James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Richard Cutts, 23 July 1811

To Richard Cutts

Washington July 23. 1811

Dear Sir

We are at length about to exchange Washington for Montpelier.1 The morning after tomorrow is fixt for our departure. The state of our affairs with France may be collected from the printed accts. Some obscurities hang over them as they respect the degree of our commerce with them.2 The Decrees seem not to be in operation in any sense giving pretext for the refusal of G. B. to revoke her orders in Council. Foster stroaks with one paw and scratches with the other. The Blockade of May is put on a manageable footing, contrary to the partizans of G. B. who had chosen that for the difficulty. The ground she has taken for herself, is that the evidence of the repeal of the F. decrees, is not satisfactory; and that the repeal must comprehend the whole of the decrees, as they relate to British commerce as well as to neutral rights. It is held out also that the non-intercourse, whilst such a repeal is witheld by France is a ground for retaliation by G. B.3 Congs. will be convened about the first of Novr. Barlow will sail in a few days. These hints are for yourself, till you can refer to another source for the information. I hope you will recollect our wishes that you & Mrs. Cutts may find it practicable to see us in Orange before we leave it in October. With affece. remembrance to her, and the little cherubs around, accept assurances of my esteem and friendship.

James Madison

Photocopy of RC (ViU: Cabell Gwathmey Collection). RC offered for sale in Sotheby’s catalogue no. 6251, The Paul Perlin Collection of Presidential Campaign Memorabilia, 12 Dec. 1991.

1JM and his family left Washington on 25 July. The next day they stopped at Fredericksburg, Virginia, where JM was persuaded to attend a public dinner given in his honor (National Intelligencer, 27 and 30 July 1811).

2The National Intelligencer, on 23 July under the headline of “Very Late From France,” published news from Bordeaux, dated 17 June, to the effect that American vessels detained in France since 2 Nov. 1810 had been released on the condition that they take away the proceeds of their cargoes in silk, brandy, and wine. It was also reported that duties on all American produce imported into France, except tobacco, might be reduced by one-half.

On 24 July 1811 Sérurier called on JM to pay his respects before the president departed for Montpelier. He recorded that JM had received the recent news from France with pleasure but without surprise. The minister mentioned, however, that JM regretted that American vessels detained under the Berlin and Milan decrees had yet to be released and that he had also complained that French duties on American imports were excessive and onerous. Sérurier disputed these matters at some length, but he was unable to remove the “coldness” he detected in the president’s manner. After JM had terminated the conversation with the observations that he desired a “good settlement” with France and that he had instructed Joel Barlow to request that Franco-American relations be placed on a firm, unvarying, and liberal basis, Sérurier concluded that the revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees had become a “personal” matter for the president and that it would be a subject of much debate in the coming months. The next day, the administration newspaper announced that “it may be inferred from the official and other information, that the Berlin and Milan decrees as they violate our neutral rights are not in operation, and that some relaxations are taking place in the commercial intercourse with France, though by no means as yet in the extent desired. With respect to the other objects of complaint and demand by the United States no change has taken place” (Sérurier to Cadore, 24 July 1811 [AAE: Political Correspondence, U.S., vol. 65]; National Intelligencer, 25 July 1811).

3In his 14 July 1811 letter to Monroe, Foster had stated that since the U.S. persisted in its “injurious measures” against British commerce, “His Royal Highness has in consequence been obliged to look to means of retaliation against those measures” (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:438).

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