James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 12 June 1809

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington June 12. 1809

Dr. Sir

The Pacific has just returned from G. B. bringing the accts. to be seen in the Newspapers. The communications from Pinkney add little to them. The new orders, considering the time, and that the act was known on the passage of which the instructions lately executed by Erskine, were predicated, present a curious feature in the conduct of the B Cabinet.1 It is explained by some at the expence of its sincerity. It is more probably ascribed, I think to an awkwardness in getting out of an awkward situation, and to the policy of witholding as long as possible from France, the motive of its example, to advances on her part towards adjustment with us. The crooked proceeding seems to be operating as a check to the extravagance of credit given to G. B. for her late arrangement with us; and so far may be salutary. Be assured of my constant affection

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson, “recd June 14.”

1Word of new orders in council gave JM his first hint that something concerning the Erskine agreement did not ring true. His anxiety stemmed from the London report, carried via the Pacific, that told of a revised order in council of 26 Apr. Instead of conforming to the Erskine accord (that is, withdrawing U.S. vessels from the threat of all such orders by 10 June), the latest decree redefined the European area subject to the British “paper” blockade. Ships from any nation clearing such continental ports “without any exceptions … shall be condemned” and their cargoes confiscated (National Intelligencer, 12 June 1809). In fact, news of the Erskine agreement reached London on 21 May and was soon disavowed by the British cabinet. However, the British government “announced that American ships that sailed for Europe in a belief that the Orders in Council had been lifted would be permitted to complete their voyages” (Perkins, Prologue to War, p. 213).

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