James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 25 May 1812

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington May 25. 1812

Dear Sir

The inclosed letters came under cover to me, by the Hornet.1 France has done nothing towards adjusting our differences with her. It is understood that the B. & M. Decrees are not in force agst. the U. S. and no contravention of them can be established agst. her. On the contrary positive cases rebut the allegation. Still the manner of the F. Govt. betrays the design of leaving G. B. a pretext for enforcing her O. in C. And in all other respects the grounds of our complaints remain the same. The utmost address has been played off on Mr. Barlow’s wishes & hopes; inasmuch that at the Departure of the Hornet which had been so long detained for a final answer, without its being obtained, he looked to the return of the Wasp which had just arrived, without despair of making her the Bearer of some satisfactory arrangement. Our calculations differ widely.2 In the mean time, the business is become more than ever puzzling. To go to war with Engd. and not with France arms the federalists with new matter, and divides the Republicans Some of whom with the Quids make a display of impartiality. To go to war agst. both, presents a thousand difficulties; above all that of shutting all the ports of the Continent of Europe agst. our Cruisers who can do little without the use of them. It is pretty certain also, that it would not gain over the Federalists, who wd. turn all those difficulties agst. the Administration.3 The only consideration of weight in favor of this triangular war as it is called, is that it might hasten thro’ a peace with G. B., or F: a termination, for a while at least, of the obstinate questions now depending with both. But even this advantage is not certain. For a prolongation of such a war might be viewed by both Belligts. as desireable, with as little reason for the opinion, as has prevailed in the past conduct of both. Affectionate respects

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson as received 27 May.

1On 23 May 1812 the National Intelligencer announced that the Hornet had arrived in New York after an Atlantic crossing of twenty-one days. Diplomatic dispatches and other mail from France reached Washington on the afternoon of 22 May. JM evidently enclosed for Jefferson letters from three French correspondents: Joseph-Léonard Poirey, who wrote on 1 Mar. 1812; DuPont de Nemours, writing on 25 Jan. and 14 Apr. 1812; and Palisot de Beauvois, who wrote on 23 Feb. 1812 (DLC: Jefferson Papers, Epistolary Record; all these letters are listed as having been received on 27 May).

2JM had probably been reading Barlow’s letters and dispatches written under the date of 22 Apr. (see Barlow to JM, 22 Apr. 1812, and n. 1).

3Since 6 May 1812 Congress had been considering a large number of petitions from merchant groups seeking the lifting of the April embargo and other restrictions on trade with Great Britain. Where the politics of the petitioners were in conflict with those of the administration, the petitions invariably protested that French violations of U.S. neutral rights were as flagrant as those perpetrated by Great Britain (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 228–35, 237, 238–39, 1379–1414, 1417–19, 1421–22, 1427, 1436).

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