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To James Madison from Richard Rush, 15 November 1820

From Richard Rush

London November 15. 1820.

Dear sir,

Your acceptable favor of the 12th of August, reached me about a month ago.

I fear that this government will continue deaf to every expostulation that can be addressed to it on the subject of the West India trade. In the negociation of 1818,1 when Mr Gallatin was here, we made the attempt with all earnestness to prevail upon them to give up their narrow doctrines, but to no effect; whilst separate exertions on my part since have been as fruitless. We have urged upon the ministers all the points so often and ably taken in our state papers of past date, as well as such others as more recent times may have made applicable, in maintainance of our reasonable claims; but they have been met by silence, or by answers that have been refuted before. They will not consent to any enumeration by name of all the ports in the West Indies which we claim to be opened to our vessels; or that our trade with their colonies on the continent and Bermuda, should be as confined as that which they say they would be willing to let us carry on with the Islands direct; or that the duties on articles to be sent to the Islands in our ships should be the same (and not higher) as on the same articles when imported into the Islands from their own North American colonies. So long as they continue to refuse their consent to these points, not to speak to others, it is plain, as a moments examination of them would show, that all reciprocity of navigation would be but nominal on our side. The truth is, that it is the clamours of their Nova Scotian and Canadian subjects that cause the ministry to hold on to their errors, so contrary to the more enlightened notions that are fast spreading over the commercial world. A political motive has also its weight, for the delusive opinion is fostered here, that their North American colonies may be so strengthened as to become at no very distant day, effective barriers to our power. The great increase of the trade of those colonies, under the influence of extraordinary encouragements, helps to extend this opinion. It employed in 1819 three hundred and forty thousand tons of British shipping, timber being nearly the exclusive article of carriage. This amount of tonnage has been growing up most rapidly since 1814. It then stood at little more than one hundred thousand. It will decline as fast whenever the timber trade of the north of Europe is opened to this country.

The trial of the queen having ended in the overthrow of the bill of pains and penalties against her, it becomes a question whether the ministry will be able to withstand the popular clamour that may be expected to burst forth against them. As yet I see no sufficient grounds for believing that there will be a change, and I have never thought, since the first month after my residence here, that we have any reason to wish a change. It is true, that the present ministry will not open the West India trade to us, or settle impressment, or any of the other disputed points between the two countries that are only laid by for a time. But where, we may ask, has been the British ministry that would? Upon the whole, I do not recollect any ministry that has shown better dispositions towards us, if as good, at any one period since we have been a nation, as Lord Castlereagh and his associates, speaking always of the time that has elapsed since the termination of the last war. The idea of more friendly feelings towards us from the Whigs, is, I think, imaginary, notwithstanding all that is said by their Edinburgh advocates, in the review of Mr Walsh’s appeal.2 The Whigs are essentially aristocratick, perhaps the more highly so at this day from their long exclusion from power; and the dread which they now seem to have of being identified with the Reformers, perhaps drives them farther off from our republicanism than even the tories, who have no such dread. Witness Lord Greys denunciation of the principles of our constitution at Newcastle, two years ago.3 Witness what Mr. Tierney,4 their leader in the house of commons, has said of us of late in that house. Witness the speeches of one and all of the party in both houses of parliament, and even that of Sir Robert Wilson5 who is a Reformer on the affair of Arbuthnot and Armbrister, and on the Florida treaty. The Whigs from the days of the stamp act, have been defending our cause only as it has been connected with their own here. Take from them that incentive, and my belief is, that we shall be disappointed if we ever calculate upon any other feelings from them than those of coldness, not to say hostility. There is no party in England favorable to us. All dislike us. The most that we shall ever get in England is, here and there, the good will of insulated individuals. But it is the fashion of the nation, and the feeling of all parties in it, as parties, to scoff at us. I repeat, that, in my opinion, if we expect a better ministry for us than the present, we shall most probably be disappointed, should any change take place.

You will have perceived, that the monarchs of Russia, Austria and Prussia are assembled at Troppau.6 France and England have each a representative there also. The late changes in Spain, Portugal and Naples, so favourable to popular rights, form the objects of this new Congress. What is likely to result from its deliberations, I have, as yet, no sufficient lights for predicting. A loan of forty millions of rubles has lately been obtained by Russia from the Barings and Hope, and Austria has obtained a smaller one, about three millions sterling, from the Rothchilds. These are facts rather leading to the conjecture, that at least some military preparations are in contemplation. I remain, dear sir, with constant and affectionate respect, and with all the friendship that I may be allowed to express, your faithful and attached servt.

Richard Rush

RC (PHi: Richard Rush Papers). Docketed by JM.

1For the Anglo-American negotiations that culminated in the Convention of 1818, see Rush to JM, 13 Dec. 1818, PJM-RS description begins David B. Mattern et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Retirement Series (2 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 2009–). description ends 1:391–92, and n. 5.

2See the review of Robert Walsh Jr.’s An Appeal from the Judgments of Great Britain in the Edinburgh Review 33 (1820): 395–431. There the reviewer drew a distinction between the Tories and their publications, “a party in this country not friendly to political liberty, and decidedly hostile to all extension of popular rights” (ibid., 399), and the Whigs, “another and a far more numerous party … who are … friends to America, and to all that Americans most value in their character and institutions” (ibid., 400–401).

3Charles Grey, second Earl Grey (1764–1845) was a Whig member of Parliament from Northumberland, 1786–1807, First Lord of the Admiralty, and then foreign secretary, 1806–7, and a member of the House of Lords from 1807 until his death. He was prime minister from 1830 to 1834 and under his auspices the Great Reform Act was passed in 1832 (E. A. Smith, Lord Grey, 1764–1845 [Oxford, 1990], 7, 9–11, 100, 108, 132, 258, 277–78, 306–7, 324). For Lord Grey’s speech at the annual Fox dinner at Newcastle on 31 Dec. 1818, see the Newcastle Courant, 9 Jan. 1819.

4George Tierney (1761–1830) was a Whig member of Parliament, 1789–90 and 1796–1830 (Thorne, History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 5:384–98).

5Sir Robert Thomas Wilson (1777–1849) was a member of Parliament from Southwark, 1818–31, who supported reform and generally voted with the Whigs (ibid., 5:604–6).

6The conference at Troppau, Silesia, in October 1820 was one of several meetings the Allies held to discuss the means of opposing revolutionary changes in Europe. The protocol adopted by Austria, Russia, and Prussia, but not signed by Great Britain or France, required that any state that had undergone a revolution would be summarily dismissed from the European alliance, and if that state posed a danger to any of the others, the signatories would combine, “by peaceful means, or if need be by arms,” to return that state to the alliance (John Acton, The Cambridge Modern History (13 vols.; 1902–12; reprint, Cambridge, 1969), 10:27–29).

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