James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, [14] December 1803

From James Monroe

No. 18.

London, December [14] 1803.


I have just received your circular letter of October 22d.1 with a copy of the President’s message to the Congress at the commencement of the session. It is with the highest satisfaction I learn, that the treaty and conventions with France are ratified by the President with the advice of the Senate; that the ratifications are exchanged; and that the ceded territory will be taken possession of immediately by our troops. These events are of incalculable advantage to our country, as they secure to us the great object on which its happiness is so dependant. By taking possession of the territory the business may be considered as essentially concluded. It is impossible that we should ever be disturbed in the enjoyment of it. Spain will never be able to molest us, if she should have the inclination: nor can any other power be so disposed, if it had the ability. The promptitude and decision with which the object is pursued, will I am persuaded reflect much honor on our councils, while it produces the happiest effect in our concerns with every European power. Had the President hesitated to take possession of the country, other powers might have been prompted thereby to intermeddle in the affair. Good offices might have been offered us by some to pursue the object; while she might have been encouraged by others to oppose us in it. But by taking immediate possession, all political calculation or speculation respecting either party is at an end. We want no aid of any power to secure us in it, and certainly none will be offered her to turn us out of it. Our title under our treaty with France is as good to Louisiana, as it is under our revolution and charters to any portion of the Old States, and I would as soon submit to negociation a question relative to the one as the other.

The President’s message to Congress has I think produced a good effect here. It has been published in all the papers and criticised in one only, which is inclosed.2 A principal ground of objection in that is, the application of the term “enlightened” to the government of France, which the writer tortures into the expression of an Opinion on the merits of the controversy between these powers. The sentiment has not been adopted by any other editor, nor have I heard it expressed in conversation. All impartial persons seem aware that the phrase is applicable only to the great transaction between the two countries, to which it specially refers, and tho’ a handsome, was nevertheless a fair and candid comment on the motives which govern⟨e⟩d the councils of France in the part she acted in it. The Strong manner in which it announces a resolution to observe an impartial neutrality in the present war, and to cultivate the friendship o⟨f⟩ the parties to it, by fair and honorable means, appears to give satisfaction to all.

I have lately presented a note to this government on the impressment of our seamen, of which I send you a copy.3 It is founded as you will see on a report of Mr. Erving, which being drawn on due consideration, and appearing well adapted to the object, I did not enlarge on it. I expect soon to get a satisfactory answer to it; though as it goes to an object, in detail, of great importance to them, especially at this moment, it is natural to infer that it will be referred to the Admiralty, and be a subject of much deliberation in their councils. In conversations with the Ministers which were frequent before the note was presented, I had assurances that any communications I might find necessary to make them on the subject would be duly attended to. I thought it better to present a note than to rely on informal conversations alone, since altho’ by the latter mode occasional accomodations, in special cases, may be obtained, yet by the former only can any useful principles or regulations be established for the common interest and harmony of the two countries. You will, I am persuad⟨ed,⟩ find by the communication, that altho’ our rights and views are sufficiently explained and vindicated, yet no specific point is positively insisted on. If this government accedes to what we have a just right to claim, its conduct will be the more deserving of our esteem, since by the mode of application it will be the more voluntary, than under a stronger pressure. By the mode nothing is conceded on our part, so that I have it in my power to take the course which you shall instruct, on a view of all the circumstances which merit attention, in the present juncture of affairs.

Whether Russia or any other power will take part in the war seems to be quite uncertain. Great reliance has been placed on Russia here of late, but not on ground sufficiently satisfactory that I have seen; tho’ it is possible that others may be better informed on that head. All the powers on the continent, especially those in the neighborhood of France, were so exhausted by the late war, that I am persuaded they will not embark in it, unless some very favorable occasion should invite them, or urgency in other respects make it inevitable. Much may depend on the issue of the projected invasion, whether it succeeds, fails, or is declined: and as much must depend also in either case on the circumstances attending it, it would be vain to hazard any Conjecture on events so contingent. I see no symptom which indicates any immediate change being likely to take place in the Ministry; nor is there any thing more doubtful, than of what characters it woud be composed should one take place. The respective parties, at whose head are Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, have opposite views. The first seems to be friendly to a vigorous prosecution of the war, and a support of the high prerogatives of the crown; the second to peace and a reform. The ministry seems to have compromitted itself with neither as yet, while by pursuing the war it has the support in a certain degree, of the first, and by its moderation and amiable deportment, in a certain degree also, of the other; so that any conjectures on this point would likewise be equally vague. I am happy to observe that I see no reason to suppose that there would be any alteration in the conduct of this government towards us under any change which might possibly take place in the Ministry. I am, Sir, with great respect and esteem, Your most obedient servant

Jas. Monroe

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