James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from William Jones, [ca. 20 December] 1813

From William Jones

[ca. 20 December 1813]

Dear Sir,

Measures are taken to forward the Embargo Act with a p[r]int circular to the collectors and it will go off tomorrow in order to notify the parties concerned of the passing of the Act.

I have also directed Mr Sheldon so to modify the instructions as to provide for the exception of vessels licensed for the fisheries or whaling voyages and it will be printed with the utmost possible dispatch. The more I reflect upon this construction of the law the more serious are the evils which present themselves to my mind. If the law has provided for their departure it has utterly failed to provide any regulation in respect to those vessels to guard against fraud.1

Every vessel of whatever capacity may take out a license for the whale fishery and take onboard provisions for a two years voyage by Simply giving Bond for four times the value of the vessel &c that she shall not proceed to any foreign port or place but return with her fare2 to the U States. They may take onboard whatever persons they please and proceed whence they please capture or forceable detention will cancell the bond & protests, surveys, condemnations, &c will furnish satisfactory proof to our Courts.

These vessels will be employed abroad under feigned transfers to neutrals their crews will man the Guns of the enemy whilst their provisions will feed him.

In either case the law must be considered as inconsistant and defective. If the 7th Secn alone authorizes their departure the law has faild to provide any regulation other than the Bond under which they shall depart. If the positive prohibition of the clearance of all vessels, except such as are provided for in the 1st. and fourth Sections is to be considered as not embracing them there is no exception or provision for their clearance. The fact is the Bill was originally reported without the 7th. Sect. which was Subsequently introduced and from some cause advocated by one of the friends of the Bill who I believe entertained an opinion that without that section they would be enabled to depart without giving Bond and the principal advocates of the Bill acquiesced seeing as they thought that though it was introduced it would be nugatory and I am not certain but I believe Doctr Bibb is of that opinion. I cannot give it any other construction though upon that subject I woud speak with great diffidence. Very sincerely & respectfully your Obdt Servt

W. Jones.

RC (DNA: RG 59, ML). Undated; filed at 20 Dec. 1813. Conjectural date assigned based on evidence in n. 1 and the passage of the Embargo Act on 17 Dec. 1813 (U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 3:88).

1Jones referred to a debate as to whether or not the Embargo Act should be interpreted to allow the departure from the United States of whaling ships and those “licensed for fisheries.” The seventh section of the act provided that owners of such ships must give bond that they would return with their catch to the United States and not visit any foreign ports; however, the first section prohibited the clearance of any American ship not “under the immediate direction of the President of the United States,” and the fourth section provided the only other exception, for “vessels or boats, whose employment has uniformly been confined to the navigation of bays, sounds, rivers, or lakes, within the jurisdiction of the United States, or the territories thereof” (U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 3:88–90). JM evidently came to agree with Jones’s opinion that the law did not authorize the clearance of whaling and fishing ships from U.S. waters, because the circular sent to the collectors, dated 24 Dec. 1813, stated that “the bonds required in the seventh section from vessels licensed for the fisheries, or those bound on a whaling voyage, are not to be taken; and vessels of those descriptions are not to be cleared without further provisions and instructions on that subject” (Daily National Intelligencer, 5 Jan. 1814).

2Fare: a catch of fish (OED Online description begins Oxford English Dictionary. description ends ).

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