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From James Madison to Congress, 8 June 1812 (Abstract)

§ To Congress

8 June 1812. “I lay before Congress copies of letters which have passed between the Secretary of State and the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Great Britain.”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, 1 June 1812, and Monroe to Foster, 8 June 1812 (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, 3:459–60, 464); and Foster to Monroe, 4 June 1812 (two letters), and Monroe to Foster, 6 June 1812 (printed ibid., 3:460–62). The first two letters continued the discussion between Foster and Monroe on the charges that Great Britain and the U.S. had been enticing each other’s seamen to desert (see JM to Congress, 1 June 1812, and n. 1). On this occasion Foster sent to the secretary of state five sets of papers relating to British seamen who had been detained against their will on board U.S. warships that had recently visited Great Britain, from which he concluded that “it is not on this side of the water alone that the inconvenience necessarily resulting from the similarity of habits, language and manners between the Inhabitants of the two Countries is productive of subjects of Complaint and regret.” The minister, however, invoked “natural and strong inducements for a Conformity of interests, and most particularly for a readiness to give and receive mutual explanations upon all subjects of difference.” The prince regent, he added, would “continue to give the most positive Orders against the detention of American Citizens on board His Majesty’s Ships,” and he promised that no difficulties “beyond what are requisite for clearly ascertaining the national character of Individuals whose cases are brought before the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty will be interposed to prevent or delay their immediate discharge.”

In his 8 June reply, Monroe was unwilling to concede the strength of Foster’s charge “on the evidence produced” but promised, nevertheless, to look into the matter. Otherwise he denied the premise of Foster’s argument that Great Britain and the U.S. were equally guilty of the same offense, and he elaborated on the differences in the way the two nations treated the problem of impressment. As for the prince regent’s promise to issue orders against the detention of Americans on board British vessels, Monroe expressed the hope that this might help prevent “the great source of the evil,” the impressment of Americans on the high seas, but he doubted that it would go very far toward obtaining the release of the thousands of Americans already scattered in British vessels throughout “remote parts of the globe.” And the difficulties and delays likely to arise from providing the Admiralty with proofs of the nationality of U.S. citizens, he noted, “are too obvious to need explanation.”

The second set of three letters was a further installment in the correspondence on clarifying Great Britain’s requirements for the repeal of the orders in council that JM had sent to Congress on 4 June. In the first of the two 4 June letters enclosed here by JM, Foster continued to remonstrate with the secretary of state over the uses he had made of a dispatch written by Lord Castlereagh; the minister was clearly upset that the administration had revealed its existence to Congress before discussing its contents with him. Foster also denied that his note of 30 May was “liable to the charge of ambiguity.” He pointed out that France was trying to link the repeal of the orders in council to “the abandonment of our most important maritime rights” but then declined to discuss the matter in detail in order to avoid the difficulties to which he might expose himself in attempting an explanation of “any insulated passage” in his note.

Foster’s reluctance to make further explanations of his 30 May note was reinforced by his reading (in the National Intelligencer on 4 June) of a recent statement made by the prince regent (on 21 Apr. 1812) of Great Britain’s requirements for the repeal of the orders in council (see Joel Barlow to JM, 2 May 1812, and n. 3). This statement—that the orders in council would be revoked when France, by an “authentic act … publickly promulgated,” had repealed the Berlin and Milan decrees—was the subject of Foster’s second 4 June letter enclosed here by JM. Reminding Monroe that he had long been urging the U.S. to produce such a document, the British minister anticipated that the prince regent’s declaration might be the prelude to “some official communication to the American Government” in the near future. Until he had received this communication, Foster trusted that “no measure will meanwhile be adopted by the Congress which would defeat the Endeavour of procuring the complete reconciliation between our two Countries.” In the event of any difficulties arising from a repeal of the orders in council “resting at present upon a mere statement in the News-papers,” Foster undertook to remind the administration “that on the enactment of those orders a measure was taken by Congress for the purpose of meeting them when they were as yet known but thro’ the Public Prints.”

Ignoring this insinuation that the Embargo of December 1807 had been a hasty and ill-advised measure, Monroe in his 6 June response stated that he would not be disposed to make any “unnecessary difficulty” in the event that the removal of the orders in council was announced in an informal document, provided the declaration of the prince regent “was such as to afford the satisfaction desired.” However, he went on, he could see nothing in the prince regent’s declaration (of 21 Apr. 1812) that justified any optimism on this score, and since that declaration failed to remove a single American objection to the principles underlying the orders in council, the U.S. remained justified in its demand for their repeal. Monroe then reargued the injustice of Great Britain’s insistence that the U.S. should require France to remove its decrees for all neutral nations in order for Great Britain to lift its orders with respect to the U.S., and he reminded the British minister that the U.S. “required of Great Britain no more than they required of France, namely, that her unlawful edicts should be repealed so far as they related to us.”

Further to this point, Monroe hinted, in effect, that Great Britain should have already repealed the orders in council, and he did so on the grounds that if Great Britain could adduce the duc de Bassano’s recent report to the French Senate as evidence that the Berlin and Milan decrees “are now in force, it is not perceived on what ground the high evidence which has been afforded of their repeal [i.e., the Cadore letter of August 1810] could have been resisted.” The secretary of state also restated his objections to British allegations that American demands had been combined with those of France in order to compel Great Britain to abandon its maritime rights, and he then repeated yet again that all the U.S. demanded with respect to the British orders was that “they cease to violate the neutral rights of the United States, which they have long violated, and still violate on the High Seas.” If Great Britain wished to continue the orders against France in forms that did not violate American rights, the U.S. would not complain. In this context, Monroe repeated his earlier assertion that the duc de Bassano’s report could not be regarded by Great Britain as “proof that the French Government intended by it, to violate its engagement to the United States, as to the Repeal of the decrees.” That report, he stated, referred only to the Continental System as “the means relied on to enforce it,” and “the armies of France can be of no avail either in the support, or violation of maritime Rights.”

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