Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 117
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
OF DEBATES IN CONG-BESS.
J \v. 3, 1825.1
[H. of R.
If lie atu-npH to show tliat whole villages were, burnt,
he is again told that neither the occupancy by United
States' troops, nor the burning of Newark was the cause,
but only the predatory character that marked British
warfare in former wars as well as the present. The claim-
ant is sent to examine the mind, and to probe the con
science of the enemy,and tell whathis true mot-ves were.
It was from such a requirement that the present bill
soughtto free these unhappy suffer rs, many of whom
had endured a second desolation in consequence of the
legislation of this Hall. The acts of 1816 and 1817 led
them to expect indemnification; and the expectation was
a just one; it was founded in their confidence in this
House, and the execution of its laws. In consequence,
thev had begun to rebuild their burnt buildings,, and
bad incurred responsibilities by doing so. "1 he execution
of those acts was suspended; the time of payment for
their repairs came round. The same citizen who had
once been stripped bt the enemy, had to see his pro-
perty a second time swept away ■ by judgment and. exe-
He did not mean to enter into the discussion of the
v general principles of the bill ; but sureh the Govern-
ment Iwd fully settled it by its own act respecting the
destruction of Newark. ,Ttf knew that act hiul.be.en ciis-
avowed by the Government: he ^lould not expiess any
opinion on the question, whether the act was or wjs not
a justifiable one ! but he would call the attention of the
House to the letter of the Secretary of War. [Here he
quoted the letter.] Now I do npt say, observed Mr.
jIakvik, that the act of burning was m obedience to this
letter. The letter says that it might become necessary.
I admit that it was not unavoidable ; for at the same
time w- burnt the village, we evacuated Fort George.
All I insist on is, that, in that letter, the principle was
recognized, that the burning of a village might become
necessary in the lawful prosecution of a military enter-
prize. Did the Secretary apprehend any danger that
the buildings and houses of Newark should arrange
themselves into battalions, and march against our army?
No; but he knew that they protected the British forces.
Shortly after our troops evacuated the British territory,
they entered ours, and took Fort Niagara. Now, said
Mr. Maiitin, suppose that the taking ot that foit had
been followed by a letter of precisely the same import
as that of our Secretary of War, where would be the
difference of the cases ? (Experience had shown that
the villages on both sides were a covering to the troops;
and the British order might have expressly referred to
the fact that, in 1812, the whole frontier was converted
into one great cantonment. • Sir, the act 'was done : and
I contend it was done on the self same principle as our
own act in burning Newark.
He was happy to find that the gentleman from Geor-
gia was disposed to acquiesce in the principles of the
acts of 1816 and 1817 ; and when that gentleman disco-
vers that he was mistaken in supposing' that the claims
under those acts had been paid, he will allow that a law
which provides for their payment is every way just and
Mr. FORSYTH said he did not know whether any of
the persons, whose ease came fairly within the provi-
sions of the acts of 1816 and 1817, had been paid. He
was perfectly certain that those who came within them
were entitled to be paid, and he considered it to, be the
duty of the House, when the cases were fairly made out,
to pay them. But, he asked, what is now the question?
Not to pay those who, under those laws, are fairly enti-
tled lo be paid, but to alter the law, and embrace in
a new enactment cases expressly excluded by-those two
acts. After taking a brief review of the history of the
act of 1816, and the adjudications under it, Mr. F. said
that gentlemen had mistaken their remedy altogether,
if, as the gentleman suggested, these cases were .em-
braced within the principle of existing laws. The effect
of the present bill would be to embrace cases which the
Commissioner of Claims was about to allow, and would
have allowed, but for the interference of Congress, and
some of which, indeed, were allowed, without, in his
opinion, any color of authority by law. The bill now
before the House embraced, in fact, a new principle, re-
cognizing a vast number of the claims, covering he knew
not what amount of money.
Mr. MERCER, of Virginia, said this appeared to be a
proper moment for correcting an error which had been
fallen into by several of the gentlemen who had spoken,
and lastly by the gentleman from Georgia, relative to
the course of the Commissioner of Claims under the act
of 1816. Mr. M. said he was authorized by the docu-
ment which he held in his hands to aver, that the Com-
missioner had put no construction upon that acf but
what had received the sanction of the President of the
United States. As soon as he took possession of the
office to which he. was appointed, the Commissioner ad-
dressed four queries respecting the construction o that
act, to the Attorney General of the United States, who
returned for answer that he did not think himself bound,
in the discharge of his official duty, to answer those
queries. What did the Commissioner then ? He ad-
dressed a letter to the acting Secretary of War, who
did f irnish him with an exposition of the views of the
Executive on this question. What was the exposition ?
It was precisely that which the member from New York
had now put upon the. law. Mr. M. here quoted the
documents to sustain this statement of the facts He read
also part of another document, being a letter addressed
by the Commissioner to the Secretary of War on the
1st of November, 1816, in which he says he feels it to be
his duty to conform his decisions to any construction of
the law which the President should think the proper
one, and that he would make no other decisions under
it, until he should receive further instructions on that
head. How could it be said, under these circumstances,
that decisions had been made by the Commissioner, un-
der that act, without any color of authority ?
Mr. M. here reviewed the history of the decisions, the
great number of them, and the considerable amount
which they involved, which reduced Congress to the
alternative of revoking the law, so as to shut out the
cases not yet allowed, or that of laying by the cases for
further consideration. The latter course was preferred,
and, by. causing testimony to be taken in regard to the
destruction of property at Buffalo, &.c. a hope was held
out to the claimants "that the same measure would be
dealt out to them as to others similarly situated, whose
claims had been allowed before the execution of the
original law,was suspended.
Upon the question whether the laws of civilized war
justified the destruction of the Niagara frontier, Mr. M.
expressed the decided opinion thai the usage of civilized
nations did not justify it. He defied any one to put his
finger on any passage in any esteemed writer on Nation-
al Law, or pn any page of history, in which such a
transaction was reconciled to the principles of lawful
warfare. , So far from a belligerant being entitled to
destroy private dwellings because of their being or hav-
ing been occupied by its enemy, Mr. M. maintained
the reverse to be the law. The most fertile and popu-
lous countries'of Europe, he remarked, had been most
frequently the theatres of war—Flanders and Lom-
bard/,,for example, the cock pits of Europe, in which
France and Germany had so often contended for empire.
Of the ravages which would have been made of these
beautiful countries, if the principle now suggested had
been acted upon, he drew a vivid outline, concluding by
saying that, by the conduct of her commanders on the
shores.arid frontiers of this country during the late war,
the arms of Great Britain had been stained with a dis-
Here’s what’s next.
This book can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Book.
Gales, Joseph, 1761-1841. Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress, book, 1825; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc30752/m1/63/: accessed July 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.