James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Pinkney, 6 September 1808

London Septr. 6th. 1808.


I have an opportunity by Mr. ⟨Bethu⟩ne, who leaves Town Tomorrow, for Falmouth, ⟨to e⟩mbark for the United States in the British ⟨Pack⟩et; and I cannot omit to take Advantage ⟨of it⟩, although I have still nothing conclusive ⟨to co⟩mmunicate.

The Hope arrived off Falmouth, and ⟨land⟩ed Mr. Atwater, on the 16th. of last Month; ⟨she⟩ immediately proceeded on her Voyage to ⟨Franc⟩e with a fair Wind. Mr. Atwater arrived ⟨in L⟩ondon on the 20th. in the Evening, and delivered ⟨your⟩ Letter of the 18th. of July.

My public Letter, of the 4th. of August, ⟨will⟩ have apprized you of the Footing, on which ⟨my⟩ different Interviews with Mr. Canning left ⟨the⟩ Subject of the British Orders in Council; ⟨and⟩ my private Letter, of the 2d. of that Month, ⟨will⟩ have made you acquainted with my Intention to present, in an Official Note, w⟨hat⟩ I had ineffectually suggested in Conference.

To such a Course there could not, ⟨even⟩ in the first Instance, have been any oth⟨er⟩ Objection than that it was calculated ⟨to⟩ lead to Discussion rather than to Ajust⟨ment⟩ but, whatever might be its Tendency, ⟨it⟩ is certain, that I could have no Inducem⟨ent⟩ to resort to it until it was indicated by Mr. Can⟨ning⟩ as indispensable, nor any Motive to dec⟨line⟩ it afterwards.

At our last Interview, and not be⟨fore,⟩ it was unexpectedly found, that it was ⟨in⟩ that Mode only that I could obtain a Know⟨ledge⟩ of the Light in which this Government thou⟨ght⟩ fit to view the Overture I had been dire⟨cted⟩ to make to it; and I determined, ⟨in⟩ Consequence, to lay before it in Writing ⟨the⟩ Intentions of the President, with the s⟨ame⟩ Frankness which had characterized ⟨my ve⟩rbal Communications.

I have now the Honour to transmit ⟨a⟩ Copy of the Note, which, in Conformity with ⟨tha⟩t Determination, I delivered in Person ⟨to⟩ Mr. Canning on the 26th. of last Month, ⟨a⟩ few Days after its Date. To this Note ⟨no⟩ Answer has yet been returned; but ⟨it⟩ is to be presumed that it will not ⟨be⟩ much longer withheld.

You will perceive that some Time ⟨ha⟩d elapsed, after I had sent off my ⟨dis⟩patches by the St. Michael (the 8th. of ⟨Au⟩gust) before my Note was presented. ⟨The⟩ Truth is, that I had employed a ⟨Par⟩t of that Time in framing a Note ⟨of⟩ great Length, which, when nearly ⟨Comp⟩leted, I thought it prudent to abandon, ⟨in f⟩avour of one that held out fewer Invitations to unprofitable Discussions, whic⟨h, ⟩ although I would not shun them if press⟨ed⟩ upon me, I did not suppose it proper that I should seek.

I believed, too, that a little Delay on my Part would be far from being disadvantageous. There would still be sufficien⟨t⟩ Time for obtaining a final Answer to m⟨y⟩ proposal, in Season for the Meeting of Congress; and, as the Temper of the Government, so far as it had been tried had not appeared to be favourable to my Purpose, I believed that I should act in the Spirit of my Instructions, a⟨nd⟩ consult the Honour of my Government by avoiding, under such Circumstances the Appearance of Urgency and Precipitation.

Upon the Terms or general Plan of my Note it is not I hope necessary to remark. You will discover that it was prepared under a Persuasion that, whatever might be its Effect, it was infinitely better to make it as conciliatory as, without a Sacrifice of Principle or national Dignity, was possible.

The Topics to be embraced by it were such as did not demand, but rather forbade, minute Exposition. While it was difficult to urge in their full Force, without seeming to aim at exciting a Disposition unfriendly to the ⟨O⟩bject of my Instructions, all the Con⟨s⟩iderations which justified the United States in remonstrating against the British Orders, it was yet more difficult, without a Degree of Harshness, scarcely ⟨s⟩uited to the Occasion, and without also ⟨t⟩he Hazard of Indiscretion, to display in Detail the signal Injustice and Impolicy of persevering in them after what I had proposed. This could be done⟨,⟩ and had been done, in Conversation; but it did not, upon Trial, appear to be equally practicable in the more forma⟨l⟩ and measured Proceeding which I was no⟨w⟩ called upon to adopt.

I considered, besides, that an Overtu⟨re⟩ so highly advantageous to Great-Britai⟨n⟩ which the United States were not boun⟨d⟩ to make by any Obligations of Equity although it was wise to make it, di⟨d⟩ not require, with any View to the Character of my Country, or even to the Success of the Overture itself, to be again recommended by an anxio⟨us⟩ Repetition of Arguments already fully understood.

As soon as my Note was ⟨p⟩repared, I called at the foreign office, to ⟨a⟩rrange an Interview with Mr. Canning, for the Purpose of enabling me to accompany the Delivery of it, with a Communication which I deemed important, as well as ⟨of⟩ affording him an Opportunity of asking ⟨a⟩nd receiving such Explanations as he ⟨m⟩ight desire. The Interview took ⟨pl⟩ace on the 26th. of August.

It had occurred to me that it ⟨wo⟩uld be proper, (and could not be ⟨in⟩jurious) to read to Mr. Canning, from ⟨yo⟩ur Letter to me of the 17th. of July, a ⟨bri⟩ef Summary of the Instructions under ⟨w⟩hich I was acting. This had not ⟨be⟩en requested, but it could not be ⟨un⟩acceptable; and it was, besides, ⟨we⟩ll calculated to do Justice to the ⟨libe⟩ral Sentiments by which my Instructions ⟨ha⟩d been dictated, as well as to give Weight to my Efforts in the Execution of them.

I was led by the reading of these Passages (without having originally intend⟨ed⟩ it) into a more extensive Explanation than I had before attempted, of the Influence which the Proposal of my Gove⟨rn⟩ment would have, in Truth as wel⟨l⟩ as in the Judgment of the World, upo⟨n⟩ the supposed Justice of their new System as it affected the United States. To that Explanation, with ⟨the⟩ particulars of which I will not, as indeed for Want of Time cannot, ⟨at⟩ present trouble you, I added a concise Recapitulation of some of the Prudential Considerations whic⟨h⟩ had been so often pressed before and there I left the Subject.

Mr. Canning listened with great Attention to what I said; b⟨ut⟩ of Course, made no Reply, either of Assent ⟨or⟩ Dissent. He spoke, however, of the Attack ⟨on⟩ the Chesapeake, and of the President’s ⟨Pr⟩oclamation; and asked what was to be ⟨do⟩ne with them? I stated that these ⟨tw⟩o Subjects were wholly distinct from, the ⟨pr⟩esent; but that it was not to be doubted ⟨tha⟩t, if the Atonement, which the United ⟨Sta⟩tes were authorized to expect for that ⟨ad⟩mitted outrage upon their Sovereignty, ⟨we⟩re offered in a suitable Manner (which ⟨I⟩ ventured to suggest would be a Special ⟨Mi⟩ssion) it could not be difficult to ⟨bri⟩ng the two Governments to a proper ⟨un⟩derstanding on these Points, that, as ⟨it⟩ was fit that the British Overture of ⟨Sa⟩tisfaction should be renewed in America, ⟨an⟩d not through me, I could not hope ⟨to⟩ be the immediate Agent in receiving ⟨it,⟩ but that I should be happy to contribute informally every Assistance in my power to facilitate an Ajustment, so much to be desired, upon such Term⟨s⟩ as it became them to offer, and us to accept. Mr. Canning observed that the⟨re⟩ was a Difficulty in setting about this Ajustment; and repeated what h⟨e⟩ had said in our Conference of the 29th. of June (as mentioned in my private Letter of that Date) that there would b⟨e⟩ no Objection to restoring the Men taken from the Chesapeake; but he did n⟨ot⟩ say what other Reparation they wer⟨e⟩ willing to propose. I considered myself at Liberty to encourage a Disposition, which I thought I perceiv⟨ed⟩ in him, to move in that interesting Affair in such a Manner as to promise a satisfactory Conclusion of it; and I acted accordingly but nothing passed which could ⟨ju⟩stify me in undertaking to anticipate ⟨thi⟩s Result.

At the Close of the Interview I ⟨to⟩ld Mr. Canning that, although I would ⟨n⟩ot be understood to urge an Answer ⟨to⟩ my Note sooner than was consistent ⟨wi⟩th his Convenience, I could not help ⟨wi⟩shing that it might be as prompt ⟨as⟩ possible. He assured me that there ⟨sh⟩ould be no unnecessary Delay; and ⟨I⟩ took my Leave.

As I have no sufficient Grounds ⟨up⟩on which to form an Opinion as ⟨to⟩ the final Course of the British ⟨Gov⟩ernment on this occasion, I will ⟨no⟩t fatigue you with mere Conjecture. ⟨I⟩ have seen Mr. Canning but once (at ⟨di⟩nner, at his own House) since the ⟨In⟩terview of the 26th. of August; and ⟨su⟩ch an occasion was not suited to official Approaches on my Part. A few Days, however, will decide what is now, perhaps, doubtful. In the meantime the Hope will probably have arrived on her Return from France; and I will take Care that by her, and by other Opportunities, you shall receive the speediest Information.

I beg leave to refer to the Newspapers herewith sent for an Accoun⟨t⟩ of the important Events which have lately occurred in Europe. I have the Honour to be with the highest Consideratio⟨n⟩ and with sincere Esteem, Sir, Your most Obedien⟨t⟩ humble Servant

Wm: Pinkn⟨ey⟩

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

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