James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George Joy, 19 June 1812

From George Joy

London June 19th. 1812.

Dear sir,

Though the debates of last evening exhibiting the pitiful and undignified manner in which Ministers are retreating from the Orders in Council,1 after the sordid principles upon which they have endeavoured to sustain them, give little encouragement to the hope of any beneficial consequences; I think it right to inform you that I have an appointment with Lord Sid-mouth at one O’Clock to morrow upon the following proposition extracted from a Note to him of the 17th. Instant.

“Mr Joy confidently hopes that the measure proposed by Ministers respecting the orders in Council will be efficatious towards the restoration of the best understanding between this country and the United States. Convinced as he is that the frank and liberal will be the most profitable mode of negotiation; he is particularly solicitous that the expected edict may meet the idea of Mr Wilberforce2 and be so worded as to raise no question on the technical phraseology of the law of the United States. If the President, who is under the law, be thus authorised to issue his proclamation for restoring the intercourse; Mr. Joy is assured it will be done without the least hesitation.”

As I may not have it in my power to write you to morrow after this interview, and there will be then no post ’till Monday P.M.; I trouble you with this addition to the mass of information that you will probably receive by the same conveyance. But as you know my sentiments and sources of information on the subject I will not trouble you in a case so likely to end in nothing, with the points I shall endeavour to establish or the references to which I shall have recourse in support of them. I rest always very respectfully, Dr. sir, Your Friend & Servant.

Geo: Joy.

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). In a clerk’s hand, signed by Joy.

1In the House of Lords on 18 June 1812 the marquis of Lansdowne alluded to a rumor in circulation that the ministry had decided to repeal the orders in council, and he requested that “this subject should be clearly and distinctly explained.” In response, Earl Bathurst, president of the Board of Trade, announced that the ministry had decided to revoke the orders “conditionally, on a day to be named (allowing sufficient time for such intended revocation to reach the United States) the conditions being, that the government of the United States should admit British ships of war into their ports upon the same terms as the ships of war of other belligerents, and also repeal all their restrictive acts upon our commercial intercourse with the United States.” “These conditions being complied with, the Orders in Council would cease on the day so to be named. Whether they were to be revived would depend on the acts of France, or of the United States” (Parliamentary Debates, 23:587–88).

2During the course of a House of Commons debate on 16 June on Henry Brougham’s motion to repeal the orders in council, Lord Castlereagh, after speaking against the motion, hinted that he was not averse to considering measures that might lead “to the suspension, for a limited period, of the restrictive system” of both Great Britain and the U.S., provided that this “experiment” in conciliation was not incompatible with “the safety of the country.” When opponents of the ministry pressed Castlereagh to state his meaning with greater clarity, Castlereagh replied “that a proposition should be made to the American government to suspend immediately the Orders in Council, on condition that they would suspend their Non-Intercourse Act; and that in the interval both parties should use their endeavours to prevail upon Buonapartè [sic] to restore the rules of commerce to their ancient customary limits.” William Wilberforce “objected to the mode proposed by the noble lord, because it shewed an unwillingness to do that which, in fact, he intended to do.” “In asking the American government if it would do what it had said it would do,” he added, “we in a manner asked her if she was serious in her declaration or not, and left her to answer as she pleased. This he did not approve of. If we were to depart from our present system, we should do it in the way best calculated to secure to us the advantages to be expected from the change. We ought not to steer a middle course, and thus deprive ourselves of the advantage which we might derive from acting with openness and candour” (ibid., 23:537–42, 546).

One week after this debate, on 23 June 1812, the prince regent issued an order in council repealing those orders issued on 7 Jan. 1807 and 26 Apr. 1809 “from the 1st day of August next.” The text of the 23 June order of repeal stated that while the French decree of 28 Apr. 1811 purporting to have removed definitively the Berlin and Milan decrees with respect to American vessels did not meet conditions stipulated in the prince regent’s declaration of 21 Apr. 1812, the British government was nonetheless disposed “to take such measures as may tend to re-establish the intercourse between neutral and belligerent nations, upon its accustomed principles.” This act of repeal was made conditional upon the U.S. removing its trade restrictions against Great Britain and lifting the ban against British armed vessels entering American waters and ports. Nor was anything in the contents of the order of repeal to be understood to preclude the prince regent, “if circumstances shall so require, from restoring, after reasonable notice, the Orders of the 7th of January, 1807, and 26th of April, 1809, or any part thereof, to their full effect, or from taking such other measures of retaliation against the enemy, as may appear to his Royal Highness to be just and necessary.” In the interim, proceedings against American vessels captured after 20 May and before 23 June 1812 for violating the orders in council but not yet condemned were to be suspended until further notice. American vessels captured between 23 June and 1 Aug. 1812, “in the event of this Order not becoming null and of no effect,” were to be “liberated and restored, subject to such reasonable expences on the part of the captors, as shall have been justly incurred” (ibid., 23:716–18).

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