James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Anthony Merry, 24 June 1804

From Anthony Merry

Washington June 24th. 1804.


By the Post of Yesterday Evening I received Letters from Mr Barclay, His Majesty’s Consul General at New York, acquainting me with the Arrival at that Port of His Majesty’s Ships Cambrian and Driver, and transmitting to me Copy of a Letter (a Transcript of which I have the Honor to inclose) which had been addressed to him by the Mayor of New York1 requiring that His Majesty’s said Ships should not quit the Port until the Expiration of Twenty Four Hours after the Departure of Two Frigates belonging to the French Republic which had arrived there previously, and which intended to sail the first fair Wind. Mr Barclay further informs me, that, having communicated the Requisition to the Commanding Officer of His Majesty’s Ships, and the latter having replied to it by saying that he was under Orders to proceed to Sea immediately, an Inhibition (of which Mr Barclay has transmitted to me a Copy, and of which I have also the Honor to inclose a Transcript)2 had been issued, in Consequence, as it is expressed, of Orders from the Mayor, by the Wardens of the Port of New York, addressed to all the Pilots of the Port, not to conduct His Majesty’s Ships out of it until the Expiration of Twenty Four Hours after the sailing of the French Frigates, provided the latter should leave the Port with the first fair Wind.

It appears, Sir, from this Statement that the Commanding Officer of His Majesty’s Ships wished to proceed to Sea immediately, and that he was detained by the abovementioned Inhibition to the Pilots to conduct the Ships under his Command out of the Port till a Wind should spring up which should be favorable to convey the French Frigates to their Destination.

This Proceeding on the Part of the Mayor, and of the other Persons who cooperated with him, seems to present so manifest an Act of Partiality towards His Majesty’s Enemies, and, consequently, a Breach of that Neutrality which the Government of the United States have professed, and, I am persuaded, mean, to observe in the present War, that I can lose no Time in fulfilling my Duty by having the Honor to lay the Case before you, and to solicit that the necessary Orders may be dispatched forthwith to the Officers of the Government of the United States at New York to afford to His Majesty’s Ships the Means of getting out of that Port immediately, and to observe in Future the strictest Neutrality between His Majesty and His Enemies.

Permit me, Sir, to observe that the Breach of it in this Instance might have been avoided, and that the Law, or Usage, with Respect to the Detention of the armed Vessel of one Nation till Twenty Four Hours should elapse after the Departure of an armed Vessel of another, between which Hostilities should exist, might also have been adhered to, by a simple Requisition, or Notification of the Law, to both Parties at the same Time, in order to prevent whichever of the Two might sail first from being pursued by the other; and that, if any further Injunction or Measures had been necessary on the Occasion, they should have been directed rather to the French Frigates than to His Majesty’s Ships, since the Commanding Officer of the latter had declared that it was his Intention to sail immediately, whereas the Notice which the Mayor expresses to have received respecting the Departure of the former states that they meant to leave the Port only with the first fair Wind. It is clear that the Law, or Usage, in Question has been established only to prevent one Ship of War from following another to Sea within the Time limited, and not to impede that which is desirous of sailing first from quitting the Port. The Means, therefore, employed to detain His Majesty’s Ships, which wanted to proceed to Sea immediately, until Twenty Four Hours should have elapsed after a fair Wind had offered for the French Frigates to sail, cannot, I conceive, be considered otherwise than as unwarrantable, and as constituting the Breach of Neutrality of which I have the Honor to complain.

From the known Sentiments of Justice of the Government of the United States, and from their Disposition to adhere strictly to the Line of Neutrality which they have professed to observe in the present War, I cannot doubt, Sir, but that this Representation, with the Observations it contains, will be sufficient to produce the immediate Transmission, which I have solicited, of every Order necessary on the Subject.

It may be proper, Sir, that I should add, that no other Motive being stated in the Orders given by the Mayor of New York to prevent the Sailing of His Majesty’s Ships than the intended Departure of the French Frigates, the Detention of the former is a Point which has no Reference to the Proceedings of the Officers of those Ships on their Arrival at that Port, of which you did me the Honor to speak to me Yesterday.3 I have the Honor to be, with high Consideration and Respect, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant

Ant: Merry.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, NFL, Great Britain, vol. 3); Tr and Tr of enclosures (PRO: Foreign Office, ser. 5, 42:50–52, 68–71); Tr and Tr of enclosures (PRO: Nicholls Papers). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Merry.

1Merry enclosed a copy of DeWitt Clinton to Thomas Barclay, 17 June 1804 (1 p.; docketed by Wagner). For another copy, see Clinton to JM, 19 June 1804, and n. 1.

2Merry enclosed a copy of the order to the pilots of the port of New York from wardens Jonathan Lawrence, John Gelston, and Thomas Farmar, 18 June 1804 (1 p.; docketed by Wagner), forbidding them to conduct British ships out of the port.

3In a 2 July letter to Hawkesbury, Merry reported that he had met with JM on 23 June at JM’s request. “After a short Preface he gave me to peruse an Affidavit … made by the Officer commanding a Revenue Cutter of the United States at New York respecting the Proceedings of the Officers of His Majesty’s Ships Cambrian and Driver, which had arrived there on the 16th., in having prevented, by Menaces and other improper Language, the Revenue and Health Officers from doing the Duty of their respective Departments on board the British Ship Pitt that had just come into the Port, and had been boarded previously by Officers, with a Party of Men, from the abovementioned Ships, for the Purpose of pressing the Seamen. Mr. Madison complained of the Impressment, from its having taken place within the Port, although on board a British Ship, and of the other Acts committed by His Majesty’s Officers, as they are stated in the Affidavit, as being such a Violation of the American Territory, and an Outrage against the Laws as could not possibly be tolerated, and as requiring a Vindication of the Sovereignty of the United States by the immediate Punishment of the Offenders. He said that he had requested to see me in order to learn whether it would be possible for me to lend my Assistance, by communicating an Opinion and Advice on the Subject to the British Commanding Officer, towards the Satisfaction that was deemed necessary being obtained, for the Purpose of obviating those Difficulties and disagreeable Consequences which might arise should the regular Process of the Law be resisted by those who had been guilty of the Outrages complained of, when he informed me that the Terms of Satisfaction which the American Government considered that they had a Right to insist upon, were, the immediate Restitution of the Persons (to the Number of Fourteen) who had been pressed, an Apology on the Part of the Commanding Officer for that Act, as well as for having authorized the Proceedings of those under his Command, and the Delivery of the particular Officer who had resisted and insulted the Revenue and Quarantine Officers in the Execution of their Duty, in order that he individually might be prosecuted. In my Reply to the Secretary of State, I observed that, his Communication having been the first that had reached me on the Subject, it appeared proper to hear both Parties before a Resolution were taken as to the Measures to be pursued, and that, having no direct Authority myself over His Majesty’s Officers to enforce a Compliance on their Part with the Conditions he had thought proper to propose, supposing the Offences alleged against them should appear to have been really committed, and, moreover, with a Wish to obviate those serious ill Consequences which might ensue to the Harmony between the Two Governments should a Resistance be shewn and coercive Measures be resorted to to enforce the Execution of the Laws, I would wish to persuade him to prefer a more amicable Mode of obtaining Satisfaction by referring for it to the Known Justice of His Majesty’s Government. I am sorry, My Lord, that the Efforts I used to obtain the Adoption of this Suggestion were not attended with any Success” (Merry to Hawkesbury, 2 July 1804, PRO: Nicholls Papers).

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