James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Crawford, 28 March 1812

From William Crawford

Washington March 28th. 1812


Where integrity of motive is apparent it merits indulgence; & will plead for any impropriety which anxiety to promote the public welfare may undesignedly occasion.

In a government, with powers & interests so divided & blended frequent & candid communication of views & intentions becomes indispensable, to the exercise of these with unity & efficacy. Where a great national crisis calls for unanimity & energy, such interchange of opinion becomes more urgent: & imperiously demands, from those who must unite their efforts, an accomodation thro which such communications may be conducted.

The situation in which we are now placed will plead for the freedom of these remarks. Even among those who profess to have only the same objects in view, So much diversity of sentiment prevails; that some means to unite their views & their efforts, appears essential to the immediate preservation of the government. While one is urging immediate war, without awaiting prudential preparation, another would procrastinate that decision untill it might be equally useless & pernicious—while a third would abandon the position already taken entirely. Those who, with a single eye, would meet & support the views of the executive, when divulged, plead the propriety of a short delay, untill the progress of the recruiting service can be known; when, if that shall promise a rational probability of support, a short embargo should precede—their committing of the peace of their country & pursuing the only safe & honorable alternative which offers to preserve its independence.1

Could any measures be adopted, which would promise to heal these collisions, they can hardly be too speedily & earnestly resorted to, as much caballing appears to be on foot, to render conciliation of these discordant opinions, with the public interest, abortive; or bend them to private purposes.

If therefore any official or prudential communications can be made, which may tend to the accomplishment of so desirable an object speedily, every wish which dictated this address will be gratified. I am Sir With sincere sentiments of esteem & high respect Your fellow citizen

Wm. Crawford

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Secretary of State Monroe had already discussed some of Crawford’s concerns with the leading Republicans in Congress. He met with Speaker Henry Clay on the morning of 15 Mar. 1812, after which Clay wrote to Monroe, suggesting “That the President recommend an Embargo to last say 30 days, by a confidential message: That a termination of the Embargo be followed by War: and, That he also recommend provision for the acceptance of 10.000 Volunteers for a short period, whose officers are to be commissioned by the president.” The advantages of an embargo were, Clay argued, “that it is a measure of some vigor upon the heels of Henry’s disclosure—that it will give tone to public sentiment—operate as a notification, repressing indiscreet speculation and enabling the prudent to look to the probable period of the commencement of hostilities and thus to put under shelter before the storm. It will above all powerfully accelerate preparations for the War. By the expiration of the Embargo the Hornet will have returned with good or bad news, and of course the question of War may then be fairly decided.” Clay further noted, “Altho’ the power of declaring War belongs to Congress, I do not see that it less falls within the scope of the President’s constitutional duty to recommend such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient than any other which, being suggested by him, they alone can adopt” (Clay to Monroe, 15 Mar. 1812, Hopkins, Papers of Henry Clay, 1:637).

Nine days later, a deputation from the House select committee on foreign relations wrote a similar letter, seeking a meeting with either Monroe or JM “to confer with the Executive on the various important measures which it may appertain to them to prepare & recommend to the House of Representatives.” Specifically, the committee members wished to know, “Are the forces already provided for, by Law, adequate to the objects in contemplation of the Executive? And, if not, what addition or alteration is desired?” They also inquired, “At what time may we prudently calculate that the military preparations now going on … will be in a state to justify the commencement of active hostilities against G. Britain?” And finally they asked, “Would it be adviseable that a declaration of war should be preceded by an Embargo?” (Peter B. Porter, John Smilie, and John C. Calhoun to Monroe, 24 Mar. 1812 [NN: Monroe Papers]).

On 30 Mar. 1812 the House select committee on foreign relations sent Monroe a resolution stating that its members were “prepared to report to the House of Representatives such Ulterior measures, as, in their opinion, the state of the country, and the expectations of the people demand; And the Committee would be happy to be informed when in the opinion of the Executive the measures in preparation will be in such forwardness as to justify the step contemplated” (Porter to Monroe, 30 Mar. 1812 [ibid.]). In response to this request, Monroe met with the committee on either 30 or 31 Mar., and on 1 Apr. committee member John Randolph of Roanoke read to the House of Representatives “from memoranda in his possession, of what occurred” on that occasion, namely that Monroe had informed the committee that “the President thought we ought to declare war before we adjourn, unless Great Britain recedes, of which there was no prospect.” There was also some discussion of an embargo, during which Monroe said that JM would recommend the measure by message “if he could be assured it would be acceptable to the House.” Randolph further announced that Monroe had told the committee that the administration was still seeking reparation from France and “that if she refused us justice, the embargo would leave the policy as respects France, and indeed of both countries, in our hands.” In commenting on the state of defensive preparations, Monroe mentioned that New York was “in a respectable state of defence but not such as to resist a formidable fleet.” He promised that “pretty considerable preparations” would be made in the next sixty days, while adding, “as to the prepared state of the country … in case of a declaration of war, the President would not feel himself bound to take upon himself more than his share of the responsibility.” The “unprepared state of the country,” Monroe concluded, “was the only reason why ulterior measures should be deferred.” Two other members of the committee, Felix Grundy and John C. Calhoun, declared, however, that “they were not impressed with a recollection of the facts which occurred before the Committee of Foreign Relations in the same manner as had been stated by Mr. Randolph,” and they specifically denied that Monroe had said that “the embargo would leave the policy, as respects both belligerents, in our hands” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 1592–94).

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