The law of nations is clear as to our right impress the property of foreigners. See Vattel, Book II, Chapter IX, page 241,section 121,and is as follows:
In the same manner, if a nation has a pressing want of the vessels, wagons, horses, or even the labor of strangers, it makes use of them either by free consent or by force, provided that the proprietors are not under the same necessity, but as it has no more right to these things than necessity gives it,is ought to pay for the use it makes of them if it be able to do it. The practice of Europe is agreeable to this maxin; nations retain by force foreign vessels found in a port, but they paty for the advantage they reap from them.
Besides, it is obvious, if we allowed this monstrous doctrine of the British consular agent at Matamoras, that all the cotton of the country might pass,and a great deal of it would pass, at once into the hands of foreigners, and we should cease to have any control of it. It is evidently a mercantile combination to nullify our impressment act,and must be firmly resisted.
Throw aside Bowden & Meek; they have no longer any claim upon us. Hold on to all the cotton impressed, except such as is exempt by the orders of Lieutenant-General Smith and myself, and offer payment to Colonel Bisbee, or the supercargoes of the remainder of the cargo of the Sea Queen, deducting Bowden & Meek's portion, in cotton impressed from our citizens, preferably, if sufficient; if not, then take such quantity impressed from foreigners as may be necessary to load the ship,and if it be declined, then we shall have fulfilled our obligations,and they cannot justly charge us with bad faith. If refused, have all the papers made out strongly and clearly, and copies forwarded to Major Huse, our purchasing agent in London, and Mr. De Leon or Mr. Slidell in Paris, with a full statement of the case in explanation,and let the parties do what they please with the cargoes. In my opinion, they will be compelled to come to terms, as the position assumed by the owners of the cargoes is undoubtedly wrong,and I do not believe they can find any other market for their goods; this last consideration, however, has little weight with me in comparison with our obligation to fulfill our part of our contract.
The French Government has cognizances of this contract of Bellot, De Mermes & Co., represented by Colonel Bisbee, and it becomes the more necessary that we should at all hazards fulfill our obligations. We only require time. Individuals can wait for their money or their cotton; delay, though it may result in loss to them, is not death - the death of credit abroad - as it is to us. These contracts are made with the highest authority of our Government, viz, the Secretary of War, representing the President; to permit them to be broken,and our faith thus pledged to be dishonored,is disgrace and ruin. No time is fixed for Major Hart to pay his indebtedness on the Rio Grande. I think he will pay this season,but here, on these contracts, a time is fixed and has arrived. How can you fail to see and appreciate the difference?
You are positively ordered, therefore, to impress, if you have not already done, so all the cotton on the Rio Grande or to arrive, and to release from impressment only such has been made exempt by previous instructions. You will offer the cotton thus impressed in payment,first to the proper representatives of the contract under which the Sea Queen came, leaving out Bowden & Meek, who have voluntarily separated themselves from that contract. If such offer of cotton is refused, get it in writing,and then offer the cotton to the next ship arriving under the contract, and then the next,and so on, not permitting a bale of cotton thus impressed to go out of your hands, with the above exceptions.