James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 9 December 1813

To Congress

December 9th 1813


To the Senate and House of Representatives
of the United States.

The tendency of our commercial and navigation laws in their present state, to favor the Enemy and thereby prolong the war, is more and more developed by experience. Supplies of the most essential kinds find their way, not only to British ports and British armies at a distance, but the armies in our neighbourhood, with which our own are contending, derive from our ports and outlets, a subsistance attainable with difficulty if at all from other sources. Even the fleets and troops infesting our coasts and waters, are, by like supplies, accomodated and encouraged in their predatory and incursive warfare.

Abuses having a like tendency take place, in our import trade. British fabricks and products, find their way into our ports, under the name and from the ports of other countries; and often in British vessels, disguised as neutrals, by false colours and papers.

To these abuses it may be added that illegal importations are openly made, with advantage to the violators of the law, produced by undervaluations, or other circumstances involved in the course of the Judicial proceedings against them.1

It is found also that the practice of ransoming is a cover for collusive captures, and a channel for intelligence advantageous to the Enemy.

To remedy as much as possible these evils, I recommend: That an effectual embargo on exports be immediately enacted.2

That all articles, known to be derived either not at all, or in an immaterial degree only, from the productions of any other Country than Great Britain, and particularly the extensive articles made of wool and cotton materials, and ardent spirits made from the cane, be expressly and absolutely prohibited, from whatever port or place, or in whatever vessels, the same may be brought into the United States; and that all violations of the non-importation act be subjected to adequate penalties.

That among the proofs of the neutral and national character of foreign vessels,3 it be required that the Masters and Supercargoes, and three fourths at least of the crews, be citizens or subjects of the country, under whose flag the vessels sail.4

That all persons concerned in collusive captures by the Enemy, or in ransoming vessels or their cargoes from the Enemy, be subjected to adequate penalties.

To shorten as much as possible, the duration of the war, it is indispensable that the Enemy should feel all the pressure that can be given to it; and the restraints having that tendency will be borne with the greater cheerfulness by all good citizens, as the restraints will affect those most, who are most ready to sacrifice the interests of their country in pursuit of their own.

James Madison

RC (DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages, 13A-E2); draft (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Minor differences between the copies have not been noted.

1Among the importation ruses that came to JM’s attention, but which he did not mention here, was one allegedly attempted on the border between the United States and Canada at Passamaquoddy Bay. Capt. Sherman Leland, commander of U.S. forces at that place, reported that prohibited goods owned by Americans were shipped in an ostensibly British vessel, which was then to be captured and brought into a U.S. port by a “sham privateer fitted out by the owners of the property” (Leland to H. Henry Lenhouse, 8 Nov. 1813, DNA: RG 107, LRUS, C-1813; marked in an unidentified hand, “Shown to the President”).

2This was the third time within a year that JM recommended that Congress pass an embargo. Following both of the two previous messages, of 24 Feb. and 20 July 1813, legislation was approved by the House of Representatives but failed in the Senate, where on the second attempt ten Republicans joined the Federalists to defeat the bill. During the Congressional recess, however, two of the opposing Republican senators—Joseph Anderson of Tennessee and David Stone of North Carolina—were rebuked by their state legislatures, while a third, William Branch Giles of Virginia, felt compelled to defend himself in a series of newspaper articles. These three and one other Republican senator, Joseph Varnum, changed their positions and voted with the majority when the embargo passed the Senate, twenty to fourteen, on 16 Dec. 1813. The House had approved the measure five days earlier, and JM signed it into law on 17 Dec. 1813 (PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:61, 62 n. 3, 449–50 and n. 1; Brant, Madison, description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis, 1941–61). description ends 6:228–29; Annals of Congress, description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends 13th Cong., 2d sess., 554–61, 2033–53, 2059–60).

3Crossed out here in the draft is “entering or leaving our ports.”

4Crossed out here in the draft is “and to prevent the loss of American seamen, on board of neutral vessels, going or liable to be carried into British ports, that no part of the remaining third shall consist of Citizens of the U.S.

“That neutral vessels clearing from the U.S. be restrained by due securities from carrying their Cargoes to any port of the Enemy.”

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