James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 18 November 1812 (Abstract)

§ To Congress

18 November 1812. “I transmit … copies of a communication from Mr. Russell to the Secretary of State.1 It is connected with the correspondence accompanying my Message of the 12th instant, but had not at that date been received.”

RC and enclosure, two copies (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1; DNA: RG 46, President’s Messages, 12A-E2). First RC 1 p.; in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1Russell had arrived in Washington on 15 Nov.; the next day he handed Monroe a letter dated 16 Nov. (1 p.; 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, 3:593), covering his dispatch of 17 Sept. 1812 (16 pp.; printed ibid., 3:593–95). Russell’s 17 Sept. letter was an account of his 16 Sept. meeting with Lord Castlereagh to discuss the American proposals for an armistice and negotiations (see JM to Congress, 12 Nov. 1812, and n. 1). The British foreign secretary began by doubting that Russell had the authority to negotiate at all, since his diplomatic functions had ceased, a circumstance that would place Great Britain on “unequal ground,” as it would require Castlereagh to pledge the faith of his nation while leaving the U.S. “free to disregard its engagements.” Russell’s instructions from Monroe, moreover, had been written without taking into account the 23 June 1812 repeal of the orders in council, and the issue of impressment, Castlereagh continued, “was attended with difficulties” of which neither Russell nor the U.S. was aware. Here Castlereagh alluded to the “great sensibility and jealousy of the people of England on this subject,” adding that “no administration could expect to remain in power that should consent to renounce the right of impressment.”

Russell urged Castlereagh to overcome these difficulties, warning that “in the mean time, the war would be prosecuted, and might produce new obstacles to a pacific arrangement.” He assured Castlereagh that the cessation of impressment could be handled “in the most general terms” and in conjunction with the passage of laws that would prohibit the employment of native-born and naturalized citizens of one nation on the vessels of the other. Russell also proposed a similar course with respect to the definition and implementation of blockades. These “moderate and liberal” propositions, he reported, were treated in a manner which forbade him “to expect their acceptance,” with Lord Castlereagh’s secretary even going so far as to request that the U.S. should “deliver up the native British seamen who might be naturalized in America.”

Russell concluded that the “predetermination” of the British government was to reject any proposal relating to impressment, and he feared that he might have appeared too eager to bring about a suspension of hostilities when Castlereagh observed, “somewhat loftily, that if the American Government was so anxious to get rid of the war, it would have an opportunity of doing so on learning of the revocation of the orders in council.” Russell countered with the remark that the wish of the U.S. “to get rid of the war was only a proof of the sincerity with which it had constantly sought to avoid it.”

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