British impressment of american seaman



The close of the Revolutionary War, although it secured the recognition of the United Sates as a sovereign and independent nation, by no means removed all the difficulties in its path to empire. From the very first, sources of complaint existed between the two lately warring countries. Great Britain was accused of carrying away negroes at the close of the war, of illegal seizures of American property, and of retaining military posts in the West on what was now territory of the United States. The United States was charged with withholding the estates of loyalists, and preventing British subjects from recovering debts contracted before the war. It was feared that another war might arise from these disputes, particularly as the Indian outbreaks in the West were known to have been encouraged by British emissaries, while the defeated savages fled to British forts for protection. These difficulties were fortunately settled by a treaty made in 1795.

But new sources of trouble quickly arose. The commerce of America was now increasing with remarkable rapidity. For the protection of the growing commerce the country possessed a very inefficient navy, and it was exposed to perils which quickly brought the country into danger of war with France, and eventually resulted in two wars, one with Tripoli and one with England. The outcome of the French Revolution had now brought all Europe under arms, and England had begun that vast struggle against the power and genius of Napoleon which was destined to become the most remarkable event of modern warfare. At the outbreak of the war the Republican party favored the French, but the administration was in favor of England. Angered at this, and at the treaty concluded between the United States and Great Britain, the French Directory adopted measures highly injurious to American commerce. Envoys were sent to France, who the Directory refused to receive, while an unofficial demand was made for a large sum of money as a preliminary to negotiations. This was refused, and two of the envoys, who were Federalists, were soon afterwards ordered to leave France.

As war now appeared inevitable, the people of the United States being roused to a state of high indignation, measures were taken for raising an army, a naval armament was decided upon, and captures of French vessels were authorized. A few naval encounters took place, in which on one side an American armed schooner and on the other a French frigate were captured, when the directory gave way, and made overtures of peace. Ministers were accordingly sent to France to settle the difficulties by treaty.

Meanwhile, Great Britain had begun that system of impressment of seamen from American merchant-vessels which was destined to result finally in war between the two nations. Seriously in need of men to aid in her struggle with France, and now unable to buy them from the German duchies, as she had done in the American war, she claimed the right to take British seamen wherever found, and to stop and search vessels on the high seas. At first, indeed, the claim was limited to deserters from the British service. But it was soon extended to cover British seamen, and finally to embrace all British subjects. Eventually the seamen on American merchantmen were obliged to prove on the spot that they were to American birth, or be subject to impressment. As early as the years 1796-7 applications were made in London for the release of two hundred and seventy-one seamen thus seized within nine months, most of them American citizens. It was later, however, before this evil grew so intolerable as to demand warlike redress.





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