James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 24 April 1812

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington Apl. 24. 1812

Dear Sir

I have just recd. your favor of the 17th. The same mail brings me the “Proceedings of the Govt. of the U. S. relative to the Batture” for which you will accept my thanks.

I had not supposed that so great a proportion of produce, particularly of Wheat & flour, was still in the hands of the farmers. In Penna. it was known to be the case. In N. Y. almost the whole of the last crop, is in the Country, tho’ chiefly in the hands of the Merchants & Millers. The measure of the Embargo was made a difficult one, both as to its duration & its date, by the conflict of opinions here, and of local interests elsewhere; and to these causes are to be added, that invariable opposition,1 open with some, & covert with others, which have perplexed & impeded the whole course of our public measures. You will have noticed that the Embargo as recommended to Congs. was limited to 60 days. Its extension to 90, proceeded from the united votes of those who wished to make it a negociating instead of a war measure, of those who wished to put off the day of war as long as possible, if ultimately to be met, & of those whose mercantile constituents had ships abroad, which would be favored in their chance of getting safely home. Some also who wished & hoped to anticipate the expiration of the term, calculated on the ostensible postponement of the war question, as a ruse agst. the Enemy. At present great differences of opinion exist, as to the time & form of entering into hostilities; whether at a very early or later day, or not before the end of the 90 days, and whether by a general declaration, or by a commencement with letters of M. & Reprisal. The question is also to be brought forward for an adjournment for 15 or 18 days.2 Whatever may be the decision on all these points, it can scarcely be doubted that patience in the holders of wheat & flour at least, will secure them good prices; Such is the scarcity all over Europe, and the dependance of the W. Indies on our supplies. Mr. Maury writes me, on the 21st. of March3 that flour had suddenly risen to 16½ dollars, and a further rise looked for. And it is foreseen, that in a State of war the Spanish & Portuguese flags & papers, real or counterfiet, will afford a neutral cover, to our produce as far as wanted in ports in the favor of G. B. Licences therefore on our part will not be necessary; which tho’ in some respects mitigating the evils of war, are so pregnant with abuses of the worst sort, as to be liable in others to strong objections. As managed by the Belligerents of Europe they are sources of the most iniquitous & detestable practices.

The Hornet still loiters. A letter from Barlow to Granger, fills us with serious apprehensions, that he is burning his fingers, with matters which will work great embarrassment & mischief here; and which his instructions could not have suggested.4 In E. Florida, Mathews has been playing a tragicomedy, in the face of common sense, as well as of his instructions. His extravagences place us in the most distressing dilemma. Always & affey. Yrs

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson as received on 29 Apr.

1Here JM wrote, then crossed out, “to every measure.”

2The notion that Congress should take a recess, partly to allow the administration more time to advance the preparations for war and partly to give legislators the opportunity to consult with their constituents about the expediency of the policy, was first broached by Rep. William Bibb of Georgia on 9 Apr. 1812. Bibb suggested a recess from 20 Apr. to 15 June, but the House initially would do no more than approve the appointment of a joint committee to explore the matter with the Senate. The Senate accepted the House proposal on 22 Apr. and two days later, as JM was writing his letter to Jefferson, began debating a motion to adjourn from 29 Apr. to 18 May. The next day, 25 Apr., the Senate voted in favor of extending the proposed recess to 8 June. In the interim the House also began debating a motion to adjourn but postponed it indefinitely on 25 Apr. after members had failed to agree on any of the dates proposed for the commencement or duration of the recess. This development evidently led Sen. Michael Leib, on 28 Apr., to move yet another resolution for a recess between 6 and 25 May. The Senate adopted Leib’s resolution on 29 Apr., but in the House it failed to pass to a third reading (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 197, 207, 211, 212–16, 218, 219, 226, 1279–80, 1314–16, 1333, 1334–42, 1347, 1352–53).

3JM was presumably referring to Maury’s letter of 20 Mar. 1812.

4On 14 Apr. 1812 the New York Columbian noted: “A report is in town, that Mr. Barlow has written to the P. M. General, that a commercial treaty was negociating with Bonaparte, which would be sent out with the Hornet.” The next day’s issue stated more explicitly that Barlow was negotiating “a treaty of commerce and boundary … which will secure to us the Floridas and extend our possessions to the Pacific ocean.” The report continued: “This we expect will be all the indemnification that France will be willing to give us for her commercial spoliations.” A few days later Dolley Madison, while passing on the latest Washington news to Ruth Baldwin Barlow, wrote: “I am prepareing you, for the disappobation [sic], express’d at Mr Barlow’s haveing told the state of his Negociation, to Mr. Granger who directly gave it circulation & a place in the N. Papers. In the detail of objections to this communication is—‘that you may yet be disappointed’ That ‘the anticipation of such a Treaty, might cause improper speculations—That Mr G. was not a proper chanel’ &. &.” Monroe’s next set of instructions to Barlow pointed out at some length the “objections” to a commercial treaty with France (Dolley Madison to Ruth Baldwin Barlow, ca. 19 Apr. 1812 [CSmH]; Monroe to Barlow, 23 Apr. 1812 [DNA: RG 59, IM]).

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