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‘  laws of war were to govern our action; when constitutions, if they stood in the way of the laws of war in dealing with the enemy, had no right to intervene. Who pleads the Constitution against our proposed action?’1 This subject is further considered in subsequent chapters on the measures of emancipation adopted by the United States government. It is to be remembered in this connection that pillage and the wanton destruction of private property are not permitted by the laws of war among civilized nations. When prosecuting the war with Mexico, we respected private property of the enemy; when in 1781 Great Britain, attempting to reduce her revolted American colonies, took possession of the country around and about Point Comfort (Fortress Monroe), the homes quietly occupied by the rebellious people were spared by the armies of the self-asserting ruler of the land. At a later date, war existed between Great Britain and the independent states of the Union, during which Great Britain got possession of various points within the states. At the Treaty of Ghent, 1815, by which peace was restored to the two countries, it was stipulated in the first article that all captured places should be restored ‘without causing any destruction, or carrying away any of the artillery or other public property originally captured in the said forts or places, and which shall remain therein upon the exchange of the ratifications of this treaty; or any slaves or other private property.’ Persistent efforts were made to avoid the return of deported slaves, and it was attempted to put them in the category of artillery which had been removed before the exchange of ratification. John Quincy Adams, first as United States minister to England, and subsequently as United States Secretary of State, conducted with great vigor and earnestness a long correspondence to maintain the true construction of the treaty as recognizing and guarding the right of private property in slaves. In his letter to Viscount Castlereagh, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, after explaining the distinction between ‘artillery or other public property’ and ‘slaves or other private property,’ as used in the treaty and why it might be impracticable, if they had been removed, to return the former, but that the reasons did not apply to the latter, for, he proceeds to say, ‘Private property, not having been subject to legitimate capture with the places, was not liable to the reason of limitation.’ In the same letter Adams writes: ‘Merchant-vessels and effects captured on the high-seas are, by the laws of war between civilized nations, lawful prize, and by the capture become the property of the captors. . . . But, as by the same usage of civilized nations, private property is not the subject of ’
1 Congress of the United States, July, 1861.
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