James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joel Barlow, 19 December 1811

From Joel Barlow


Paris 19 Dec 1811.

Dear Sir

As an additional apology for detaining the Frigate as well as for believing that an answer somewhat satisfactory is to be given to my note of the 10th. Novr.1 I ought perhaps to state to you more fully than I have done in my official letter what past at the diplomatic audience to which I there alluded.2 It was on the 1st. of Decr. the anniversary of the Coronation. The court was uncommonly brilliant & the emperor very affable.

In passing round the circle when he came to me he said with a smile “eh bien Monsieur vous saurez donc tenir contre les Anglais.” Alluding as I suppose to the affair of Rodgers then recently published. “Sire nous saurons faire respecter notre pavillon.” Then after finishing the circle he cut across & came back to me in a marked manner & raising his voice to be heard by hundreds he said “Monsieur vous avez presenté une note interessante au duc de Bassano, on va y repondre incessament et d’une manner satisfaisante, et j’éspere que la frégate restera pour cette reponse.[”] “Sire elle ne reste que pour cela.”

In the evening there was a drawing room, in which he singled me out again & said some flattering things, but not on public affairs. As it cannot be on my own account, but on that of the government, it is proper I should notice to you that he & all the grand dignitaries of the empire have taken pains to signalize their attentions to me in a manner they have rarely done to a foreign minister, & never to an American.

The points that I expect will be conceded are—1st. a diminution of duties on our produce to take place not all at once but gradually—2d. The right of transit thro France into the interior of Europe for all our produce without any duties in France but what may suffice for the expences of bureaux. 3d. a revocation or modification of the system of special licences. 4th. releasing the vessels & cargoes not sold, & an arrangement for paying damages for those already disposed of. This last Article perhaps connected with an explanation of the treaty of St. Ildefonso, both by the Spanish & French governments, relative to the boundaries of Louisiana so as to comprehend all that we desire eastward & westward & northward. More of this probably in a private letter by the Frigate. I give no encouragement to the idea.

A war with Russia seems to be resolved upon notwithstanding the peace signed between her & Turkey. Preparations are great & probably serious on both sides. With great respect & attachment yr. obt. st.

J. Barlow


1A copy of Barlow’s 10 Nov. 1811 note to the duc de Bassano was enclosed in his 21 Nov. dispatch to Monroe (DNA: RG 59, DD, France). Its contents formed a twenty-four-page discussion of the problems of Franco-American trade, starting with Barlow’s analysis of “the execution of the arrangement of the 5th of August & the 2d of November 1810.” The American minister chose to describe the transactions embodied in Macon’s Bill No. 2, the Cadore letter of 5 Aug. 1810, JM’s proclamation of 2 Nov. 1810, and the Nonintercourse Act of 2 Mar. 1811 as a “convention” between France and the U.S. The latter nation had scrupulously adhered to the terms of this “convention,” but the former had not, and Barlow complained at length of the manipulation of “municipal regulations,” the onerous duties, and the export requirements imposed on Americans trading with France, which he stated were responsible for the virtual absence of trade between France and America in the year following the revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees. Barlow also stressed the importance of free trade to the prosperity of the U.S., and he advised Napoleon’s ministers to expand French commerce with the world so that the anticipated growth in trade with an independent Spanish America did not fall by default to Great Britain. In any event, the American minister warned, if Napoleon did not act soon to liberalize Franco-American trade, he risked seeing Congress declare the “convention” between the two nations “void.” The result would be the resumption of U.S. trade with the British dominions, though Barlow hastened to add that he had “no express authority from [JM] to say that such [would] be the case.”

2Barlow referred to his 19 Dec. dispatch to Monroe, where he had written: “From what The Emperor told me himself at the last Diplomatic audience, and from a variety of hints and other circumstances remarked among the people about his person, I have been made to believe that he really is changing his system relative to our trade, and that the answer to my note will be more satisfactory than I had at first expected. But the unexpected and unreasonable delay has almost discouraged me of late” (DNA: RG 59, DD, France). In a letter to Dolley Madison two days later, Barlow elaborated on his reasons for detaining the frigate, stating: “The Emperor … desired expressly that I would detain her for the ministers answer to my great note. This answer, he assured me with his own mouth at the audience would be satisfactory. And as I was told repeatedly … that he was very much struck with my note & was probably changing his system relative to the U. States, I thought I could not with a decent respect to him, & ought not for the inter[e]st of our govt. to send off the frigate under such circumstances” (CLU-C).

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