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in the jurisdiction of the United States bound to a foreign port, were prohibited from leaving their ports; except foreign vessels either in ballast, or with the goods on board when notified of the act; and foreign armed vessels having public commissions for any foreign power. And all coasting ressels were required, before their departure, to give bonds to land their cargoes at some port in the United States. The following is the message of the president containing the recommendation of the measure. It was dated the 18th of December, 1807 :
" The communications now made, showing the great and increasing dangers with which our vessels, our seamen, and merchandise, are threatened on the high scas and elsewhere, from the belligerent powers of Europe, and it being of the greatest importance to keep in safety these essential resources, I deem it my duty to recommend the subject to the consideration of congress, who will doubtless perceive all the advantages which may be expected from an inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States.
4 Their wisdom will also see the necessity of making every precaution for whatever events may grow out of the present crisis."
Accompanying this message, were four documents, the communications” to which the message referred. One of these documents was an extract of a letter from the French grand judge, minister of justice, to the imperial attorney-general for the council of prizes, dated September 18, 1807, containing Napoleon's construction of the Berlin decree; which that French “vessels of war might seize on board neutral vessels either English property, or even all merchandise proceeding from the English manufactories or territory." Another document, dated October 16, 1807, and taken from a London newspaper, purported to be a proclamation by the king of Great Britain, for recalling and prohibiting British seamen from service on board of ships of war belonging to any foreign state at enmity with that nation; declaring that all his majesty's subjects who should voluntarily continue in, or thereafter enter, such service, would be guilty of high treason. Only these two papers were published as having accompanied the message.
The other two papers were, a letter from Mr. Armstrong, our minister at Paris, dated September 24, 1807, to the minister of foreign relations, asking whether the Berlin decree was “intended, in any degree, to infract the obligations of the treaty subsisting between the United States and the French empire," and Champagny's answer of the 7th of October, confirming Napoleon's construction of that decree ; to which he added, that the decree of blockade had been issued eleven months; that the principal powers of Europe, so far from protesting against its provisions, had adopted them. They had perceived that, to render it effec
tual, it must be complete; and it had “seemed easy to reconcile the measure with the observance of treaties, especially at a time when the infractions, by England, of the rights of all maritime powers, render their interests common, and tend to unite them in support of the same cause."
These two letters, though communicated with the message to congress, were, it is said, returned at the president's request, for the reason, as he alleged, that it was improper to publish them. What rendered their publication improper, is left to conjecture. They were, however, some months afterward, with a mass of other documents, laid before congress, without any intimation for what purpose. The political opponents of the president discovered in none of these documents any new facts “showing great and increasing dangers” calling for special legislation, much less an embargo. The British proclamation was presumed to have been intended merely to secure her own seamen. They therefore looked for the motive to the measure in a desire to appease France. Having at that time few vessels afloat, she would receive little injury from the emubargo, while Great Britain, having command of the ocean, would be the principal sufferer. The letter of Champagny clearly showed the intention of forcing the United States into an acquiescence, if not an active coöperation, in the general war upon British commerce; and but a few weeks elapsed before the capture and condemnation of goods commenced, on the ground that they were the productions of Great Britain.
The federalists seem to have suspected, that the object of the partial suppression of Champagny's letter, was to prevent the idea that the embargo was intended to aid Bonaparte in crippling the commerce of Great Britain ; Spain and Holland having already been brought, according to that letter, “ to unite” with him “in support of the same cause." The suspicion of the president's subserviency to France, was subsequently strengthened by letters from our ministers in France and England, published in a pamphlet, entitled, “Further Suppressed Documents," which made its appearance about that time. One of these letters was from Mr. Armstrong to Mr. Madison, dated February 22, 1808. The following is an extract:
“I have come to the knowledge of two facts which I think sufficiently show the decided character of the emperor's policy with regard to us. These are, first, that in a council of administration held a few days past
, when it was proposed to modify the decrees of November, 1806, and December 1807, (though the proposition was supported by the whole weight of the council, he became highly indignant, and declared that these decrees should suffer no change, and that the Americans should be compelled to take the positive character of either allies or enemies ; 21, that on the 27th of January last, twelve days after Mr. Champagny's written assurances that these decrees should work no change in the property sequestered, until our discussions with England were brought to a close, and seven days before he reported to me verbally these very assurances,
the emperor had, by a special decisiòn, confiscated two of our ships and their cargoes, (the Julius Henry and the Juniata,) for want merely of a document not required by any law or usage of the commerce in which they had been engaged. This act was taken, as I am informed, on a general report of sequestered cases amounting to one hundred and sixty, and which, at present prices, will yield upwards of one hundred millions of francs, a sum whose magnitude alone renders hopeless all attempts at saving it. Danes, Portuguese, and Americans, will be the principal sufferers. If I am right in supposing that the emperor has definitively taken his ground, I can not be wrong in concluding that you will immediately take yours.”
Another letter, said to have been suppressed, was from Mr. Pinkney, who, after he had received a copy of the president's message recommending the embargo, and of the act passed in pursuance of it, wrote to Mr. Madison from London, January 26, 1808, that he had given to the British government the explanations of this measure, as Mr. Madison bad suggested, and that "Mr. Canning had received the explanations with great apparent satisfaction, and had expressed his most friendly disposition towards our country.” And on his having made complaint to Mr. Canning, that, as an effect of the orders in council, “ American vessels coming into British ports under warning, could not obtain any document to enable them to return to the United States, without hazard, in the event of its being found imprudent, either to deposit their cargoes, or to resume their original voyages; Mr. Canning took a note of what he had said, and assured him that whatever was necessary to give the facility in question, would be done without delay; adding, that it was their sincere wish to show, in every thing connected with the orders in council, which only necessity had compelled them to adopt, their anxiety to accommodate them, as far as was consistent with their object, to the feelings and interest of the American government and people."
The suppression of these documents was attributed to the fear that the people, seeing the contrast between the two documents, would disapprove the course of the government toward the two countries. Certain federalists, since the death of Mr. Jefferson and the publication of his writings, have referred to a letter from him to Robert L. Livingston, dated October 15, 1808, for a farther confirmation of the opinion, that the embargo was designed to benefit France and injure Great Britain. He says : “The explanation of his principles, given you by the French emperor, in conversation, is correct, as far as it goes. He does not wish
us to go to war with England, knowing we have no ships to carry on
To submit to pay England the tribute on our commerce which she demands, by her orders in council, would be to aid her in the war against him, and would give him just ground to declare war with us. He concludes, therefore, as every rational man must, that the embargo, the only remaining alternative, was a wise measure.” He says in the same letter : “ Had the emperor said that he condemned our vessels going voluntarily into his ports in breach of his municipal laws, we might have admitted it as rigorously legal, though not friendly. But his condemnation of vessels taken on the high seas by his privateers, and carried involuntarily into his ports, is justifiable by no law, is piracy, and this is the wrong we complain of against him.” This conduct of France being as bad as that of Great Britain possibly could be, the federalists thought her equally deserving of retaliatory legislation.
The effect of the embargo was more or less severe upon the three countries. Through the British newspapers and other channels of information, the loss of the American market to English manufacturers, was represented as being most sensibly felt; and many laborers were consequently thrown out of employment. It would seem, however, that the extreme severity of the measure was not permanent in that country. Cotton was imported from Brazil, Egypt, and the East Indies, and grain from the Baltic, though at a great disadvantage. The revolt in Spain, caused by the attempt of Bonaparte to put one of his own family upon the throne of that kingdom, opened for the British a market in that country and in her South American colonies. Mr. Armstrong, in a letter of the 30th of August, 1808, also published in the "Suppressed Documents," says:
“We have somewhat overrated the means of coercion of the two great belligerents to a course of justice. * Here it (the embargo) is not felt, and in England, (in the midst of the more interesting scenes of the day,) it is forgotten."
In the United States, commerce was almost annihilated; and murmurs of dissatisfaction prevailed throughout the country. In the New England states especially, where capital was invested chiefly in commercial enterprise, the loudest complaints were made during the whole period of its continuance. Not being permitted to export, agricultural labor was poorly rewarded; and manufactures were obtained, if obtained at all, at very high prices. Such was the height to which the disaffection at length arose in the eastern states, as to cause apprehensions that, if the embargo should be persisted in, it would meet with violent resistance; and those states would withdraw from the union.
To mitigate the rigor of this restrictive policy, congress, on the 1st of March, 1809, passed an act, since called the non-intercourse law, by which the embargo law was repealed, and all intercourse with Great Britain and France prohibited. But the act provided, that, if either nation should so revoke or modify her edicts as that they should cease to violate the neutral commerce of the United States—which fact the president should declare by proclamation--the trade suspended by this act and the embargo should be renewed with that nation.
Mr. Jefferson's term of office having expired, Mr. Madison was inaugurated as president on the 4th of March, 1809. He appointed Robert Smith, of Maryland, secretary of state; William Eustis, of Massachusetts, secretary of war; Paul Hamilton, of South Carolina, secretary of the navy; Albert Gallatin, of Pennsylvania, was continued secretary of the treasury; and Cesar A. Rodney, of Delaware, was continued attorneygeneral..
In April, Mr. Erskine, the British minister at Washington, represented that he was authorized by his government to say, that, if the United States would renew intercourse with Great Britain, the orders in council, so far as they affected the United States, would be repealed. Accordingly, the president issued a proclamation on the 19th of April, announcing that the commerce between the two countries would be renewed the 10th of June, on which day the British orders were to be withdrawn. The last congress having, in consequence of the critical state of public affairs, passed an act convening the new congress on the 22d of May, the latter met on the day appointed. In the message of the president, communicated on the 23d, the first subject to which he called their attention was, the “revision of our commercial laws, proper to adapt them to the arrangement which has taken place with Great Britain." The necessary laws were accordingly passed.
Intelligence, however, was soon after received, that the British gov. ernment had disavowed the act of their minister as unauthorized; who admitted that he had exceeded the letter of his instructions : but he had been induced to do so from a conviction that he should be acting in conformity with his majesty's wishes. The president, therefore, on the 3d of August, issued another proclamation, declaring that the orders in council had not been withdrawn, and that, consequently, the acts which had been suspended were to be considered as in force. For having thus violated the instructions of his government, Mr. Erskine was recalled.
Mr. Francis James Jackson, successor to Mr. Erskine, arrived at Washington the ensuing autumn; and a correspondence with the secretary of state was soon commenced. This correspondence related to the question whether our government in negotiating with Mr. Erskine, had knowledge of the extent of his instructions—whether it did not know that he was not invested with full power to adjust the differences be