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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - 02539 (Page 13)

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The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History - 02539
The United States therefore require positively, that their seamen who are not british
subjects, whether born in America or elsewhere, shall be exempt from impressments.
The case of british subjects, whether naturalized or not is more questionable; but the right
even to impress them is denied. The practice of the british government itself, may, certainly in a
controversy with that government, be relied on. The privileges it claims & exercises ought to be
ceded to others. To deny this woud be to deny the equally of nations, & to make it a question of
power & not of right. [28] If the practice of the british government may he quoted, that practice
is to maintain & defend in their sea service, all those of any nation who have voluntarily engaged
in it, or who, according to their laws, have become british subjects.
Alien seamen not british subjects, engagd in our merchant service, ought to be equally
exempt with citizens, from impressments. We have a right to engage them, & I have a right to, &
an interest in their persons, to the extent of service contracted to be performd. Britain has no
pretext of right to their persons or to their service. To tear them, then from our possession is at
the same time an insult & an injury.
It is an act of violence for which there exist no palliative.
We know well that the difficulty of distinguishing between native Americans & British
subjects, has been usd, with respect to natives, as an apology for the injuries complaind of. It is
not pretended that this apology can be extended to the case of foreigners, & even with respect to
natives we doubt the existence of the difficulty alledgd. We know well that among that class [29]
Of people who are seamen, we can readily distinguish between a native American & a person
raisd to manhood in Great Britain or Ireland; and we do not perceive any reason, why the
capacity of making this distinction, shoud not be possessd in the same degree, by one nation as
by the other.
If therefore no regulation can be formd which shall effectually secure all seamen on
board American merchantmen, we have a right to expect from the justice of the british
government, from its regard for the friendship of the United States & its own honor, that it will
manifest the sincerity of its wishes to repress this offence, by punishing those who commit it.
We hope, however, that an agreement may be enterd into, satisfactory & beneficial to
both parties. The article which appears to have been transmitted by my predecessor, while it
satisfies this country, will probably restore to the naval service of Britain, a greater number of
seamen than will be lost by it. Shoud we even be mistaken in this calculation, yet the difference

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