December 8 1814: Seduction of the Slaves

On December 8 1814, John Quincy Adams is preparing  response to a British note, received the day before, that asked for proof ‘of the assertion by the American Secretary of State that negroes taken by the British from the Southern States had been sold in the West Indies ‘. He writes

8th. I made this morning a draft of an answer to propose to my colleagues to be sent to the British Plenipotentiaries to the note received yesterday from them respecting the seduction and sale of negroes taken from our Southern States by British officers. The note gives us an express assurance that any officer found guilty of such practices shall be punished in an  exemplary manner. But it confounds together the two acts of seducing the slaves and afterwards selling them, and promises only to punish the whole. It is the seduction of the slaves that constitutes the offence against us. As to the sale of them afterwards, the British Government have no right to ask of us, and we have no sufficient motive to give them, proofs of the fact, unless they will disavow and pledge themselves also topunish the other.

I therefore in my draft offered to produce the proof if they would engage to indemnify the owners of the negroes for the loss of them ; and for the proof of seduction, referred to Admiral Cochrane’s proclamation of 2d April last, of which we have sent a copy with one of our former notes.

I requested a meeting of the mission at my chamber at noon. It was accordingly held ; I read the draft I had made, but there appeared much diversity of opinion as to the proper mode of proceeding in this case. Mr. Bayard is afraid of irritating the British Government. Mr. Gallatin thinks our proof weak, and seems to have a doubt, though he does not exactly avow it, whether the fact can be proved. We have only one affidavit, but that is as strong both to the general practice and to a particular instance in the knowledge of the deponent as any proof could be. Hughes remarked to me, however, that the deponent’s Christian name was Patrick, which he did not  like. I asked him, why? He answered, Irish. Mr. Gallatin was averse to requiring of the British Government to disavow and punish the seduction, because, he said, they would not only refuse to do it, but that all the opponents of the slave-trade would approve and justify the act. Mr. Russell said he had taken much the same view of the subject as that in my draft ; but it was finally proposed and agreed to postpone the answer until we shall hear further from the British Plenipotentiaries on the main subject of the treaty.

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