James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 25 September 1805

From James Monroe

No. 34.

London Septem 25. 1805.


I have already forwarded you copies of two letters to Ld Mulgrave respecting the late seizure of American vessels,1 and you will receive with this a Copy of a third one.2 His Lordship has endeavourd to manage this business without writing, from a desire which has been very apparent to get rid of it, without any compromitment. With that view he gave me in an early interview, a report of the King’s Advocate-General and Proctor on my first letter, which had been referred to them, which gave Some explanation on the Subject, which he might Suppose would be Satisfactory. I Soon however assured him that it was not, and pressed an answer to my letters which was promised, but which has not yet been given. A few days before Mr. Erving left this for the Continent I requested him to ask Mr. Hammond when I should be favored with one. I Send you a note of the conversation between them.3 Having waited Some time longer I thought it my duty to press the point again, and in So doing to expose as fully as I could, the fallacy and injustice of the principle on which G. Britain asserts the right, to interdict our commerce with the colonies of her enemies, and elsewhere in the productions of those colonies. I do not Know that I Shall be able to obtain an answer to this or the other letters. The presumption is against it, because She does not wish to tie up her hands from doing what her interest may dictate, in case the new combination with Russia and Austria Should be Successful against France.4 In the mean time She Seeks to tranquillize us by dismissing our vessels in every case that she possibly can. It is evident to those who attend the trials that the tone of the Judge has become more moderate: that he acquits whenever he can acquit our vessels, and Keeping within the precedent of the Essex,5 Seizes every fact that the papers or other evidence furnish, in the cases which occur, to bring them within that limit. If any thing can be done in our affairs, it may be in a week or ten days; and if not done in that time it most probably will not be during the present winter. I Shall do every thing in my power to bring them to a Satisfactory conclusion. I am, Sir, with great respect and esteem, Your very obedient Servant

Jas. Monroe.

P. S. I enclose you a copy of my letter to Genl. Armstrong by Mr. Erving.6

RC (DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages, 10B–B1); RC (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 10A–D1, vol. 1); letterbook copy (DLC: Monroe Papers); enclosures (DNA: RG 59, DD, Great Britain, vol. 12); Tr of enclosures (DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages, 9A–E3; Tr of enclosures (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 9A–D1). First RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Monroe; docketed by Wagner. Second RC in a clerk’s hand, except for Monroe’s complimentary close and signature; docketed by Wagner. Minor differences between the copies have not been noted. For enclosures, see nn. 2–3, and 6.

1See Monroe to JM, 6 Aug. 1805, and n. 9, and Monroe to JM, 16 Aug. 1805, and n. 2.

2The enclosure is a copy of Monroe to Mulgrave, 23 Sept. 1805 (16 pp.; printed in ASP, Foreign Relations, 2:734–37), protesting the British doctrine that forbade neutral trade with the colonies of Britain’s enemies during a war, if that trade had been forbidden by the belligerents in peacetime. Monroe argued that the doctrine was a violation of the law of nations, that the multiple orders that the British government had issued over the years showed that it had changed its own views from time to time, that Rufus King and Lord Hawkesbury had had similar correspondence on the subject, and that the principle was in opposition to decisions made under the seventh article of the Jay Treaty. He also touched on the subjects of boundaries between the two countries in North America and especially of impressment, which was important for both nations, adding that he would be glad to discuss those points with Mulgrave at any time.

3The enclosure (3 pp.; docketed by Wagner) is a copy of George W. Erving’s report on his 30 Aug. 1805 farewell meeting with British undersecretary of state George Hammond. Erving told Hammond that he would be traveling through France, and that Monroe had asked him to inquire as to when he could expect a reply from Mulgrave, to which Hammond replied that he did not know but would ask Mulgrave. Erving stressed that Monroe strongly wished to be able to report to the U.S. government what the British had to say about the issues he had raised and he was thinking of writing to Mulgrave again, which Hammond seemed to discourage. They discussed the recent increase in seizures of U.S. ships by the British, which both men attributed to recent Admiralty Court decisions. Erving reported: “It is impossible to State his words distinctly. His manner was ⟨more⟩; important.”

4For the alliances among Great Britain, Russia, and Austria, see Sylvanus Bourne to JM, 17 May 1805, PJM-SS 9:362 and n. 1.

5For the case of the Essex, see George Joy to JM, 26 July 1805, and n. 3.

6The enclosure was a copy of Monroe to Armstrong, 2 Sept. 1805 (3 pp.; docketed by Wagner; printed in Hamilton, Writings of James Monroe, 4:311–15), referring Armstrong to George W. Erving for any questions he might have about U.S. relations with either Great Britain or Spain; discussing Bowdoin’s arrival in England, the state of his health, and his plans to join Armstrong in Paris; offering suggestions for how Erving should be introduced to the Spanish government; speculating that an intensification of the European war might alter the French government’s opinion on U.S. relations with Spain; and discussing his attempts to resolve the problem of increased British seizures of U.S. ships.

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