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History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/Second/I:18


Chapter 18: Rejection of Monroe's TreatyEdit

Monroe was singularly unfortunate in diplomacy. His disasters came not in any ordinary form of occasional defeat or disappointment, but in waves and torrents of ill-luck. No diplomatist in American history, except Monroe and Pinkney, ever signed a treaty in flagrant contradiction to orders, and at the same time submitted to be told that the opposite party to the contract reserved a right to break it; but if any other man had taken such a step it would have answered for a lifetime, and his mortifications would have ended there. No one could assume that the British ministry would care to do more, pending the ratification of its own treaty. Fox's successor, one of the most liberal Whig noblemen, having imposed on the United States terms which would have been hard as the result of war, with the addition that even these terms were conditional on a declaration of hostilities between the United States and France, the liberal Whigs might be supposed willing to wait for some new pretext before publicly tearing their own treaty to pieces.

If Monroe flattered himself that he had for the moment checked British aggression, he quickly learned his error. The treaty had been signed barely a week when a new Order in Council appeared, which surpassed any belligerent measure of the Tories.[1] Beginning with the premise that Napoleon's Berlin Decree "would give to his Majesty an unquestionable right of retaliation, and would warrant his Majesty in enforcing the same prohibition of all commerce with France which that Power vainly hopes to effect against the commerce of his Majesty's subjects," the order added that King George felt himself bound "to retort upon them the evils of their own injustice," and therefore "ordered that no vessel shall be permitted to trade from one port to another, both which ports shall belong to, or be in the possession of, France or her allies." In other words the Whig ministers, ignoring their fresh treaty with the United States and even the note appended to it, declared that they would not wait for America to resent the Berlin Decree, but that United States vessels must in future, as a retort for that decree, be deprived of the right to sail from one European port to another. The custom had hitherto prevailed among American shippers of seeking a market according to ruling prices, partly perhaps at Bilbao or Bordeaux, partly at some other French or Mediterranean port. Lord Howick's order of Jan. 7, 1807, which cut short this coasting privilege, was a blow to American commerce sharper than the famous decision of Sir William Scott in the case of the "Essex." Its apparent effect was to double the cost and risk of neutral commerce, while incidentally it asserted a right to prohibit such trade altogether.

Unfortunately more remained behind. The new order was not only an act of violence; it was, according to the Tories, also one of meanness. On its face it purported to be a measure of retaliation, taken in order to retort upon France the evils of Napoleon's injustice. In the Parliamentary debate four weeks afterward, when the order was attacked, all parties argued it as a matter of retaliation. The King's advocate. Sir John Nicholls, who defended it, took the ground that for the moment no severer retaliation was needed; while Spencer Perceval and Lord Castlereagh held that Napoleon's decree should have been retaliated in full.

"You might turn the provisions of the French decree against themselves," said Perceval;[2] "and as they have said that no British goods should sail freely on the seas, you might say that no goods should be carried to France except they first touched at an English port. They might be forced to be entered at the custom-house, and a certain entry imposed, which would contribute to advance the price and give a better sale in the foreign market to your own commodities."
Sir John Nicholls replied:[3]
"It was not denied that some steps in retaliation were necessary; and the question was how far the steps that had been taken were adequate. . . . It was necessary to allow a fair trial to what ministers had adopted."

All this seemed clear and frank; it was equivalent to saying that the rules of international law were henceforth to be laid aside, and that the doctrine of retaliation was to be the measure of England's rights. Yet this was not the form in which Lord Howick addressed President Jefferson.

"His Majesty," wrote Lord Howick to Erskine,[4] "with that forbearance and moderation which have at all times distinguished his conduct, has determined for the present to confine himself to the exercise of the power given him by his decided naval superiority in such a manner only as is authorized by the acknowledged principles of the law of nations."

In Parliament the measure was represented as an extra-legal act, justified by the illegality of the Berlin Decree. In diplomacy it was represented as an act "authorized by the acknowledged principles of the law of nations." The reason of the self-contradiction was evident. Only a week before this letter was written, the ministers had concluded a treaty with the United States involving the rights of neutrals, and had attached to it a note to the effect that if the United States failed to resist the Berlin Decree England would acquire the right to retaliate, but had not hinted that retaliation was intended until the case of acquiescence should happen. As the matter stood, the British government had no right to retaliate, but was bound to wait for America to act; and Lord Howick's order, from that point of view, could not be defended.

From every other point of view the Order was equally indefensible; and within a year the Whigs were obliged to take the ground that it was not an act of retaliation at all, but an application of the Rule of 1756. Strange to say, this assertion was probably true. Unlikely as it seemed that Earl Grey, Lord Holland, and Lord Grenville could be parties to a transaction so evasive, their own admissions left no doubt that Napoleon's Berlin Decree was the pretext, not the cause, of Lord Howick's order; that Lord Howick's true intention was to go one step further than Pitt in applying the Rule of 1756 against United States commerce; that he aimed only at cutting off the neutral trade at one end of the voyage, as Pitt had cut it off at the other.

This criticism of the Whig ministry was made not so much in America as in England. The Whigs never offered an intelligible defence. Lord Grenville and Lord Howick argued at much length in Parliament, but convinced no one that their argument was sound; even the "Edinburgh Review" was ashamed of the task, and became unintelligible when it touched upon this party measure.[5] Whether the conduct of Lord Grenville's administration was, as a vigorous Tory pamphleteer said,[6] a piece of chicanery of which an attorney's clerk would have been ashamed, was a matter for English historians to decide. In England at that day none but a few merchants or Republicans believed in the honor or honesty of the United States government or people; but in this instance it was not the honor or honesty of Americans that the English critics denied: it was, on the contrary, the good faith of their own most distinguished and most trusted noblemen,—Lord Grenville and Lord Sidmouth, Earl Grey and Lord Holland, Lord Erskine and Lord Lansdowne, Lord Ellenborough and Earl Fitzwilliam; and in the light of such conduct and criticism, Americans could not be greatly blamed if they refused to admit the ground on which these English gentlemen claimed a better reputation for truth or honesty than they were willing to allow Napoleon. Robbery against robbery, the English mode of pillage seemed on the whole less respectable than the French.

The Whigs were liberal by tradition and instinct; well disposed toward peace and commerce with all nations, they knew that neutral ships alone could carry British manufactures to a European market. Every impediment put in the way of neutral commerce was an additional burden on British produce; every market closed to neutrals was a market closed to England. From a Whig point of view Lord Howick's order violated the rules of political economy and common-sense; not to be defended or excused, it equalled in violence the aggressions of Pitt, and in bad faith rivalled the deceptions of Napoleon. Yet this measure was the last act of a Ministry more liberal than England was destined to see again for twenty years. Hardly had Lord Grenville made this concession to Tory prejudice when the old King, nearly blind and on the verge of insanity, clinging to his prejudices with the persistence of age, seized the pretext of some small concession to the Roman Catholics and turned the Whigs out of his councils. March 26, 1807, Lord Grenville and Lord Howick announced to the two Houses of Parliament their dismissal from office.

If the friendly Whigs, after imposing on the United States such a treaty, had thought themselves still obliged to lop off another main limb of American commerce, which Pitt had spared, the Tories were not likely to rest until they had put an end to American neutral commerce altogether. This result was foreshadowed by Spencer Perceval and Lord Castlereagh in their speeches on Lord Howick's order, and was the end to which the legislation and public opinion of England had pointed for years. The time for negotiation had gone by, and nothing remained for the United States but a trial of strength.

For this final test Jefferson was ready. Congress had placed in his hands powers which in his opinion were ample to protect American interests abroad and at home. On sufficient provocation he could exclude British ships-of-war from American waters, and if they should refuse to depart he might enforce the Non-importation Act against British commerce. His conduct proved that he felt neither fear nor hesitation. He had never expected a satisfactory treaty from England, and he had good reason to know that Monroe's treaty, if Monroe should succeed in making one, must be worse than none. Early in February, 1807, arrived the despatch from Monroe and Pinkney announcing that the two envoys had decided to depart from their instructions and to abandon the impressment ultimatum. Madison replied,[7] February 3, that no such treaty would be ratified, and that it would be better to let the negotiation quietly terminate, leaving each party to follow an informal understanding; but that if such a treaty should have been signed, the British commissioners should be candidly apprised of the reasons for not expecting its ratification. That Monroe's treaty, if he made one, would be rejected and returned without ratification to the British government was certain long before it reached America.

On that point, as on the inflexibility of England, no doubt could exist. President Jefferson and Secretary Madison were as determined, in case of necessity, to attack British manufactures as Spencer Perceval and George Rose were bent upon cutting off American trade; but although the Americans fully meant to use commercial weapons against British aggression, they earnestly wished for a good working arrangement under which, without a treaty, peace and commerce could be secure. So far from challenging a rupture, they were anxious only to encourage cordial relations. Throughout the winter of 1806-1807 Jefferson made of his attachment to England a foundation for all his policy at home and abroad. Congress, under the security of Fox's friendship, left foreign affairs alone, and quarrelled only about domestic matters; while General Turreau's temper was made more irritable by the attentions lavished upon David Montague Erskine, the new British minister, who, Nov. 4, 1806, put an end to the adventures of Merry at Washington, and began the easy task of winning popularity.

The winter of 1805-1806 had been favorable to Turreau, who saw France control American policy toward Spain and St. Domingo; while a stringent Act of Congress prohibiting the importation of British manufactures brought within his sight the chief object of French diplomacy in America,—a war between the United States and England. The winter of 1806-1807 promised to undo this good work, and even to bring the United States to the verge of war with France. The first measure recommended by the President and adopted by Congress—the suspension of the Non-importation Act—annoyed Turreau. Monroe's treaty was signed in London December 1; at Washington Turreau wrote, December 12,[8] soon after Congress met,—

"If I am to judge by the talk and countenances of the great people, this Congress will be more favorable to England than the last was; and already its leader, under the President's own invitation, shows a benevolent disposition toward the British government. I had the honor to see Mr. Jefferson the evening before Congress met, and to say to him, on the subject of Spanish differences, that probably all the negotiations entered into by the Government with that Power, as well as with England, would succeed. 'Really,' replied the President, 'I have reason to think that the English are going to make an arrangement with us, and that it would be already done if Mr. Fox's death had not interrupted negotiation. Perhaps we shall even obtain,' he added, 'the right to extend our maritime jurisdiction, and to carry it as far as the effect of the Gulf Stream makes itself felt,—which would be very advantageous both to belligerents and to neutrals.'"

To persons who knew that Jefferson was then angry with Napoleon for his faithless conduct in preventing the new Florida negotiation, this assurance of English friendship gave a measure of the President's diplomacy. He was willing to irritate and alarm the French minister, and he succeeded. Turreau took refuge in speculations and sharp

criticisms:—
"I know not whether to attribute this first effect of pronounced favor in regard to England to the last despatches of the two envoys negotiating at London, or to the first overtures of Mr. Erskine, who arrived here a few days ago, and with whom they seem already infatuated (très engoué); . . . or, finally, whether it may not be the result of some hints from Alexander,—for whom the Federal government, and particularly Mr. Jefferson, have an admiration which borders on delirium. And your Excellency may recall that last spring the President talked of making overtures to the Russian sovereign relative to a plan of unarmed maritime confederation, which was then his great object, and which, as he assured me in our last interview, he has not given up,—making, as his custom is, a grand eulogium of Alexander and his savages."

Madison, even in prosperous times never a favorite with General Turreau, managed as usual to draw upon himself the chief weight of diplomatic suspicion and wrath.

"The unexpected change in the views of the Federal government," continued Turreau, "is such that the secretary's bearing toward me is deranged by it. Not that he has renounced his system of attentions (prévenances) toward the minister of France, whom he does not love, and whom, as I have unfortunately good reason to know, he distrusts; not that he has weakened his protestations, reiterated to satiety, of personal attachment to the interests of France, and of the Government's constant wish to maintain and strengthen the friendly relations which unite it with that Power,—but the Secretary of State has forgotten that at the beginning of this year [1806], and particularly after the event of Austerlitz, the only subject of our private conversations was complaint of England, and the fixed resolution of the Federal government to stop the course of her wrongs either by repression or reprisals. He has forgotten that the steps taken by the Executive to obtain from Congress the famous Non-importation Bill, now suspended, were so marked and ill-concealed that John Randolph called attention to them, and flung severe, or rather humiliating, taunts at the agents of ministerial influence. Now Mr. Madison no longer talks to me about England; he tries to keep out of our conversations whatever relates to that Power, and far from making complaints of her, the Federal government 'has to congratulate itself that the ministry of Mr. Fox, though unfortunately too short, has nevertheless sufficed to bring the Cabinet of St. James to moderate sentiments.'"

Neither Jefferson nor Madison took direct notice of Napoleon's conduct in regard to Florida, but they led Turreau to think that England was their favorite; and Turreau's dislike of America and Americans became in consequence more decided. He hoped for Burr's success in order to relieve the pressure upon him:[9]

"It seems to me that Burr's success cannot be contrary to the interests of France, although I am convinced that England will favor him,—doubtless with other hopes; but if we had to-day the Floridas, the importance of which I have felt it my duty to recall to you, I think I can guarantee that New Orleans would be ours if we only showed a wish for it. All reports, and I have had such, both official and positive, agree as to the regrets expressed by the great majority of inhabitants at not living under French rule."

In the middle of February, at a moment when Americans expected daily the arrival of a British treaty marked by generous concessions, Napoleon's Berlin Decree reached the United States. Commerce was instantly paralyzed, and merchants, Congressmen, Cabinet, and President turned to Turreau anxiously inquiring what was meant by this blockade of the British Islands by a Power which could not keep so much as a frigate at sea. Turreau could give them no answer. " Your Excellency will readily believe," he wrote home,[10] "that this circumstance does not put us in a better position here." The influence of France in the United States was never lower than at the moment when England turned Lord Grenville and Lord Erskine out of power, in order to install Spencer Perceval and Lord Eldon at the head of a Tory reaction. Jefferson's objections to a British treaty would have had no weight with the Senate if the treaty had been tolerable; the Berlin Decree and the Emperor's conduct in regard to Florida would have reconciled Madison to almost any British alliance. Turreau was so well aware of the danger that he exerted himself in remonstrances and semi-threats, and told[11] one member of the Cabinet after another that "at a moment when Europe, leagued together against the maritime tyranny of England, was laboring to throw off the yoke of that Power and to secure for all navigating nations freedom of commerce and the seas," it was particularly improper for the United States to accept any treaty which did not expressly secure all disputed points, and that no treaty would be observed by England unless made under the auspices and by the guaranty of Napoleon.

In view of the recent fate that had overtaken Powers like Switzerland and Venice, which had put themselves under the auspices of Napoleon, this argument produced no conviction. Turreau might better have left to the English the task of repairing Napoleon's mistakes; but these mistakes had accumulated until it depended upon England alone whether the United States should join her in the war. Not only had the Emperor offended Jefferson and Madison by his peremptory stoppage of the Florida purchase,—he had also declared war upon American commerce in a decree which Jefferson and Madison could not but suspect to be in some mysterious way connected with his sudden change of front toward Spain and Florida; while in the face of these difficulties he left his own minister at Washington in such discredit that Turreau was reduced to beg sixty thousand dollars from the American Treasury to meet consular expenditures at a moment when he should have been pressing complaints about the frigate "Impetueux," destroyed by the English within American jurisdiction, and when he should have been threatening the most fatal consequences if President Jefferson should sign any treaty whatever with England.[12]

In this temper all parties waited for the news from England, which could not long be delayed; until March 3, 1807, the last day of the session, a rumor reached the Capitol that a messenger had arrived at the British legation with a copy of the treaty negotiated by Pinkney and Monroe. The news was true. No sooner did Erskine receive the treaty than he hurried with it to Madison, "in hopes that he would be induced to persuade the President either to detain the Senate, which he has the power by the Constitution to do, or to give them notice that he should convene them again." Unlike Merry, Erskine was anxious for a reconciliation between England and America; he tried honestly and over-zealously to bring the two governments into accord, but he found Madison not nearly so earnest as himself:

"The first question he asked was, what had been determined on the point of impressment of seamen, claimed as British, out of American ships; and when I informed him that I had not perceived anything that directly referred to that question in any of the Articles of the copy of the treaty which I had received, he expressed the greatest astonishment and disappointment. . . . The note which was delivered in to the American commissioners, previous to the signature of the treaty, by Lords Holland and Auckland, relative to Bonaparte's decree of November 21, particularly attracted his attention; and he observed that the note itself would have prevented, he was convinced, the ratification of the treaty, even if all the Articles of it had been satisfactory, and all the points settled upon the terms that had been required by their commissioners."[13]

At ten o'clock the same night the two Houses of Congress, when ready to adjourn, sent a joint committee to wait upon the President, who was unwell, and unable to go as usual to the Capitol. Dr. Mitchill, the senator from New York, a member of this committee, asked the President whether there would be a call of the Senate to consider the treaty.[14] "Certainly not," replied Jefferson; and he added that "the only way he could account for our ministers having signed such a treaty under such circumstances was by supposing that in the first panic of the French imperial decree they had supposed a war to be inevitable, and that America must make common cause with England. He should, however, continue amicable relations with England, and continue the suspension of the Non-importation Act."

The senators received this rebuff with ill-concealed annoyance. Jefferson's act in refusing to consult them about a matter so important as a British treaty—and one which from the first had been their own rather than the President's scheme—was another instance of the boldness which sometimes contradicted the theory that Jefferson was a timid man. To ordinary minds it seemed clear that the President needed support; that he could not afford single-handed to defy England and France; that the circle of foreign enemies was narrowing about him; and that to suppress of his own will a treaty on which peace and war might depend, exposed him to responsibilities under which he might be crushed. Although the treaty was not yet published, enough had been said to make senators extremely curious about its contents; and they were not pleased to learn that the President meant to tell them nothing, and cared too little for their opinion to ask it. Of all the senators the most formidable intriguer was Samuel Smith of Maryland, who wrote the next day confidentially to Wilson Cary Nicholas a letter full of the fresh impressions which gave life to Smith's private language:[15]

"A copy of the treaty arrived last evening. The President is angry with it, and to Dr. Mitchill and Mr. Adams (who carried the last message) expressed his anger in strong, very strong terms, telling in broad language the cause of his wrath. He requested the doctor to tell the senators his objections. If the doctor repeated correctly, then I must be permitted to think there was not a little of the heightening. He said the President was at present determined to send the original back the moment it shall be received, without submitting it to the Senate. He was sick, it is true,—vexed and worried; he may think better of it, for Madison (expecting less than he had) differs with him as to calling the Senate, and R[obert] S[mith] concurs in opinion with M[adison]. . . . I stopped here, and I have seen the President and Mr. M[adison]. It seems the impressment of seamen was a sine qua non in the instructions. The P[resident] speaks positively that, without full and formal satisfaction shall be made thereupon, he will return the treaty without consulting the Senate; and yet he admits the treaty, so far as to all the other points, might be acceptable,—nay, that there are but few exceptions to it in his mind. I fancy the merchants would be perfectly pleased therewith. If then in all other points it would please, will the responsibility not be very great on him should he send it back without consulting the Senate? M[adison] in answer to this query said, 'But if he is determined not to accept, even should the Senate advise, why call the Senate together?' I could give no answer to this question. If by his unusual conduct the British continue or increase their depredations (which he cannot prevent), what will be the outcry? You may advise him. He stumped us by his positive manner. . . . Will not M[onroe] and P[inkney] both conceive themselves insulted, and return to make war on the Administration? The whole subject ought, I conceive, to have been treated as one of great delicacy."

In another letter, written the same day, General Smith rehearsed the story in a few words, which proved that Smith had a full share of the shrewdness that was lacking in Jefferson. He saw the future as clearly as politicians often saw what philosophers overlooked; but his jealousy of Jefferson appeared in every word:[16]

"The Senate, agreeably to the first construction (given by General Washington and his Administration, of which Jefferson was one,—given, too, immediately after the knowledge of what was the intention of the convention that framed it), did unanimously advise the President to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain. The Senate agreed to his nomination of the negotiators. A treaty was effected. It arrives. It is well known that he was coerced by the Senate to the measure; and he refuses to submit it to their approbation. What a responsibility he takes! By sending it back he disgraces his ministers, and Monroe is one. Monroe and Pinkney come home, and in justification publish the treaty. It may appear good to the eyes of all unprejudiced men,—I suspect it will. By a refusal to accede to it the British continue their depredations, to the amount perhaps of their whole system of 'You shall not trade in time of war where you are refused in time of peace;' the impressment is carried to an excess bounded only by their power; immense losses are sustained; a general outcry will ensue; all will say, 'If Monroe's treaty had succeeded, those losses would not have happened; why was it refused?' Jealousy of Monroe, and unreasonable antipathy by Jefferson and Madison to Great Britain!—this will be said, this will be believed. And Monroe will be brought forward; new parties will arise, and those adverse politically will be brought together by interest. . . . Shall we put all to jeopardy because we have not got all we ask? Will we go to war? No! What will we do to coerce? More non-importation. Will Congress under such circumstances consent to continue their non-importation? I suspect not; I cannot believe they will. Then where shall we be? J. Randolph will take his stand and ask, 'Shall we hazard everything for a set of men who, etc.? What, put the landed interest to such inconvenience! The fair merchant is satisfied; the country is flourishing,' etc. But I have not time to make a speech. Monroe will be called a martyr, and the martyr will be the President. And why? Because he has done right, and his opponent has advised wrong. The people care little or nothing about the seamen."

The more closely the subject was studied the more clearly it appeared that Monroe had to all appearance knowingly embarrassed the Administration by signing a treaty in contravention of the President's orders; but Jefferson added unnecessarily to his embarrassment by refusing the treaty before he read it. Tacit abandonment of impressments was the utmost concession that the President could hope from England, and even this he must probably fight for; yet he refused to consult the Senate on the merits of Monroe's treaty for a reason which would have caused the withholding of every treaty ever made with England. That the public should be satisfied with this imperious treatment was an extravagant demand. No act of Jefferson's administration exposed him to more misinterpretation, or more stimulated a belief in his hatred of England and of commerce, than his refusal to lay Monroe's treaty before the Senate.

Perhaps the President would have been less decided had he known at first how faulty the treaty was. Not until it had been studied for weeks did all its faults become evident; and not until it was read in the light of Lord Howick's Order in Council did its character admit of no more doubt. When news of this order reached Washington, about ten days after the treaty, Madison wrote to Erskine a letter[17] which showed an effort to treat the new restriction of neutral trade as though it might have some shadow of legality in the background, and as though it were not directed solely against America; but the truth soon became too evident for such mild treatment, and Madison was obliged ten days afterward to interrupt his study of Monroe's treaty in order to tell Erskine that the operation of the new order "would be a proceeding as ruinous to our commerce as contrary to our essential rights."[18]

To Monroe the President wrote with the utmost forbearance and kindness.[19] Instead of reproaching, Jefferson soothed the irritation of his old friend, contradicted newspaper reports which were calculated to wound Monroe's feelings, and pressed upon him the government of New Orleans Territory: "It is the second office in the United States in importance, am still in hopes you will accept it; it is impossible to let you stay at home while the public has so much need of talents." In regard to the treaty he said little; but what he did say was more severe than any criticism yet made to others. "Depend on it, my dear Sir, that it will be considered as a hard treaty when it is known. The British commissioners appear to have screwed every Article as far as it would bear,—to have taken everything and yielded nothing." He urged Monroe, if nothing better could be got," to back out of the negotiation "as well as he could, letting it die insensibly, and substituting some informal agreement until a more yielding temper should rise. Next the President wrote privately to Bowdoin, his wandering minister to Spain, to whom Armstrong had shut the doors of the legation at Paris for betraying its secrets, and who in return was abusing Armstrong with recriminations. If a quarrel should arise with England, it might at least be made to bring Florida again within reach.

"I have but little expectation," wrote the President to Bowdoin,[20] "that the British government will retire from their habitual wrongs in the impressment of our seamen, and am certain that without that we will never tie up our hands by treaty from the right of passing a non-importation, or non-intercourse Act to make it her interest to become just. This may bring on a war of commercial restrictions. To show, however, the sincerity of our desire for conciliation, I have suspended the Non-importation Act. This state of things should be understood at Paris, and every effort used on your part to accommodate our differences with Spain under the auspices of France, with whom it is all important that we should stand in terms of the strictest cordiality. In fact we are to depend on her and Russia for the establishment of neutral rights by the treaty, of peace, among which should be that of taking no persons by a belligerent out of a neutral ship, unless they be the soldiers of an enemy. Never did a nation act toward another with more perfidy and injustice than Spain has constantly practised against us; and if we have kept our hands off of her till now, it has been purely out of respect to France, and from the value we set on the friendship of France. We expect, therefore, from the friendship of the Emperor that he will either compel Spain to do us justice or abandon her to us. We ask but one month to be in possession of the city of Mexico."

In reality Jefferson needed somewhat more than a month to be in possession of Mexico, although the Spaniards might without much difficulty have reached New Orleans in less time. Had the Federalist press been able to print the letter to Bowdoin, with its semi-admissions of intent to wage a commercial war against England in dependence upon Napoleon in order to gain the Floridas, the scandal would have been as great as that caused by the famous letters to Mazzei and Paine; but in truth this flighty talk had no influence or importance, and the time was

close at hand when Jefferson was to become helpless.

Between the will of England and France on one side and the fixed theories of Virginia and Pennsylvania on the other, Jefferson's freedom of action disappeared.

Madison, who rarely accepted either horn of a dilemma with much rapidity, labored over new instructions to Monroe which were to make the treaty tolerable, and called Gallatin and General Smith to his aid, with no other result than to uncover new and insuperable difficulties. April 20 he wrote to Jefferson at Monticello:[21]

"The shape to be given to the instructions to our commissioners becomes more and more perplexing. I begin to suspect that it may eventually be necessary to limit the treaty to the subject of impressments, leaving the colonial trade, with other objects, to their own course and to the influence which our reserved power over our imports may have on that course. In practice the colonial trade and everything else would probably be more favored than they are by the Articles forwarded, or would be by any remodifications to be expected. The case of impressments is more urgent. Something seems essential to be done, nor is anything likely to be done without carrying fresh matter in the negotiation. I am preparing an overture to disuse British seamen, in the form of an ultimatum, graduated from an exception of those who have been two years in our navigation to no exception at all other than such as have been naturalized."

A few days later news arrived that the Whigs had been driven from office, and a high Tory ministry had come into power. Madison was more than ever perplexed, but did not throw aside his treaty.

"A late arrival from London," he wrote again,[22] April 24, "presents a very unexpected scene at St. James's. Should the revolution stated actually take place in the Cabinet, it will subject our affairs there to new calculations. On one hand the principles and dispositions of the new Ministry portend the most unfriendly course. On the other hand, their feeble and tottering situation and the force of their ousted rivals, who will probably be more explicit in maintaining the value of a good understanding with this country, cannot fail to inspire caution. It may happen also that the new Cabinet will be less averse to a tabula rasa for a new adjustment than those who formed the instrument to be superseded."

Jefferson's reply to these suggestions showed no anxiety except the haunting fear of a treaty,—a fear which to Monroe's eyes could have no foundation. "I am more and more convinced," the President wrote April 21,[23] "that our best course is to let the negotiation take a friendly nap;" and May 1 he added:[24] "I know few of the characters of the new British Administration. The few I know are true Pittites and anti-American. From them we have nothing to hope but that they will readily let us back out." In view of George Canning's character and antecedents and of Spencer Perceval's speeches, Jefferson's desire to be allowed to back out of his was superfluous. That Canning and Perceval would make any effort to hold him to his bargain was quite unlikely, but that they would let him back out was still more so. They had in view more expeditious ways of ejecting him.

Nevertheless Madison was allowed to perfect his new instructions to Monroe and Pinkney. May 20 they were signed and sent. Before they reached London a British frigate had answered them in tones which left little chance for discussion.


  1. Order in Council, of Jan. 7, 1807; American State Papers, iii. 267.
  2. Cobbett's Debates, viii. 632.
  3. Cobbett's Debates, viii. 635.
  4. Howick to Erskine, Jan. 8, 1807; Cobbett's Debates, x. 558. Erskine to Madison, March 12, 1807; American State Papers, iii. 158.
  5. Edinburgh Review, xxii. 485.
  6. T. P. Courtney's Additional Observations on the American Treaty, London, 1808, p. 89.
  7. Madison to Monroe and Pinkney, Feb. 3, 1807; State Papers, iii. 153.
  8. Turreau to Talleyrand, Dec. 12, 1806; Archives des Aff. Étr., MSS.
  9. Turreau to Talleyrand, Jan. 12, 1807; Archives des Aff. Étr., MSS.
  10. Turreau to Talleyrand, Feb. 23, 1807; Archives des Aff. Étr., MSS.
  11. Turreau to Talleyrand, April 1, 1807; Archives des Aff. Étr., MSS.
  12. Turreau to Talleyrand, May 15, 1807; Archives des Aff. Étr., MSS.
  13. Erskine to Howick, March 6, 1807; MSS. British Archives.
  14. Diary of J. Q. Adams, i. 495.
  15. S. Smith to W. C. Nicholas, March 4, 1807; Nicholas MSS.
  16. S. Smith to W. C. Nicholas, March 4, 1807; Nicholas MSS.
  17. Madison to Erskine, March 20, 1807; State Papers, iii. 158.
  18. Same to same, March 29, 1807; Ibid., 159.
  19. Jefferson to Monroe, March 21, 1807; Works, v. 52.
  20. Jefferson to Bowdoin, April 2, 1807; Works, v. 63.
  21. Madison to Jefferson, April 20, 1807; Jefferson MSS.
  22. Madison to Jefferson, April 24, 1807; Jefferson MSS.
  23. Jefferson to Madison, April 21, 1807; Works, v. 69.
  24. Jefferson to Madison, April 21, 1807; Works, v. 74.