Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscatby Edmund Roberts
With a view to effect an object apparently so important, I addressed a letter to the Hon. Levi Woodbury,
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Having some years since become acquainted with the commerce of Asia and Eastern Africa, the information produced on my mind a conviction that considerable benefit would result from effecting treaties with some of the native powers bordering on the Indian ocean.
With a view to effect an object apparently so important, I addressed a letter to the Hon. Levi Woodbury, then a Senator in Congress from the state of New Hampshire, detailing the neglected state of our commerce with certain eastern princes, and showing that the difference between the duties paid on English and American commerce, in their dominions, constituted of itself a very important item in profit, in favour of the former.
Subsequently to this period, Mr. Woodbury was appointed to the secretaryship of the Navy, and consequently became more deeply interested in the success of our floating commerce.
Scarcely had his appointment been confirmed before the melancholy news arrived, that the ship Friendship, of Salem, Mass., had been plundered, and a great portion of her crew murdered, by the natives of Qualah Battu.
As an important branch of our commerce to the pepper ports on the western coast of Sumatra was endangered, by the successful and hostile act of these barbarians, it was deemed necessary that the piratical outrage should be promptly noticed by a national demand for the surrender and punishment of the aggressors.
About this period, the U. S. ship-of-war Potomac was nearly ready to proceed to her station on the western coast of South America, by way of Cape Horn, but her destination was immediately changed for the western coast of Sumatra, accompanied by instructions to carry into effect the measures of government against the inhabitants of Qualah Battu.
As our government was anxious to guard against any casualty which might befall the Potomac in fulfilling her directions, it resolved to despatch the United States’ sloop-of-war Peacock and schooner Boxer, to carry into effect, if necessary, the orders of the first-named vessel, and also to convey to the courts of Cochin-China, Siam and Muscat, a mission charged to effect, if practicable, treaties with those respective powers which would place American commerce on a surer basis, and on an equality with that of the most favoured nations trading to those kingdoms.
A special or confidential agent being necessary to carry into effect the new measures of government, I had the honour to be selected for that duty, at the particular recommendation of the secretary of the Navy.
The summary chastisement of the inhabitants of Qualah Battu, and the complete success of Com. Downes, in the performance of the duties assigned by government, rendered a visit from the Peacock to that place unnecessary, and thus left the objects of the mission more fully open to a complete and minute investigation. How far they have been faithfully accomplished, I leave to the candid and impartial judgment of those who peruse the details of the Embassy, in the following pages.
At the period of my visit to the courts of Siam and Muscat, American commerce was placed on a most precarious footing, subject to every species of imposition which avarice might think proper to inflict, as the price of an uncertain protection.
Nor was it to pecuniary extortions alone that the uncontrolled hand of power extended. The person of the American citizen, in common with that of other foreigners, was subject to the penalties of a law which gave the creditor an absolute power over the life, equally with the property, of the debtor, at the court of Siam. As an American, I could not fail to be deeply impressed with the barbarity of this legal enactment, and its abrogation, in relation to my own countrymen, detailed in the Embassy, I consider as not the least among the benefits resulting from the mission.
With the courts of Siam and Muscat, it will be seen, I was enabled to effect the most friendly relation, and to place our commerce on a basis in which the excessive export and import duties, previously demanded, were reduced fifteen per cent.
If in the attainment of these benefits some sacrifice of personal feeling was at times made for the advantage of American commerce, the dignity of my country was never lost sight of, nor her honour jeoparded by humiliating and degrading concessions to eastern etiquette.
The insulting formalities required as preliminaries to the treaty, by the ministers from the capital of Cochin-China, left me no alternative, save that of terminating a protracted correspondence, singularly marked from its commencement to its termination by duplicity and prevarication in the official servants of the emperor. The detail of the various conversations, admissions and denials, on the part of these eastern ministers, in the pages of the Embassy, exhibits their diplomatic character in true, but not favourable colours.
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