Register of Debates in Congress, Comprising the Leading Debates and Incidents of the Second Session of the Eighteenth Congress Page: 141
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OF DEBATES IN" CONGRESS.
[H. of R.
if the debt was a just one, it must be paid- He was not
desirous that the American Government should com-
pound with its creditors, and take the benefit of any in-
solvent law. Either the claims were unjust, and then
they should not be paid, or, they were just, and then
they ought to be paid to the uttermost farthing.
The ame ndment which he had submitted would, if
adopted, simplify the bill—it preserved the whole of the
act of 1816—and it removed all the objections to which
the bill as first proposed was found liable. He hoped it
would be adopted.
Mr. ISACKS, of Tennessee, rose in support of the
amendment of Mr. Whisht. He was not so well satis-
fied with any shape into which the measure proposed
had been cast. He would not, he said, travel over the
ground which had already been gone over by those who
had preceded him ; but he thought, that, in its present
situation, the Government must do one of three things:
it must either, first, grant no relief to the sufferers, or,
secondly, adopt a new principle in granting relief, or,
thirdly, adhere to the principle of the acts of 1816 and
'17. He approved the last of these courses; and he ad-
vocated the amendment of the gentleman from Ohio, be-
cause he conceived it followed precisely that course.
He insisted on the promise of the Government as pledg-
ed by those acts to the claimants. The acts were still
in force, the promise was still held out, and still binding;
and the amendment proposed a mode in which it would
be redeemed. He approved it, because it proposed to
relieve the Niagara sufferers precisely on the same
ground, and in the same manner with other sufferers.
He strongly objected to the presumption that the Third
Auditor of the Treasury would re ject the claims. It wis
the part of this House to presume that an officer of the
Government would do his duty, not that he would go in
contradiction to it, and this general presumption was in
tke present case greatly strengthened by the well-known
character of the officer in question; his character was a
sufficient guarantee that he would do his duty. Mr. I.
was in favor of aff ording relief, but entirely opposed to
the introduction of any new principle in doing so. Let
us, siid Mr. I redeem our pledge : if we do this, there
can be no just complaint. Hut. if we do less than this,
the sufferers will, I think, have just reason to complain
of their Government.
The question was then taken on Mr. WRIGHT's
amendment, and decided in the affirmative—Ayes 71,
Mr. FORSYTH proposed an amendment making pro-
vision for remunerating the extra services of the Third
Auditor, which would have to be rendered under this
bill, should it become a law in its present shape.
The motion was opposed by Mr. WICKLIFFE, as be-
ing premature, and lost by a considerable majority.
The committee then rose and reported the bill.
Mr. WRIGHT's amendment having been read in the
Mr. STORRS rose, and moved, as a further amend,
ment, to add to the substitute of Mr. WaioiiTthe follow-
ing proviso :
" And provided further, That the said Auditor shall
not require from the claimants on the Niagara frontier,
proof that the destruction of their houses or buildings
which were so occupied, as aforesaid, by the United
States, was caused by such occupancy."
Mr. STORRS observed, that the proceedings in com-
mittee of the whole had brought the question back pre-
cisely to where it was when they started. The whole
difficulty respected the proof of what was the cause of
the destruction of the property, and the point the House
had to settle was, whether they would determine this
question, or would send it to the Third Auditor, that he
should determine it. The question respecting the cause
of the destruction was all that had prevented these
claims from being satisfied long ago—that was ever the
sticking place. On that ground it was that the Com- j
mittee of Claims had rejected so many cases which came
individually before them. That committee constantly
allowed the loss to be proved—but as constantly denied
that it appeared in evidence that the occupation of the
buildings by the United States was the cause of the de-
struction. Let us see, said Mr. S. what a class of claim#
we are sending to the Third Auditor. To establish,
what was the character of this class of claims, Mr. S.
turned to the printed copies ef the evidence before the
House, on this subject, and reviewed the testimony of
the several officers of the United States, and of the
commanding General himself, that he authorized the
occupation of those buildings, which were proved by
other testimony to have been, in some instances, forcibly
taken possession of. With such proof as this before the
House, could it be necessary to send these claims to the
Third Auditor? Why not settle the question here ? If
the amendment were refused, it would be to say in ef-
fect, that persons whose houses were taken from them
by the United States at the point of the bayonet, and
afterwards destroyed, must prove that their property
was destroyed because it was so taken from them. How
could claimants, so situated, prove what was the object
of General Drummond, or whatsoever other British offi-
cer ordered the burning of their houses ? It would be
unreasonable to send these claimants to the Third Au-
ditor to prove any such thing as that. He hoped, there-
fore, that his motion would prevail.
Mr. BUCK, of Vermont, said, that, in deciding the
question of fact, whether the property on the Niagara
frontier had been destroyed because of its occupation for
military purposes, or on the principles of retaliation, he
had, in a previous stage of the debate, thought proper
to produce a document which, it struck him, had escaped
the attention of many gentlemen in the House. That
document having since been spoken of in debate, as be-
ing one of a perfectly diplomatic character, as being
destitute of sincerity or truth, &c. it became a matter of
some importance to examine the circumstances under
which the proclamation of General Prevost, of which he
spoke, had been issued. Before doing that, however,
he noticed the argument that the occupancy of private
property by the Government, authorised the destruction
of tile property, because, by such occupancy, it was
converted from a private to a public character. Who
has ever denied, said Mr. B. that the destruction of pro-
perty, of a public character, by an enemy is consistent
with the rules of war ? And, if this was the true reason
of the devastation of that frontier, why did not General
Prevost assign that motive in his proclamation, seeing
that it would have unquestionably justified his conduct
in the eyes of the whole world, in the eyes even of gen-
tlemen on this floor, who now so strongly condemn the
actThe proclamation in question may have been a
piece of diplomacy, but, if it was, it was of a kind which
defeats ita own object. Sir George Prevost would have
been a perfect fool, having this justification, to assign
for the destruction of the buildings on the Niagara fron-
tier a pretence contrary to truth. Of Governor Pre-
vost, Mr. B. said, that incidents which had occurred
during the late war, authorized him to speak of him as
being a man distinguished, so far as he could control
events, by humanity, by a sense of justice, by honor, and
by dignity of character. He did not believe that Sir
George Prevost could have resorted to falsehood to cover
his own action. It had been said, he knew, that the
averments in the proclamation were contradicted by
other testimony, among which was that of Capt. Swazy,
a captain of artillery drivers, who deposed, that he had
suggested to Sir George Prevost the expediency of are-
taliation of the burning of Newark, and that Sir George
had said, that, so long as he had a control of the opera-
tions on that frontier, he should not sanction such a mea-
sure. And yet, eleven days after the devastation of that
frontier, Sir George Prevost came out and declared to
the world, in a solemn public act, that retaliation was
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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/m1/75/: accessed November 19, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.