James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 9 March 1812

To Congress

March 9th 1812

I lay before Congress copies of certain Documents, which remain in the Department of State.1 They prove that at a recent period,2 whilst the United States, notwithstanding the wrongs sustained by them, ceased not to observe the laws of peace and neutrality towards Great Britain; and in the midst of amicable professions and negociations on the part of the British Government, through its public Minister here; a secret Agent of that Government was employed in certain States, more especially at the Seat of Government in Massachusetts, in fomenting disaffection to the constituted authorities of the nation; and in intrigues with the disaffected, for the purpose of bringing about resistance to the laws, and eventually, in concert with a British force, of destroying the Union and forming the Eastern part thereof, into a political connection with Great Britain.

In addition to the effect which the discovery of such a procedure ought to have on the public Councils; it will not fail to render more dear to the hearts of all good Citizens, that happy Union of these States, which, under divine providence, is the guaranty of their liberties, their safety, their tranquility, and their prosperity.3

James Madison

RC and enclosures, two copies (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1; and DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, 12A-E3); Tr, two copies (InU: Jackson Collection; and DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). Both RCs in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. Both Trs in the hand of Edward Coles; sent as enclosures in JM to John G. Jackson, 9 Mar. 1812, and JM to Jefferson, 9 Mar. 1812. For enclosures (printed in 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, 3:545–54), see n. 1.

1JM enclosed numbered copies of fifteen letters written by John Henry to Sir James Craig and Herman W. Ryland between 31 Jan. 1809 and 12 June 1809, reporting his observations on New England politics during the final stages of the embargo crisis. (The original letters are now located in the Library of Congress, John Henry Papers.) These letters were accompanied by a copy of a covering letter from Henry to Monroe, dated 20 Feb. 1812, delivering the documents and correspondence relating to his 1809 mission, as well as by copies of correspondence and memorials Henry had sent to Ryland and other British officials between May 1809 and September 1811 in his unsuccessful efforts to obtain an appointment either as “Judge Advocate General of the province of Lower Canada, with a salary of five hundred pounds a year, or a consulate in the United States, sine curia,” which he considered a “liberal discharge of any obligation” for his services.

In his 20 Feb. 1812 letter to Monroe, Henry stated that he was handing over the documents in order to counter “an opinion entertained by foreign States, ‘That in any measure tending to wound their pride or provoke their hostility, the Government of this Country could never induce a great majority of its Citizens to concur.’” The publication of his papers, Henry added, would not only help “produce unanimity among all parties in America” but also “demonstrate a fact not less valuable than the good already proposed; it will prove that no reliance ought to be placed on the professions of good faith of an administration, which by a series of disastrous events, has fallen into such hands as a Castlereagh, a Wellesley or a Liverpool.” On that basis Henry, in addition to anticipating the end of “all division and disunion” among Americans, predicted that the appearance of his papers in Great Britain would “add one great motive to the many that already exist, to induce that Nation to withdraw its confidence from Men, whose political career is a fruitful source of injury and embarrassment in America; of injustice and misery in Ireland; of distress and apprehension in England; and contempt everywhere.” Henry concluded his letter by observing that he neither sought nor desired “the patronage nor countenance of any Government nor of any party,” and he insisted instead that he was motivated “by a just resentment of the perfidy and dishonor of those who first violated the conditions upon which I received their confidence; who have injured me and disappointed the expectations of my friends; and left me no choice but between a degrading acquiescence in injustice and a retaliation which is necessary to secure to me my own respect.”

2On the copies of the message that he sent to John G. Jackson and Jefferson on 9 Mar., JM placed an asterisk here and wrote at the side of the page, “from Jany. to May, 1809.”

3The day before JM sent Henry’s letters to Congress, navy secretary Paul Hamilton conveyed the following information to one of his correspondents: “I am of opinion that Congress will very soon be obliged to vote on the question of War, and do hope that there will be a large majority for the measure. In confidence I tell you that a disclosure will shortly be made that must give rise to this question, if we are not indifferent to our vital, best, interests. Amidst all the ind[e]cisions of Congress it is a source of great consolation to me, that the President is undeviating in his endeavours to promote measures of warlike character; and I say with confidence, that if war were determined on tomorrow, it would have his ready concurrence” (Paul Hamilton to Caesar A. Rodney, 8 Mar. 1812 [InU: War of 1812 Manuscripts]).

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