James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to John Armstrong, 15 November 1813

To John Armstrong

Washington Novr. 15. 1813

Dear Sir

I have recd. your[s] of the 8th. from Sacket’s Harbour:1 & shall look in a few days for some result of the critical posture of our military affairs on the St. Lawrence. The weather here has become suddenly very cold, but without snow or rain; and seems to be getting back to a milder state. If it has not been more than proportionally worse at the scene of operations, the prosecution of them will not have been obstructed by that cause, and hopes may be indulged, that they will be successful. I have had some apprehensions from the dates of reinforcements from England, that they might arrive in time to strengthen the hands of Prevost, but if they be not greater than are stated, and his previous force be as limited as it is understood to be, the prospect would still be hopeful.

In chusing the place for Hull’s trial, which should be delayed as little longer as may be, the primary consideration certainly is the convenie[n]cy to the Army; and I do not know that the secondary one which regards the witnesses affords material objections to Albany. The time and place at which they are to attend, can not be too soon made known, some of the important witnesses being now in the Atlantic States, who may soon return to the Western.

The vindictive order from Montreal, threatens a serious retaliating contest. Altho’ the Enemy have so great an excess of prisoners in their hands that scarcely any success at Montreal will ballance it, we must meet them with determination.2

The late communications from Harrison & Cass, the latter just appd Govr. of Michigan, call our attention to several points:

  • 1. The Govt. of the conquered Terretory. On this point the answer is that the military authority of the conqueror, to be exercised with as much lenity and as little needless innovation as possible; must prevail untill the Legisl: authy may interpose.3
  • 2. As to the Indians. The temporary arrangements made on the spot for taking advantage of their depression, without infusing despair, will suffi⟨ce⟩ till the case be more systematically provided for.4
  • 3. The supplies of food to the Inhabitants of Michigan. On this point Cass has been told that they are to be continued as far as may be imperiously required by humanity; which must justify to Congs. such an application of money not contemplated by the law.5
  • 4. It is asked whether & how the injuries suffered by individuals in violation of the Capitulation are to be indemnified.6 As indemnity is not to be looked for from the Natl. Treasury no mode presents itself for consideration, but that of sending an estimate & demand to the B.7 Commander. But this step would be ineligible, without a previous decision, that in case of the presumed failure, the amount should be taken by military distress from the most able & obnoxious inhabitants of Canada under our power. This would be a course more8 approaching to justice; but being a novel one & difficult also, it ought to be weighed, before it be adopted. It will be proper however without a special reference to such a purpose, to have an estimate of the damages in question made out, as within the Resoln. of Congs. which requires a report of all acts of the Enemy violating the laws & u⟨sa⟩ges of war.9

You will learn from the War office, what has been done & is going on in the S.W. quarter.

Not a line yet from our Envoys to Russia.

Draft (DLC); Tr (DLC, series 3). Minor differences between the copies have not been noted.

1Here JM interlined “Albany”; Tr has “Albany.”

2JM referred to George Prevost’s 17 Oct. 1813 letter to Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson, in which Prevost stated that he had sent the British government a copy of Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn’s 31 May 1813 letter informing him that Dearborn had “put into close confinement twenty-three British soldiers, to be kept as hostages for the safe keeping and restoration, on exchange” of twenty-three U.S. soldiers held in England as British subjects. The Prince Regent had thereupon ordered Prevost to “put in close confinement forty-six American officers and non-commissioned officers, to be held as hostages for the safe-keeping of the twenty-three British soldiers stated to have been put in close confinement by order of the American Government.” If any of the British prisoners were put to death, Prevost wrote, he would execute double that number of American hostages, and British forces would “prosecute the war with unmitigated severity against all cities, towns, and villages belonging to the United States, and against the inhabitants thereof.” Wilkinson forwarded a copy of the letter to Washington on 1 Nov. 1813 (ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends 3:635); it was published in the Daily National Intelligencer on 18 Nov. 1813. For the origins of the U.S. retaliation policy and the subsequent confinement of the twenty-three British hostages, see PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 5:547 n. 1.

3On 10 Oct. 1813 Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison informed Armstrong that the British had recently imposed martial law in the portion of Upper Canada now under U.S. control, and that Harrison would continue that arrangement until he received “the directions of the President” (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, H-247:7; printed in Esarey, Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indiana Historical Collections, 2:573–75). In a 21 Oct. 1813 letter to Armstrong, Lewis Cass enclosed an extract from Harrison’s general order of 18 Oct. vesting Cass with executive power in the conquered district. Cass requested “some explanation of the views of the Government” regarding the governance of the district, and recommended that martial law be maintained there for the time being (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, C-238:7).

4In his 21 Oct. 1813 letter to Armstrong (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, C-238:7), Cass enclosed a copy of the 14 Oct. 1813 armistice signed at Detroit by representatives of the United States and several Indian tribes. Harrison detailed his reasons for pursuing the armistice in his 10 Oct. letter to Armstrong, and on 16 Oct. sent a copy of the document to the secretary of war (Esarey, Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison, Indiana Historical Collections, 2:573–74, 577–80). For the terms of the armistice, see John Morton to JM, ca. 24 Oct. 1813, PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:710, 711 n. 2.

5Cass informed Armstrong on 21 Oct. 1813 that Michigan Territory was “entirely exhausted of its resources,” and that he had issued “a small supply of provision” to the inhabitants pending receipt of orders on the subject (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, C-238:7). In a 28 Oct. letter to the secretary of war, he stated that the countryside had been stripped by the British and Indians, and that without government intervention, the people of the territory would starve (ibid., C-237:7). Daniel Parker wrote Cass on 11 Nov. 1813: “The President directs me to state to you that the immediate necessities of the Inhabitants of Michigan, must be provided for by such issues of provisions as the public stores will warrant” (DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

6On 10 Nov. 1813 the Daily National Intelligencer suggested that “ample indemnity ought to be extended to the sufferers” of “the violation of the capitulation of Detroit,” and that “if our nation cannot by arms, obtain a counter-indemnification, perhaps it ought magnanimously to sustain the loss.” Following this editorial comment was a 1 Feb. 1813 memorial from twenty-nine residents of Detroit to then Col. Henry Procter, commanding British officer at Detroit, protesting their proposed forcible removal from the territory “as a flagrant, and gross violation of the 3d article of the Capitulation.” Cass, moreover, in his 28 Oct. 1813 letter to Armstrong, observed that “numberless facts” showed that Procter, during his tenure at Detroit, had not been inclined to prevent Indian attacks on American settlers (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, C-237:7). The third article of Brig. Gen. William Hull’s capitulation at Detroit on 16 Aug. 1812 consisted of the British pledge that “private persons and property of every description will be respected” (Michigan Historical Collections 40 [1929]: 469–70).

7Tr has “British.”

8Tr has “most.”

9For the resolution, see House of Representatives to JM, 31 July 1813, PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:490 and n. 1. The documentation attached to the committee report that precipitated the resolution included valuations of private property stolen and destroyed by British soldiers and their Indian allies (ASP, Military Affairs, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends 1:339–40, 362–63, 369–70).

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