James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 24 February 1813

To Congress

February 24th 1813

I lay before Congress copies of a Proclamation of the British Lieutenant Governor of the Island of Bermuda, which has appeared under circumstances leaving no doubt of its authenticity. It recites a British order in Council of the 26 of October last, providing for the supply of the British West Indies and other Colonial possessions, by a trade under special licences; and is accompanied by a circular instruction to the Colonial Governors, which confines licenced importations from ports of the United States, to the ports of the Eastern States exclusively.1

The Government of Great Britain had already introduced into her commerce during war, a system, which at once violating the rights of other nations, and resting on a mass of forgery and perjury unknown to other times, was making an unfortunate progress in undermining those principles of morality and religion, which are the best foundation of national happiness.2

The policy now proclaimed to the world, introduces into her modes of warfare, a system equally distinguished by the deformity of its features, and the depravity of its character; having for its object to dissolve the ties of allegiance and the sentiments of loyalty in the adversary nation, and to seduce and seperate its componant parts, the one from the other.

The general tendency of these demoralizing and disorganizing contrivances, will be reprobated by the civilized and christian world; and the insulting attempt on the virtue, the honor, the patriotism, and the fidelity of our brethren of the Eastern States, will not fail to call forth all their indignation and resentment; and to attach more and more all the States, to that happy union and constitution, against which such insidious and malignant artifices are directed.

The better to guard, nevertheless, against the effect of individual cupidity and treachery, and to turn the corrupt projects of the Enemy against himself, I recommend to the consideration of Congress, the expediency of an effectual prohibition of any trade whatever, by Citizens or inhabitants of the United States, under special licences, whether relating to persons or ports; and in aid thereof a prohibition of all exportations from the United States in foreign bottoms; few of which are actually employed; whilst multiplying counterfeits of their flags and papers are covering and encouraging the navigation of the Enemy.3

James Madison

RC (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1). In Edward Coles’s hand, signed by JM. Enclosures not found, but see n. 1.

1The enclosures were evidently copies of a 14 Jan. 1813 proclamation issued by George Horsford, lieutenant governor of the Bermudas, citing a 26 Oct. 1812 order in council permitting the provisioning of the islands by unarmed vessels until 30 June 1813, provided those vessels were not of French origin. In cases where the provisions came from the United States, the order in council specified the imposition of a series of duties. Accompanying the proclamation was a 9 Nov. 1812 circular letter to British colonial governors which instructed those officials on how to apply the order to trade with the United States. The circular expressly stipulated that “whatever importations are proposed to be made, under the order, from the United States of America, should be by your licenses confined to the ports in the Eastern States exclusively, unless you have reason to suppose that the object of the order would not be fulfilled if licenses are not also granted for the importations from the other ports in the United States” (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, 3:607–8).

2The so-called license system had flourished after 1807 as a means whereby the British government permitted merchants of its own choosing to carry British goods into enemy ports, while at the same time denying neutral nations the right to trade with its enemies under the orders in council. The Perceval ministry had also manipulated this system for financial advantage in ways that severely discriminated against American traders. JM had always regarded the system as corrupt, and he cited it as a justification for war against Great Britain in June 1812 (Perkins, Prologue to War, 278, 304–7; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:434–35).

3The House of Representatives passed bills prohibiting the use of foreign licenses and the exportation of certain items in foreign vessels on 1 and 2 Mar. 1813, respectively. The next day, however, the Senate killed both measures by postponing them until “the fourth Monday in May next” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 2d sess., 117, 121, 1146, 1150–51, 1152–64).

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