James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to Congress, 4 June 1812 (Abstract)

§ To Congress

4 June 1812. “I transmit, for the information of Congress, copies of a correspondence of the Minister Plenipotentiary of Great Britain, with the Secretary of State.”1

RC and enclosures, two copies (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1; and DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, 12A-E2). Each RC 1 p.; in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1JM forwarded copies of the following letters: Foster to Monroe, 30 May (31 pp.) and 3 June 1812 (1 p.); and Monroe to Foster, 3 June (3 pp.) and 4 June 1812 (2 pp.) (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, 3:454–57, 460). In the first letter, Foster sent Monroe a translation (3 pp.) of the duc de Bassano’s 10 Mar. 1812 report to Napoleon and the French Senate (printed ibid., 3:457–59), and he argued that not only was this document proof that the Berlin and Milan decrees had never been repealed, but it constituted a “Republication” of those decrees “in a more aggravated form.” Foster then attacked Bassano’s report at length in order to expose and refute the “obnoxious doctrines” of maritime law it embodied, and he accused the U.S. of being too readily disposed to serve Napoleon’s “insidious” purposes in this respect. Consequently, Foster declared, his government was entitled to expect from the U.S. “an unreserved and candid disclaimer of the right of France to impose on her and on the world the maritime code which has been thus promulgated,” adding that the U.S. “as the case now stands has not a pretence for claiming from Great Britain a Repeal of her Orders in Council.” Great Britain, he pointed out, had never agreed that the lifting of its orders would follow from any “partial or conditional repeal” of the French decrees; only the absolute and unconditional removal of those decrees could produce that result. In the interim, Foster demanded that the U.S. “cease to treat Great Britain as an Enemy.” The prince regent, he concluded, sincerely wished to conciliate America but not at the cost of abandoning the means upon which “the preservation of the Power and independence of the British Monarchy is held essentially to depend.”

Monroe responded on 3 June by questioning whether Foster had accurately stated his government’s conditions for the repeal of the orders in council, recalling in this context that Foster had shown him a dispatch from Lord Castlereagh in which a different language was used, namely that the French decrees “must not be repealed singly and specially in relation to the United States, but be repealed also as to all other neutral nations, and that in no less extent of a repeal of the decrees had the British Government ever pledged itself to repeal the orders in council.” Replying on the same day, Foster objected to Monroe’s official reference to a dispatch that had been shown to him in confidence, but he nevertheless agreed, with some reservations, that his 30 May letter contained “the whole substance of the dispatch alluded to.” Monroe dismissed these concerns the next day with the remark that Lord Castlereagh himself had authorized Foster to show his dispatch to the U.S. government, and the secretary of state added that he had accordingly shown it to the president on that basis. Complaining that the administration could not receive one communication intended for itself and then submit to Congress another with a different meaning, Monroe repeated his request for an unambiguous statement of the requirements for the repeal of the orders in council, specifically whether Foster’s claim that France must “absolutely and unconditionally” repeal its decrees meant that “the decrees must be rescinded in relation to other neutral nations, as well as to the United States, previous to a repeal of the orders in Council in relation to the UStates.”

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