James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Melish, 5 [February] 1813

From John Melish

Philadelphia 5 Janry [February] 1813


I duly received your esteemed favour of the 30th. ulto.,1 in compliance with which I have sent by this mail a Copy of the Travels in plain binding, price $6.—which may be remitted to myself.2

The work, I trust, will meet your approbation on perusual [sic]. I had a letter sometime ago from Mr Jefferson in which he bestows on it almost unqualified approbation; and concludes by stating that he considers it so lively a picture of the real state of the Country that if he can obtain opportunities of conveyance he will send a Copy to a friend in France, and another to one in Italy, who he Knows will translate and Circulate it as an antidote to the misrepresentations of former travellers.3 I am with much respect Sir your ob. Servt.

John Melish

RC (DLC). Misdated 5 Jan. 1813 by Melish; date assigned here on the basis of evidence presented in n. 3. Docketed by JM.

1Letter not found.

2Melish sent JM a copy of his Travels in the United States of America, in the Years 1806 and 1807, and 1809, 1810, and 1811 (2 vols.; Philadelphia, 1812; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 26062). During his travels Melish met JM in Washington on 1 June 1811, and he provided the following account of the occasion: “He [JM] received me very politely in a drawing-room, and we had a long conversation, principally regarding the relations between Britain and America. Mr. Madison observed, that he would have gone to the country before this time, but was waiting for Mr. Foster, now daily expected, and he sincerely hoped that on his arrival something would be done to accommodate the differences between the two countries. He remarked that he was happy to observe the favourable disposition of the prince of Wales towards neutral trade, and it was a considerable ground of hope, that he was so popular in his own country. He had done nothing as yet, but it appeared that he had hitherto sacrificed his own opinion to his filial regard for his father, and this circumstance, though it militated against a free trade between England and America now, yet it was in favour of the prince’s personal character; and he thought there could hardly be a doubt but he would change the ministry and restore a free trade, when he succeeded to full power.

“On the stopping of the trade itself, he remarked that, the immorality and injustice of the measure out of the question, it had always astonished him that the British ministry should persevere in a system so evidently impolitic, and which militated more against the interest of England than any other nation; and it could not be from ignorance, for the operation and tendency of the orders in council had been very amply exposed in England, particularly in Mr. Baring’s pamphlet, and Mr. Brougham’s speech; both masterly productions, and which placed the question between the two countries in as clear a point of view as words could convey it. He observed that the effect of the orders in council were very injurious in this country, as they tended to distress the sea-ports, and to divide the people; and there was now no alternative but to sacrifice the national honour, or to resist. Resistance had been determined on by congress, and would in all probability be persevered in till justice was obtained; nor did he believe that any supposed opposition in the eastern states would now have any effect on altering that determination, it being well known that the mass of the people in these states were determined republicans; and, notwithstanding the difference of opinion on commercial subjects, he was well assured that in the day of trial they would stand as firmly by their own government as any section of the union.

“He regretted that a number of the merchants did not take ⟨a⟩ more extended view of the subject, and prefer their permanent interests to a precarious and temporary interest, ⟨li⟩able to be cut off every day. It was evident that, independent of the principle which the orders in council involved, that during their operation, the trade must necessarily be very limited, and subject to great contingencies; and without a free trade to the continent, there could be no free trade from England: so that, although the government were even to sacrifice the national honour, and allow the merchants to regulate the commerce of the country, the trade would soon cease of itself. Goods could only be imported to the extent of the exports, and these being confined to England, and her dependencies and allies, it must necessarily be so limited, that many of the merchants would be in a losing concern, and domestic manufactures would ultimately supercede foreign commerce.

“On the subject of manufactures he observed, that they had progressed in a wonderful degree, and went far to supply the internal demand, which was one great and permanent good that had arisen out of a system fraught with many evils. And so firmly were these manufactures now rooted, that they would unquestionably flourish and increase. On the other hand, such had been the increase of population and wealth in the United States, that there would still be a very great demand for British manufactures, were the trade opened. Mr. Baring had pointed out in his pamphlet, that the exports from Britain to America, amounted to 12,000,000 sterling, and he had no doubt but they would continue to be equal to that amount if the trade were free; and this consideration alone might have induced the British ministry to cultivate a friendly intercourse with a nation, who were disposed to be friends, in place of seeking a precarious commerce by means of special licences with their enemies.

“The conversation lasted nearly an hour, and embraced several other topics, but these are the most material; and I left Mr. Madison with sentiments of friendly regard, and high esteem” (ibid., 2:13–15).

3Jefferson conveyed these sentiments, in almost identical words, in a letter to Melish dated 13 Jan. 1813 (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

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