James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 4 September 1812

From James Monroe

Washington Sepr 4. 1812

Dear Sir

I send within a letter from Mr Russell & one from Mr Beasley, which are of no great importance except in relation to the blockade of May 1806.1

Every thing we hear of Genl. Hulls conduct increases the high sense at first entertaind of its impropriety. Col: Huntington from Ohio is here, & Col: Cass is expected to day. H. says that even at the moment of surrender our force was sufficient to have driven the British into the river, to have recrossed & in all probability taken Malden.

An account is just recd. of the complete destruction of the Guerrierre by our frigate the constitution, under Captn. Hull.2 The official document will be forwarded to you.3

I have been spoken to by several friends here on the subject of my last. I have no personal sense on the subject; and no motive even to accept but a sincere desire, to support the cause of free govt., & the present admn. on which the cause so essentially depends. To leave my family and incur any hazard, which might possibly affect them, and a possible event, considering the state of my affairs, would deeply affect them, would give me inexpressible concern. But I should hope for the best, & will if the public is likely to be benefited by it, not hesitate, to undertake the trust. Very respectfully & sincerely yours

Jas Monroe

On Mr Dallas’s letter be so good as to make a note.4 It appears to me that the order ought to be left to the court, that the captor shod. make his own case & act as he thinks fit

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers).

1Monroe probably enclosed dispatches from Jonathan Russell, 26 June 1812 (DNA: RG 59, DD, Great Britain), and Reuben G. Beasley, 25 June 1812 (DNA: RG 59, CD, London). Russell’s dispatch described a conversation with Lord Castlereagh concerning the 23 June suspension of the orders in council. Castlereagh had asked whether JM was empowered to restore commerce with Great Britain on the basis of a mere suspension of the orders. Russell replied that “the power in question did not vest in the President until the orders in council w⟨ere⟩ so revoked or modified as to cease to violate the neutr⟨al⟩ rights of the United States,” terms which excluded “all idea of a temporary suspension.” Russell reported that he had asked whether the blockade of 1806 had been considered as coming under the terms of the order of suspension, to which Castlereagh replied that “he supposed it ha⟨d⟩ for it was his opinion that the blockade of 1806 had been merged in the subsequent orders in council and was now extinguished with them.” On the question of the entry of armed British vessels into American ports, Russell claimed that Castlereagh had assured him that Britain sought only equal treatment with the armed ships of France. Russell noted that he had told Castlereagh that it was necessary that the question of impressment be addressed in order to establish “a perfect & permanent good understanding between two countries.” Russell explained that he had informed Castlereagh that he “wished to know if hostilities should have actually commenced on the other side of the atlantic prior to a knowledge there of the revocation of the orders in council, whether the temper here was such as to seize upon such a circumstance to prolong a misunderstanding between the two countries,” to which Castlereagh had replied that “in such case his government would be sincerely disposed to put an immediate end to all hostile proceedings and to cultivate peace & friendship wit⟨h⟩ the United States.” The conversation closed with a plea from Castlereagh for U.S. leniency in light of political circumstances that required Great Britain “incidentally to molest neutrals.”

Beasley’s letter expressed surprise that opponents of the orders in council had “complimented Ministers for the handsome manner, in which, this revocation was made.” He argued nevertheless that it would be ill-advised to receive the revocation “with a bad grace,” since even the opposition supported it. Beasley believed that with the acceptance of the revocation of the Berlin and Milan Decrees, one difficulty in the way of resolving American spoliation cases with Great Britain had been removed. He noted that Parliament had taken up the question of impressment and had also passed a general enclosure bill. He reported that news of the failure of the effort to obtain a war loan in the U.S. had given Londoners “great pleasure.” He closed with a criticism of the high tariffs that would greet loaded ships that had departed for the U.S.

2Isaac Hull (1773–1843), the son of a mariner, obtained his first command in 1794 and on 9 Mar. 1798, through the influence of his uncle William Hull, was appointed a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Isaac Hull participated in Edward Preble’s attacks on Tripoli and was eventually promoted to captain in 1806. Hull supervised the building of gunboats on Long Island Sound and in the Chesapeake from 1806 to 1809, at which time he moved to take command of the Chesapeake. The following year he assumed command of the frigate President for five weeks before taking charge of the Constitution. Hull’s fame rests largely on his August 1812 victory over the British frigate Guerrière, the first American victory of the war and welcome news for JM’s administration in the wake of the surrender of Detroit (Linda M. Maloney, The Captain from Connecticut: The Life and Naval Times of Isaac Hull [Boston, 1986], 3–138 passim, 185–200, 479).

3The U.S. frigate Constitution, under the command of Isaac Hull, captured the British frigate Guerrière on 19 Aug. 1812, burning and sinking it the following day. On 28 Aug., Hull sent the secretary of the navy an official account of the battle (printed in Dudley, Naval War of 1812, 1:238–42). On 5 Sept. 1812 the National Intelligencer published a detailed account of the capture.

4Enclosure not found. Pennsylvania district attorney Alexander J. Dallas may have written to Monroe on the subject of the Superior, an American-owned vessel transporting a cargo of British goods that was seized by a U.S. gunboat in Delaware Bay. In a 27 Aug. letter to Alexander Murray, printed in the 3 Sept. 1812 issue of the National Intelligencer, Dallas expressed his reasons for believing that the vessel had been rightly captured. Monroe acknowledged receipt of Dallas’s 1 Sept. 1812 letter in a 17 Sept. response, claiming that he had delayed replying because of JM’s absence from Washington. Monroe explained: “The additional instruction to our privateers was issued on the idea that american vessels in the cases therein specified were not subject to capture. It may therefore be considered as an expression of the sense of the executive of the law applicable to the case. The court however before whom any case may be brought, will, of course decide for itself on questions arising out of it” (DNA: RG 59, DL).

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