James Madison Papers

From James Madison to James Monroe, 26 December 1803

To James Monroe


Washington Decr. 26. 1803

Dear Sir

I have recd I believe all your letters public and private down to that of October 22,1 written merely to say that all continued well. I have taken due care of the communications on the subject of your ______.2 Every thing seems to be well understood on this side the water. I can not say more now as I write of necessity without cypher.

Mr. Merry has been with us some time. He appears to be an amiable man in private Society, and a candid and agreeable one in public business. A foolish circumstance of etiquette has created some sensibility in Mrs. Merry and perhaps himself;3 but they will find so uniform & sincere a disposition in all connected with the Govt. to cultivate a cordial society with them, and to manifest every proper respect for their characters and station, that if any unfavorable impression has happened, it must be very transient. It would be unfortunate if it were otherwise, because a dissatisfaction of whatever sort, or however produced, might mingle itself with his general feelings, and thro’ them, with the agency committed to him.

We have had several conversations both incidental & formal on the topics most interesting to the two Countries. I have taken pains to make him sensible of the tendency of certain proceedings on the British side, and of their injustice as well as impolicy. I communicated to him a few days ago, the intention of the president to explain our views fully to you on these topics, and to authorise you to negociate such conventional eclaircissements and arrangements, as may put an end to every danger to which the harmony between the two countries is now subjected. His ideas appeared to be moderate, & his dispositions conciliating. As he will doubtless communicate to his Govt. what passed between us,4 I think it proper, in order to place you on a level of information, to observe briefly, that the plan will be to get rid of impressments altogether on the high seas, to define blockades & contraband according to the last Treaty between G. B. & Russia,5 to regulate visits & searches of our vessels, according to the Treaty of 1786 between G. B. and France,6 to put aside the doctrine, that a Colonial trade, not allowed in time of peace, is unlawful in time of war; and in return to agree to a mutual surrender of deserters from ships and from garrisons, and to a legislative provision agst. exporting articles enumerated as contraband to places within the jurisdiction of an enemy. This will be the outline, excepting a few minor propositions. The subject is now before the Cabinet, and it will not be long before it will be forwarded to you in its details. It is much to be desired that something may be done to consolidate the good understanding between the two nations, and I really believe that there is nothing aimed at by us that is not for the true interest of both parties. I am not without hopes that Mr. Merry sees the business in a good degree in the same light, and that his representations will co-operate with your reasonings on it. I am glad to learn that in Europe violations of our maritime rights are so much mitigated in comparison with the former war. It is a good omen. In the American seas, however the scene is very different, and I fear is growing worse & worse. Impressments and other outrages on our flag are multiplying, and the depredations under pretext of blockades, are going on in rivalship with all the extravagances of the last war. I will send herewith if I can, certain documents, both as to impressments, and blockades which will explain the justice of these remarks, and satisfy you, as they ought to do, the British Govt. that the friendship & patience of this Country are put to a severe trial. A Bill has been brought into Congress with a view to some remedy.7 It proposes to forbid the use of our pilots, our ports, and our supplies & hospitalities to any Ship of war which shall be proved & proclaimed to have impressed or otherwise insulted those on board our vessels. Whether it will be pursued into a law is uncertain; but if it should not the forbearance will proceed merely from a hope that a remedy to the evil is contemplated by negociation. The public mind is rising to a state of high sensibility, and no other consideration than such a hope would I am persuaded, suspend the effect of it on the Legislative Councils. It is to be wished that the introduction of the Bill may not be misconstrued into any unfriendly disposition towards G. Britain. I have every reason to believe that the supposed necessity of it is deeply regretted, and that a just accomodation of all differences with G. B. will give the most sincere and general satisfaction. Louisiana was delivered by the Spanish Authorities at N. Orleans to Laussat on the 30th. of Novr. Our Comssrs. Claibourne & Wilkinson with their troops were at Fort-Adams on their way to receive the transfer to the U. States. All difficulties are therefore at an end, in that quarter. Nothing appears to have passed in relation to W Florida, or the boundaries in general. It is understood that Spain does not include any territory E. of the Misspi. except the Island of N. O. in the idea of Louisiana. It will be an easy matter to take possession according to our idea. The mode alone can beget a question. You omitted the bill of the Paris Silver Smith, referred to in your last. Yrs.

J. M.

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