Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 139
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GALES £5? SEATON'S REGISTER
[Jan. 5, 1825.
lieve to be due to these Claimants. Nor do I object to
the present form of the bill because it may oblige the
Government to pay more than was at first expected.
All claims that we have decided, by the act of 1817,
ought to be allowed, I am still in favor of allowing.
Here Mr. Wright went into an examination of that
act, and contended that there was the most satisfactory
proof that much of the property destroyed at Buffalo,
&c. came within its provisions Most of the cases of de-
struction had happened to buildings then in the occupa-
tion of the United States or its agents. He took a view
of the condition of the army on the Niagara frontier, and
insisted that, from the very nature of the case, it was
evident that the buildings must have been occupied as
the claimants state: and he assented to the doctrine
which had been well laid down by the gentleman from
Vermont, (Mr. Bradley,) that the Government, having
taken possession of private property, for its own use,
were bound to protect the property while they held it,
to restore it uninjured when they had done using it, and
if it were destroyed while in their hands, to make good
the loss. Has it been restored ? Mr. W. asked. It has
not, said he. Is the Government able to restore it ? No.
And can we refuse to pay for it ? I apprehend not.
In answer to the objection, by some gentlemen, that
the facts elleged by the claimants are not made out, Mr.
W. said, we have American officers of all grades, from
generals down to subalterns of the lowest l ank, who all
testify to the destruction, and to the reason of it. In ad-
dition to this, we have the concurrent testimony of the
officers of the British forces to the same effect. The
gentleman from North Carolina, ( Mr Williams,) had, in-
deed, instituted a comparison between the credibility of
an English officer of artillery drivers, and the admiral
who had committed such depredations in the Chesa-
peake. Were it important to settle that question, Mr.
W. said he should not hesitate to prefer the testimony
of a soldier, incidentally brought to testify to a fact with-
in his knowledge, to the letter of a diplomatic marau-
der, who was about to commit cruel ravages on our ter-
ritory, and who sought, beforehand, by argument and
assertion, to put our Government in the wrong. As to
the proclamation of Prevost, it was a paper got up to
serve a turn, and carried its own explanation on the face
But why, he asked, did gentlemen resort to this kind
of evidence ? fid they delight to cast discredit on our
own officersAnd would they, for such a purpose, have
recourse to testimony that would be scouted out of any
court of justice ? lie could conceive of no reason for
such a course, unless it might be, that gentlemen were
startled at the amount claimed, and caught at straws,
to avoid its payment. Here Mr. W. referred to the tes-
timony to show, that, while Buffalo was in the act of be-
ing burnt, a remonstrance was made to Gen. Riall against
burning the Court House, as it was a building altogether
of a peaceful character; that the British commander im-
mediately ordered the building to be extinguished, and
that the order to burn it was not renewed until he found,
on inquiry, that the Court House had been occupied by
the American forces. In the face of all this evidence, it
is denied by some gentlemen, that there is any proof
that the burning was a consequence of the occupation;
and it is insisted that, if we send the claims to the Audi-
tor on this evidence, they will be rejected. Mr. W.
said he could not believe any such thing.
He asked by what right Government could, in any cir-
cumstances, take possession of private property ? The
only right was contained in that article of the constitu-
tion which expressly provides that the right shall not be
abused. It says, that " private property shall not be ta-
ken for the public use without just compensation." You
have taken the property, said Mr. W.; it is destroyed.
Are you not bound to make good the loss ? Nay, in ma-
ny cases, even this is not enough. Justice demands not
only payment for the actual loss, but compensation for
the use also.
It is maintained, however, that the occupation was
transient and temporary—a mere quartering or troops.
But, sir, asked Mr. W what right have the people given
to Government to quarter soldiers upon the citizens ?
The constitution expressly prohibits it in time of peace;
and, in a time of war, it allow s it only on condition that it
shall be done in a due course of law. Now, sir, I would
thank gentlemen to show me the statute which gives
any directions how troops shall be quartered on the citi-
zens of these states. There is no such law, and there is
no such right. You did it by an exertion of physical
force; and, in so doing, the Government was a trespasser,
and it is, beyond question, responsible for the trespass,
on the same principle that an individual would be, with
this only difference, that it has no superior before whom
it can be compelled to answer for its deed. The Go-
vernment has virtually acknowledged this, and, in con-
sequence, passed the law of 1816. Here Mr. W. went
over the history of the several steps which had been
taken to liquidate the claims and relieve the sufferers—
he pronounced the interference of the President to ar-
rest the course of decisions by the Commissioner, to be
the exertion of a very extraordinary power. He would
not judge his intentions in so doing, nor would he con-
demn what Congress seemed to have approved. He then
recited the provisions of the act of 1817, and insisted,
that as soon as the claimants had complied with the direc-
tions of that act, in proving their losses, the Government
was actually under a contract to pay them. He could
not believe that any gentleman, who would undergo the
labor of examining the claims, the law, and the proof
which had been adduced under it, could possibly remain
in doubt that the Government was as much bound to
pay as a sovereign power could ever be. It had left it-
self no discretion, but had expressly stipulated to pay on
proof being made.
Yet, said Mr. W. I am opposed to the present bill. I
am opposed to it as proposing one thing and doing ano-
ther. It proposes only to carry the act of 1816 and '17
into practical effect; but it does in truth relax the re-
straint imposed by those laws, and thereby extends their
provisions. Now, I am as much opposed to extending
those laws as I am in favor of giving effect to them
as they stand. The present bill removes the proviso
in the 9th section of the act of 1816, which requires
that the occupation shall be proved to have been the
cause of the destruction. Why should this proviso be
abolished? Was it found, in practice, to work badly?
Mr. W. had seen no evidence that such was the case.
Why then reject it ? We are told, indeed, that, if we
retain it, the officer of the Treasury will reject every
one of these claims. He was not prepared to entertain
such a suspicion. If this proviso was rejected, then the
act of 1816 was not carried into effect by the present
bill—but on the contrary a door would be opened for a
multitude of claims which that act never intended to al-
low ; and, without that proviso, he, for one, should cer-
tainly vote against the bill. Another respect in which
tiie principle of the present bill differed from that of the
acts of 1816 and '17, was in the allowance of one half
the amount of all personal property destroyed. Why
this clause should be added, he could not see. It had no
proper connection witli the bill. The sufferers migilt,
for aught he knew, be very meritorious persons—and the
allowance might, in many cases, be very proper-—but the
present was an amendatory act, and this was an entirely
new provision. On this ground he objected to its intro-
duction as a part of this bill. This clause, surely, could
not be pretended to be a fulfilment of the law of 1816.
A third objection he had to the bill, as now amended,
was, that it proposed to limit the gross amount to be al-
lowed. He was bound, on principle, to oppose this fea-
ture of it. As he believed the Government to be solvent.
Here’s what’s next.
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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/m1/74/: accessed March 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.