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[191]

Chapter 24: Slavery and the law of nations.—1842.—Age, 31.

Questions of international law, growing out of the institution of Slavery in the United States, supplied the first topics, in the discussion of which Sumner participated after his return from Europe. These related to the right of search as exercised by the British Government in the suppression of the slave-trade, and to the nature and validity of a master's claim to a slave when asserted on the high seas, in the port of a foreign power, or anywhere outside of the jurisdiction of the municipal law which sanctions his ownership.

The right of search, unless specially conceded by treaty, is a purely belligerent right, and does not exist in time of peace. By the treaty of 1841, known as the Quintuple Treaty, between Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia, the slave-trade was declared piracy, and a mutual right of search given. France, acting under the influence of Mr. Cass and Mr. Wheaton, refused to ratify it. The slave-traders often hoisted the American flag in order to protect themselves from search and capture. Great Britain asserted the right to stop vessels flying the American colors under circumstances which justified a strong suspicion that they were engaged in the slave-trade, and that, though carrying our flag, they were in fact English or of one of the nations which had conceded the right of capture. She disclaimed the right to seize the vessel if found to be American, although engaged in the traffic, and limited the asserted right to one of mere inquiry for the purpose of verifying nationality.

This qualified right of search, or of inquiry,as he preferred to call it, Sumner maintained in two elaborate articles, both filling five and a half columns, and printed in the Boston Advertiser.1 They reply at length to the positions taken by Mr. Stevenson, the American Minister, in his correspondence with the British Foreign

1 Jan. 4 and Feb. 10, 1842. Sumner's first article was republished in the ‘National Intelligencer,’ Feb. 5.

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