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My letters which accompany this, contain all I have to say on our affairs here, and I shall only add the assurances of high respect and sincere attachment with which I have the honour to be, &c.
TOBIAS LEAR. Hon. James Madison, Sec. of State
of the United States.
FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES RELATIVE TO ENGLAND AND FRANCE. NOV. 8, 1808.
(Not to be published.]
Os so much of THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE AS RESPECTS
OUR FOREIGN RELATIONS. NOV. 22, 1808. The committee to whom was referred so much of the message of the President of the United States, of the 8th instant, as respects our relations with foreign powers, report, in part:
After a period of twenty-five years of peace, hardly interrupted by transient hostilities, and of prosperity unparalleled in the history of nations; the United States are, for the first time since the treaty which terminated the revolutionary war, placed in a situation equally difficult, critical and dangerous.
Those principles recognised by the civilized world under the name of law of nations, which heretofore controlled belligerent powers, regulated the duties of neutrals and protected their rights, are now avowedly disregarded or forgotten by Great Britain and France. Each of those · two nations, captures and condemns all American vessels
trading with her enemies or her enemies, allies; and every European power having become a party in the contest, the whole of our commerce with Europe and European colonies, becomes liable to capture by either one or the other. If there be any nominal exception, it is made on a condition of tribute, which only adds insult to the injury.
The only plea urged in justification of those hostilities, is that of retaliation, grounded on a presumed acquiescence of the United States in previous aggressions by the other party. Waving a discussion of the correctness of the principle of retaliation, a principle doubtful in itself, and altogether inadmissible to the extent to which it has been carried, and when operating on the neutral rather than on the enemy; it is altogether untrue that the United States have ever voluntarily acquiesced in the unlawful aggressions of either nation; omitted or delayed any measures calculated to obtain redress, or in any respect deviated from that impartiality to which they were bound by their neutrality. France has alluded to the violations of the national flag, and of the sovereignty of the United States, in the instances of Pierce's murder, of the outrage on the Chesapeake, and of the destruction of the Impetuous. The measures taken to obtain redress in those cases are of publick notoriety, and it may be added, that with the exception of the last, those aggressions on the sovereignty of the United States, did not affect their neutrality, and gave no right to France either of complaint or interference. Setting aside irregularities of less importance and equally chargeable to both nations, such as the British order of June, 1803, and the decree of the French general Ferrand; the principal violations by England of the neutral rights of America, prior to the Berlin decree of November, 1806, and which, if acquiesced in, might have given grounds of complaint to France, are the capture of American vessels laden with colonial produce, founded on a renewal of that pretended principle generally called “the rule of 1756," the impressment of American seamen, compelled thereby to become the auxiliaries of England against France, and proclamation or nominal blockades, particularly that of the coast from the river Elbe to Brest, notified in May, 1806.
It will not be asserted, that the United States ever tamely asquiesced in either of those pretensions. It will not
be denied, that with respect to the two first, the most strenuous efforts were incessantly made to procure an alteration of the British system.
It is true, that to the nominal proclamation blockades of England, the United States had opposed only spirited and repeated remonstrances, and that these had not always been successful. But the measures which a neutral nation may be supposed bound to take, against the infractions of its neutrality, must always bear a certain proportion to the extent and nature of the injury received, and to the means of opposition. It cannot certainly be pretended, that a hasty resort to war should in every such instance have become the duty of America. Nor can the irregularities of England, in declaring in a state of blockade a certain extent of coast, part of which was not, and the whole of which could not, even by her powerful navy, be actually invested and blockaded, be plead in justification of that decree, by which France, without an eficient fleet, pretends to announce the blockade of the dominions of a power which has the incontestable command of the sea, and before no port of which she can station a single vessel. The Milan decree of 1807, can still less rest for its defence on the supposed acquiescence of the United States in the British orders of the preceding month, since those orders, which have not certainly been acquiesced in, were not even known in America at the date of the decree. And it is proper here to add, that the French have, particularly by the sequestration of certain vessels in their ports, and by burning our ships on the high seas, gone even beyond the tenour of their own extraordinary edicts.
The allegation of an acquiescence in the Berlin decree of November, 1806, by which alone the British government pretends to justify the orders of council, is equally unfounded. In the note on that subject, addressed on the 31st of December, 1806, by the British government to the American ministers, after having stated that “they could not believe that the enemy would ever seriously attempt to enforce such a system," the following declaration is expressly made, "If, however, the enemy should carry these hrcats into execution, and if neutral nations, contrary to all expectation, should acquiesce in such usurpations his majesty might probably be compelled, however reluctantly, to retaliate in his just defence, &c." The two requiYOL. VI.
sites necessary in the opinion' of Great Britain to justily retaliation, are stated to be, the execution of the decree, and the acquiescence of neutral nations. Yet, within eight days after, and in the face of that declaration, without waiting for ascertaining either of those facts, the retaliating British order of January 7th, 1807, was issued, which, contrary to the acknowledged law of nations, subjected to capture, vessels of the United States sailing from the ports of one belligerent to a port of another belligerent.
The United States in the mean while, and without delay, had taken the necessary steps to ascertain the manner in which the French government intended to execute their decree.
That decree might be construed merely as a municipal law forbidding the introduction of British merchandise, and the admission of vessels coming from England. Under that aspect, and if confined to that object, the neutral rights of America were not affected by its operation,
A belligerent may, without any infraction of neutral rights, forbid the admission into his ports of any vessel coming from the ports of his enemy. And France had undoubtedly the same right to exclude from her dominions every species of British merchandise, which the United States have exercised in forbidding the importation of certain species. Great Britain might be injured by such regulations : but America had no more right to complain of that part of the decree, than France had to object to the American non-importation act. So far indeed as respects the United States, they were placed by the municipal part of the decree in the same situation, in relation to France, in which they are placed in their intercourse with Great Britain by the permanent laws of that country. The French decree forbids American vessels to import British merchandise into France. The British navigation act forbids American vessels to import French merchandise into England. But that broad clause of the Berlin decree which declared the British islands in a state of blockade, though not followed by regulations to that effect, still threatened an intended operation on the high seas. This, if carried into effect, would be a flagrant violation of the neutral rights of the United States, and as such they would be bound to oppose it. The minister of the United States at Paris immediately applied for explanation on that subject; and the French minister of maripe, on the 24th December, 1806, seven days before the date of the above mentioned note of the British government, stated in answer, that the decree made no alteration in the regulations then observed in France with regard to neutral navigation, or to the commercial convention of the United States with France. That the declaration of the British islands being in a state of blockade did not change the existing French laws concerning maritime captures, and that American vessels could not be taken at sea for the mere reason of their being going to, or relurning from an English port.
The execution of the decree comported for several months with those explanations : several vessels were arrested for having introduced articles of English growth or manufacture, and among them some which being actually from England, and laden with English colonial produce, had entered with forged papers, as if coming from the United States. But no alteration of the first construction given by the French government took place until the month of September, 1807. The first condemnation on the principle that the decree subjected neutral vessels to capture on the high seas, was that of the Horizon on the 10th of October following. Prior to that time there could have been no acquiescence in a decree infringing the neutral rights of the United States; because till that time it was explained, and what was more important, executed in such manner as not to infringe those rights; because until then no such infraction had taken place. The ministers of the United States at London, at the request of the British minister, communicated to him on the 18th October, 1807, the substance of the explanations received, and of the manner in which the decree was executed. For they were at that time ignorant of the change which had taken place.
It was on the 18th of September, 1307, that a new construction of the decree took place; an instruction having on that day been transmitted to the council of prizes by the minister of justice, by which that court was informed, that French armed vessels were authorized, under that decree, to seize without exception, in neutral vessels, either English property, or merchandise of English growth or manufacture. An immediate explanation having been