James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 30 April 1814

From James Monroe

Washington april 30. 1814

Dear Sir

I return’d on thursday, and on the next morning recd. the enclosed from Genl. Winder, who had arrived on that, or the day before.1 You will I think find the result by no means satisfactory. He has it is true preserved the principle, but at a vast expence, leaving in the hands of the enemy the first 23., with an addl. security of 46. commissd. & non commissd. officers, against 23. privates in our possession. The stile of the instrument is also objectionable, as it places the magistrate on a footing with Mr Prevost, and makes the Secretary of State solicit the exchange of Genl. Winder. At the conclusion of a paper, signed by the parties, it is stated by Col: Baynes, that if the 23. privates confind here, on the principle of retaliation are released, the 46. officers confind in Canada on the same principle, shall also be released. This paper is also enclosed with a letter to me from Genl. Winder.2 The transaction is understood to be concluded, there being no clause reserving a right in the govt to ratify it, and measures being already taken on the part of the British, as Genl. Winder intimates, to carry it into effect.

Genl. Winder is still here and will probably wait your decision on the subject. He came off before the instructions relating to an armistice had reach’d Canada. He knows nothing of the views of Sr G.P., more than he had already communicated on that subject, nor had he heard of the measures taken by this govt. It becomes a question in relation to the latter object, if not to the former, whether he had not better return immediately to the frontier. Some apprehension is entertaind, that his return from Canada without having effected any thing on it, may injure the loan, tho, as the first proposals will be received before he can set out back, there can be no motive for hurry on that account. In relation to the loan therefore, his mov’ment, must have in view only some future proposition, founded on the failure of the present.

In regard to the convention I will suggest for your consideration what has occurr’d to me. There appears to be two modes of acting, 1st. to reject it as against instructions and endeavour to form a new one. 2d. to accept it, and in this case take advantage of the proposal above mention’d, to obtain the release of our 46. officers, by the release of the 23. British soldiers, confind on each side on the principle of retaliation. To the first, there are I think insuperable objections, the principal of which is, that it will restore us back to the former state, against the expectation of the country founded on what has been alrea⟨d⟩y done, without any reasonable hope of improving it, if not with a prospect of increased severity on the British side. The adoption of the second is therefore preferr’d. In the latter case, it merits consideration whether it will be proper to endeavour to obtain some modification of the introduction or preamble to the instrument, in an amicable way; or failing in that, present a paper to be signd either by me, or the commissary general, stating that altho’ there are objections to the form, and a right in the govt. to ratify exists, in the nature of such transactions, where the contrary is not provided, those, are waved, in the liberal spirit which has govd. in this transaction generally, and that the 23. men will be releasd in consideration of the release of the 46. officers, protesting however against the British pretention, and declaring that retaliation will be resorted to, in case any one of our men shall be punished. A paper of this kind may be proper, altho’ no allusion be made to the circumstances suggested, merely, to notify the decision on the question submitted, concerning the men & officers, confind on the principle of retaliation. Perhaps it may be best not to allude at all, to the objections stated, in this paper, lest it might draw attention to a circumstance which might otherwise escape it. I am inclined to think that we shall rest on safe ground, by a complete exchange of all hostages, with a reservation of the principle, and that the less is said about the process, leading to it, the better. The declaratory paper however, may still be necessary, for the special purpose mentiond.

Since writing the above I have recd. a second letter from Genl. Winder, produc’d by a conversation between him & Genl. Mason, which I also forward to you.3 I am satisfied of the correctness of his intentions, that much allowance ought to be made for the situation in which he was plac’d, surrounded as he was by fellow sufferers, & that he obtaind all that he thought it practicable to obtain.

Genl. Winder is ready to set out for the frontier as soon as your answer is receivd, to attend to any instruction which may be given him concerning the convention or the armistice. His immediate departure seems to be necessary for both purposes & may have a beneficial effect on the public credit. With great respect & esteem I am your friend & servant

Jas. Monroe

PS. General Mason suggests that some aid may be derivd from the 11. art: of the convention in favor of a complete exchange of hostages, resting on the right to retaliate only. This article promises that all others who may have been sent to Engld. on the same principle with the 23., shall be sent to the U,States, to some port stipulated in the cartel on the Chesapeake or north of it. He says that 59., so circumstanc’d, have been a subject of discussion between him & Col: Barclay. I enclose you several papers from Genl. Mason on the subject.4

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). For surviving enclosures, see nn. 1–3.

1Monroe enclosed a copy of the 15 Apr. 1814 exchange agreement signed by Brig. Gen. William H. Winder and Col. Edward Baynes, adjutant general under Sir George Prevost. The document confirmed that at Monroe’s request, Winder had been exchanged on 7 Apr. 1814 for three British officers of lower rank. It specified that all British prisoners held “under and by the command and authority of the Government of the United States” and all American prisoners held “by and under the command and authority of Sir George Prevost” were to be immediately released, whether hostages or not, with the exception of the first twenty-three hostages confined by the United States and the first forty-six made hostage by Great Britain in retaliation. The released officers and men were to be sent to specific locations in the United States and Canada and were free to return to military duty on 15 May 1814 or thereafter. It was also agreed that Prevost would request the return to the United States “by the earliest Cartel ship or vessel” of any American prisoners who had been removed from his jurisdiction, “except the twenty three men sent to England as British subjects to be tried.” Finally, the document stipulated that both parties were free to resort to retaliation in the future should they deem it necessary (DNA: RG 45, Subject File RE, box 591, Correspondence Relating to Exchange and Release of Prisoners, American and British).

2In addition to proposing the release of the twenty-three British and forty-six American hostages excluded from the exchange agreement, the enclosed paper, also dated 15 Apr. 1814 (4 pp.), suggested that both sides take or hold as prisoners of war only persons enrolled in an army or militia unit, or taken while bearing arms, and that paroled soldiers, though bound not to perform any “military duties, which directly contributed to the prosecution of the war,” could be compelled by their government to assist with the transportation of military supplies, to labor for the public defense, and to remain part of the “military establishment.” The paper noted that although Winder approved these ideas, he was not authorized to negotiate on such subjects, so would simply “submit them for the consideration of the President of the United States” (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, M-317:7). In his 27 Apr. 1814 letter to Monroe, Winder summarized the paper as Monroe did here and observed that it provided an opportunity for the United States “to relieve all our unfortunate prisoners without danger of weakening the principle which they have asserted—waiting a more favorable moment to resort to retaliation should it be necessary.” Citing his own recent subjection to “the torments of imprisonment,” Winder went on to “implore & beseech” that the U.S. government accept the offer (DNA: RG 45, Subject File RE, box 591, Correspondence Relating to Exchange and Release of Prisoners, American and British).

3Monroe enclosed Winder’s letter to him of 29 Apr. 1814, in which Winder stated that although he had understood from a conversation with JM “that no exchange of hostages could be admitted on the part of the United States which did not directly or implicitly yield on the part of Great Britain the principle avowed in her proceeding against the 23 men sent to England for trial,” the instructions he subsequently received from Monroe authorized him to make an agreement “without any previous surrender of the principle by Great Britain.” He had therefore done so under the impression that JM’s opinion had changed. Winder also claimed that a paragraph had been left out of Monroe’s dispatch by a copyist, which had it been included would have spurred him to greater efforts to obtain “a more general release of our hostage prisoners,” although he thought the British would not have agreed in any case. His eagerness to make an arrangement was further increased by British threats to transport all their prisoners and hostages to England “if the release & exchange was not effected to the extent to which the agreement provides.” He acknowledged that the “tone” taken by the British in the agreement was “stronger than ought to have been admitted” but explained that this had previously escaped his attention because the statements in question were factually accurate and transgressed no conventions of etiquette that he was aware of (ibid.).

4Enclosures not found.

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