James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Pinkney, 23 February 1808

London February 23d: 1808.


Mr. Canning had just sent me a note, of which a copy is enclosed, relative to an intended alteration, upon the subject of cotton, in their bill for carrying into execution the late Orders in Council. You will perceive that he lays some stress upon the accidental observations, which (as already explained to you in my letter of the 26th: of last month) were drawn from me, some time since, upon the singularly offensive project of imposing a transit duty upon our cotton. I mentioned to you, in my letter of the 2d: instant, that he appeared to have misapprehended the tendency of those observations, and that in a subsequent conversation he shewed a disposition to remove this obnoxious feature from their plan, for the purpose of substituting an absolute interdict of the export of that article, under an idea that we should then cease to object to it; but that I thought it my duty to decline to give him any encouragement to do so; although I agreed, as he seemed to wish it; to mention his disposition to you. A few days ago he sent for me again, and renewed his proposal of ⟨an⟩ immediate change with respect to cotton, from a pr⟨ohibi⟩tory duty to direct prohibition. My answer was ⟨the⟩ same in substance as it had been before. He th⟨en⟩ suggested the alternative arrangement which ⟨you⟩ will see stated in his note; but, adhering to ⟨the⟩ determination I had formed, upon the first ap⟨pea⟩rance of the Orders in Council, to make no co⟨mpro⟩mise (without precise directions from my gove⟨rn⟩ment) with the system which they announce, ⟨by⟩ becoming a party to it’s details, I received this p⟨ropo⟩sal as I had done the other.

The British government, however, had ⟨resol⟩ved to adopt this last mentioned plan, whethe⟨r it⟩ received my concurrence or not, upon a presum⟨ption⟩ that it would be more acceptable to us, and per⟨haps⟩ too under the idea that it was more defensib⟨le than⟩ their original scheme; and the purpose of ⟨Mr.⟩ Canning’s note is merely to signify to me, in ⟨a⟩ manner as friendly and respectful as possible ⟨to⟩ the United States, their intention to propose ⟨it⟩ to Parliament. One object of all this is certainly to conciliate us; altho’ it may be another to free their system, as far as they can, from the disadvantage of one of the formidable reproaches which their opponents cast upon it. But the wise and magnanimous course would be at once to tread back their steps upon the whole of this illjudged measure, instead of relying upon small and unsubstantial modifications, which neither produce an effect upon it’s character and principle, nor mitigate the severity of it’s practical consequences. I might, if I thought it adviseable, take the occasion, which Mr. Canning’s note undoubtedly furnishes, to press upon him once more the policy as well as the justice of such a course; but I believe it, under all circumstances, to be more prudent to wait for your instructions, which must I think be very soon received.

I have already had the honor to send you two copies of the resolutions, moved in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as tables of export duties, to which their bill should refer. I have enclosed in another letter, with which this will be accompanied, a copy of the bill itself, which will, however, undergo several alterati⟨ons.⟩ These will be found to be explained (as far a⟨s I⟩ am acquainted with them) in the letter a⟨bove⟩ mentioned. I have the Honor to be, with perfect esteem an⟨d⟩ consideration, Sir, Your Most Obedi⟨ent⟩ Humble Servan⟨t⟩

Wm: Pinkne⟨y⟩

DNA: RG 59--DD-Diplomatic Despatches, Great Britain.

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