James Madison Papers

Memorandum from Albert Gallatin, [ca. 1 November] 1811

Memorandum from Albert Gallatin

[ca. 1 November 1811]

Notes on President’s message

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1. 1. Do the words “considerations drawn from the posture of our foreign affairs” afford a satisfactory reason for the earlier meeting of Congress?
4. The additional proofs of the repeal of French decrees are mentioned only incidentally & not as a distinct subject; and the mention of the Naples cases (subqt. to 2 Nover apparently under those decrees & at all events very offensive) is omitted.
2. 3 & 4. The war paragraphs. Two questions—1. is it more eligible to resort to war than to rely on the effect of non-importation?—2. if more eligible, is it proper and consistent with policy to recommend it? To the 1st question I would be disposed to answer in the negative less from a conviction of the prompt efficacy of non-importation in bringing G. B. to terms than from the uncertainty in every respect of the effect of a war. The resources of the Country both in men & money can be drawn but with great difficulty, and will be found much less than a view of its population & wealth would lead us at first to believe. Exclusively of accumn. of debt tending at the conclusion of the war to weaken us and retarding our natural progression, the measures necessary to carry on the war must be unpopular and by producing a change of men may lead to a disgraceful peace, to absolute subserviency hereafter to G. B., and even to substantial alterations in our institutions: whilst we can calculate almost with certainty all the evils and inconveniencies of the non-importation. If however the spirit of the Nation, or an opinion that hostilities not repelled by corresponding measures would be still more pernicious than any possible effect of a war, shall lead to an answer in the affirmative to the first question, the propriety and policy of the recommendation must still be examined. Notwithstanding the general power to recommend vested in the President, I cannot at least in this instance be perfectly reconciled with the attempt to give a tone on the question of war different from what might otherwise govern the decision of the body with whom our constitution has exclusively vested the power of making war. (If it be said that the hostilities of G. B. are already war, the Executive would have a right to repel it even without the previous sanction of Congress.) But it is above all the policy which appears questionable. If war is certainly to ensue, it is better, as soon as we are sufficiently ready, to make it at once, instead of announcing before hand that determination and thereby enabling the enemy to strike at once, to sweep our commerce, to send a fleet & reinforcements on our coast and vicinity. The only argument in favr. of the measure is that the fear of a war may induce G. B. to recede. This is doubtful: but if the experiment is attempted, the recommendation must be so framed as not to convey any threat too offensive to their pride to be digested, and yet to carry a conviction that war must be the final tho’ not immediate effect of their not receding. (I say not immediate, because if they considered it as such & concluded not to recede they would strike at once). It may be impossible to frame a recommendation precisely to that effect, but that proposed in the message may be improved. Thus the expressions “the period is arrived,” “direct & undisguised hostility” “authorising reprisals” and allusion to a lapse of the present session &a. may be softened or omitted.1 (Note that it seems that the first sentence of that paragraph which alludes to an extension of defensive preparations might be omitted as a special recommendation follows the ensuing paragraph).
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2. 4. last paragraph. A recommendation to encrease revenue & raise money would seem immediately connected with this. Or shall it be reserved for financial paragraph.
3. 1. Navy. Having alluded to our limited resources, it may be added that any misapplication of these will be fatal. Looking at the aggregate of resources actually in the possession of & expended by Congress during the revoly. war, paper money, foreign loans, and requisitions & advances actually paid by individual States, it has appeared to me incomprehensible that the very moderate army in actual service had not been well fed, clothed & even paid. I can account for it only on a supposition that those resources were partly mis-applied; how much was mis-applied on a navy? how much on other objects would not be an useless enquiry. But the general fact is certain, and the same remark is applicable to almost every other country. G. Britain alone has succeeded in establishing a system of debt & taxation as yet equal to the most profligate expenditure & mis-application of resources. Bonaparte is, at least in his military expenditure, a model of a judicious application of the resources which he can command; & to this system he has been forced by his inability of borrowing. The support even of our present Navy, say 2 millions a year, must either entrench on our other force which would be most fatal, or compel us to borrow 2 millions more a year. The difference between borrowing six millions a year and borrowing eight, is that the six may be borrowed at 6 p% and that if obliged to push the loan to eight, the whole of it must be borrowed at a higher interest, perhaps 8 p%. The effects on the public credit, on the war itself &a., are evident. Unless therefore great utility can be proven, the employment of that force will be a substantial evil. I believe myself that so far from there being any utility it will in its very employment diminish our means of annoying the enemy, & that every sailor engaged in public service would be more usefully employed on privateers. In a country where the resources & spirit of enterprize are great, and the command of Govt. over those resources extremely moderate, it is necessary as far as practicable to induce individuals to apply those resources of their own accord against the enemy. On land that is impossible; but on the Ocean it is our natural & a very formidable weapon. Let us apply all our resources to the defence of our seaports & of Louisiana, and to the attack of the adjacent British provinces: and let individuals attack the British commerce in every sea.2 I would omit altogether any recommendation on that subject, or allusion as contained in another paragraph to its utility in guarding the rights of our coast.
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3. 1. Spanish colonies. The only objection which strikes me agt. mentioning this subject is that it will hurt the pride, & may be said to be an improper interference in the concerns of Spain. If it be thought proper to allude to the subject, I think that it would be better to omit the anticipation of unfriendly views originating in misguided councils or ambition and which appears to allude to Spain & England.
" 3. protection of navigation & manufactures. The present time, when all our plans are controuled by the belligerent decrees & by the measures either of restriction or aggression which we must oppose to them, is not very proper to digest & adopt any permanent & regular system for the protection of our navigation. The subject is in public estimation absorbed in the much greater wrongs inflicted by the Belligerent nations. On the other hand the effect of the recommendation in favr. of manufactures is lessened by its being blended with that for navigation to which from the tenor of the paragraph it appears but secondary.

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Indians Will it not be good policy particularly as to G. Britain to present this subject in as favorable view as consistent with truth. It may otherwise give improper encouragement to that Nation.

Finances. Our returns are not all in. But an estimate will be furnished. It will be favorable for the present year, but shew a bad prospect for the next & will render it necessary to recommend an increase of duties and an authority to borrow.

* It is proper &a. to observe that France has, subsequent to the revocation of her edicts so far as they violated the neutral commerce of the United States, authorized illegal depredations by her privateers and public vessels in the Baltic and on the high seas.# I abstain however at this time from recommending any specific measures with respect to that Nation, under the expectation that the result of the Negotiations still pending between our Minister at Paris and that Government will be ascertained before your adjournment, so as to enable us to decide with certainty on the course &a.3

Ms (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). In Gallatin’s hand. Undated. Dated 5 Nov. 1811 in the Index to the James Madison Papers. Date assigned here on the assumption that Gallatin’s remarks referred to an earlier draft (not found) of JM’s message to Congress on 5 Nov. 1811 (see n. 1). Docketed by JM “as to proposed Message to Congs.”

1Gallatin’s objections to JM’s choice of words here suggest that the draft he received was more strongly worded than the final version of the message JM delivered to Congress on 5 Nov. 1811. If this was the case, one of the factors influencing JM’s drafting of the message could have been his reaction to a 29 Oct. 1811 National Intelligencer report of a meeting the British cabinet held on 6 Sept. 1811. The account was taken from the London Courier, here described as being “usually considered as the ministerial print,” and announced that the cabinet had decided on “a measure of retaliation” against JM’s policy of nonintercourse. The decision was justified on the grounds that there was no evidence that France had repealed the Berlin and Milan decrees, and the contents of Robert Smith’s Address was cited in support of the contention that JM and his administration themselves “did not believe that the French decrees are repealed.” Under such circumstances, the Courier declared, it would be “an imbecility and absurdity” for Great Britain to remove its orders in council. The report also contained the news that, in order to encourage JM to remove American restrictions against British trade and shipping, a new order in council had been signed the previous day “prohibiting American vessels from entering British ports, except such as are laden with flour and wheat, and providing that they carry back cargoes consisting of the produce of this country and its colonies.”

Other American newspapers printed similar reports as well as accounts of how the British cabinet had retracted its decision on 8 Sept. after its announcement had led to a decline of stock prices in London. The National Intelligencer therefore concluded that “the cabinet of Great-Britain is as oscillating and indecisive in determining on its policy in relation to us, as it has shewn itself assuming and absurd in its pretensions whenever its interests have come into collision with those of neutrals.” In the final analysis, no such order in council was issued at this time, nor did the British cabinet send fresh instructions to Augustus John Foster in Washington (see Wellesley to Foster, 22 Oct. 1811, Mayo, Instructions to British Ministers description begins Bernard Mayo, ed., Instructions to the British Ministers to the United States, 1791–1812, Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1936, vol. 3 (Washington, 1941). description ends , pp. 332–33).

2Gallatin’s argument suggests that JM’s draft, in addition to containing suggestions on naval policy, may have also called on Congress either to legislate for letters of marque and reprisal or to permit merchantmen to arm in self-defense. Such recommendations, however, did not appear in the final version of the message JM sent to Congress on 5 Nov. 1811. The Index to the James Madison Papers lists under the date of 5 Nov. 1811 a draft paragraph in JM’s hand recommending “the expediency of authorizing merchant vessels to arm for self-defence,” taking into view “the unprecedented dangers, incident to neutral navigation on the high seas, that captures continue to be made of American vessels engaged in commerce guaranteed by the acknowledged law of nations; and that in many cases, the evil might be obviated by defensive equipments to be made by the parties interested” (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers; 1 p.). However, as this draft was written on the verso of a cover addressed to JM at Washington (probably by Harry Toulmin) and franked with a postmark dated 5 Nov. at Washington, Mississippi Territory, it is perhaps unlikely that JM composed this paragraph recommending the arming of merchantmen for self-defense on or about 5 Nov. 1811. This paragraph, more probably, was a draft for a message contemplated, but not sent, by JM at some earlier time, either during the second session of the Eleventh Congress between 27 Nov. 1809 and 1 May 1810 or in the first days of the third session of the Eleventh Congress in December 1810.

3This paragraph and the notes to it are written on a smaller sheet of paper.

4Left blank by Gallatin.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* Or, The communications which accompanied the Message of the  4 have apprized you that France &a.

# Here may be added—Nor has any reparation been made or promised for the detention & confiscation of our Merchants property under the Rambouillet decrees.

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