Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 121
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OF DEBATES W CONGRESS.
[H. of R.
tion, whether the hqnorable gentleman was authorized
to found an argument against the present bill,, upon a
supposed resemblance to the laws of 1816 and 1817.
The coincidence, if any, was in favor of the present bill,
and not against it. True it was, the law of, ^,8)6 con-
tained,* qualification not embraced in the present bill,
and that was, that it should appear "that the occupation
hj our government was the cause of the destruction of
the building for which payment was demanded." He
would ask gentlemen if it were worthy of our govern-
ment, who had violently seized upon the house of an in-
dividual, and turned his family out to cover their house-
less troops, to demand of him, when he asked remune-
ra ion for a burning by the enemy, when so occupied, to
prove that such occupancy was the cause of its destruc-
tion? He thought not. Every principle which binds a
government to its citizens, or one citizen to another,
was at war with such a requisition. He would say, in the
language of the gentleman from Vermont, the other day,
(Mr. Bhadubv,) who then was, but now he presumed
would not be, against the bill before the committee—
" The Government have taken the property of an indi-
vidual, and while in their hands it was destroyed; they
are bound to restore it or make compensation Equal-
ly clear, he contended was the principle laid down by
the honorable gentleman from Virginia, (Mr. Baiibour,)
who had the other day gone so fully and ably into the
discussion of the merits of the.original question. This
was a case, in the language of that gentleman, of destruc-
tion in pursuance of the usages of civilized warfare;
and, if so, there can be no doubt the government are
bound to compensate to the full extent of their ability.
The sum asked for was but small, under the amendment,
and he hoped it would prevail. He would, before he sat
down, ask the committee to look at the situation of the
petitioners, who, upon every principle on which we had
founded our opinion upon private claims, were entitled
to relief. Their misfortune hitherto seems to have been
that their claims were involved with a mass of less ques-
tionable cases, and, year after year, to have been re-
fused relief, because a bill intended for them embraced
others not so clearly within the settled principle which
had governed this House. In this case, the maxim of
charity was equally applicable as a maxim of justice.
"Mis tlat, qui cito dat,"—he gives twice who gives
quickly Let this be applied to them, and your deserv-
ing citizens who have given up their houses for barracks,
shall not be compelled to add to the ten years in which
they have been in vain asking for remuneration. He
would not occupy further time, as he had only risen in
reply to the observations which had just fallen from the
gentleman from Virginia.
Mr- BUCHANAN, of Pennsylvania, said, he rose to
make a few observations on the bill before the commit-
tee, which he would not have done, had his views of
the subject been exhibited by any other gentleman. He
said, he would state, as a clear proposition, which had
not been much disputed in the course of the d iscussion,
that this government was bound, as a matter of right, to
indemnify individuals for the destruction of their proper-
ty by the enemy, provided such destruction were in
pursuance of the rules of civilized warfare. If that
were not the case, then we were not compelled by any
principles of public law to make such an indemnity.—
Every motive of policy would forbid it.
Then, said Mr. B. the question is, was the devastation
of the whole Niagara frontier and the burning of Buffalo,
acts justified by the laws of war ? Can this be a subject
of serious doubt at the present day ? If we pass this bill,
we proclaim that our denunciations of the conduct of
the British army on that frontier, which has met the re-
probation of the people of the United States, and, he
trusted, of the whole civilized world, were unjust and
unfounded The Congress of the United States will
declare, that the acts of thst army were measures of
lawful war, and, as such, they wer'p bound to grant in-
demnity to the sufferers. This is the principle upon
which he bill has been rested by its friends, and the on-
ly principle upon which it can rest.
Let us then, said Mr. B. inquire into the justice of
this proposition. Had the enemy a right to burn and
destroy the whole Niagara frontier, because most of the
private houses were occupied as barracks and places of
military deposite I On this subject he concurred gene-
rally with the views of his friend from Virginia, (Mr.
Mebceh. ) If this were established as a correct princi-
ple of national law, the consequence would be dreadful,
and in many cases, the general devastation of the private
properly of unoffending individuals must inevitably en-
sue. War would no longer be a civil game between in-
dependent sovereigns; but each individual of the hostile
nations would be liable to ruin by the destruction of his
property. I will illustrate my views, said Mr. B. by an
example. Let an enemy land upon our shores and drive
our army beyond the line of our fortifications, what
would then be the consequence ? Private houses must
of necessity be used as places of military deposite and
as a shelter for the soldiers. Once, then, establish the
principle embraced by this bill, and you justify an ene-
my in destroying and laying waste the whole country
over which be advances. Nay, you do more ; you offer
him the strongest temptation to commit such outrages.
Such, said Mr. B. has never been the practice of civiliz-
ed nations; and he trusted this government would never
sanction the propriety of such outrageous acts on the
part of an enemy.
Mr. B. said there was another view which this subject
presents, which adds the guilt of perfidy to that of the
violation of the laws of war. Whilst the village of Buf-
falo still presented a hostile front to the enemy, a capitu-
lation was entered into by Col. Chapin of our army, with
Gen. Rial, who commanded the British forces. By that
instrument, it was solemnly agreed "that private pro.
perly and private persons should not he molested or in-
jured." Upon the faith of this capitulation the British
forces entered the town. The testimony proves, that,
before its date, they were well acquainted with the fact,
that a large body of the United States' troops had been
quartered there, and that many of the houses were
places of military deposite. With a full knowledge of"
those circumstances, they entered into the capitulation :
What was then their subsequent conduct ? Instead of
separating the military stores from the houses in which
they were deposited; instead of destroying public and
saving private property, they involved the whole village
in one common conflagration. At the most inclement
season of the year, in a northern climate, regardless of
their faith, they set fire to the town, and drove its inha-
bitants to seek shelter and bread from the compassion of
strangers. And this under pretence of what they well
knew before the capitulation, that there were military
stores deposited in many of the private houses. And
yet this destruction is attempted to be justified by the
laws of war established among civilized nations.
Again, said Mr. B. pass this bill, and no member of
the committee can form any just estimate of the number
and amount of the claims to which it will give birth. The
inhabitants of the Niagara frontier are neither better not-
worse than their fellow country men. This bill is chiefly
intended for their benefit. It is to embrace a tract of
country of considerable extent, within which the whole
mass of people feel a common interest in obtaining from
the Government as much as possible. Self love, and
the prejudices which necessarily result from it, will in-
duce them to bring every case in their power within
the language of the law, and to place the highest value
possible upon the property which was destoyed- ; This
bill is without limit, and without bound; and what will
be the extent of the appropriation necessary to carry it
into effect, the committee cannot even conjecture.
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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/m1/65/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.