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Whether such an arrangement can be devised is extremely doubtful, but it is very certain that you have no sufficient powers for its accomplishment."
Such was the substance, and, in many parts, the language of his lordship’s discourse. To which I replied, that the main object of my powers being to effect a suspension of hostilities, their form could not be materialit was sufficient that they emanated from competent authority, and were distinctly and clearly conferred. That in requiring as a condition to an armistice a clear understanding relative to impressment and other points of controversy between the two countries, it was intended merely to lay the basis of an amicable adjustment, and thereby to diminish the probability of a renewal of hostilities.
To come to such an understanding, to be in itself informal, and which expressly left the details of the points which it embraced to be discussed and adjusted by commissioners to be hereafter appointed, was certainly within the instructions which I had received, and I could of course thus far pledge my government for its observance. I did not acknowledge the force of his objection, predicated on the inequality of our respective powers, nor perceive how the British faith would be particularly committed. The faith of both governments would be equally committed for whatever was done under their respective authority and although his lordship might have power to go beyond the armistice and understanding for which I was instructed, yet there was no necessity for doing so; and while we acted within those limits we stood on equal ground. And were it otherwise, yet, as the promise of the one party would be the sole consideration for the promise of the other, should either fail in the performance of its engagements, the other would necessarily be discharged, and the imputation of bad faith could alone attach to the first delinquent. Nor was I dismayed at the very formidable difficulties with which he had thought proper to array the subject of impressment; and, although willing to acknowledge my inferiority to the American negotiators who had preceded me in the matter, yet I was not disposed on account of their failure to shrink from the discharge of a duty imposed on me by my government. To me indeed the whole question appeared much less alarming than his lordship had described it to be—and that if Mr. King had really been mistaken with regard to the near completion of an adjustment, his lordship must, on an attention to the whole correspondence at the time, acquit him from the imputation of any excessive want of penetration.
As to the supposed ignorance in America of the revocation of the orders in council, at the time my instructions were dated, I observed, that if this ignorance did in fact exist, yet, from certain expressions in those instructions, an expectation of such a measure seems to have been confidently entertained, and the orders in council appeared no longer to form an obstacle to a reconciliation. However this might be, it ought not to be supposed that the American government would be ready to abandon one main point for which it contended, merely because it had obtained another which was generally considered to be of minor importance, and to submit to the continuance of impressment on account of the discontinuance of the orders in council. At any rate, having authorised me to propose terms of accommodation here, it would probably wait for information concerning the manner in which they had been received, before it would consent to more unfavourable conditions. In the mean time the war would be prosecuted, and might produce new obstacles to a pacific arrangement. I was happy to learn that the failure of a former negociation concerning impressment could not be ascribed to a want of sincerity and moderation in the American government, and I hoped the mode now suggested for securing to Great Britain her own seamen might remove the difficulties which had hitherto embarrassed this question. If the people of England were so jealous and sensitive with regard to the exercise of this harsh practice, what ought to be the feelings of the people of America, who were the victims of it? In the United States this practice of impressment was considered as bearing a strong resemblance to the slave trade ; aggravated indeed, in some of its features, as the negro was purchased, already bereft of his liberty, and his slavery and exile were at least mitigated by his exemption from danger, by the interested forbearance of his task master, and the consciousness that, if he could no longer associate with those who were dear to him, he was not compelled to do them injury ; while the American citizen is torn without price, at once, from all the blessings of freedom, and all the charities of social life, subjected to military law, exposed to incessant perils, and forced, at times, to hazard his life in despoiling or destroying his kindred and countrymen. It was matter of astonishment, that while Great Britain discovered such zeal for the abolition of the traffic in the barbarous and unbelieving natives of Africa, as to endeavour to force it on her reluctant allies, that she should so obstinately adhere to the practice of impressing American citizens, whose civilization, religion, and blood, so obviously demanded a more favourable distinction.
I next pointed out to his lordship, the difference between the propositions, which I now submitted, and those contained in my note of the 24th of August. That although the object of both
was essentially the same, there was great diversity in the manner of obtaining it. The discontinuance of the practice of impressment, which was before required to be immediate, and to constitute a formal preliminary to an armistice, was now deferred to commence cotemporaneously with the operation of the law of the United States, prohibiting the employment of British seamen, and was consigned, with the other conditions, to a separate and informal arrangement, In this way it was no doubt intended, by respecting the feelings of the British government, to obviate any objection which might have been the mere suggestion of its pride.
I finally offered, in order to answer at once all the observations and inquiries of lord Castlereagh, that the proposed understanding should be expressed in the inost general terms that the laws, to take effect on the discontinuance of the practice of impressment, should prohibit the employment of the native subjects or citizens of the one state, excepting such only as had already been naturalized, on board the private or public ships of the other ; thus removing any objection that might have been raised with regard to the future effect of naturalization, or the formal renunciation of any pretended right. With regard to blockades, I proposed to follow the same course, and only to agree that none should be instituted by either party, which were not conformable to the acknowledged laws of nations, leaving the definition of such blockade, and all other details, to be settled by the commissioners in the definitive treaty.
I was disappointed and grieved to find that these propositions, moderate and liberal as they were, should be treated in a manner which forbid me to expect their acceptance. I was even asked by Mr. Hamilton, if the U. States would deliver up the native British seamen who might be naturalized in America. Although shocked at this demand, I mildly replied, that such a procedure would be disgraceful to America without being useful to Great Britain that the habits of seamen were so peculiarly unaccommodating, that no one would patiently go through the long probation required by law, to become the citizen of a country where he could not pursue his professional occupations; and that not to employ him in this way would be virtually to surrentder him to Great Britain.
I was disposed to believe, however, that a reciprocal arrangement might be made for giving up deserters from public vessels.
Here, perhaps, I owe an apology to my government for having, without its precise commands, hazarded the overture above mentioned, relative to British subjects, who may hereafter be
come citizens of the United States. In taking this step, however, I persuaded myself that I did not tresspass against the spirit of the instructions which I had received ; and had the
proposition been accepted, I should not have been without all hope that it would have been approved by the president, as its prospective operation would have prevented injustice, and its reciprocity disgrace. Should I, however, urged by too great a zeal to produce an accommodation, have mistaken herein, the intentions of the president, I still should have derived some consolation from reflecting, that this proposition, thus frankly and explicitly made, afforded an opportunity of satisfactorily testing the disposition of this government, and
might be useful in removing much misconception and error. The refusal, indeed, of this proposition, sufficiently explains the view with which I was assailed with the ostentatious parade of the abortive negociations relative to impressment; the exaggeration of its pretended difficulties; the artificial solemnity given to its characters; the affected sensibility to the popular sentiment concerning it; and the fastidious exceptions taken to my powers; and proves most unequivocally the predetermination of the British government to reject, at this time, every overture for the discontinuance of this degrading practice.
Most unfeignedly desiring to suspend the existing hostilities between the two states with a reasonable prospect of finally terminating them in a manner honourable to both, I perhaps pressed with too much earnstness the adoption of the arrangement which I was instructed to propose ; for lord Castlereagh once observed, somewhat loftily, that if the American government was so anxious to get rid of the war, it would have an opportunity of doing so on learning the revocation of the orders in council. I felt constrained on this occasion to assure his lordship, that the anxiety of the American government to get rid of the war, was only a proof of the sincerity with which it had constantly sought to avoid it; but that no event had occurred, or was apprehended, to increase this anxiety. His lordship, correcting his manner, rejoined, that it was not his intention to say any thing offensive, but merely to suggest that if the American government sincerely wished for a restoration of the friendly relations between the two countries, it would consider the revocation of the orders in council as affording a fair occasion for the attainment of that object. After a pause of a few moments, he added, that if the United States did not avail themselves of this occasion, not only to put an end to the war which they had declared, but to perform the conditions on which those orders were revoked, that the orders would, of course, revive. I could not
forbear to remind his lordship, that when I took this view of the subject, in my note of the 24th of August, he had found it to be incorrect; but I hoped that now I was so fortunate as to agree with him on this point, some provision would be made, in case the terms proposed for an armistice should be accepted, to prevent the revival of those edicts. His lordship attempted to explain, but I could not distinctly seize his meaning.
The conversation ended with an assurance on the part of his lordship, that he would, with as little delay as possible, communicate officially to me the decision of the prince regent; and I took my leave, forbidden to hope, that while the present councils and the present opinion of the American people prevail here, this decision will be favourable.
I have the honour to be, with great consideration and respect, sir, &c. &c. (Signed)
JONA. RUSSELL. His Excellency Fames Monroe, &c.
Message from the President of the United States, transmitting
copies of a letter from the Consul General of the United States to Algiers, stating the circumstances preceding and attending his departure from that regency.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.
I transmit to congress copies of a letter from the consul general of the United States to Algiers, stating the circumstances preceding and attending his departure from that regency. November 17th, 1812.
JAMES MADISON. Extract of a letter from Mr. Lear, consul general at Algiers, to
the Secretary of State. On board the American ship Allegany, at sea, July 29th, 1812.
On the 17th inst. I had the honour to receive your respected favours of the 6th February and 29th of April, 1812, by capt. Ebenezer Eveleth, of the ship Allegany, which arrived at Algiers on that day, with the four new Mediterranean passports, 200 tops, and the several packages containing messages, reports, newspapers, &c. together with the letter of Richard Forrest, esq. covering the invoice and bill of lading of the ship Allegany, sent from the United States with a cargo of nayal and military stores for the regency of Algiers, in fulfilment of treaty stipulations.