James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Joel Barlow, 11 August 1812

To Joel Barlow

Washington Aug. 11. 1812

Dear Sir

As I write on short notice and in cypher, I must be very brief.

The conduct of the F. Govt. explained in yours of May. 12.1 on the subject of the decre⟨e⟩ of April ⟨18⟩11 will be an everlasting reproach to it. It is the more shameful as, departing from the declar⟨a⟩tion to general armstrong2 of which the enforcement of the non importation was the effect the revoking decre⟨e⟩ assumes this as the cause and itself as the effect and thus transfersa [sic] to this government the inconsistency of its author.3

The decre⟨e⟩ of April may nevertheless be used by Great Britain as A pretexte for revoking ⟨her⟩ orders; not withstanding the contrary language of castelreagh in parlement.4 An authentic tho informal communication has just arrived in a dispatch ship from England importing that the orders were to be revoked on the first of August; subject to renewal if required by the conduct of France and the U. States; particularly if the non importation should not be forthwith re⟨s⟩cinded on the arrival of the act of revocation. As this pledge was given before the declaration of war was known it may not be adher⟨e⟩d to. It is not improbable however that it was hurried off as a chance for preventing an apprehended war; and that the same dislike to the war may possibly produce advances for terminating it which if the terms be admissable will be immediately5 embraced.

In the event of a pacification with G. B. the full tide of indignation with which the public mind here is boiling will be directed against France if not obviated by a due ⟨reparation of⟩6 her wrongs. War will be called for by the nation almost una voce. Even without a peace with England the further refusal and7 prevarications of France on the subject of red⟨ress⟩8 may be expected to produce measures of hostility at the ensuing session of ⟨Congs.⟩9 This result is the more probable as the general exasperation will coincide with the calculation of not a few that a double war is the shortest road to peace.10

I have been the more disposed to furnish you with these prospects that you may turn them to account if possible in your discussions with the French government and be not unprepared to retire from them altogether on a sudden notice so to do. Your return home ⟨may⟩ possibly be directed even before the meeting of Congress if the intermediate information should Continue to present the French conduct in the provoking light in which it has hitherto appeared.

The Secretary of State is absent; but you will receive from Mr. Graham the usual supply of current intelligence, to which I refer you. I have not time to write to Genl. F.11 With my best regards to him, tell ⟨him that⟩ Congs. rose without deciding as to the validity of the remaining locations near Pointe Coupee. Affecte respects

James Madison

RC (DLC); draft (DLC). Italicized words are those encoded by JM and decoded interlinearly by a clerk; key not found. Missing words and letters are supplied within angle brackets from the draft.

1PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (5 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:379.

2For the letter from the duc de Cadore about the revocation of the Berlin and Milan Decrees, see Armstrong to JM, 5 Aug. 1810, ibid., 2:460–62, 463 n. 1.

3For the spurious Decree of St. Cloud on 28 Apr. 1811 repealing the Berlin and Milan Decrees, see Barlow to JM, 12 May 1812, ibid., 4:379 and nn. 2 and 3.

4On 22 May 1812 Lord Castlereagh gave a speech declaring the 28 Apr. 1811 decree “disgraceful to the government of any civilized nation.” He pointed out that the decree did not meet the terms of the prince regent’s order in council of 21 Apr. 1812 because it repealed the Berlin and Milan Decrees only with regard to the U.S. while leaving them in force against other nations, thereby making “no manner of alteration in the question of the Orders in Council” (Parliamentary Debates description begins Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 1st ser. (41 vols.; London, 1804–20). description ends , 23:287–88).

5Draft has “readily.”

6Interlinear decoding has “dru.”

7Draft has “or.”

8Interlinear decoding has “red exams.”

9Interlinear decoding has “em.”

10These sentiments about the possibility of war with France, along with a discussion of the peace terms required from Great Britain, appeared in a 4 Aug. 1812 National Intelligencer editorial that Irving Brant has attributed to JM (see Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 6:59–61, and Brant, “Joel Barlow, Madison’s Stubborn Minister,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends , 3d ser., 15 [1958]: 445–46). The basis for this claim was Jean-Baptiste Petry’s remark to the duc de Bassano on 26 Aug. 1812 that the editorial had been written “by Mr. Madison himself” and that “He has avowed it in a private letter which he wrote to Mr. Barlow on August 11.” While there is little reason to doubt that the 4 Aug. editorial reflected the president’s thinking, and while it is by no means impossible that he had a hand in its publication, the contents of JM’s 11 Aug. letter to Barlow are hardly sufficient to support Brant’s contention. Brant assumed that JM was the author of the editorial because the secretary of state was absent from Washington at the time of its appearance, but there are other candidates for its authorship, including Richard Rush, the clerks in the State Department, and Joseph Gales and William Seaton of the National Intelligencer itself. Any one of these could have written the editorial, possibly after a conversation with JM to the effect that the appearance of such views would suit the purposes of the administration.

11Draft has “Fayette” (Lafayette).

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