James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Tench Coxe, 11 June 1805

To Tench Coxe


Washington June 11. 1805


I have duly received your favor of the 7th. inst. enclosing a copy of the paper addressed to the President in 1797. Altho’ the questions suggested in it, turn on points, a few of which only, are at present on the Anvil between this Country & G. Britain, they are all of importance in some respects. Are you not mistaken however in supposing that the British Treaty might be offensive to France as giving to this Country, in time of war, greater privileges in the E. India trade than were allowed in time of peace? I have always conceived it a just objection to the Treaty, that under the affectation of extending, it really narrowed that trade to us. Previous to the Treaty, the U.S. in common with other nations, traded not only from port to port in India, but from <the> ports there to other foreign ports in Europe. The Treaty prohi[bi]ted the trade coastwise in India, and restricted the trade from India to the ports in America.1 I write without having the Treaty before me, and may not use the most precise expressions, but believe I am right in substance.

The principle maintained by G. B. that a belligerent nation can not give to a Neutral, any trade not allowed in time of peace, is in itself of vast extent, and merits a fair investigation of its soundness. The practice of G. B. herself is certainly not conformable to it, and it is not known that any other nation has asserted the principle. Still she turns it agst. other nations, and makes a merit of every regulation that mitigates its full rigor. An order of Council in 1783. has just made its appearance,2 which subjects to condemnation vessels returning with innocent cargoes, from hostile colonies to which they had carried contraband of war; and it is probable that a late condemnation at Halifax which excited surprize,3 pursued this latent instruction, which will no doubt, if genuine, be called a relaxation of a principle which would proh<ibi>t the trade altogether with those Colonies. Very respectfully I remain Sir Yr Obedt. hble Sert

James Madison


1For article 13 of the 1794 Jay treaty restricting American trade with British East Indian territories, see Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (8 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1930–48). description ends 2:255–56.

2No such 1783 order in council has been found. JM presumably referred to the order in council of 24 June 1803 that was printed in the 10 June 1805 New-York Commercial Advertiser and that ordered “the commanders of our ships of war and privateers, not to seize any neutral vessels which shall be carrying on trade directly between the colony of the enemy and the neutral country to which the vessel belongs, and laden with the property of such neutral country, provided that such neutral vessel shall not be supplying, nor on the outward voyage supplied the enemy with any article contraband of war, and shall not be trading with any blockaded port.”

3For the case of the Happy Couple, to which JM referred, see Samuel Sterett to JM, 21 Apr. 1805, and n. 6.

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