Robert Smith to Louis-Charles-Barbé Sérurier
Department of State February 20th. 1811.
Desirous of laying before the President, with the utmost precision, the substance of our conference of this day,1 and knowing that verbal communications are not unfrequently misunderstood, I consider it proper to propose to you in a written form the questions, which I have had the honor of submitting to you in conversation,2 namely;
1st Were the Berlin and Milan Decrees revoked in whole or in part on the first day of last November? Or have they at any time posterior to that day been so revoked? Or have you instructions from your Government to give to this Government any assurance or explanation in relation to the revocation or modification of these Decrees?
2d Do the existing Decrees of France admit into French ports, with or without licences, American vessels laden with the produce of the United States? and under what regulations and conditions?
3 Do they admit into French ports with or without licences, American vessels laden with Articles not the produce of the United States, and under what regulations and conditions?
4 Do they permit American vessels, with or without licences, to return from France to the United States, and upon what terms and conditions?
5 Is the importation into France of any articles the produce of the United States absolutely prohibited? and if so, what are the articles so prohibited, and especially are Tobacco and Cotton.
6 Have you instructions from your Government to give to this Government any assurance or explanation in relation to the American vessels and cargoes seized under the Rambuillet Decree?3
FC (MdHi). In a clerk’s hand, with Smith’s note: “NB. The sending of this letter not approved by the President / RS.”
1. State Department clerk John Graham was present at this conference and made a record of the conversation, which, he wrote, “turned principally upon three subjects viz 1st. The Repeal of the French Decrees. 2d. The Restoration of the american Property seized under the Rambouillet Decree. 3d. The commercial Regulations of France having relation to the Trade of the UStates.” In reply to Smith’s inquiry on the first subject, “Mr Serurier observed that he was authorised to assure this Govt. that the Emperor would fully comply with his Engagements. That he could not say precisely what measures had been adopted subsequent to the 1st Novr as he had left Paris prior to that day to embark at Bayonne for the UStates and that altho he had been detained a long time at Bayonne he did not hear from his Govt. as they must have supposed he had sailed, for he was from day to day detained, by circumstances of which they could not have been aware.”
On the second subject the minister “replied that the Duke de Cadore had told him that he considered that as an affair finished or fixed (and that he might say so to this Government[)]. He gave it however as his own opinion, that decisive Measures on the part of this Government in relation to England might not only ensure the restoration of that Property—but lead to great commercial advantages on the Continent of Europe.” On the last subject Sérurier “seemed to be entirely uninformed but professed a readiness to transmit to his Government any enquiries Mr Smith might think proper to make. He only knew that the Emperor was much disposed to encourage a Trade between France & the UStates and that American vessels would be received in the Ports of France and if I mistake not he gave it as his Opinion that they might carry there any of the Productions of this Country except Tobacco—and if there was a difficulty it would simply be a difficulty of the Custom House, which could be gotten over.” “It may be proper to remark,” Graham concluded, “that Mr Smith confined himself to making enquiries” (DNA: RG 59, Undated Misc. Letters).
2. This letter was subsequently published by Robert Smith in his Address to the People of the United States after JM had dismissed him from the cabinet in April 1811. According to Smith, he had concluded his conference with Sérurier by informing him that he would send him a note “propounding the several questions, that I had just had the honor of putting to him in conversation, and that thus by his answer I should be enabled to lay before the President with the utmost precision his communications to me. I accordingly immediately prepared the following draught of a letter, and considering the President’s sanction a matter of course, I had it in due official form copied by the appropriate clerk. But waiting on the President with it, and after having reported to him verbally the result of the conference, I was, to my astonishment, told by him that it would not be expedient to send to Mr. Serrurier any such note. His deportment throughout this interview evinced a high degree of disquietude, which occasionally betrayed him into fretful expressions” (National Intelligencer, 2 July 1811).
3. Two days before the meeting of 20 Feb. 1811, Robert Smith, according to Joseph Gales, Jr., had come to the conclusion that Sérurier “has nothing to say; that he is a young man, obscure, and not trusted with the secrets of Buonaparte; that he had seemed much surprised at the position in which he found himself, here; that he seemed to have no idea that he had come here to be questioned” (“Recollections of the Civil History of the War of 1812,” Historical Magazine, 3d ser., 3 [1874–75]: 161).