History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson/Second/I:2


Chapter 2: Monroe's DiplomacyEdit

During the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, the national government was in the main controlled by ideas and interests peculiar to the region south of the Potomac, and only to be understood from a Southern stand-point. Especially its foreign relations were guided by motives in which the Northern people felt little sympathy. The people of the Northern States seemed almost unwilling to know what the people of the Southern States were thinking or doing in certain directions, and their indifference was particularly marked in regard to Florida. Among the varied forms of Southern ambition, none was so constant in influence as the wish to acquire the Floridas, which at moments decided the action of the government in matters of the utmost interest; yet the Northern public, though complaining of Southern favoritism, neither understood nor cared to study the subject, but turned impatiently away whenever the Floridas were discussed, as though this were a local detail which in no way concerned the North. If Florida failed to interest the North, it exercised the more control over the South, and over a government Southern in character and purpose. Neither the politics of the Union nor the development of events could be understood without treating Florida as a subject of the first importance. During the summer and autumn of 1805,—a period which John Randolph justly regarded as the turning point of Republican administration,—Florida actually engrossed the attention of government.

On arriving at Madrid, Jan. 2, 1805, Monroe found Charles Pinckney waiting in no happy temper for a decision in regard to himself. Pinckney's recall was then determined upon, and his successor chosen. He was anxious only to escape the last humiliation of being excluded from the new negotiation by Monroe. From this fear he was soon relieved. Monroe shared his views; allowed him to take part in the conferences, and to put his name to the notes. The two ministers acted in harmony.

Nearly a month was consumed in the necessary preliminaries. Not until Jan. 28, 1805, were matters so far advanced that Monroe could present his first note. [1] Following his instructions, he put forward all the claims which had been so often discussed,—the Spanish and French spoliations; the losses resulting from suppression of the entrepôt at New Orleans in 1802; the claim of West Florida, and that to the Rio Bravo. With the note the two envoys enclosed the projet of a treaty,—to which could be made only the usual objection to one-sided schemes, that it required Spain to concede every point, and offered no equivalent worth mention. Spain was to cede both the Floridas, and also Texas as far as the Rio Colorado, leaving the district between the Colorado and the Rio Bravo as a border-land not to be further settled. She was to create a commission for arranging the spoliation and entrepôt claims; and this commission should also take cognizance of all claims that might be made by Spanish subjects against the United States government.

To this note and projet Don Pedro Cevallos quickly replied. [2] Availing himself of an inadvertent sentence in Monroe's opening paragraph, to the effect that it was necessary to examine impartially the several points at issue in each case, Cevallos informed the Americans that in accordance with their wish he would first examine each point separately, and then proceed to negotiation. He proposed to begin with the claims convention of August, 1802.

Commonly nothing gratified American diplomatists more than to discuss questions which they were ordered to take in charge. Yet the readiness shown by Cevallos to gratify this instinct struck Monroe as a bad sign; he saw danger of lowering the national tone, and even of becoming ridiculous, if he allowed the Spaniards to discuss indefinitely claims which the United States had again and again asserted to be too plain for discussion. He felt too the influence of Pinckney, who had never ceased to urge that nothing could be done with the Spanish government except through fear or force. He could not refuse discussion, but he entered into it with the intention of promptly cutting it short. [3]

To cut the discussion short was precisely what Cevallos meant should not be done; and a contest began, in which the Spaniard had every advantage. Monroe replied to the Spanish note of January 31 by imposing an ultimatum at once. [4] "We consider it our duty to inform your Excellency that we cannot consent to any arrangement which does not provide for the whole subject" of the claims, including the French spoliations. "It is in his Majesty's power, by the answer which you give, to fix at once the relations which are to subsist in future between the two nations." Cevallos, leaving the ultimatum and the French spoliations unnoticed, rejoined by discussing the conditions which the King had placed on his consent to ratify the claims convention of 1802. [5] Taking up first the Mobile Act, he expressed in strong terms his opinion of it, and of the explanation given to it by the President. Nevertheless, he withdrew his demand that the Act should be annulled. The King's "well-founded motives of complaint in respect to that Act still exist," he said, "and his Majesty intends to keep them in mind, that satisfaction may be given by the United States; but as it relates to ratifying the convention of August, 1802, his Majesty agrees from this time to be satisfied in this respect." The question of French spoliations he reserved for separate discussion.

Monroe replied briefly by referring to his ultimatum, and by inviting discussion of the boundary question; but Cevallos, instead of taking up the matter of boundaries in his next note, discussed the French spoliation claims and the right of deposit at New Orleans. [6] To rebut the first, he produced a letter from Talleyrand dated July 27, 1804, in which Napoleon announced that neither Spain nor the United States must touch these claims, under penalty of incurring the Emperor's severe displeasure. In regard to the right of deposit, Cevallos took still stronger ground:—

"The edict of the Intendant of New Orleans, suspending the deposit of American produce in that city, did not interrupt, nor was it the intention to interrupt, the navigation of the Mississippi; consequently these pretended injuries are reduced to this small point,—that for a short time the vessels loaded in the stream instead of taking in their cargoes at the wharves. . . . If the erroneous opinions which were formed in the United States, if the complaints published in the papers of your country,—as false as they were repeated,—that the navigation of the Mississippi was interrupted, if the virulent writings by which the public mind was heated, and which led to compromit the American government and tarnish the good name of that of Spain, were causes that the inhabitants of the western territory of the United States could not form a correct idea of what passed at New Orleans; and if, in this uncertainty, they were disappointed in the extraction of their produce, or suffered other inconveniences,—they ought to attribute the same to internal causes, such as the writings before mentioned, filled with inflammatory falsehoods, the violence of enthusiastic partisans, and other occurrences which on those occasions served to conceal the truth. The Government of Spain, so far from being responsible for the prejudices occasioned by these errors and erroneous ideas, ought in justice to complain of the irregular conduct pursued by various writers and other individuals in the United States, which was adapted to exasperate and mislead the public opinion, and went to divulge sentiments the most ignominious, and absurdities the most false, against the government of his Majesty and his accredited good faith."

Not satisfied with this rebuttal, Cevallos added that the persons who complained of this trifling inconvenience "had been enjoying the rights of deposit for four years more than was stipulated in the treaty, and this notwithstanding the great prejudice it occasioned to his Majesty's revenue, by making New Orleans the centre of a most scandalous contraband trade, the profits of which it is not improbable but that some of those individuals have in part received." Finally, he affirmed the Intendant's right to prohibit the deposit.

On receiving this paper, Monroe hesitated whether to break off the negotiation; but quickly came to the decision not to do so. His instructions expressly authorized him to abandon the entrepôt claims; while a rupture founded on the French spoliations, in the face of Talleyrand's threats, was rupture with France as well as with Spain, and exceeded his authority. He concluded to go on, although he saw that every new step involved new dangers.

Before Monroe had prepared a reply to the sharp letter on the claims convention, Cevallos wrote again. [7] In this letter, dated February 24, he discussed the West Florida boundary, and contented himself with stating the Spanish case as it stood on the treaties and public evidence. His argument contained no new points, but was evidently intended to lure the Americans into endless discussion. Monroe was obliged to follow where Cevallos led. February 26 he replied to the Spanish note on the claims. Beginning with complaints that Cevallos had not met with directness the American proposals; branching into other complaints that he had renewed propositions which Monroe had already declared incompatible with the rights of the United States; that he had charged the American government with trying to obtain double payment for the same loss, and had branded the whole American people as being in league with smugglers; that he had attacked the freedom of the press, and had called the right of deposit a charity of King Charles,—after adding that "it was impossible for us to have received a note which could have been more unexpected," the two American envoys began to discuss the French spoliation claims, "on the presumption that no premeditated outrage was intended." [8]

After a long argument on the French spoliations, Monroe's note next reached the most delicate point in discussion,—the positive order of Napoleon forbidding recognition of the claims. Treating the order as though it were only an expression of opinions, Monroe said, "We have received them with the consideration which is due to the very respectable authority from which they emanate. On all treaties between independent Powers each party has a right to form its own opinion. Every nation is the guardian of its own honor and rights; and the Emperor is too sensible of what is due to his own glory, and entertains too high a respect for the United States, to wish them to abandon a just sense of what is due to their own." Appealing finally to the positive orders of his own government. Monroe repeated that on these claims he must insist. Cevallos replied with a disavowal of "premeditated outrage;" and there, March 1, 1805, after Monroe had passed two months in Spain, he found himself at his starting-point, at a loss how to go forward or to recede.

Monroe received early in February Talleyrand's letter of Dec. 21, 1804, on the boundary of West Florida; [9] he next suffered the mortification of listening to Talleyrand's order of July 27, 1804, forbidding Spain to "condescend" to pay or even to discuss the French spoliation claims; and from these documents he saw that for nearly a year past the French and Spanish governments had combined to entrap and humiliate him. The fault was his own, for he had received plain, not to say rude, warning; but he was perhaps only the more angry on that account, and in his irritation he undertook to terrify Napoleon. March 1, 1805, under the full consciousness of his situation, he wrote to Armstrong at Paris;[10]

"It cannot be doubted that if our Government could be prevailed on to give ground, that of France would be very glad of it, as it would be to take us and all our concerns, especially our funds, under its care. We are inclined to believe, with almost equal confidence, if we are firm, and show that we are not only able but resolved to take care of ourselves, that she will let us do so, and in regard to this question with Spain throw her weight into our scale to promote an adjustment between us on the fair principles insisted on by our Government. To bring her to this, she must clearly understand that the negotiation is about to break up without doing anything, and that the failure is entirely owing to the part she has taken against us. When she sees that this is the literal fact, I do not think that her government will expose itself to the consequences resulting from it. It is not prepared to quarrel with us for many reasons: first, as we are a republic, and that system of government too recently overset there, and the one established in its stead too feebly founded, to make it a desirable object with the Emperor; second, as she relies altogether for supplies on our flag, and on our merchants and people for many other friendly offices in the way of trade, which none others can render; third, as our government pursues, by prohibiting our trade with St. Domingo, and in many other respects, a system of the most friendly accommodation to the interests of France, she ought not to hazard those advantages if there were no other objections to a rupture with us; fourth,—but there are other and much stronger objections to it,—we should come to a good understanding with England. . . . These considerations incline us to think that a rupture with us is an event which of all others she least seeks at the present time; and that it is only necessary to let her see distinctly that one with Spain is on the point of taking place, and will be owing altogether to her support of her pretensions, to induce France to change her policy and tone in the points depending here."

Pursuing this train of reasoning, Monroe tested its correctness by challenging a direct issue of courage. His letter, thus inspired, reached Paris in due time, and its ideas were pressed by Armstrong on members of the French government. Their answer was prompt and final; it was instantly reported by Armstrong to Monroe in a letter[11] so pregnant with meaning that two of its sentences may be said to have decided the fate of Jefferson's second administration:—

"On the subject of indemnity for the suspended right of deposit professing to know nothing of the ground on which the interruption had been given) they would offer no opinion. On that of reparation for spoliations committed on our commerce by Frenchmen within the territory of his Catholic Majesty, they were equally prompt and decisive, declaring that our claim, having nothing of solidity in it, must be abandoned.
"With regard to boundary, we have, they said, already given an opinion, and see no cause to change it. To the question, What would be the course of this government in the event of a rupture between us and Spain? they answered, We can neither doubt nor hesitate,—we must take part with Spain; and our note of the 30th Frimaire [Dec. 21, 1804] was intended to communicate and impress this idea."

This stern message left Monroe helpless. To escape from Madrid without suffering some personal mortification was his best hope; and fortunately Godoy took no pleasure in personalities. The Spaniard was willing to let Monroe escape as soon as his defeat should be fairly recorded. The month of March had nearly passed before Monroe received Armstrong's letter; meanwhile Cevallos consumed the time in discussing the West Florida boundary. At the end of the month Monroe, fully aware at last of his situation, attempted to force an issue. March 30 he wrote to Cevallos that he was weary of delay: [12]

"It neither comports with the object of the present mission nor its duties to continue the negotiation longer than it furnishes a well-founded expectation that the just and friendly policy which produced it, on the part of the United States, is cherished with the same views by his Catholic Majesty."

Unfortunately he had no excuse for breaking abruptly a negotiation which he had himself invited; and Cevallos meant to give him at that stage no such excuse, for the important question of the Texan boundary remained to be discussed, and Talleyrand's instructions on that point must be placed on record by Spain.

Monroe wrote to Cevallos, April 9, that he considered "the negotiation as essentially terminated by what has already occurred. [13] . . . Should his Majesty's government think proper to invite another issue, on it will the responsibility rest for the consequences. The United States are not unprepared for, or unequal to, any crisis which may occur." Three days later he repeated the wish to "withdraw from a situation which, while it compromits the character of our government, cannot be agreeable to ourselves." [14] Cevallos took no notice of the threats, and contented himself with repelling the idea that the blame of breaking off the negotiation should rest upon him. Nevertheless he hastened to record the opinion of his Government in regard to the last claim of the United States,—the Texan boundary.

Here again Cevallos followed the guidance of Talleyrand. The dividing-line between Louisiana and Texas, he said, ought to be decided by the line between the French and Spanish settlements. The French post of Natchitoches, on the Red River, was distant seven leagues from the Spanish post of Nuestra Señora de los Adaes; and therefore the boundary of Louisiana should run between these two points southward, along the watershed, until it reached the Gulf of Mexico between the Marmentou and the Calcasieu,—a boundary which deprived the United States not only of Texas, but of an important territory afterward included in the State of Louisiana. [15]

Eager as Monroe was to close the negotiation, he could not leave this note without reply; and accordingly he consumed another week in preparing more complaints of Cevallos dilatory conduct, and in proving that Texas was included in the grant made by Louis XIV. to Anthony Crozat in 1712. After disposing of that subject, he again begged for a conclusion. "As every point has been thus fully discussed, we flatter ourselves that we shall now be honored with your Excellency's propositions for the arrangement of the whole business."[16] He flattered himself in vain; ten days passed without an answer. May 1, at a private interview, he tried to obtain some promise of action, without better result than the usual obliging Spanish expressions; a week afterward he made another attempt, with the same reply, followed on Monroe's part by an offer to concede even the point of dignity. "Would Señor Cevallos listen to a new and more advantageous offer on the part of the

United States?" Cevallos replied that such a step would be premature, as the discussion was not yet ended. [17] Monroe had no choice but to break through the diplomatic net in which he had wound himself; and at length, May 12, 1805, he sent a general ultimatum to the Spanish government: If Spain would cede the Floridas, ratify the claims convention of August, 1802, and accept the Colorado as the Texan boundary, the United States would establish a neutral territory a hundred miles wide on the eastern bank of the Colorado, from the Gulf to the northern boundary of Louisiana; would assume the French spoliation claims, abandon the entrepôt claims, and accept the cession of West Florida from the King, thereby abandoning the claim that it was a part of Louisiana. [18]

To this note Cevallos replied three days afterward by a courteous but decided letter, objecting in various respects to Monroe's offers, and summing up his objections in the comment that this scheme required Spain to concede everything and receive nothing; she must give up both the Floridas, half of Texas, and the claims convention, while she obtained as an equivalent for these concessions only an abandonment of claims which she did not acknowledge: [19]

"The justice of the American government will not permit it to insist on propositions so totally to the disadvantage of Spain; and however anxious his Majesty may be to please the United States, he cannot on his part assent to them, nor can he do less than consider them as little conformable to the rights of his Crown."

Three days later Monroe demanded his passports. For once, Cevallos showed as much promptness as Monroe could have desired. Without expressing a regret, or showing so much as a complimentary wish to continue the negotiation, Cevallos sent the passports, appointed the very next day for Monroe's audience of leave, and bowed the American envoy out of Spain with an alacrity which contrasted strongly with the delays that had hitherto wasted five months of time most precious to the American minister at the Court of St. James. In truth, the Prince of Peace had no longer an object to gain by detaining Monroe; he had won every advantage which could be wrung from the situation, except that of proving the defeat of the United States by publishing it to the world. For this, he could trust Monroe.

After writing an angry letter to the French ambassador at Madrid, Monroe went his way, May 26, leaving Pinckney to maintain the forms of diplomatic relations with the Spanish government. Pinckney had still more to suffer before escaping from the scene of his diplomatic trials. The Spaniards began to plunder American commerce; the spoliations of 1798 were renewed; the garrisons in West Florida and Texas were reinforced; Cevallos paid no attention to complaints or threats. In October Pinckney took leave and returned to America, and George W. Erving was sent from London to take charge of the legation at Madrid. Erving made an excellent representative within the narrow field of action open to him as a mere chargé d'affaires; but he could do little to stem the current of Spanish desperation. The Prince of Peace, driven by France, England, and America nearer and nearer to the precipice that yawned for the destruction of Spain, was willing to see the world embroiled, in the hope of finding some last chance in his favor. When Erving in December, five months after Monroe's departure, went to remonstrate against seizures of American ships in flagrant violation of the treaty of 1795, Godoy received him with the good-natured courtesy which marked his manners. "How go our affairs?" he asked; "are we to have peace or war?" Erving called his attention to the late seizures. The Prince replied that it was impossible for Spain to allow American vessels to carry English property." But we have a treaty which secures us that right," replied Erving. "Certainly, I know you have a treaty, for I made it with Mr. Pinckney," rejoined Godoy; and he went on with entire frankness to announce that the "free-goods" provision of that treaty would no longer be respected. Then he continued, with laughable coolness,—

"You may choose either peace or war. 'T is the same thing to me. I will tell you candidly, that if you will go to war this certainly is the moment, and you may take our possessions from us. I advise you to go to war now, if you think that is best for you; and then the peace which will be made in Europe will leave us two at war."[20]

Defiance could go no further. Elsewhere the Prince openly said that the United States had brought things to such a point as to leave Spain indifferent to the consequences. In war the President could only seize Florida; and Florida was the price he asked for remaining at peace. Mexico and Cuba were beyond his reach. Meanwhile Spain not only saved the money due for the old claims, but plundered American commerce, and still preserved her title to the Floridas and Texas,—a title which, at least as concerned the Floridas, the Americans must sooner or later extinguish.

Such was the result of the President's diplomacy in respect to Spain. War was its only natural outcome,—war with Spain; war with Napoleon, who must make common cause with King Charles; coalition with England; general recurrence to the ideas and precedents of the last Administration. Jefferson had exasperated Spain and irritated France. He must next decide whether this policy should be pursued to its natural result.

Meanwhile Monroe returned to Paris, where he passed six weeks with Armstrong and with his French acquaintances in conference on the proper course to be pursued. Talleyrand was absent in Italy with the Emperor, who May 26 received at Milan the iron crown of the Lombard kings. That Napoleon was the real element of danger was clear to both envoys. A policy which should force France to interfere on behalf of the United States was their object; and on this, as on many points, Armstrong's ideas were more definite than those of Monroe, Madison, or Jefferson. Even before Monroe left Madrid, he received a letter from Armstrong in which the outline of a decisive plan was sketched:—

"It is simply to take a strong and prompt possession of the northern bank of the Rio Bravo, leaving the eastern limit in statu quo. A stroke of this kind would at once bring Spain to reason, and France to her rescue, and without giving either room to quarrel. You might then negotiate, and shape the bargain pretty much as you pleased." [21]

Evidently the seizure of Texas, leaving West Florida untouched, was the only step which the President could properly take; for Texas had been bought and paid for, whereas West Florida beyond doubt had never been bought at all. Armstrong saw the weak point of Napoleon's position, and wished to attack it. He had no trouble in bringing Monroe to the same conclusion, although in yielding to his arguments Monroe tacitly abandoned the ground he had been persuaded by Livingston to take two years before, that West Florida belonged to Louisiana.

"There is no shade of difference in our opinions," wrote Armstrong to Madison after Monroe's arrival at Paris, [22] "and so little in the course to be pursued with regard to Spain that it is scarcely worth noticing. The whole may be reduced to this: that instead of assailing the Spanish posts in West Florida, or even indicating an intention to do so, I would from motives growing more particularly out of the character of the Emperor) restrict the operations to such as may have been established in Louisiana. This, with some degree of demonstration that we meditate an embargo on our commercial intercourse with Spain and her colonies, would compel this government to interpose promptly and efficiently, and with dispositions to prevent the quarrel from going further."

Throughout these Spanish negotiations ran a mysterious note of corruption which probably came not from Cevallos, Godoy, or King Charles; for Spain was always the party to suffer, and France was always the party to profit by Spanish sacrifices. That the jobbery had its origin in Napoleon was improbable, for he too suffered from it. Neither Napoleon nor Godoy was open to bribery in such a sense; they were so high in power that small pecuniary motives had no influence on their acts. Yet the Treasuries both of France and Spain were in trouble, and were seeking resources. That Talleyrand had private motives for conniving in their expedients cannot be proved; but in 1805, as in 1798, every attempt to turn negotiation into a job came from Talleyrand's intimate circle, the subordinates of the French Foreign Office. [23] In June, Monroe found at Paris the same hints at the influence of money which had irritated him in the preceding autumn; and he wrote to Madison in a tone which showed that he gave them weight.

"I have conferred much," he said,[24] "with the gentleman alluded to in my letter from Bordeaux of December 16, and from what I can gather am led to believe that France has withheld her opinion on the western limits [Texas], to favor our pretensions when she thinks proper to take a part in it; that she does not think it proper so to do in the present stage, or until our Government acts so as to make Spain apply to her. He thinks she will then act; and settling the Spanish spoliation business as by the treaty of 1802, and getting all that can be got for Florida he says eight millions of dollars are expected), promote an adjustment."

If Jefferson's administration cared to commit an error of colossal proportions, it had but to follow the hints of these irresponsible agents of Marbois and Talleyrand, who presumed to say in advance what motives would decide the mind of Napoleon. No man in France—neither Talleyrand nor Berthier, nor even Duroc—knew the scope of the Emperor's ambition, or could foretell the expedients he would use or reject. Monroe's friend was ill-informed, or deceived him. France had not withheld her opinion on the western limits; on the contrary, her opinion had been exactly followed by Spain. Not Talleyrand, much less Napoleon, but Cevallos himself had withheld that opinion from Monroe's knowledge, doubtless because he wished to keep a weapon in reserve for use at close quarters if his antagonist should come so near. Had Monroe not been discomfited before Cevallos exhausted his arsenal, this weapon would certainly have been used for a final blow. Cevallos still held it in reserve.

Leaving the Spanish affair embroiled beyond disentanglement, Monroe recrossed the Channel, and July 23 found himself again in London. During a century of American diplomatic history a minister of the United States has seldom if ever within six months suffered, at two great Courts, such contemptuous treatment as had then fallen to Monroe's lot. That he should have been mortified and anxious for escape was natural. He returned to England, meaning to sail as quickly as possible for America. " It was very much my wish," he wrote. [25] Hoping to sail at latest by November 1, he selected his ship, and gave notice to the British Foreign Office. In his own interests no step could have been wiser, but it was taken too late; the time lost in Spain and at Paris had been fatal to his plan, and he could no longer avoid an other defeat more serious, and even more public, than the two which had already disturbed his temper.

That the American minister in London at any time should for six months leave his post, even in obedience to instructions, was surprising; but that he should have done this in 1804, after Pitt's return to power, was matter of amazement. Monroe expected an unfriendly change of policy in the British government. As early as June, 1804, he wrote to Madison: "My most earnest advice is to look to the possibility of such a change." [26] Four months later, although the attitude of the British ministry had become more threatening, Monroe started for Madrid, leaving Pitt in peace, unwatched, to take his measures and to fix beyond recall his change of policy. July 23, 1805, when the American minister at last returned from his Spanish journey and arrived in London, after some weeks lost at Paris, he found a state of affairs such as might have alarmed the most phlegmatic of men.

Pitt had made good use of Monroe's absence. During the winter of 1804-1805 Parliament passed several Acts tending to draw all the West Indian commerce into British hands. Throughout the West Indies free ports were thrown open to the enemy's vessels, which were encouraged to bring there the produce of their colonies, receiving British merchandise in return, while the Act further provided for the importation of this enemy's produce into Great Britain in British ships. Other Acts and Orders extended the system of licenses, by which British subjects were allowed to trade with their enemies in neutral vessels, and concluded by requiring that all their trade with the French islands should be carried on through the free ports alone. [27]

These measures were intended to force the trade of the French and Spanish colonies into a British channel; but all were secondary to a direct attack on American commerce. While Parliament and Council devised the legislation and rules necessary for taking charge of the commerce of Cuba, Martinique, and the other hostile colonies, the Lords of Appeals were engaged in providing the law necessary for depriving America of the same trade. July 23, 1805, Sir William Scott pronounced judgment in the case of the "Essex." Setting aside his ruling in the case of the "Polly," [28] he held that the neutral cargo which came from Martinique to Charleston, and thence to London, was good prize unless the neutral owner could prove, by something more than the evidence of a custom-house entry, that his original intention had been to terminate the voyage in an American port. In consequence of this decision, within a few weeks American ships by scores were seized without warning; neutral insurance was doubled; and the British merchantmen vied with the royal navy in applauding the energy of William Pitt.

Of the decision as a matter of morality something might be said. That Pitt should have planned such a scheme was not surprising, for his moral sense had been blunted by the desperation of his political struggle; but the same excuse did not apply to Sir William Scott. The quarrel between law and history is old, and its source lies deep. Perhaps no good historian was ever a good lawyer: whether any good lawyer could be a good historian might be equally doubted. The lawyer is required to give facts the mould of a theory; the historian need only state facts in their sequence. In law Sir William Scott was considered as one of the greatest judges that ever sat on the English bench, a man of the highest personal honor, sensitive to any imputation on his judicial independence,—a lawyer in whom the whole profession took pride. In history he made himself and his court a secret instrument for carrying out an act of piracy. The law defends him by throwing responsibility upon the political chiefs who were bound to make compensation to the plundered merchants if compensation was due. The judge's duty began and ended by declaring what was law. Experience had proved that the evidence previously required to convince the court of a certain fact was insufficient. The judge said this, and no more. History replies that whatever may be the strictly professional aspect of this famous judgment, in its nature it was a political act, and was known by the judge to be such. As a political measure its character was equivalent to a declaration of war, and did not materially differ from the more violent seizure of the Spanish treasure-ships by Pitt's order in the previous October. The lawyers justified that seizure also; the King's Advocate defended it in the House of Commons by the simple explanation that England was not in the habit of declaring war, but usually began hostilities by some act of force. [29] Lord Grenville, whom Pitt had entreated, only a few months before, to join the new ministry, and who was certainly considered as, next to Pitt himself, the highest political authority in England, was not deterred by this reasoning from denouncing the seizure of the Spanish galleons as an atrocious act of barbarity, contrary to all the law of nations, which stamped indelible infamy on the English name. Lord Grey, another high authority, stigmatized it as combining violence, injustice, and bad faith. The seizure of the American ships was an act different in its nature only in so far as Sir William Scott condescended to throw over it in advance the ermine that he wore.

Monroe reached London on the very day when Sir William Scott pronounced his fatal decision in the case of the "Essex." Lord Harrowby no longer presided over the Foreign Office; he had taken another position, making way for Lord Mulgrave. The new Foreign Secretary was, like most of Pitt's ministers in 1805, a Tory gentleman of moderate abilities. Except as a friend of Pitt he was unknown. His character and opinions seemed wholly without importance. To Lord Mulgrave, Monroe addressed himself; and he found the Foreign Secretary as ready to discuss, and as slow to concede, as Don Pedro Cevallos had ever been.[30] "He assured me in the most explicit terms that nothing was more remote from the views of his Government than to take an unfriendly attitude toward the United States; he assured me also that no new orders had been issued, and that his Government was disposed to do everything in its power to arrange this and the other points to our satisfaction." Yet when Monroe called his attention to the seizure of a score of American vessels in the Channel, by British naval officers who declared themselves to be acting by order, Lord Mulgrave quietly replied that the Rule of 1756 was good law, and that his Government did not mean to relax in the slightest degree from the rigor of Sir William Scott's decision. [31]

Monroe had felt the indifference or contempt of Lord Harrowby, Talleyrand, and Cevallos: that of Lord Mulgrave was but one more variety of a wide experience. The rough treatment of Monroe by the Englishman was a repetition of that which he had accepted or challenged at the hands of the Frenchman and Spaniard. Lord Mulgrave showed no wish to trouble himself in any way about the United States. He would not discuss the questions of impressment and commerce; and his only sign of caring to explain or excuse the measures of his Government was in regard to Captain Bradley of the "Cambrian," who had been recalled from the American station for violations of neutrality. Monroe complained that Bradley had since been given a ship of the line. Mulgrave explained that the command of a line-of-battle ship was not necessarily a promotion, especially to an active officer accustomed to the independence and prize-money of the "Cambrian's" cruising ground.

With this result Monroe's diplomatic activity for the year 1804-1805 came to an end. The only conclusion he drew from it was one which Jefferson seemed little likely to adopt. He urged his Government to persevere in its course, and to threaten war upon France, Spain, and England at once. [32] "We probably shall never be able to settle our concerns with either Power without pushing our just claims on each with the greatest decision.... I am strong in the opinion that a pressure on each at the same time would produce a good effect with the other."

Nevertheless, Monroe had not yet reached the bottom of his English disaster. Neither the Acts of Parliament, the Orders in Council, nor the Judgment of the Lords of Appeal satisfied the suffering interests of England, however harsh they might seem to the interests of America. The new rules, the extension of licenses, the opening of free ports, tended to please the navy and shipping interests, but left the British colonists in a worse position than before; for as matters stood the whole produce of the West Indian Islands, French, Spanish, and British, was to be collected in a single mass and thrown on the London market. The warehouses on the Thames were to be overfilled with sugar, on the chance that neutral ships might convey it to France. For five years the colonists had insisted that their distress was due to excess in production; but how could they check production when the French and Spanish islands were encouraged to produce? Forgetting in their despair the attachment they felt to America, the colonists attributed all their troubles to American competition. The East India Company, whose warehouses were also loaded with unsalable goods, could discover no better reason than the same neutral rivalry for the cessation of Continental demand. The shipowners, not yet satisfied by Sir William Scott's law, echoed the same cry. All the interested classes of England, except the manufacturers and merchants who were concerned in commerce with the United States, agreed in calling upon government to crush out the neutral trade. Sir William Scott had merely required an additional proof of its honesty; England with one voice demanded that, honest or not, it should be stopped.

This almost universal prayer found expression in a famous pamphlet that has rarely had an equal for ability and effect. In October, 1805, three months after the "Essex" decision, while Monroe was advising Madison to press harder than ever on all the great belligerent Powers, appeared in London a book of more than two hundred pages, with the title: "War in Disguise; or, the Frauds of the Neutral Flags." The author was James Stephen, a man not less remarkable for his own qualities than for those which two generations of descendants have inherited from him; but these abilities, though elevating him immensely above the herd of writers who in England bespattered America with abuse, and in America befouled England, were yet of a character so peculiar as to bar his path to the highest distinction. James Stephen was a high-minded fanatic, passionately convinced of the truths he proclaimed. Two years after writing "War in Disguise," he published another pamphlet, maintaining that the Napoleonic wars were a divine chastisement of England for her tolerance of the slave-trade; and this curious thesis he argued through twenty pages of close reasoning. [33] Through life a vehement enemy of slavery, at a time when England rang with abuse of America, which he had done much to stimulate, he had the honesty and courage to hold America up as an example before Europe, and to assert that in abolishing the slave-trade she had done an act for which it was impossible to refuse her the esteem of England, and in consequence of which he prayed that harmony between the two countries might be settled on the firmest foundation.

This insular and honest dogmatism, characteristic of many robust minds, Stephen carried into the question of neutral trade. He had himself begun his career in the West Indies, and in the prize-court at St. Kitt's had learned the secrets of neutral commerce. Deeply impressed with the injury which this trade caused to England, he believed himself bound to point out the evil and the remedy to the British public. Assuming at the outset that the Rule of 1756 was a settled principle of law, he next assumed that the greater part of the neutral trade was not neutral at all, but was a fraudulent business, in which French or Spanish property, carried in French or Spanish ships, was by means of systematic perjury protected by the prostituted American flag.

How much of this charge was true will never be certainly known. Stephen could not prove his assertions. The American merchants stoutly denied them. Alexander Baring, better informed than Stephen and far less prejudiced, affirmed that the charge was untrue, and that if the facts could be learned, more British than enemy's property would be found afloat under the American flag. Perhaps this assertion was the more annoying of the two; but to prove either the one or the other was needless, since from such premises Stephen was able to draw a number of startling conclusions which an English public stood ready to accept, The most serious of these was the certain ruin of England from the seduction of her seamen into this fraudulent service; another was the inevitable decay of her merchant marine; still an other pointed to the loss of the Continental market; and he heightened the effect of all these evils by adding a picture of the British admiral in the decline of life raised to the peerage for his illustrious actions, and enjoying a pension from the national bounty, but still unable to spend so much money as became an English peer, because his Government had denied to him the "safe booty" of the neutral trade! [34] Humor was not Stephen's strongest quality, or he never would have caricatured the British mind so coarsely; but coarse as the drawing might be, England was not conscious of the caricature. Cobbett alone could have done justice to the pecuniary sanctity of the British peerage; but on this point humor was lost to the world, for Cobbett and Stephen were in accord.

Thus a conviction was established in England that the American trade was a fraud which must soon bring Great Britain to ruin, and that the Americans who carried on this commerce were carrying on a "war in disguise" for the purpose of rescuing France and Spain from the pressure of the British navy. The conclusion was inevitable. "Enforce the Rule of 1756!" cried Stephen; "cut off the neutral trade altogether!" This policy, which went far beyond the measures of Pitt and the decision of Sir William Scott, was urged by Stephen with great force; while he begged the Americans, in temperate and reasonable language, not to make war for the protection of so gross a fraud. Other writers used no such self-restraint. The austere and almost religious conviction of Stephen could maintain itself at a height where no personal animosity toward America mingled its bitterness with his denunciations; but his followers, less accustomed than he to looking for motives in their Bibles, said simply that the moment for going to war with the United States had come, and that the opportunity should be seized. [35]


  1. Monroe and Pinckney to Cevallos, Jan. 28, 1805; State Papers, ii. 636.
  2. Cevallos to Monroe and Pinckney, Jan. 31, 1805; State Papers, ii. 636.
  3. Monroe and Pinckney to Madison, May 23, 1805; State Papers, ii. 667.
  4. Pinckney and Monroe to Cevallos, Feb. 5, 1805; State Papers, ii. 640.
  5. Cevallos to Monroe and Pinckney, Feb. 10, 1805; State Papers, ii. 541.
  6. Cevallos to Monroe and Pinckney, Feb. 16, 1806; State Papers, ii. 643.
  7. Cevallos to Monroe and Pinckney, Feb. 24, 1805; State Papers, ii. 644.
  8. Monroe and Pinckney to Cevallos, Feb. 26, 1805; State Papers, ii. 646.
  9. Monroe's diary at Aranjuez, March 16, 1805; Monroe MSS.
  10. Monroe to Armstrong, March 1, 1805; MSS. State Department Archives.
  11. Armstrong to Monroe, March 12 and 18, 1805; State Papers, ii. 636.
  12. Pinckney and Monroe to Cevallos, March 30, 1805; State Papers, ii 657.
  13. Monroe and Pinckney to Cevallos, April 9, 1805; State Papers, ii. 658.
  14. Monroe and Pinckney to Cevallos, April 12, 1805; State Papers, ii. 660.
  15. Cevallos to Pinckney and Monroe, April 13, 1805; State Papers, ii. 660.
  16. Monroe and Pinckney to Cevallos, April 20, 1805; State Papers, ii. 662.
  17. Monroe and Pinckney to Madison, 23 May, 1805; State Papers, ii. 668.
  18. Pinckney and Monroe to Cevallos, May 12, 1805; State Papers, ii. 665.
  19. Cevallos to Monroe and Pinckney, May 15, 1805; State Papers, ii. 666.
  20. Erving to Madison, Dec. 7. 1805; MSS. State Department Archives.
  21. Armstrong to Monroe, May 4, 1805; MSS. State Department Archives.
  22. Armstrong to Madison, July 3, 1805; MSS. State Department Archives.
  23. Cf. Correspondance de Napoleon, xxxii. 321.
  24. Monroe to Madison, June 30, 1805; MSS. State Department Archives.
  25. Monroe to Madison, Oct. 18, 1805; State Papers, iii. 106.
  26. Monroe to Madison, June 3, 1805; State Papers, iii. 93.
  27. Act of April 10, 1805; Instructions of June 29, 1805; Orders of Aug. 3, 1805.
  28. See First Administration, ii. 400 [sic: actually ch. 14: 327, 340]
  29. Speech of Sir John Nicholl (Advocate-General), Feb. 11, 1805; Cobbett's Debates, iii. 407.
  30. Monroe to Madison, Aug. 16, 1805; State Papers, iii. 103.
  31. Monroe to Madison, Aug. 20, 1805; State Papers, iii. 105.
  32. Monroe to Madison, Oct. 18, 1805; State Papers, iii. 106. Monroe to Colonel Taylor, Sept. 10, 1810; Monroe MSS., State Department Archives.
  33. New Reasons for abolishing the Slave-Trade, 1807.
  34. War in Disguise, pp. 131-133.
  35. Bosanquet, Causes of the Depreciation, etc. p. 42.