HC Deb 21 January 1847 vol 89 cc207-10

wished to put two questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of which he had given the noble Lord notice. He should not be able to make the House understand those questions without a very short preface. It appeared that an agent of the Government of Mexico in this country had established an office from which, he stated, he was ready to issue to any persons who might wish to obtain them letters of marque, and also acts of naturalization — letters of marque against the United States, and acts of naturalization to protect any persons, not being native-born Mexicans, acting under those letters of marque, against the consequences of piracy. The first question he wished to ask was, whether or not any notice had been taken of the establishment of this office, and of the appearance of such an agent, in the country of a neutral and friendly nation, by the Minister or Government of the United States; and if this had been the case, what answer had been given by Her Majesty's Government, and what view they took of the circumstance? The subject to which his next question referred was of a more complicated nature, and would require some explanation. It had been said, that there was a determination on the part of the American Government to hang any persons having these acts of naturalization who were taken fighting against the United States under letters of marque, notwithstanding such acts of naturalization. This proceeding would, he conceived, be a gross violation even of their own (the American) notions of international law; and he wished to ask the noble Lord whether precautions had been taken to prevent such a disaster—for he could give it no other name—in the case of British subjects; and if so, what correspondence had taken place between the two Governments on the subject?


With regard to the first question which has been put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Government has no knowledge of the fact to which he has referred—that is to say, they have no knowledge that there is an agent in this country authorized, on the part of the Mexican Government, to issue letters of marque, or acts of naturalization. The only fact bearing on the subject with which I am acquainted is, that an advertisement was tendered to The Times, and refused by them, upon which a letter was afterwards inserted—I think on the 15th of January—from a Mr. Barnes, of Tower-hill, who, probably wishing to make an ingenious advertisement of his own wares, had wanted to make known through The Times that, at his shop on Tower-hill, a copy of the original decree of the Mexican Government, authorizing these letters of marque, might be obtained; but in the letter he wrote to The Times, he stated that he was not authorized to issue such letters of marque; and that he did not know that any other person in this country was so authorized. He probably wished to attract customers to his shop, hoping that when they looked at the decree they would purchase his guns and pistols. The only communication on the subject between the United States' Government and our own was a verbal communication between the American Minister, and myself. He had heard of something of this sort having taken place, and he expressed a hope that the British Government would not allow anything to take place in this country inconsistent with the neutrality we have maintained in the disputes between Mexico and the United States. I assured the United States' Minister, that, though I was not informed as to the circumstances to which he adverted, our position was one of strict and impartial neutrality, and that we were ready to do anything the law of the land enabled us to do to prevent any proceedings inconsistent with the maintenance of that neutrality. Though no case has yet arisen, I thought it right to refer the question to the law advisers of the Crown, in order to ascertain—supposing such letters of marque to be tendered—what steps the British Government would be authorized to take under the law, to prevent any hostile preparations in this country with a view to aggression upon the United States. With regard to the other question put by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it is, I believe, perfectly true that some time ago notice was issued by the Government of the United States that they would treat as pirates any foreigners found serving on board Mexican privateers: and I have considered it my duty to instruct the British representative at Washington to express to the United States' Government the expectation of Her Majesty's Government that this threat will not be carried into execution upon any British subject. Not only is there the objection mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman—that the Americans themselves admit the principle that the subjects of one country may, by a short process, be naturalized in another; but it was an universal practice, during the last war, to employ the subjects of other nations. The House is aware that, during the last war, we had serving in our navy sailors belonging to various foreign countries—Swedes, Danes, and others; and that they were always considered as entitled to the privileges attaching to British-born subjects. The United States also, I believe, in the course of their short war with us, employed foreign subjects in their service.

Subject at an end.