James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 1 April 1812

To Congress


April 1st 1812

Considering it as expedient, under existing circumstances and prospects, that a General Embargo be laid on all vessels now in port or hereafter arriving, for the period of sixty days, I recommend the immediate passage of a law to that effect.1

James Madison

RC (DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, 12A-E2). In the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM.

1On 2 Apr. Foster inquired of Monroe whether he should regard JM’s request for an embargo “as a step preparatory to war or simply as a municipal measure on the part of the United States.” Monroe “put the latter construction on it and deprecated its being considered as a war measure.” The next day, Foster made the same inquiry of JM, who responded: “‘Oh! No, Embargo is not war,’ adding however that he was perfectly of opinion the United States would be amply justified in going to war with us, whatever reasons of expediency there might be to prevent it, for that Great Britain was actually waging war upon them.” JM then alluded to reports that eighteen ships, valued at $1.5 million, had been carried into British ports in less than a month and “gave this as alone sufficient reason for an Embargo.” “He said he should be glad still to receive any propositions we might have to make, and that Congress would be in Session at the period to be fixed for the termination of the Embargo when it would be renewed or not according to circumstances.”

From these remarks Foster gained the impression that JM might yet be prepared to tolerate aspects of British maritime policy, provided these were not grounded “upon the principle of retaliation” and were thus conceded to be “unjustifiable by the Laws of Nations.” The minister confessed himself to be at a loss to grasp JM’s meaning here but added: “it appears to me that the name of the Orders in Council has become more objectionable to him than the substance, and that not caring so much for the interests of Commerce as for his own consistency in Argument he would not be unwilling to acquiesce in the continuation of any measures judged necessary by His Majesty’s Government for completely blockading the Enemy’s dominions provided they were to be enforced under a new denomination” (Foster to Wellesley, 2 and 3 Apr. 1812 [PRO: Foreign Office, ser. 5, vol. 85]).

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