extraordinary positions taken by M. Nothomb, without any expression of dissent on your part, in the conversation alluded to, to dissemble that I feel some apprehension lest that anticipation, reasonable as it unquestionably is, should be disappointed, that it is become more than ever my imperative duty to lose no time in obtaining and communicating to my government the probable result of the negotiation, and in giving it (should that result, unfortunately, be what has been more than hinted to me) a full account of the motives which will have led H. M's. government to disavow the solemn act of its plenipotentiary.
Meanwhile, as I think it due, not less to H. M's. government than to my own, to shew to the former, as distinctly as possible, the light in which this unexpected conclusion of a negotiation, so pressingly invited by itself, and of which, in communicating that invitation, its plenipotentiary proposed substantially the very terms and conditions now considered as so objectionable, will be regarded by the latter, I annex to this note an extract from a letter addressed to me, upon this subject, by the Secretary of State. Nothing I could say would add any thing to the effect of this simple statement of facts.
I have the honor to be, etc., etc.,
H. S. LEGARE.
This note brought the following answer from M. Nothomb :
Ministère des Affaires Etrangères,
Monsieur le Chargé d'Affaires,-En vous transmettant la note ci jointe en date de ce jour et où j'ai du me borner à rappeler les faits propres à fixer la position du gouvernement du Roi, j'éprouve le besoin de vous entretenir, en peu de mots, de la position particulière du plénipotentiaire Belge.
J'ignore encore quels sont les motifs personnels qui ont porté le ministre résident a Washington à donner une extension à ses pouvoirs; j'attends des explications de sa part. Vous concevrez, toutefois, que dans une négotiation de ce genre, ou tout était nouveau, il a pu, surtout à cette distance des lieux, perdre de vue les raisons qu' avaient motivé le sens restrictif donné à ses instructions.
Le ministre d'état chargé par interim, etc., COMTE F. DE MERODE. According to this appointment, M. Nothomb called upon me this morning with the ministerial portfolio, and put into my hands what, he assured me, were the originals of the powers and instructions given to M. Behr when he was about to set out for America. I frankly confess I read these papers with astonishment, as I have no doubt you will, and not dissembling to him. that the determination to which he announced that H. M's. government was come was more plausible, at least, than I had
hitherto considered it, while I did not conceive myself authorised to discuss it, (my instructions permitting me only to agree to an additional article for a simple ratification on or before the 1st of July,) I told him I should refer the whole matter, without loss of time, to the President. For this purpose, I requested that M. de Mérode would immediately favor me with an official answer to my note of the 13th January, announcing, in an explicit manner, the determination of this government not to ratify without certain modifications, which would enable me officially to decline, in an equally explicit manner, such a ratification, and to declare the negotiation, so far as I am concerned in it, at an end; unless, in consequence of any propositions which I would gladly be the means of communicating to him, the President should see fit to invest me with a larger discretion than he has hitherto allowed me. This was agreed to, and, after a good deal of miscellaneous conversation, in which I repeated that the importance I now attach to this discussion had been altogether superinduced upon it by the interference of England and the view which this government seemed to take of the question, (so much more extravagant than any avowed doctrines of England,) M. Nothomb took his leave. I took care, in this interview, to impress upon him that what I said, being the language of one not authorised (strictly speaking) to discuss the subject, was altogether unofficial and nowise binding upon my government, and that, of course, you would be perfectly at liberty to take any step or maintain any position you might see fit, that, although it was undeniable that there was an important difference between the phraseology of the fourth head of his instructions, (protection of the Belgian flag, etc.,) as presented by M. Behr to Mr. Livingston, and that of the same head as exhibited in the document before me, especially when taken in connection with the context and the example of the treaty with the Hanseatic Towns, by which he was directed to govern himself, yet that the expression, "protection of the flag", was, standing by itself, a very comprehensive one, and, in negotiations of the sort, the party with whom an ambassador treats is bound to look only at the power he presents, not to any secret understanding between him and his constituents,-that I most unfeignedly regretted the circumstance had occurred, because of the interest I feel in the honor and success of the Belgian government, and because, from the part England had taken in a matter that did not concern her, I feared it was calculated to excite strong feelings in America, and could scarcely fail to create much scandal every where, but that, at any rate, I had no doubt it would be less disagreeable to our government to find that M. Behr was mistaken as to the extent of his powers, than that H. M's. ministers VOL. I.-25