James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Boston Fishermen, [ca. 21 February 1814]

From Boston Fishermen

[ca. 21 February 1814]

The Petition of the Subscribers, Fishermen of Boston and its vicinity, humbly sheweth, That many of them have, inadvertently and without due reflection, signed a petition to the Legislature of Massachusetts, praying for relief from the restrictions imposed upon them by the “Act laying an Embargo on all ships and vessels in the ports and harbors of the United States.”1 They have since learnt, that therein they were most grossly imposed upon and deceived by designing individuals.2 For, had the Legislature granted their prayer, and any one man availed himself of the circumstance, it would have involved this State, and perhaps the Nation, in civil war; it would have raised the State standard against that of the Union, and brought upon us all the horror of civil commotion: Consequences which they now contemplate with horror, and deprecate as the greatest of evils. They ask no indulgence incompatible with the great national objects contemplated by the embargo law. They trust it would be wholly superfluous to describe their necessities, or those of their families; they are doubtless well known to your Excellency. All they ask for is, liberty to proceed with their empty vessels and necessary fishing apparatus, under such restrictions and limitations as your Excellency shall judge expedient, to the fishing ground in Boston Bay, for the purpose of fishing for the Boston market.3

If they had not, heretofore, (except in the instance alluded to) demeaned themselves as good citizens, quietly and peaceably pursuing their innocent and necessary avocation; if they had not rigidly obeyed the laws; uniformly respected the constituted authorities of their country, and been constantly attached to the Union of the States; they would not now appeal before the Father of the American people. But they confidently appeal to the Officers of the customs, and all those citizens who have witnessed their conduct, for its uniformity in the above recited particulars.

Printed copy (Boston Independent Chronicle, 24 Feb. 1814). Undated; conjectural date assigned based on a notice in the Independent Chronicle of 21 Feb. 1814 that the petition would be published in the next issue.

1The petition the writers referred to was reported and committed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on 22 Jan. 1814 (Boston Daily Advertiser, 24 Jan. 1814). It stated that “under instructions from the President” regarding the enforcement of the Embargo Act, the collector of the port of Boston, Henry A. S. Dearborn, had prohibited the clearance of vessels for the “domestic fisheries.” Fishermen from Marblehead, however, were allowed to fish and to sell their catch as usual, the petitioners alleged. With little hope of redress from the national government, they urged the legislature to prove state government worthwhile by defending their rights (Boston Gazette, 31 Jan. 1814). On 19 Feb. 1814 a joint committee of the Massachusetts Senate and House of Representatives, having considered the fishermen’s petition along with a number of others protesting against the embargo, proposed several resolutions supporting the petitioners’ sentiments but deferred further action until the next legislative session (Boston Repertory, 22 Feb. 1814).

2According to the Boston Patriot, the petition originated with the Federalist-affiliated Washington Benevolent Society (Salem Essex Register, 26 Feb. 1814).

3On 17 Mar. 1814 the Boston Independent Chronicle reported that JM had directed Dearborn to “clear out fishing vessels … for any part of the Bay, on giving bonds under the Embargo law.”

Index Entries