James Madison Papers

Robert Smith to Louis-Marie Turreau, 18 December 1810 (Abstract)

§ Robert Smith to Louis-Marie Turreau1

18 December 1810, Department of State. Acknowledges Turreau’s letter of 12 Dec. in answer to his inquiries about certificates of origin and the admission to France of American agricultural products.2 Concludes from the letter that the importation of American cotton and tobacco is “specially and absolutely prohibited.” Also notes that the decree of 15 July effectively prohibits the importation of American fish oil, dyewood, salt fish, codfish, hides, and peltry;3 and as these articles constitute the “great mass” of the exports from the U.S. to France, “no practical good, worthy of notice” has resulted from the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees.

Declares that the act of 1 May 1810 [Macon’s Bill No. 2] was intended to bring “substantial benefit” to the U.S. as well as the recognition of a “legitimate principle,” and it included the assumption that the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees would leave French ports “as free for the introduction of the produce of the United States, as they were previously to the promulgation of those decrees.” The replacement of the decrees by “municipal regulations,” however legal in form, is an unfriendly act, and it is inconsistent with the letter of 27 Nov. which announced the intention of the emperor to favor American commerce.4

If French ports are blocked, what motive has the U.S. in its discussion “with a third power” to insist on the privilege of going to France? The British edicts may be viewed in two lights—the wrong they do to the U.S. and that done to France. France may only speak to the latter condition. But what wrong can France suffer from British orders that cooperate with its own regulations? It is for the U.S. to decide what degree of sacrifice circumstances may require of it, but the inducements to these sacrifices have been reduced by France’s conversion of “the right to be maintained into a naked one, whilst the sacrifices to be made would be substantial and extensive.”

Hopes that instructions from the French government will soon enable Turreau to explain these measures. States that the president was satisfied to learn that French consuls had been officially authorized to issue certificates of origin to vessels bound for nations in alliance with France and that this practice did not cease in the U.S. before 13 Nov., and then only in consequence of a 30 Aug. dispatch from Cadore. Assumes that such information has been given to Denmark and that it will influence the Danish government, which had been seizing American property on the grounds that these certificates of origin were spurious. Regrets, nevertheless, that such information was not given to French functionaries in Denmark during the period when Danish authorities were committing outrages against American trade.

Printed copy (National Intelligencer, 1 Jan. 1811). Copy enclosed in JM to the House of Representatives, 28 Dec. 1810 (printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:402).

1After JM dismissed Smith from the State Department in April 1811, the former secretary included this letter among the documents he compiled for his pamphlet attacking the president over the summer of 1811 and published as Robert Smith’s Address to the People of the United States (Baltimore, 1811; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols. to date; New York, 1958—). description ends 23949). At that time Smith claimed that he had written a draft of the 18 Dec. letter to Turreau himself, and he described the circumstances as follows: “Previously to the meeting of Congress last autumn, I expressed to Mr. Madison my apprehension that the Emperor of France would not bona fide fulfil the just expectations of the U. States—that our commerce would be exposed in his ports to vexatious embarrassments, and that tobacco and cotton would probably not be freely admitted into France. He entertained a different opinion, and indeed was confident that the Berlin and Milan decrees would bona fide cease on the first day of November, 1810, and that from that day our commercial relations with France would be encumbered with no restrictions or embarrassments, whatever.” Smith claimed that after entering into correspondence with Turreau on the matter, he “was greatly checked by the … utter indifference on the part of Mr. Madison. Instead of encouraging, he absolutely discouraged the making of any animadversions upon Gen. Turreau’s letter of December 12, 1810.” Smith persisted, however, and laid the 18 Dec. 1810 letter before JM. “Perceiving upon reading it that he could not but acquiesce in the sending of it, he merely suggested the expediency of adding to it what might have the effect of preventing the British government from presuming too much upon the ground taken in the letter.” This letter, Smith added, “being prominent in the catalogue of the offences that had brought upon me the displeasure of Mr. Madison, our fellow citizens will dispassionately consider whether it ought to be looked at as ‘a sin beyond forgiveness’ “(see National Intelligencer, 2 July 1811). After Smith published the letter, however, State Department clerk John B. Colvin denied that the former secretary had been its author. Colvin claimed to have written it himself, “with the exception of one paragraph” which he understood “was written by Mr. Madison” (ibid., 23 July 1811).

2Turreau’s 12 Dec. 1810 letter to Smith was written in response to a series of questions sent by the secretary of state on 28 Nov. relating to the practices of French consuls in issuing certificates of origin to American vessels (see ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:401).

3In his dispatch of 18 July 1810 John Armstrong mentioned that Napoleon’s recently established Council of Commerce had decided on 5 July to introduce a license system for trade in enumerated products between certain French and American ports, but he added that the necessary decrees had yet to be promulgated. He also enclosed notes of the proceedings of the Council of Commerce after 6 June 1810, the final item of which was a decree, dated 15 July 1810, allowing thirty or forty American vessels, departing from Charleston or New York and bringing with them “a gazette of the day of their departure,” to import under license certain enumerated articles (Armstrong to Smith, 18 July 1810 [DNA: RG 59, DD, France]; translation of decree in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:400).

4Turreau to Smith, 27 Nov. 1810 (ibid., 3:400–401).

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