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Draft of Robert Smith to John Armstrong, 5 June 1810 (Abstract)

§ Draft of Robert Smith to John Armstrong

5 June 1810, Department of State.1 Acknowledges letters and enclosures from Armstrong received on 21 May. Protests strongly against France’s decision to seize American vessels as announced in the letter from the duc de Cadore to Armstrong [14 Feb. 1810]. Describes French policy as “an act of violence, which under existing circumstances is scarcely less than an act of war [and] necessarily required an explanation which would satisfy not only the United States but the world.” Asserts that the U.S. has always resisted the British orders in council and that the right of doing so by the municipal prohibition of trade is a “lawful exercise of sovereign power,” which the French government can neither complain of nor justly construe “into a cause of warlike reprisal.” The U.S. has likewise resisted the decrees of France, which had “assumed a prescriptive power over the policy of the United States, as reprehensible as the attempt of the British government to levy contributions on our trade was obnoxious.”

Denies that the U.S. has singled out French vessels for seizure in the manner complained of by Cadore and adds, “Had France interdicted to our vessels all the ports within the sphere of her influence, and had she given a warning of equal duration with that given by our law, there would have been no cause of complaint on the part of the United States.”2 Points out that it has always been possible for France to avoid American trade restrictions merely by modifying or annulling its own decrees. The U.S. has already made propositions to this effect to France, and “they were not accepted.” Instead, French policy has been calculated to produce results other than that of “a good understanding between the two countries.” The recent act of Congress [Macon’s Bill No. 2] gives the French emperor the opportunity to establish “the most amicable relations” with the U.S. Let him withdraw or modify his decrees, restore American property, and “a law of the United States exists, which authorises the president to promote the best possible understanding with France, and to impose a system of exclusion against the ships and merchandise of Great Britain in the event of her failing to conform to the same just terms of conciliation.” As American trade restrictions are not now in force, France no longer has “a solitary reasonable pretext for procrastinating the delivery of American property.” Instructs Armstrong to present these observations to the French government.

Printed copy (National Intelligencer, 2 July 1811). Included in Smith’s defense of his conduct as secretary of state. Described as a “Copy of the draught of the letter proposed to be sent to Gen. Armstrong,” which was “laid before the President for his approbation.” Dated “June —, 1810.”

1According to Smith, JM “objected to the sending” of this letter and, instead of the “animadversions” it contained, “directed the insertion of simply the following section” into the draft: “As the ’John Adams’ is daily expected, and as your further communications by her will better enable me to adapt to the actual state of our affairs with the French government the observations proper to be made in relation to their seizure of our property and to the letter of the Duke of Cadore of the 14th Feb. it is by the President deemed expedient not to make, at this time, any such animadversions. I cannot, however, forbear informing you, that a high indignation is felt by the President, as well as by the public, at this act of violence on our property, and at the outrage, both in the language and in the matter, of the letter of the Duke of Cadore, so justly pourtrayed [sic] in your note to him of the 10th of March” (ibid., emphasis added by Smith). For the remainder of the revised instructions to Armstrong, which directed him to advise the French government that “by putting in force, agreeably to the terms of this statute [Macon’s Bill No. 2], the non-intercourse against Great Britain the very species of resistance would be made which France has been constantly representing as most efficacious,” see Smith to Armstrong, 5 June 1810 (DNA: RG 59, IM; 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, 3:384–85). For JM’s response to the news conveyed by the John Adams, see Madison’s Draft of Robert Smith to John Armstrong, 5 July 1810.

2The National Intelligencer, on 9 July 1811, expressed doubts about whether Smith had been as wholly responsible for this draft as he claimed. The administration newspaper conceded, however, that the president had rejected the draft and cited this sentence as one of the “particular passages and expressions which may help to account for its unfavorable reception by Mr. Madison.” The comment continued: “What! no cause of complaint! The United States, it is true, could not complain of it as a violation of their neutral rights and nation[al] sovereignty, obnoxious to the resentment of the other belligerent: but would it be consistent with friendship, with liberality, with reciprocity, with the spirit of common intercourse among civilized nations?”

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