James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 3 April 1812

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington April 3. 1812

Dear Sir

I have recd. your favor of the 26th. and have made to the members of the Cabinet the communication you suggest with respect to your printed memoir on the Batture. I learn from the Department of State that some books were recd. for you, and duly forwarded. What they were was not ascertained or remembered. If they do not on their arrival correspond with your expectation, let me know, & further enquiry will be made. Mean time there is in my possession, a very large packet, addressed to you, which is probably a Continuation of Humbolts draughts, or other Maps.1 It was accompanied by no letter to me, and being unfit for the mail, waits for the patronage of some trusty traveller, bound in the Stage towards Monticello. A late arrival from G. B. brings dates subsequent to the maturity of the Prince Regent’s Authority.2 It appears that Percival, &c. are to retain their places, and that they prefer war with us, to a repeal of their orders in Council. We have nothing left therefore, but to make ready for it. As a step to it an embargo for 60 days was recommended to Congs. on wednesday and agreed to in the H. of Reps. by about 70 to 40.3 The Bill was before the Senate yesterday, who adjourned about 4 or 5 OClock without a decision.4 Whether this result was produced by the rule which arms a single member with a veto agst. a decision in one day on a bill, or foretells a rejection of the Bill I have not yet heard. The temper of that body is known to be equivocal. Such a measure, even for a limited and short time, is always liable to adverse as well as favorable considerations; and its operation at this moment, will add fuel to party discontent, and interested clamor. But it is a rational & provident measure, and will be relished by a greater portion of the Nation, than an omission of it. If it could have been taken sooner and for a period of 3 or 4 months, it might have enlisted an alarm of the B. Cabinet, for their Peninsular System,5 on the side of Concessions to us; and wd. have shaken their obstinacy, if to be shaken at all; the successes on that Theatre, being evidently their hold on the P. Regt: and the hold of both on the vanity & prejudices of the nation.6 Whether if adopted for 60 days, it may beget apprehensions of a protraction, & thence lead to admissible overtures, before the sword is stained with blood, can not be foreknown with certainty. Such an effect is not to be counted upon. You will observe, that Liverpool was Secy. for the Foreign Dept. ad interum, & that Castlerea[g]h is the definitive successor of Wellesley.7 The resignation of this last, who has recd. no other appt. is a little mysterious. There is some reason for believing that he is at variance with Percival; or that he distrusts the stability of the existing Cabinet, and courts an alliance with the Grenville party, as likely to overset it. If none of that party desert their colours, the calculation can not be a very bad one; especially in case of war with the U. S: in addition to the distress of Br trade & manufactures, and the inflammation in Ireland; to say nothing of possible reverses in Spain & Portugal, which alone would cut up the Perceval ascendancy by the roots. From France we hear nothing. The delay of the Hornet is inexplicable, but on the reproachful supposition, that the F. Govt. is waiting for the final turn of things at London, before it takes its course, which justice alone ought to prescribe, towards us. If this be found to be its game, it will impair the value of concessions if made, and give to her refusal of them, consequences it may little dream of. Be assured of my constant and sincerest attachment

James Madison

I understand the Embargo will pass the Senate to day; and possibly with an extension of the period to 75. or 90 days.

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson as received on 8 Apr.

1For this material, see David Bailie Warden to JM, 2 Dec. 1811, and n. 1.

2The 2 Apr. 1812 issue of the National Intelligencer reported the receipt of British newspapers “down to the latter end of February,” adding that “they contain no information calculated to gratify American readers.” The editorial further remarked: “the Prince Regent of England, since the removal of the restrictions on his authority, has taken to his bosom the inveterate opponents of the principles which he has heretofore professed, and … the leaders of the Whig party have refused to coalesce in such an administration.” While some British newspapers predicted that the prince regent’s course would lead to “a re-union between the old Whig families and the body of the people … in an endeavor constitutionally to resist all encroachments on the part of the ministers of the crown,” the National Intelligencer declared: “This prospect, however gratifying, has no charms for us sufficient to counterbalance the reality of the evils America has to anticipate.” Not only had the prince regent declined to take the opportunity, “as was fondly expected by many, to shake off the Orders in Council,” but he seemed determined “to persevere in [their] execution … at every hazard.” The editorial concluded with a promise to publish further extracts from the proceedings of Parliament so that readers might form “a judgment … of the probability of a cessation from this system of legalized robbery which now disgraces the British policy towards us.”

3JM’s 1 Apr. request for a sixty-day embargo was passed by the House of Representatives the same day by a vote of 70 to 41 (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., 1587–98).

4The Senate commenced debate on JM’s embargo message on 2 Apr., but members declined to expedite its passage on the grounds that to do so would violate the rule requiring three readings of a bill on three separate days. Federalist senators James Lloyd of Massachusetts and James A. Bayard of Delaware also delayed proceedings by submitting motions that called, respectively, for the president “to lay before the Senate any information in possession of the Government, touching our foreign relations, which has not been already communicated,” and for the repeal of the Nonintercourse Act. The Senate passed the embargo bill on 3 Apr. by a vote of 20 to 13, but only after Michael Leib of Pennsylvania had carried an amendment extending the duration of the measure from sixty to ninety days. The House of Representatives concurred in the amendment on 4 Apr., and JM signed the bill the same day (ibid., 186–91).

5It is possible that JM had received some knowledge of the fact that in January 1812 the British minister in Lisbon had urgently requested Foster to purchase flour and corn in America to the value of £384,881 14s. 9d. for the British forces in Portugal. In this context Foster regretted the passage of the embargo, as it put “a stop to any further purchases of corn and flour” (Foster to Wellesley, 27 Feb. 1812 [PRO: Foreign Office, ser. 5, vol. 84]; postscript dated 4 Apr. in Foster to Wellesley, 3 Apr. 1812 [ibid., vol. 85]).

6JM’s remarks here seem to have been prompted by his reading of the newspapers recently arrived from Great Britain. In a letter written from Carlton House to his brother, the duke of York, on 13 Feb. 1812, which he intended to be conveyed to Lords Grey and Grenville, the prince regent stated: “In the critical situation of the war in the Peninsula I shall be most anxious to avoid every measure which can lead my allies to suppose that I mean to depart from the present system. Perseverance alone can achieve the great object in question, and I cannot withhold my approbation from those who have honorably distinguished themselves in support of it” (reprinted in the National Intelligencer, 2 Apr. 1812).

7After the failure of his efforts throughout 1810 to reintroduce George Canning into the ministry, Lord Wellesley became increasingly alienated from Prime Minister Perceval. The breach between the two men became irreparable in January 1812 following disagreements over the reorganization of the royal household and the size of the prince regent’s allowance. Wellesley offered to resign on 17 Jan. 1812, without informing Perceval that he had done so. Wellesley’s action was probably motivated by the hope that he might replace Perceval as prime minister, and according to Perceval’s biographer, it was widely believed in London at the time that all the ministers came “within an ace of being dismissed.” However, on 18 Feb. 1812, the day after the restrictions of the 1811 Regency Bill expired, the prince regent, unwilling to risk the consequences of displacing all his father’s ministers, accepted Wellesley’s resignation. Lord Liverpool was offered the position of temporary foreign secretary but argued that the Peninsula campaigns required him to devote all his attention to the War Department. With the departure of Wellesley, Perceval was finally able to persuade Lord Castlereagh to accept the position of foreign secretary and thus rejoin the ministry that he had quit in September 1809 (Gray, Spencer Perceval, pp. 435–48). The National Intelligencer, on 2 Apr. 1812, greeted the news of Castlereagh’s return with the statement: “America does not possess a more decided enemy.”

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