History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/Second/II:3

Chapter 3: Perceval and CanningEdit

The new Ministry which succeeded "All the Talents" and took seat in Parliament April 8, 1807, represented everything in English society that was most impervious to reason. In its origin a creature of royal bigotry trembling on the verge of insanity, before it had been a few short weeks in office every liberal or tolerant Englishman was shocked to find that this band of Tories, whose prejudices were such as modern society could scarcely understand, and who had been forced into office by the personal will of an almost imbecile King, did in reality represent a great reaction of the English people against tolerant principles, and reflected the true sense of the nation as it had never been reflected by Grenville or Fox. Parliament was dissolved April 27, though only four months old; and June 22, when the "Leopard" was firing into the "Chesapeake," the new Parliament met at Westminster Hall, with a ministerial majority of more than two hundred country squires, elected on the cry that the Church was in danger.

From its nominal head, this Ministry was called the Portland administration; but its leader was Spencer Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and its mouthpiece was George Canning, the Foreign Secretary. These two commoners—men of no special family connection, of no estates, and little so-called "stake in the country"—guided the aristocratic and conservative society of England, and exaggerated its tendencies. In modern days little is remembered of Spencer Perceval except that he became at last one of the long list of victims to lunatic assassins; but for a whole generation no English Liberal mentioned the name of the murdered prime minister without recalling the portrait drawn by Sydney Smith in the wittiest and keenest of his writings,[1] in which Perceval was figured as living at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret, and walking to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of his own begetting, with their faces washed and their hair pleasingly combed.

In Sydney Smith's caricature there was little exaggeration. Spencer Perceval was forty-five years old, a lawyer of the best character, devoted to his family, his church, and sovereign; a man after Lord Eldon's heart, who brought to the Treasury Bench the legal knowledge and mental habits of a leader at the Chancery Bar and the political morality of a lawyer's brief. The criticism was not less revolting than remarkable, that many of the men whose want of political morality was most conspicuous in this story were, both in England and in America, models of private respectability and fanatical haters of vice. That Timothy Pickering and Roger Griswold should join hands with Aaron Burr was less wonderful than that Spencer Perceval and his friend James Stephen, the author of "War in Disguise," should adopt the violence of Napoleon as the measure of their own morals, and avow that they meant to respect no other standard. With the same voice Spencer Perceval expressed fear lest calling Parliament on a Monday should lead members into Sunday travel, and justified the bombardment of Copenhagen and the robbery of American commerce.

The Whigs thought little of his abilities. Sydney Smith, who delighted to ridicule him, said that he had the head of a country parson and the tongue of an Old Bailey lawyer.[2] The Tories admired and followed him as readily as they had once followed Pitt; but to an American, necessarily prejudiced, Sydney Smith's estimate seemed just. Every American critic placed Perceval in an order of intelligence not only below the Whigs, but below Lord Sidmouth. When confronted with the dulness of Spencer Perceval, Americans could even feel relief in the sarcasm of George Canning, which, unlike Perceval's speeches, had at least the merit of rhetoric.

Of George Canning, who passed so rapidly across the scene, and yet left so sharp an impression on the memory of America, something must be said, if only to explain how a man so gifted, and in later life so different in influence, should have thought it worth his while to challenge the hatred of a people whose future he, unlike his colleague Perceval, had imagination enough to foresee. George Canning was thirty-seven years old when he took charge of the Foreign office. His father, who came from a very respectable but in no way eminent family, died in 1771; his mother having no means of support became a provincial actress, and the boy was adopted by an uncle, who sent him to Eton and Oxford. He left Oxford at the time when the French Revolution promised a new birth to Europe, and Canning was then a warm Republican from sympathy and conviction. The political reaction which followed swept the young man to the opposite extreme; and his vehemence for monarchy and the Tories gave point to a Whig sarcasm,—that men had often been known to turn their coats, but this was the first time that a boy had turned his jacket. In consequence of his conversion Pitt brought him into Parliament in 1793, and placed him in office in 1796. In the hotbed of Pitt's personal favor[3] Canning's natural faults were stimulated, until the irritation caused by his sarcastic wit and by what the stolid gentry thought his flippancy roused a sort of insurrection against him. Few men were more admired, and none was more feared or hated; for it was impossible to say what time-honored monument he might overthrow in defending.

No man in England flung himself more violently into the reaction against Republican ideas than this young Republican of 1789. Canning's contempt was unbounded for everything that savored of liberal principles; and in following the impulses of his passion he lost whatever political morality he had possessed. If one act in Bonaparte's career concentrated more than another the treason and violence of a lifetime, it was the coup d'état of the 18th Brumaire, in 1799, when he drove the Legislature at the point of the bayonet from the hall at St. Cloud, and annihilated French liberty, as he hoped, forever; yet this act, which might have been applauded by some English statesmen whose heads paid on Tower Hill the penalty for such treason to the liberties of their own country, threw Canning into paroxysms of delight.

"Huzza! huzza! huzza!" he wrote[4] on hearing the news; "for no language but that of violent and tumultuous and triumphant exclamation can sufficiently describe the joy and satisfaction which I feel at this complete overthrow and extinction of all the hopes of the proselytes to new principles.... It is the lasting ridicule thrown upon all systems of democratic equality,—it is the galling conviction carried home to the minds of all the brawlers for freedom in this and every other country,—that there never was, nor will be, nor can be, a leader of a mob faction who does not mean to be the lord and not the servant of the people. It is this that makes the name of Bonaparte dear to me. . . . forth, with regard to France and the principles of France, or to any country similarly circumstanced as to extent, population, manners, etc., Republican and fool are synonymous terms."

Canning had several qualities in common with Bonaparte, and one of them was the habit of classifying under the head of fools persons whose opinions he did not fancy,— from the man who believed in a republic to the man who liked dry champagne. In his mouth such persons were either fools or liars; and Americans, with few exceptions, came under one or the other of these heads. After the 18th Brumaire the world contained but one leader of a mob faction, brawling for liberty; but he was President of the United States. No miraculous sagacity was needed to foretell what treatment he was likely to receive at the hands of two men like Canning and Bonaparte, should the empire of the world ever be divided between them. To throw lasting ridicule upon all systems of democratic equality was Canning's most passionate wish, and his success was marvellous. Even his squibs exploded like rockets. In literature, his "Needy Knife-grinder" was a harmless piece of clever satire, but in the "Anti-Jacobin" it was a political event.

In Parliament Canning's influence was not yet very great. He relied too much on wit, and what was then called quizzing, or he imitated Pitt's oratory too closely; but even in the House of Commons he steadily won ground, and while Burke, Pitt, Fox, Windham, and Sheridan, one after another, disappeared or were thrown into the shade. Canning's figure became more prominent on the Treasury Bench between two such foils as Spencer Perceval and Lord Castlereagh. Although his mind ripened slowly, and was still far from maturity, he was already a master in choice of language; he always excelled in clearness of statement and skill of illustration; and if his taste had been as pure as his English, he would have taken rank with the greatest English orators. Some of his metaphors survived, with those of Burke and Sheridan. When Napoleon was forced back to the Elbe, "the mighty deluge, by which the Continent had been overwhelmed, began to subside; the limits of nations were again visible; and the spires and turrets of ancient establishments began to reappear above the subsiding wave." In addressing the people at Plymouth, he likened England to a line-of-battle ship; "one of those stupendous masses now reposing on their shadows in perfect stillness," but ready at a sign to ruffle, as it were, its swelling plumage, to awaken its dormant thunder. Such eloquence recalled Burke at his less philosophical moments. It contained more rhetoric than thought; but Canning was there at his best. At his worst, as Americans commonly saw him, his natural tones seemed artificial, and only his imitations seemed natural. To Americans Canning never showed himself except as an actor. As an instance of his taste, Americans could best appreciate the climax with which he once electrified the House of Commons in speaking of the Spanish American Republics: "I called the new world into existence to redress the balance of the old." The House cheered to the echo, while America stood open-mouthed in astonishment at the success of such extravagant egoism.

In the new Ministry of 1807, the lead was to the strongest; and Canning, who treated with almost open contempt his rival Lord Castlereagh, a man intellectually his inferior, could count upon a great destiny. Less scrupulous or less broad than Pitt, he held that Napoleon's course had absolved England from ordinary rules of morals. To fight Bonaparte with his own weapons had become the duty of Englishmen; and the first act of the new Administration showed what meaning was to be put on this favorite phrase.

February 8, Napoleon fought the desperate battle of Eylau, which closely resembled a defeat. His position was critical; but before Canning could fairly get control of events, Napoleon, June 14, again attacked the Russians at Friedland and won a decisive victory. June 25 Napoleon and Alexander held an interview on an island in the Niemen. The chief point in question was whether Alexander would abandon England; and this he was almost glad to do, for England had abandoned him. Alexander yielded to the force and flattery of Napoleon, and signed July 7 the treaty of Tilsit. By a private understanding the remaining neutrals were left to Napoleon to be dealt with as he pleased. Denmark was the only neutral power the control of which was necessary for the success of Napoleon's system, and August 2 he sent orders to Bernadotte, who was to command at Hamburg: "If England does not accept the mediation of Russia, Denmark must declare war upon her, or I will declare war on Denmark."[5] Finding that the Prince Royal hesitated, Napoleon, August 17, sent orders[6] to Bernadotte to hold himself ready with all his troops to march into Denmark either as ally or enemy, according to the issue of the pending negotiation. Threatened by this overwhelming danger, the Prince Royal of Denmark alternately promised and evaded the declaration of war; when suddenly his doubts were brought to an end by the diplomacy of Canning.

The British ministry had been secretly informed of what took place at Tilsit, and even without secret information could not have doubted the fate of Denmark. Vigor was necessary; and as early as July 19, before news had arrived of the formal signature of the Tilsit treaty, the Cabinet decided on sending to Copenhagen a large naval expedition which had been collected for a different purpose. July 26 the expedition, commanded by Lord Gambier, sailed from the Downs. It consisted of some twenty ships of the line, forty frigates, and transports containing twenty-seven thousand troops commanded by Lord Cathcart; and it carried a diplomatic agent with instructions to require from the Prince Royal of Denmark the delivery of the Danish fleet, as a temporary security for the safety of England.

The man whom Canning charged with this unpleasant duty was the same Jackson whose appointment as Minister to the United States had been opposed by Rufus King, and who had subsequently gone as British minister to Berlin. Jackson's dogmatic temper and overbearing manners made him obnoxious even to the clerks of the Foreign Office;[7] but he was a favorite with Lord Malmesbury, who since Pitt's death had become Canning's political mentor, and Lord Malmesbury's influence was freely used in Jackson's behalf. Obeying his instructions, the British envoy went to Kiel and had an interview with the Prince Royal early in August, at about the time when Napoleon issued his first orders to Bernadotte. The Prince could only refuse with indignation Jackson's demand, and sent orders to Copenhagen to prepare for attack. He was in the situation of Barron on the "Chesapeake." Copenhagen had hardly a gun in position, and no troops to use in defence.

The British demand was in itself insulting enough, but Jackson's way of presenting it was said to have been peculiarly offensive, and London soon rang with stories of his behavior to the unfortunate Prince Royal.[8] Even the King of England seemed to think that his agent needed rebuke. Lord Eldon, who was one of the advisers and most strenuous supporters of the attack on Copenhagen,—although he said in private that the story made his heart ache and his blood run cold,—used to relate,[9] on the authority of old King George himself, that when Jackson was presented at Court on his return from Copenhagen the King abruptly asked him, "Was the Prince Royal upstairs or down, when he received you?" "He was on the ground floor," replied Jackson. "I am glad of it! I am glad of it!" rejoined the old King; "for if he had half the spirit of his uncle George III., he would infallibly have kicked you downstairs." The Prince did not kick Mr. Jackson, though the world believed he had reason to do so, but he declined to accept the British envoy's remark that in war the weak must submit to the strong; and Lord Gambier landed twenty thousand men, established batteries, and for three days and nights, from September 1 to September 5, bombarded Copenhagen. The city was neither invested nor assaulted nor intended to be occupied; it was merely destroyed, little by little,—as a bandit would cut off first an ear, then the nose, then a finger of his victim, to hasten payment of a ransom. At the end of the third day's bombardment, when at last the Danish ships were delivered, the bodies of near two thousand non-combatants lay buried in the smoking ruins of about one half the city. At the same time all the Danish merchant-vessels in English waters, with their cargoes, to the value of ten million dollars, were seized and confiscated; while the Danish factory in Bengal was, without warning, swept into England's pouch.

At the news of the awful tragedy at Copenhagen, Europe, gorged as for fifteen years she had been with varied horrors, shuddered from St. Petersburg to Cadiz. A long wail of pity and despair rose on the Continent, was echoed back from America, and found noble expression in the British Parliament. The attack upon the "Chesapeake" was a caress of affection compared with this bloody and brutal deed. As in 1804 Bonaparte—then only First Consul, but about to make himself a bastard Emperor—flung before the feet of Europe the bloody corpse of the Duc d'Enghien, so George Canning in 1807, about to meet Bonaparte on his own field with his own weapons, called the world to gaze at his handiwork in Copenhagen; and the world then contained but a single nation to which the fate of Copenhagen spoke in accents of direct and instant menace. The annihilation of Denmark left America almost the only neutral, as she had long been the only Republican State. In both characters her offences against Canning and Perceval, Castlereagh and Eldon, had been more serious than those of Denmark, and had roused to exasperation the temper of England. A single ship of the line, supported by one or two frigates, could without a moment's notice repeat at New York the tragedy which had required a vast armament at Copenhagen; and the assault on the "Chesapeake" had given warning of what the British navy stood ready to do. Other emphatic omens were not wanting.

About July 27—the day after Lord Gambier's fleet sailed from the Downs, and the day when Monroe first saw in the newspapers an account of the "Leopard's" attack on the "Chesapeake"—the American minister might have read a report made by a committee of the House of Commons on the commercial state of the West Indian Islands. The main evil, said the committee, [10] was the very unfavorable state of the foreign market, in which the British merchant formerly enjoyed nearly a monopoly. "The result of all their inquiries on this most important part of the subject has brought before their eyes one grand and primary evil from which all the others are easily to be deduced; namely, the facility of intercourse between the hostile colonies and Europe under the American neutral flag, by means of which not only the whole of their produce is carried to a market, but at charges little exceeding those of peace, while the British planter is burdened with all the inconvenience, risk, and expense resulting from a state of war." To correct this evil, a blockade of the enemies' colonies had been suggested; "and such a measure, if it could be strictly enforced, would undoubtedly afford relief to our export trade. But a measure of more permanent and certain advantage would be the enforcement of those restrictions on the trade between neutrals and the enemies' colonies which were formerly maintained by Great Britain, and from the relaxation of which the enemies' colonies obtain indirectly, during war, all the advantages of peace."

In its way this West Indian Report was stamped with the same Napoleonic character as the bombardment of Copenhagen or the assault on the "Chesapeake;" in a parliamentary manner it admitted that England, with all her navy, could not enforce a blockade by lawful means, and therefore it had become "a matter of evident and imperious necessity" that she should turn pirate. The true sense of the recommendation was neither doubted nor disputed in England, except as matter of parliamentary form. That the attempt to cut off the supply of French and Spanish sugar from Europe, either by proclaiming a paper blockade or the Rule of 1756, might result in war with the United States was conceded, and no one in private denied that America in such a case had just cause for war. The evidence upon which the Report founded its conclusion largely dealt with the probable effect on the colonies of a war with the United States; and the Report itself, in language only so far veiled as to be decent, intimated that although war would be essentially detrimental to the islands it would not be fatal, and would be better than their actual condition. The excuse for what every reasonable Englishman frankly avowed to be "a system of piracy,"[11] was that the West Indian colonies must perish without it, and England must share their fate. In vain did less terrified men, like Alexander Baring or William Spence, preach patience, explaining that the true difficulty with the West Indies was an overproduction of sugar, with which the Americans had nothing to do.

"To charge the distresses of the West Indian planters upon the American carriers," said Spence,[12] "is almost as absurd as it would be for the assassin to lay the blame of murder upon the arsenic which he had purposely placed in the sugar-dish of his friend."

Thus Parliament, Ministry, navy, colonies, the shipping and the landed interest of England had wrought public opinion to the point of war with the United States at the moment when Lord Gambier bombarded Copenhagen and the "Leopard" fired into the "Chesapeake." The tornado of prejudice and purposeless rage which broke into expression on the announcement that a British frigate had fired into an American, surpassed all experience. The English newspapers for the year that followed the "Chesapeake" affair seemed irrational, the drunkenness of power incredible. The Americans, according to the "Morning Post" of Jan. 14, 1808, "possess all the vices of their Indian neighbors without their virtues;" and two days afterward the same newspaper—which gave tone to the country press—declared that England was irresistible: "Our vigor and energy have just reached that sublime pitch from which their weight must crush all opposition."

No one could say for how much of this extravagance Canning was directly responsible; but the tone of the press was certainly an echo of the tone he had so long taken, and which he stimulated. That he was really so reckless as he seemed need not be imagined; although eighteen months afterward, Lord Grenville with the utmost emphasis said in the House of Lords,[13] "I do firmly believe that it is the object of his Majesty's ministers to do everything in their power to force America into hostility with this country." Lord Grenville occasionally exaggerated, and he was probably mistaken in this instance; but he found it possible to believe ministers capable of acting with the motive he charged on them. In truth he had strong ground for the opinion he held, which was by no means peculiar to him. As early as July 27, 1807, the "Morning Chronicle," in announcing the first news of the "Chesapeake" affair, added:—

"We trust it is of a nature to be adjusted without that most ruinous of all follies yet left us to be guilty of,—an American war. We have rather more fear than hope however on the subject, when we reflect that the present ministers are of those who consider an American war as rather desirable."

Within a short time the "Morning Post" avowed and proclaimed, in articles evidently inspired by Government, the wish for war with America:[14]

"A war of a very few months, without creating to us the expense of a single additional ship, would be sufficient to convince her of her folly by a necessary chastisement of her insolence and audacity."

In January, 1808, the same newspaper spoke even more plainly:[15]

"For us, we have always been of the opinion that in the present temper of the American government no relations of amity can be maintained with that nation unless at the expense of our dearest rights and most essential interests."

Perhaps this tone was taken partly with the idea of terrifying the Americans into obedience; but beyond question a strong party leaned to violence. Monroe, who had the best means of knowing, felt no doubts on this point, and warned the President of the danger to the United States.

"There has been," he wrote Aug. 4, 1807,[16] "at all times since the commencement of the present war, a strong party here for extending its ravages to them. This party is composed of the shipowners, the navy, the East and West India merchants, and certain political characters of great consideration in the State. So powerful is this combination that it is most certain that nothing can be obtained of the government on any point but what may be extorted by necessity."

Insane as such, a policy might seem, Lord Grenville's charge against ministers had solid ground.

Special interests were commonly blind to the general good. That the navy, the mercantile marine, and the colonies should have favored war with America was not surprising; but that the mania should have seized upon the English nation at large was a phenomenon to be explained only by general causes. The true explanation was not far to seek; the secret, if secret it could be called, was the inevitable result of Jefferson's passion for peace,—social and political contempt. This feeling was unbounded, pervading all parties and all classes, and finding expression in the most gross as in the simplest and least intentional forms.

"Hatred of America," said one of the numerous British pamphleteers of the time,[17] "seems a prevailing sentiment in this country. Whether it be that they have no crown and nobility, and are on this account not quite a genteel Power; or that their manners are less polished than our own; or that we grudge their independence, and hanker after our old monopoly of their trade; or that they closely resemble us in language, character, and laws; or finally, that it is more our interest to live well with them than with any other nation in the world,—the fact is undeniable that the bulk of the people would fain be at war with them."

The Somersetshire squire and the chancery barrister in Westminster Hall—the extremes of national obtuseness and professional keenness—agreed in despising America. The pompous Lord Sidmouth, the tedious Lord Sheffield, the vivacious Canning, the religious Perceval, and the merry-andrew Cobbett—whose genius was peculiar in thinking itself popular—joined hands in spreading libels against a people three thousand miles away, who according to their own theory were too contemptible to be dangerous. Except a few Whig noblemen, a number of Yorkshire and Lancashire manufacturers and a great mass of the laboring people, or American merchants like the Barings, and one or two Scotch Liberals who wrote in the "Edinburgh Review," the English public had but one voice against Americans. Young Henry Brougham, not yet thirty years old, whose restless mind persistently asked questions which parsons and squires thought absurd or impious, speculated much upon the causes of this prejudice. Was it because the New York dinners were less elegant than those of London, or because the Yankees talked with an accent, or because their manners were vulgar? No doubt a prejudice might seize on any justification, however small; but a prejudice so general and so deep became respectable, and needed a correct explanation. The British nation was sometimes slow-witted, and often narrow-minded, but was not insane.

For a thousand years every step in the progress of England had been gained by sheer force of hand and will. In the struggle for existence the English people, favored by situation, had grown into a new human type,—which might be brutal, but was not weak; which had little regard for theory, but an immense and just respect for facts. America considered herself to be a serious fact, and expected England to take her at her own estimate of her own value; but this was more than could reasonably be asked. England required America to prove by acts what virtue existed in her conduct or character which should exempt her from the common lot of humanity, or should entitle her to escape the tests of manhood,—the trials, miseries, and martyrdoms through which the character of mankind had thus far in human history taken, for good or bad, its vigorous development. England had never learned to strike soft in battle. She expected her antagonists to fight; and if they would not fight, she took them to be cowardly or mean. Jefferson and his government had shown over and over again that no provocation would make them fight; and from the moment that this attitude was understood, America became fair prey. Jefferson had chosen his own methods of attack and defence; but he could not require England or France to respect them before they had been tried.

Contempt for America was founded on belief in American cowardice; but beneath the disdain lurked an uneasy doubt which gave to contempt the virulence of fear. The English nation, and especially the aristocracy, believed that America was biding her time; that she expected to become a giant; and that if she succeeded, she would use her strength as every other giant in the world's history had done before her. The navy foresaw a day when American fleets might cover the ocean. The merchant dreaded competition with Yankee shrewdness, for he well knew the antiquated processes, the time-honored percentages, the gross absurdities of English trade, the abuses of the custom-house, the clumsiness and extravagance of government. The shipowners had even more cause for alarm. Already the American ship was far in advance of the British model,—a swifter and more economical sailer, more heavily sparred and more daringly handled. In peace competition had become difficult, until the British shipowner cried for war; yet he already felt, without acknowledging it even to himself, that in war he was likely to enjoy little profit or pleasure on the day when the long, low, black hull of the Yankee privateer, with her tapering, bending spars, her long-range gun, and her sharp-faced captain, should appear on the western horizon, and suddenly, at sight of the heavy lumbering British merchantman, should fling out her white wings of canvas and fly down on her prey.

Contempt, mingled with vague alarm, was at the bottom of England's conduct toward America; and whatever the swarm of newspaper statesmen might say or think, the element of alarm was so great that the Tory ministers, although they might expect war, did not want it, and hoped to prevent it by the very boldness of their policy. Even Canning was cautious enough to prefer not to give America occasion for learning her strength. He meant to clip her wings only so far as she would submit to have her wings clipped; and he not only astonished but disgusted the over-zealous politicians who applauded Admiral Berkeley, by disavowing the admiral's doctrines of international law and recalling the admiral himself. The war faction broke into a paroxysm of rage[18] when this decision became known, and for a time Canning seemed likely to be devoured by his own hounds, so vociferous was their outcry. Monroe and Pinkney were loud in praise of Canning's and Perceval's temperate and candid, behavior.[19]

Canning was obliged to defend himself, and under his promptings a long reply to his critics was written for the "Morning Post,"[20]—a newspaper version of the instructions carried by his special minister to Washington. He excused his treatment of Admiral Berkeley on the ground that lawyers recognized no right of search in national ships. The excuse was evidently feeble. The law, or at least the lawyers, of England had hitherto justified every act which the government had chosen to commit,—the seizure of the Spanish treasure-ships in 1804, accompanied by the unnecessary destruction of hundreds of lives; the secret seizure of the larger part of American commerce in 1805, by collusion with the Admiralty judges; the paper blockade of Charles James Fox in 1806; the Order in Council of January, 1807, by which Lord Howick cut off another main branch of neutral commerce with which England had no legal right to interfere; finally, the lawyers justified the bombardment of Copenhagen as an act of necessary defence, and were about to justify a general control of all neutral commerce as an act of retaliation. To suppose that law so elastic, or lawyers with minds so fertile, could discover no warrant for Berkeley's act was preposterous. To neutral commerce England had no legal right; yet she took it, and her lawyers invented a title. To her citizens and seamen she actually had a legal right, recognized by every court in Christendom; and if after a fair demand on the neutral government she found that her right could be satisfied only by violating neutral jurisdiction, the lawyers, in view of all their other decisions, must hold that such violation was a matter of expediency and not of law. Canning's critics in reply to his assertion that the lawyers would recognize no right of search in national ships, could fairly say that he was alone to blame,—he should have ordered them to find it. George Canning could not seriously propose to sacrifice a vital English interest in obedience to the scrupulous legal morality of Spencer Perceval, Lord Eldon, Sir William Scott, and Sir Vicary Gibbs.

In truth, Canning had reasons more forcible. With a character not unlike that which Dryden ascribed to Lord Shaftesbury, he was pleased with the danger when the waves ran high; and if he steered too near the shoals in order to prove his wit, he did not wish to run the vessel ashore. He disavowed Admiral Berkeley, not because the lawyers were unable to prove whatever the government required, but because the right of searching foreign ships-of-war was not worth asserting, and would cost more than it could ever bring in return. Besides this obvious reason, he was guided by another motive which would alone have turned the scale. Perceval had invented a scheme for regulating neutral commerce. This measure had begun to take a character so stern that even its author expected it to produce war with the United States; and if war could be avoided at all, it could be avoided only by following Erskine's advice, and by sending to America, before the new Orders in Council, an apology for the attack on the "Chesapeake."


  1. Peter Plymley's Letters, ix.
  2. Peter Plymley's Letters, i.
  3. Malmesbury's Diary, iv. 376.
  4. Canning to Boringdon, Nov. 19, 1799; Stapleton's Canning, p. 43.
  5. Correspondance, xv. 467.
  6. Napoleon to Berthier, Aug. 17, 1807; Correspondance, xv. 504.
  7. Malmesbury's Diary, iv. 392.
  8. Morning Chronicle, Oct. 7, 1807.
  9. Campbell's Lord Chancellors, ix. 288, n.
  10. Cobbett's Debates, ix., Appendix lxxx.; Atcheson's American Encroachments, Appendix No. viii. 114.
  11. The Radical Cause, etc., by William Spence, 1808, p. 43.
  12. The Radical Cause, etc., by William Spence, 1808, p. 19.
  13. Cobbett's Debates (Feb. 17, 1809), xii. 776.
  14. The Morning Post, Nov. 12, 1807.
  15. The Morning Post, Jan. 13, 1808.
  16. Monroe to Madison, Aug. 4, 1807; State Papers, iii. 186.
  17. Orders in Council; or, An Examination of the Justice, Legality, and Policy of the New System, etc. (London, 1808), p. 61.
  18. Brougham to Lord Howick, Nov. 7, 1807; Brougham's Memoirs, i. 386.
  19. Brougham to Lord Howick, Nov. 7, 1807; Brougham's Memoirs, i. 383.
  20. The Morning Post, Oct. 23, 1807.