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GHENT—WONDERFUL CONDUCT OF THE AMERICAN COMMISSIONERS—SWEET PEACE—THE TREATY.
WHILE on his way to Gbttenburg, Mr. Adams was informed that the place of meeting had been changed to Ghent, in Belgium, at which place he arrived on the 24th of June, and a few days subsequently met his colleagues, Henry Clay, Albert Gallatin, and James A. Bayard, Jonathan Russell not arriving for some weeks later.
The British commissioners, Lord Gambier, Henry Goulburn, and William Adams, with a single secretary, Anthony St. John Baker, did not arrive until early in August. Goulburn was a member of Parliament, and Adams was a lawyer, whom Mr. Adams chose to designate as •" Doctor," because he had discovered that the degree of doctor of civil laws had been conferred upon him.
In the large and not very reliable supply of clerks attached to the American commission was Payne Todd, the son of Mrs. Madison, who, notwithstanding his taste for gambling and whisky, was not, perhaps, the worst one of the lot.
Soon after the arrival of the British commissioners in Ghent, they sent Mr. Baker to give notice of the fact, and propose to the Americans to meet them at their quarters in the hotel. The British commissioners, who were not supposed to be equal to the American, man for man, exhibited their knowledge of diplomatic trickery and their weakness at once in this innocent-looking proposition, which was rejected. The Americans were well aware of the diplomatic usage attaching inferiority to commissioners who gave preference in their meetings to the quarters of the representatives of the other treating nation. The step was taken deliberately by the British, no doubt, with the hope of establishing for the moment the sentiment of superidrity they entertained over the power with which they were about to negotiate. Thus, on the very threshold of negotiations, suspicion and ill-feelings were started between the two commissions.
In their discussion of the main question brought up the American commissioners showed the discordant materials on which their country had to depend in this critical negotiation. After succeeding in establishing the fact among themselves that, should they consent to meet at the quarters of the British commissioners, they would disgrace their own country at the outset, Mr. Adams wrote a note, slightly modified by the cool and temperate Gallatin, proposing to meet at any place which might be agreed upon mutually, at the same time authorizing Mr. Hughes, the commissioned secretary of the legation, to propose the Hotel des PaysBas as the place of inaugurating the negotiations. To this the Britons assented, and the seven commissioners, Mr. Russell not yet having appeared, met a little after noon on the 8th of August, 1814, at the Hotel des Pays-Bas. Lord Gambier and John Quincy Adams made complimentary remarks, which must have appeared more than ordinarily insincere under the circumstances. When this was done the British commissioners proceeded to lay down the conditions of the negotiations, which when reduced amounted to the three "sine qua nons," namely: the right to seize marines aboard American vessels and compel allegiance of British-born subjects, fixing the boundaries of territory claimed and inhabited by the Indians and including them in the treaty as allies of England, and a rearrangement of the boundaries of the United States and the American British possessions. The Americans offered to take these momentous matters into consideration, and after agreeing to meet alternately at the lodgings of the two commissions, the unfavorable session ended.
The next meeting was held at the lodgings of the Americans on the next morning, and showed the British agents clearly enough that their "sine qua now" would never be accepted, the meeting terminating in their proposing to send to London for instructions. In their conditions for a peace the British agents proposed that a strip of Maine should be ceded to England, so that a land thoroughfare between Quebec and Halifax could be opened up; also that the United States should consent to the southern shores of the great Lakes as the northern boundary, and should consequently abandon their navigation and forts on the Lakes; and the old question of renewing their claim to the navigation of the Mississippi was presented by the Britons, who from the first assumed a domineering and insulting manner in the negotiations.
On the 17th of August the Duke of Cambridge passed through Ghent, and soon after Lord Castlereagh himself made it convenient to go that way to Brussels, and the British commissioners had messengers from London twice a week, so that they made no step except by direction of the Ministry. The propositions they had laid down as the basis for negotiation were utterly astounding, and were deemed infamous by the Americans, who at once prepared to notify their Government of the nature of the situation, at the same time looking upon the prospect of peace by negotiation as out of the question. But they drew up their answer to the British "sine qua non," and by the 25th it was forwarded to London.
While waiting for a return from the British Court, the commissioners met at their rooms, and at dinners and balls, and in a desultory way discussed points at issue. Still they only seemed to get wider apart, and although the forms of courtesy and friendship were preserved to the end, the two commissions were in a fighting mood all the time. The very sight of the American commissioners appeared to be sufficient to throw Mr. Goulburn into spasms of rage. Even at some of their false etiquettical dinners they quarreled, or passed the time in vengeful silence. Nor were the Americans better off among themselves. They were quarrelsome, and utterly incongenial and inharmonious, Mr. Gallatin being the only cool, patient, and faultless man in the commission.
But the final rupture did not come. Every answer from London to the British agents opened the way for further negotiation, the conditions first presented as an ultimatum had not been supposed practicable by the British Government except on the mistake that the United States wanted peace on any terms. As each meeting of the commissioners brought out new phases of the negotiation, and the London authorities acted upon them, the impossible points were dropped, one by one, and the chances of ultimate success became daily more apparent. This favorable prospect was greatly strengthened by the report of the effect in America, and the fear of a similar effect in Europe, of the publication by order of the American Government of the full report made by the American commissioners of the outrageous and intolerable demands presented by the British Ministry at the outset of the negotiations.
The insulting terms proposed by England had already done, to a great extent, what nothing else was likely to do, unite the whole of the discordant Union in support of the war. The general tone for resistance and fight became more determined in America than at Ghent. The little instructions which reached the commissioners from the United States stiffened their stubborn sentiments. No grants were to be made; no territory yielded; there was to be no submission; and if nothing was to be gained, at least the "ante-bellum" condition was to be maintained.
Mr. Adams's name stood at the head of the American commission, and although it was claimed that this was by mere accident, it cast upon him some labor and responsibilities not felt by the other members. One of these was the duty of making direct and general answers, and those of mere compliment to the British agents, and in making first drafts of all written notes, propositions, and so forth. From these things he did not shrink, although met at every step and act by the opposition and criticism of his colleagues. He here had the mortification to repeat his wonderful experi