HC Deb 08 February 1841 vol 56 cc367-74
Lord Stanley

seeing the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in his place, rose for the purpose of putting to him the question of which he had given notice the other evening. That question was one of so important a nature, especially at a period so critical as the present, that he was compelled to preface it by such a statement of facts as he believed the laws of the House permitted him to make. He could assure the House, that beyond that he did not wish to go one single step, and he was confident that the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair would have the kindness to stop him if he abused the liberty which the House accorded. It would be in the recollection of the House, that in the latter period of 1837, at a time when by the gallantry of the troops, both of the line and the militia, rebellion had been put down in the province of Upper Canada, and not a single rebel in arms was left within that province, a band of men, consisting partly of Canadians and partly of American subjects, was organized and armed within the frontiers of the United States. They possessed themselves of arms by seizing on the arsenals, the property of the United States, and in open day took possession of an island lying in the Niagara river, the property of her Majesty, to which they transported, also in open day, arms, the property of the United States, ammunition and stores, the property of the; United States, and brought frequent reinforcements of men, in order to make their position strong. From that position, and with those means, they for a considerable time fired upon the inhabitants of the Canadian frontier at not more than 600 yards distance, and upon boats passing up and down the river. This band, thus posted, was supplied on more than one occasion by a schooner from the American frontier, which they had chartered for that express purpose, with arms, ammunition, and reinforcements. On the night of the 20th of December, that schooner having been so employed, during the day of the 20th, a body of men, by authority of her Majesty, and commanded, or, at least, under the orders of Mr. M'Nab, Speaker of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada, who at that time commanded the militia of the province, and was active on behalf of her Majesty, attacked the schooner, lying, undoubtedly, moored by the American shore, and having boarded her, and found it impossible to carry her away, in consequence of the rapidity of the current, set fire to her, and suffered her to fall down the Falls of Niagara. Representations relative to that proceeding were immediately made by the authorities of the state of New York to the President of the United States, and a counter-statement was at the same time made by the British authorities of Canada, through the medium of Mr. Fox, our Minister to the United States. In consequence of the conflicting nature of the evidence then presented, the President communicated with Mr. Fox, and furnished him with the evidence forwarded to his Government by the United States authorities, in, order that it might be laid before her Majesty's Government, with a demand for reparation for that which they characterised as an outrage upon the neutrality of the American territory. The counter-statement of the Canadian authorities was in like manner made the subject of a strong counter-representation from her Majesty's Minister at Washington. The whole correspondence, in the course of the months of January and February, 1838, was transmitted for the consideration of her Majesty's Government, with the demand for reparation to which he had referred. He believed, that after that period they had no information furnished from the Foreign-office of any transactions on this subject. The Colonial-office, in 1838, and at subsequent periods, had laid before the House various papers, among which were the proceedings of the House of Assembly, and of her Majesty's Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. In their public despatches they strongly supported the view taken by the Canadian authorities, and spoke in terms of the highest approbation of those who had attacked and sunk the schooner. He believed, that the public generally considered this question between the two countries as fairly settled, but on the 12th of November last he was given to understand a gentleman named M'Leod, who had belonged to the service of her Majesty, and had filled in Canada the situation of sheriff of a county, who had taken an active part in repelling invasion from the province, but who, as far as he (Lord Stanley) was able to learn, had taken no part whatever in the affair of the Caroline, was seized in the state of New York by the authorities on a charge of murder and arson, was committed to gaol for an act done under the sanction of the Canadian authorities, to repel the invasion of the Canadian territory, and under the immediate command of the gentleman to whom the military force of the province had at that time been intrusted. Mr. M'Leod was apprehended and was about to be tried by a jury of the State of New York. He hoped he was stating facts correctly; he did so without making any comments, and if he were not correct, he hoped the noble Lord would set him right. In the month of January, Congress, on its meeting, applied to the President to lay before them any communications with the British Government in reference to this subject. In doing so, the President, among others papers, laid before them a strong remonstrance which Mr. Fox had felt it to be his duty to make as a British minister, and the representative of his sovereign against the apprehension of a British subject for an offence, if offence it were, which had received the sanction of the British authorities, and which, at that moment, was under the consideration of the two Governments, and had been, for three years, the subject of negotiation between them. The President, in answer, refused altogether to admit the demand of Mr. Fox, for the liberation of Mr. M'Leod, partly on the ground that the Federal Government, in such cases, had no power to interfere with the authority of the several independent states, and also on the ground that, if it possessed such power, and had the right to interfere, the case stated by Mr. Fox was not one in which it would exercise it, inasmuch as questions of international right between the general governments of the two countries in no degree interfered with the administration of justice by the several states of the union. Mr. Fox closed the correspondence by the strongest expressions of regret at the views which the President had taken upon the matter. He said he was not authorized to express the views of his Government; but, on his own part, he made the strongest protest in his power against the views of the American Government, and without loss of time, would lay the whole before her Majesty's Government for its opinion. This then was the position in which the matter at present stood:—A British subject was arrested in the month of November; the assizes will take place during the present month, February; and at this hour (and that was his vindication for interfering, in any degree, in a matter on which communications have taken place between two great nations, which are now in a very critical state), at this moment, the life of a British subject might be in jeopardy, in consequence of his having acted in defence of his native country, and under the orders, and by the authority of the military powers of this country, to whom he was compelled to give obedience in repelling invasion and rebellion. The questions he wished to put to the noble Lord were, inasmuch as this negotiation commenced so early as January, 1838, whether the noble Lord had any objection to lay on the Table of the House the correspondence between her Majesty's Government and the United States, relative to the destruction of the schooner Caroline, on the night of the 20th December, 1837? Whether the noble Lord had received the despatches of Mr. Fox referred to in the recent accounts from the United States, dated 20th September, which Mr. Fox stated he had transmitted to the Government at home, (and which he presumed the noble Lord had received, he having acknowledged despatches up to the 8th February) relative to the apprehension of Mr. M'Leod? Whether her Majesty's Government had taken any, and if so, what steps, for the protection of Mr. M'Leod, and whether the noble Lord would lay upon the Table of the House the correspondence upon that subject between the Government at home, the British representative at Washing- ton, and the representative of the United States?

Viscount Palmerston.

—I must confess the noble Lord has adverted, with great discretion, to a subject of extreme interest, and which, from its great delicacy, involving considerations of a very grave nature between the two countries, I am sure the House will feel should be touched upon with great reserve, either by the noble Lord, or by myself, in my answer. Now, as to the statement of the noble Lord, with respect to the occurrences which led to this matter, it is strictly, as far as my memory serves me, correct. I will first answer the questions the noble Lord has put to me, and afterwards say one word in explanation of the transaction. I think it is not expedient in the present state of the discussion between the two Governments as to the seizure and destruction of the Caroline, to lay on the Table that correspondence. Whenever it is brought to a close, of course there can be no objection to do so. Her Majesty's Government having received within the last few days despatches from Mr. Fox, and his correspondence with the authorities of the United States, which correspondence has been furnished to the public in the American papers, there can be no objection to lay before Parliament those papers that are already before the public. But it is a departure from what I consider an important rule in regard to international affairs, and one which may operate injuriously to national interests to lay before Parliament documents relating to pending discussions; but, as I have before said, some of those having been already furnished, as respects them there can be no objection, I think it important to make, with reference to the note of Mr. Forsyth, one observation. The noble Lord said, he believed Mr. M'Leod was not one of the party by whom the Caroline was attacked. My information goes precisely to the same conclusion; but with regard to the ground taken by Mr. Forsyth, in reply to Mr. Fox, I think it right to state, that the American Government undoubtedly might have considered this transaction either as a transaction to be dealt with between the two Governments, by demands for redress by one, to be granted or refused by the other, and dealt with accordingly; or it might have been considered, as the British authorities consider proceedings between American citizens on the British side of the border, as matter to be dealt with by the local authorities. But the American Government chose the former course, by treating this matter as one to be decided between the two Governments, and this is the ground on which they are entitled to demand redress from the British Government for the acts of its subjects, and from that ground they cannot now be permitted to recede. I assure the House that on a matter of such extreme difficulty, it would be improper for me to enter into further remarks or observations, and I shall therefore content myself with answering the noble Lord's questions by this statement of matters of fact.

Lord Stanley.

—I apprehend that the noble Lord has not correctly understood my questions—for one of them, and that the most important, he has not answered. That question was, whether the Government had taken any, and if so, what steps, for the protection and liberation of Mr. M'Leod?

Viscount Palmerston.

—It was my intention to have answered that question of the noble Lord before I sat down, but it escaped my memory at the moment. I may state that a case somewhat similar in principle to the present was expected to take place a year and a half or two years ago, and at that time instructions were sent out to Mr. Fox, on which were founded some of the communications lately made by him to the American authorities. Of course, the House will, I trust, suppose that Her Majesty's Government will send —they have, indeed,sent—certain instructions; but till we get the conclusion of the correspondence it is impossible to send final instructions. I trust the House will believe the Government will send such further instructions as they may think consistent with their duty, but I am not prepared now to state formally what those instructions may be.

Mr. Hume

wished to ask a question of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but as the noble Lord had made a speech on the subject, he must first beg of the House to suspend their judgment until they had before them the whole of the papers on the subject. The question he wished to ask was this:—It appeared by the papers which he had in his possession, that in January, 1838, a motion was made in the House of Representatives, calling upon the Government to place on the table of the House all the papers respecting the Caroline, and in consequence of that motion certain papers which had been received from Mr. Stevenson, had been laid on the table of the House on the 15th of May, together with a letter from that gentleman. In that letter the allegations as to the attack by the Caroline were denied, and he (Mr. Hume) had seen a letter from Mr. Stevenson, in which he stated that no answer had been given to his application in 1838, and he begged to be informed whether he should urge the matter on the attention of the British Government, for the American Government did not yet know whether the enterprise against the Caroline was to be considered as sanctioned by the British Government. What he wanted to know from the noble Lord was, what were the instructions of Mr. Stevenson upon which he had acted? He must again express a hope that the House would suspend its judgment on the question until all the documents were before it.

Viscount Palmerston

said,—I rather think that my hon. Friend will find in that correspondence that instructions from the American Government were given to Mr. Stevenson to abstain from pressing the subject. With regard to the letter of Mr. Forsyth, I beg leave to say, that the principle stands thus:—In the case of the American citizens engaged in invading Canada, the American government disavowed the acts of those citizens, and stated that the British authorities might deal with them as they pleased, and that they were persons who were not in any degree entitled to the protection of the United States. But in the other case they treated the affair of the Caroline as one to be considered between the Governments, and not to be left upon the responsibility of individuals. Until, therefore, the British Government disowned those persons, as the American government disavowed their citizens in the other case, the American government would have no right to change its ground upon the question.

Sir R. Peel

wished to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies one question as to a matter of fact; it was, whether there were not officers of Her Majesty's army and navy engaged in the affair of the Caroline, and wounded in that service; and further, whether they had received the same pensions as they would have received if they had suffered such wounds in the service to which they regularly belonged?

Lord J. Russell

said, he had understood that officers of Her Majesty's army and navy were employed on that occasion, under the orders of the colonial authorities, and that some of them were wounded in that service; but he had not heard that they had received any pensions.

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