Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ARBITREMENT OF NATIONAL DISPUTES.

JUNE 13, 1838.-READ, AND LAID UPON THE TABLE.

Mr. Legaré, from the Committee on Foreign Affairs, made the following

REPORT:

The Committee on Foreign Affairs, to whom was referred the memorial of the

New-York Peace Society, and other individuals friendly to the peace cause, report as follows:

The prayer of the memorialists is two-fold. They desire, in the first place, that our differences with Mexico should be referred to the arbitration of a third Power. The House is already informed that, to this extent, their petition has been answered and fulfilled by the Executive-our claims upon that Government having, at the instance of the latter, been submitted to an umpire of its own choosing. So far, therefore, as the object of the memorialists was to bring about this practical result in a public interest of great importance and pressing exigency, it has been accomplished, no doubt, to their entire satisfaction.

But they do not stop here. They proceed to recommend to Congress that it "adopt the principle of reference to a third Power of such international disputes as cannot be amicably adjusted by the parties themselves, as an invariable rule of action, instead of an occasional one.” And they further pray that, "in pursuance of this principle, a proposal be sent forth by this Government to those of other nations, that they would unite with it in the establishment of a great international board of arbitration, or a congress of nations, to which to refer international disputes; and also for the purpose of digesting and preparing a regular code of international law, obligatory on such nations as may afterwards adopt it.” They think that this board of arbitrators should be composed of delegates from various nations, and that to this board should be confided the forming a code of international law.

It is proper to observe, however, that they do not propose that this code "shall be binding on any nations which may not willingly adopt it, after its enactment by the tribunal :" nor do they propose that that tribunal be clothed with power to enforce its decisions, but that it shall rely for its efficiency solely on the

impartiality and correctness of those decisions, and the honor and justice of the parties concerned.

The petitioners conclude by expressing a desire that this country should not only combine with others in what they characterize as "the great and glorious scheme under consideration," but that they "should lead the way, by sending forth the proposal for a congress of nations” to the various Governments of the civilized world.

The Committee have been earnestly pressed to take this latter prayer of the petitioners into consideration, and to make a direct, full, and solemn report both upon its principles and its practicability. It is in compliance with a desire thus entertained in many respectable quarters, that they have the honor of submitting to the House the following reflections:

The Committee need scarcely say that they fully appreciate and sympathize with the philanthropic feelings and purposes expressed in the memorial. They agree that the union of all nations, in a state of peace, under the restraints and the protection of law, is the ideal perfection of civil society. Not, however, that they would be understood as affirming that war has always, in the history of mankind, been an unmixed or uncompensated evil. They do not think so. To say nothing of the heroic virtues which are formed under its stern discipline, and exercised by its trials and perils, war has, in fact, been often, both in ancient and in modern times, a mighty and even a necessary instrument of civilization. It is sufficient, in this connection, barely to mention the names of Alexander and Charlemagne. But the committee also think that those times are gone by. Far other agents of amelioration and progress are at work now-agents infinitely more powerful in their quiet and silent, but incessant operation, and whose efficacy would be greatly impaired by war, did they not tend, more than any thing else, to supersede and put an end to it. The age is reproached with being a mechanical and ignoble one-with its sordid love of gain, its plodding devotion to business, and its preference of physical comforts and personal accommodation, to objects that elevate the imagination and refine the taste in art and literature. This reproach is, no doubt, to a certain degree, well founded; but we must not forget that we do not forego (as far as we do) the advantages referred to, without a real, and, in the eye of sober reason, an abundantly adequate compensation. It is true that the most peculiar characteristic of the civilization of these times is a demand, becoming universal among all classes of society, for the various physical comforts, of which commerce is the inexhaustible source. But it is this very peculiarity that opens an entirely new prospect to the human race, and makes the present moment an epoch in its history. This commercial or economical civilization, if we may

call it so, is reconstructing society on the broadest and most solid basis. It is essentially democratic in its character and tendencies. It pursues steadíly, and achieves, with more and more success every day, the greatest good of the greatest number. It is every where increasing population, and adding immensely to the fund that employs and rewards labor. In spite of many disturbing causes, which will disappear in the progress of things, it is elevating the poor in the social scale, providing for them better food, raiment, and lodging, as well as means of a suitable moral and intellectual education. It is bringing the most distant families of mankind, as it were, into contact with one another, and effacing all the sharp and salient peculiarities of national character that now estrange them from each other. It is revealing the great cardinal truth of free trade, so pregnant with moral as well as political results—that "self-love and social are the same;" that every country is interested in the prosperity of every other; that production can never be excessive, because, where exchanges are entrammelled, it produces its own consumption; that nothing, in short, can be more shallow in science, as well as sordid and narrow in spirit, than a restrictive policy founded upon the idea that a nation can only enrich itself at the expense of its neighbours, or has any thing to gain in the long run, from their losses. When we reflect that, during the whole of the last century, and for a considerable period before, the far greater part of the blocd and treasure so prodigally lavished in almost incessant war, was a sacrifice, directly or indirectly, to fallacious views of commercial monopoly and colonial dominion considered as instrumental to that monopoly, we shall fully appreciate the importance of this simple truth, once become, as it will infallibly become, a settled maxim of national policy. With notions of economy and personal comfort, such as are made the reproach of the times, mankind are not likely much longer to acquiesce in the wanton and profligate waste of their resources, of the means of so much private and public prosperity, in contests which--to say nothing of the unspeakable evils that accompany them--cannot possibly result in any adequate advantages to either party. Their reluctance to take up arms will be increased by a regard not only to their own interests directly, but to that of their adversaries, which is in effect the same thing; to make war upon their customers in trade will be felt to be a mischievous and suicidal insanity. This motive is, perhaps, not a romantic one, but it is not the less powerful for addressing itself less to sentiment and the imagination than to the habitual selfishness of human nature. It is thus that physical causes are producing moral effects of the greatest importance, and that political economy becomes the most effective auxiliary of Christianity. We already see, in a manner not to be mistaken, the

influence of such ideas in the contemporary history of Europe, although they are just beginning to take hold of the public mind, and there are so many obstacles to their progress in the actual state of things there. It is scarcely possible to imagine a greater revolution of opinion, in the same time, than has occurred since the peace of 1815. A single generation is not yet passed away since the downfall of Napoleon, and his military despotism begins already to strike the minds of men as a barbarous anomaly in such an age.

Since the last French revolution, causes of controversy, without number, sufficient to have produced desolating wars at any previous epoch, have arisen and passed away without occasioning one, except the disputed succession in Spain--an exception that proves the rule. Much is due, no doubt, to the personal character and enlightened views of those whose position enabled them to control that great event; but, let it be remembered that that character and those views were themselves the work of the age they would reflect so faithfully.

The committee will add that there is another point of view in which every thing that tends to preserve the peace of nations will, ere long, come to be universally regarded as peculiarly interesting to mankind : they allude to its effect in promoting the great cause of limited or constitutional government.

War has ever been the most fruitful source of arbitrary power. They are, indeed, to a certain extent, inseparable. A military is, necessarily in spirit and effect, a despotic, and must generally be a monarchical organization. Not only so, but the evil tends to propagate and to perpetuate itself. One great power arming for conquest compels all neighboring powers to arm for defence; and it is not a vain or lanciful saying, that laws are silent amidst the din of arms. The instinct of self-preservation is at least as strong in nations as in individuals. They ever have been, and ever will be, ready to sacrifice, without scruple, their dearest rights and liberties in order to maintain their national independence. The yoke of the foreigner is so galling and degrading that there is no other which mankind are not willing to bear in order to avoid it. “The salvation of the people," (salus populi,).at whatever cost or risk, must and will be the supreme law, under every form of government. The dictators of republican Rome, the terrible de potism of the executive committees of the French convention, are only instances of a universal law of society and of human nature under such circumstances. Hence the impossibility, for the present at least, of maintaining such institutions as ours on the continent of Europe.

Mirabeau imbodied the whole philosophy of the subject in his well-known apophthegm that France was "geographically monarchical.” The federal relations of Europe (for Europe is, in fact, a confederacy) admit, in strict theory, of no arbiter but the sword

and the independence of most of the powers has been preserved as far as it has been preserved at all at the cost of popular liberty. That happy compromise, by which the wisdom of our fathers—availing itself, it is true, of such circumstances as have never occurred elsewhere-has reconciled, on this continent, the sovereignty of the States with the rights of individuals under a peaceful, judicial administration of the law, is still, and is likely long to continue, a desideratum there. But the spirit of the age is gradually becoming more favorable to such institutions, just in proportion as it is becoming less disposed to war. Peace is the hope of liberty-peace, consecrated as the standing, fundamental policy of the world. Such a state of opinion, or such a condition of things as will dispense with large armies and military discipline, with a power, in effect dictatorial, in the executive department of governments, and with the ambition, the glory, and the fatal popularity and influence of successful generals; such a perpetual and perfect intercourse, commercial and otherwise, among men as will mitigate extremely, if not extinguish, all mutual jealousy and hostility between nations destined, under the blessed influences of Christian civilization, to form but one great family, and will thus deprive politicians of the occasion of turning the wildest phrensy and worst calamities of mankind into a means of sanctifying the abuses of government—will inevitably lead, in this age, to the general establishment of representative institutions. All the tendencies of commerce and industry are to social equality ; peace will add to that equality rational liberty under a government of laws; and both will tend to perpetuate, by a mutual reaction, the causes that produced them.

Concurring thus fully in the benevolent objects of the memorialists, and believing that there is a visible tendency in the spirit and institutions of the age towards the practical accomplishment of it at some future period, the committee regret to have to say that they have not the same confidence in the means recommended in the petition. They are of opinion that reforms so fundamental can only be brought about by the gradual progress of civilization, and in consequence of a real change in the condition of society. They must follow events, and conform to them; they cannot, by any contrivance of man, be made to precede and control them. All attempts, in such matters, except by bloody revolutions or conquests, to anticipate the natural course of things, are entirely unavailing.

The scheme of the memorialists is, as we have seen, to refer all international disputes to a congress of deputies, and to authorize that congress to digest a code of public law that shall be binding only on such powers as should voluntarily adopt it.

The first objection to this plan lies upon the surface, and is

« ZurückWeiter »