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

Chapter 2: Demands and DisavowalsEdit

For the first time in their history the people of the United States learned, in June, 1807, the feeling of a true national emotion. Hitherto every public passion had been more or less partial and one-sided; even the death of Washington had been ostentatiously mourned in the interests and to the profit of party: but the outrage committed on the "Chesapeake" stung through hide-bound prejudices, and made democrat and aristocrat writhe alike. The brand seethed and hissed like the glowing olive-stake of Ulysses in the Cyclops' eye, until the whole American people, like Cyclops, roared with pain and stood frantic on the shore, hurling abuse at their enemy, who taunted them from his safe ships. The mob at Norfolk, furious at the sight of their dead and wounded comrades from the "Chesapeake," ran riot, and in the want of a better object of attack destroyed the water-casks of the British squadron. July 29 the town forbade communication with the ships in Lynnhaven Bay, which caused Captain Douglas to write to the Mayor of Norfolk a letter much in the tone of Admiral Berkeley.

"You must be perfectly aware," said he, "that the British flag never has been, nor will be, insulted with impunity. You must also be aware that it has been, and still is, in my power to obstruct the whole trade of the Chesapeake since the late circumstance; which I desisted from, trusting that general unanimity would be restored.... Agreeably to my intentions, I have proceeded to Hampton Roads, with the squadron under my command, to await your answer, which I trust you will favor me with without delay."

He demanded that the prohibition of intercourse should be "immediately annulled." The Mayor sent Littleton Tazewell to carry an answer to this warlike demand from the "Bellona," and Tazewell was somewhat surprised to find Captain Douglas highly conciliatory, and unable to see what the people of Norfolk could have found in his letter which could be regarded as "menacing;" but meanwhile all Virginia was aroused, an attack on Norfolk was generally expected, the coast was patrolled by an armed force, and the British men-of-war were threatened by mounted militia.

In the Northern States the feeling was little less violent. Public meetings were everywhere held. At New York, July 2, the citizens, at a meeting over which De Witt Clinton presided, denounced "the dastardly and unprovoked attack" on the "Chesapeake," and pledged themselves to support the government "in whatever measures it may deem necessary to adopt in the present crisis of affairs." At Boston, where the town government was wholly Federalist, a moment of hesitation occurred.[1] The principal Federalists consulted with each other, and decided not to call a town-meeting. July 10 an informal meeting was called by the Republicans, over which Elbridge Gerry presided, and which Senator J. Q. Adams alone among the prominent Federalists attended. There also a resolution was adopted, pledging cheerful co-operation "in any measures, however serious," which the Administration might deem necessary for the safety and honor of the country. In a few days public opinion compelled the Federalists to change their tone. A town-meeting was held at Faneuil Hall July 16, and Senator Adams again reported resolutions, which were unanimously adopted, pledging effectual support to the government. Yet the Essex Junto held aloof; neither George Cabot, Theophilus Parsons, nor Timothy Pickering would take part in such proceedings, and the Federalist newspaper which was supposed to represent their opinions went so far as to assert that Admiral Berkeley's doctrine was correct, and that British men-of-war had a right to take deserters from the national vessels of the United States. In private, this opinion was hotly maintained; in public, its expression was generally thought unwise in face of popular excitement.

President Jefferson was at Washington June 25, the day when news of the outrage arrived; but his Cabinet was widely scattered, and some time passed before its members could be reassembled. Gallatin was last to arrive; but July 2, at a full meeting, the President read the draft of a proclamation, which was approved, and the proclamation issued on the same day. It rehearsed the story of American injuries and forbearance, and of British aggressions upon neutral rights; and so moderate was its tone as to convey rather the idea of deprecation than of anger:—

"Hospitality under such circumstances ceases to be a duty; and a continuance of it, with such uncontrolled abuses, would tend only, by multiplying injuries and irritations, to bring on a rupture between the two nations. This extreme resort is equally opposed to the interests of both, as it is to assurances of the most friendly dispositions on the part of the British government, in the midst of which this outrage has been committed. In this light the subject cannot but present itself to that government, and strengthen the motives to an honorable reparation of the wrong which has been done, and to that effectual control of its naval commanders which alone can justify the government of the United States in the exercise of those hospitalities it is now constrained to discontinue."

With this preamble the proclamation required all armed vessels of Great Britain to depart from American waters; and in case of their failing to do so, the President forbade intercourse with them, and prohibited supplies to be furnished them.

At the same Cabinet meeting, according to Jefferson's memoranda,[2] other measures were taken. The gunboats were ordered to points where attack might be feared. The President was to "recall all our vessels from the Mediterranean, by a vessel to be sent express, and send the 'Revenge' to England with despatches to our minister demanding satisfaction for the attack on the 'Chesapeake;' in which must be included—(1) a disavowal of the act and of the principle of searching a public armed vessel; (2) a restoration of the men taken; (3) a recall of Admiral Berkeley. Communicate the incident which has happened to Russia." Two days afterward, at another Cabinet meeting, it was "agreed that a call of Congress shall issue the fourth Monday of August (24), to meet the fourth Monday in October (26), unless new occurrences should render an earlier call necessary. Robert Smith wished an earlier call." He was not alone in this wish. Gallatin wrote privately to his wife that he wanted an immediate call, and that the chief objection to it, which would not be openly avowed, was the unhealthiness of Washington city.[3]

The news of Captain Douglas's threatening conduct and language at Norfolk produced further measures. July 5 "it was agreed to call on the governors of the States to have their quotas of one hundred thousand militia in readiness. The object is to have the portions on the sea-coast ready for any emergency; and for those in the North we may look to a winter expedition against Canada." July 7 it was "agreed to desire the Governor of Virginia to order such portion of militia into actual service as may be necessary for defence of Norfolk and of the gunboats at Hampton and in Matthews County." Little by little Jefferson was drawn into preparations for actual war.

Even among earnest Republicans the tone of Jefferson's proclamation and the character of his measures were at first denounced as tame. John Randolph called the proclamation an "apology;" Joseph Nicholson wrote to Gallatin a remonstrance.

"But one feeling pervades the nation," said he;[4] "all distinctions of Federalism and Democracy are vanished. The people are ready to submit to any deprivation; and if we withdraw ourselves within our own shell, and turn loose some thousands of privateers, we shall obtain in a little time an absolute renunciation of the right of search for the purposes of impressment. A parley will prove fatal; for the merchants will begin to calculate. They rule us, and we should take them before their resentment is superseded by considerations of profit and loss. I trust in God the 'Revenge' is going out to bring Monroe and Pinkney home."

Gallatin, who had hitherto thrown all his influence on the side of peace, was then devoting all his energies to provision for war. He answered Nicholson that the tone of Government, though he thought it correct, was of little consequence, for in any case the result would be the same; he was confident that England would give neither satisfaction nor security.[5]

"I will, however, acknowledge that on that particular point I have not bestowed much thought; for having considered from the first moment war was a necessary result, and the preliminaries appearing to me but matters of form, my faculties have been exclusively applied to the preparations necessary to meet the times. And although I am not very sanguine as to the brilliancy of our exploits, the field where we can act without a navy being very limited, and perfectly aware that a war, in a great degree passive, and consisting of privations, will become very irksome to the people, I feel no apprehension of the immediate result. We will be poorer both as a nation and as a government, our debt and taxes will increase, and our progress in every respect be interrupted; but all those evils are not only not to be put in competition with the independence and honor of the nation, they are moreover temporary, and a very few years of peace will obliterate their effects. Nor do I know whether the awakening of nobler feelings and habits than avarice and luxury might not be necessary to prevent our degenerating, like the Hollanders, into a nation of mere calculators."

Jefferson followed without protest the impulse toward war; but his leading thought was to avoid it. Peace was still his passion, and his scheme of peaceful coercion had not yet been tried. Even while the nation was aflame with warlike enthusiasm, his own mind always reverted to another thought. The tone of the proclamation showed it; his unwillingness to call Congress proved it; his letters dwelt upon it.

"We have acted on these principles," he wrote in regard to England,[6]—"(1) to give that Government an opportunity to disavow and make reparation; (2) to give ourselves time to get in the vessels, property, and seamen now spread over the ocean; (3) to do no act which might compromit Congress in their choice between war, non-intercourse, or any other measure."

To Vice-President Clinton he wrote,[7] that since the power of declaring war was with the Legislature, the Executive should do nothing necessarily committing them to decide for war in preference to non-intercourse, "which will be preferred by a great many." Every letter[8] written by the President during the crisis contained some allusion to non-intercourse, which he still called the "peaceable means of repressing injustice, by making it the interest of the aggressor to do what is just, and abstain from future wrong." As the war fever grew stronger he talked more boldly about hostilities, and became silent about non-intercourse;[9] but the delay in calling Congress was certain to work as he wished, and to prevent a committal to the policy of war.

To no one was this working of Jefferson's mind more evident than to General Turreau, whose keen eyes made the President uneasy under the sense of being watched and criticised. Turreau, who had left Washington for the summer, hurried back on hearing of the "Chesapeake" disaster. On arriving, he went the same evening to the White House, "where there had been a dinner of twenty covers, composed, they say, of new friends of the Government, to whom Mr. Madison had given a first representation two days before. Indeed, I knew none of the guests except the Ambassador of England and his secretary of legation. The President received me even better than usual, but left me, presently, to follow with the British minister a conversation that my entrance had interrupted."[10]

Then came a touch of nature which Turreau thought strikingly characteristic. No strong power of imagination is needed to see the White House parlor, on the warm summer night, with Jefferson, as Senator Maclay described him, sitting in a lounging manner on one hip, with his loose, long figure, and his clothes that seemed too small for him, talking, without a break, in his rambling, disjointed way, showing deep excitement under an affectation of coolness, and at every word and look betraying himself to the prying eyes of Talleyrand's suspicious agent. What Jefferson said, and how he said it, can be told only in Turreau's version; but perhaps the few words used by the prejudiced Frenchman gave a clearer idea of American politics than could be got from all other sources together:—

"This conversation with the British minister having been brought to an end, Mr. Jefferson came and sat down by my side; and after all the American guests had successively retired, Mr. Erskine, who had held out longest,—in the hope, perhaps, that I should quit the ground,—went away also. The President spoke to me about the 'Chesapeake' affair, and said: 'If the English do not give us the satisfaction we demand, we will take Canada, which wants to enter the Union; and when, together with Canada, we shall have the Floridas, we shall no longer have any difficulties with our neighbors; and it is the only way of preventing them. I expected that the Emperor would return sooner to Paris,—and then this affair of the Floridas would be ended.' Then, changing the subject, he asked me what were the means to employ in order to be able to defend the American harbors and coasts. I answered that the choice of means depended on local conditions, and that his officers, after an exact reconnoissance, ought to pronounce on the application of suitable means of defence.—'We have no officers!'—He treated twenty-seven different subjects in a conversation of half an hour; and as he showed, as usual, no sort of distrust, this conversation of fits and starts (à bâtons rompus) makes me infer that the event would embarrass him much,—and Mr. Madison seemed to me to share this embarrassment.... Once for all, whatever may be the disposition of mind here, though every one is lashing himself (se batte les flancs) to take a warlike attitude, I can assure your Highness that the President does not want war, and that Mr. Madison dreads it still more. I am convinced that these two personages will do everything that is possible to avoid it, and that if Congress, which will be called together only when an answer shall have arrived from England, should think itself bound, as organ of public opinion, to determine on war, its intention will be crossed by powerful intrigues, because the actual Administration has nothing to gain and everything to lose by war."

Turreau was not the only observer who saw beneath the surface of American politics. The young British minister, Erskine, who enlivened his despatches by no such lightness of touch as was usual with his French colleague, wrote to the new Foreign Secretary of England, George Canning, only brief and dry accounts of the situation at Washington, but showed almost a flash of genius in the far-reaching policy he struck out.

"The ferment in the public mind," he wrote July 21,[11] "has not yet subsided, and I am confirmed in the opinion . . . that this country will engage in war rather than submit to their national armed ships being forcibly searched on the high seas.... Should his Majesty think fit to cause an apology to be offered to these States on account of the attack of his Majesty's ship 'Leopard' on the United States frigate 'Chesapeake,' it would have the most powerful effect not only on the minds of the people of this country, but would render it impossible for the Congress to bring on a war upon the other points of difference between his Majesty and the United States at present under discussion."

A single blow, however violent, could not weld a nation. Every one saw that the very violence of temper which made the month of July, 1807, a moment without a parallel in American history since the battle of Lexington, would be followed by a long reaction of doubt and discord. If the President, the Secretary of State, and great numbers of their stanchest friends hesitated to fight when a foreign nation, after robbing their commerce, fired into their ships of war, and slaughtered or carried off their fellow-citizens,—if they preferred "peaceable means of repressing injustice" at the moment when every nerve would naturally have been strung to recklessness with the impulse to strike back,—it was in the highest degree unlikely that they would be more earnest for war when time had deadened the sense of wrong. Neither England, France, nor Spain could fail to see that the moment when aggression ceased to be safe had not yet arrived.

The people were deeply excited, commerce for the moment was paralyzed, no merchant dared send out a ship, and the country resounded with cries of war when the "Revenge" sailed, bearing instructions to Monroe to demand reparation from the British government. These instructions, dated July 6, 1807, were framed in the spirit which seemed to characterize Madison's diplomatic acts. Specific redress for a specific wrong appeared an easy demand. That the attack on the "Chesapeake" should be disavowed; that the men who had been seized should be restored; that punctilious exactness of form should mark the apology and retribution,—was matter of course; but that this special outrage, which stood on special ground, should be kept apart, and that its atonement should precede the consideration of every other disputed point, was the natural method of dealing with it if either party was serious in wishing for peace. Such a wound, left open to fester and smart, was certain to make war in the end inevitable. Both the President and Madison wanted peace; yet their instructions to Monroe made a settlement of the "Chesapeake" outrage impracticable by binding it to a settlement of the wider dispute as to impressments from merchant vessels.

"As a security for the future," wrote Madison,[12] "an entire abolition of impressments from vessels under the flag of the United States, if not already arranged, is also to make an indispensable part of the satisfaction."

Among the many impossibilities which had been required of Monroe during the last four years, this was one of the plainest. The demand was preliminary, in ordinary diplomatic usage, to a declaration of war; and nothing in Jefferson's Presidency was more surprising than that he should have thought such a policy of accumulating unsettled causes for war consistent with his policy of peace.

While the "Revenge" was slowly working across the Atlantic, Monroe in London was exposed to the full rigor of the fresh storm. News of the "Chesapeake" affair reached London July 25; and before it could become public Canning wrote to Monroe a private note,[13] cautiously worded, announcing that a "transaction" had taken place "off the coast of America," the particulars of which he was not at present enabled to communicate, and was anxious to receive from Monroe:—

"But whatever the real merits and character of the transaction may turn out to be, Mr. Canning could not forbear expressing without delay the sincere concern and sorrow which he feels at its unfortunate result, and assuring the American minister, both from himself and on the behalf of his Majesty's government, that if the British officers should prove to have been culpable, the most prompt and effectual reparation shall be afforded to the government of the United States."

When on Monday morning, July 27, Monroe read in the newspapers the account of what had taken place, and realized that Canning, while giving out that he knew not the particulars, must have had Admiral Berkeley's official report within his reach if not on his table, the American minister could not but feel that the British secretary might have spoken with more frankness. In truth ministers were waiting to consult the law, and to learn whether Berkeley could be sustained. The extreme Tories, who wanted a quarrel with the United States; the reckless, who were delighted with every act of violence, which they called energy; the mountebanks, represented by Cobbett, who talked at random according to personal prejudices,— all approved Berkeley's conduct. The Ministry, not yet accustomed to office, and disposed to assert the power they held, could not easily reconcile themselves to disavowing a British admiral whose popular support came from the ranks of their own party. Seeing this, Monroe became more and more alarmed.

The tone of the press was extravagant enough to warrant despair. July 27 the "Morning Post," which was apt to draw its inspiration from the Foreign Office, contained a diatribe on the "Chesapeake" affair.

"America," it said, "is not contented with striking at the very vitals of our commercial existence; she must also, by humbling our naval greatness and disputing our supremacy, not only lessen us in our own estimation, but degrade us in the eyes of Europe and of the world.... It will never be permitted to be said that the 'Royal Sovereign' has struck her flag to a Yankee cockboat."

In the whole press of England, the "Morning Chronicle" alone deprecated an American war or blamed Berkeley's act; and the "Morning Chronicle" was the organ of opposition.

Monroe waited two days, and heard no more from Canning. July 29, by a previous appointment, he went to the Foreign Office on other business.[14] He found the Foreign Secretary still reticent, admitting or yielding nothing, but willing to satisfy the American government that Berkeley's order had not been the result of instructions from the Tory ministry. Monroe said he would send a note on the subject, and Canning acquiesced. Monroe on the same day sent his letter, which called attention to the outrage that had been committed and to its unjustifiable nature, expressing at the same time full confidence that the British government would at once disavow and punish the offending officer. The tone of the note, though strong, was excellent, but on one point did not quite accord with the instructions on their way from Washington.

"I might state," said Monroe, "other examples of great indignity and outrage, many of which are of recent date; . . . but it is improper to mingle them with the present more serious cause of complaint."

Monday, August 3, Canning sent a brief reply. Since Monroe's complaint was not founded on official knowledge, said Canning, the King's government was not bound to do more than to express readiness to make reparation if such reparation should prove to be due:[15]

"Of the existence of such a disposition on the part of the British government you, sir, cannot be ignorant. I have already assured you of it, though in an unofficial form, by the letter which I addressed to you on the first receipt of the intelligence of this unfortunate transaction; and I may perhaps be permitted to express my surprise, after such an assurance, at the tone of that representation which I have just had the honor to receive from you. But the earnest desire of his Majesty to evince in the most satisfactory manner the principles of justice and moderation by which he is uniformly actuated, has not permitted him to hesitate in commanding me to assure you that his Majesty neither does nor has at any time maintained the pretension of a right to search ships of war in the national service of any State for deserters."

If it should prove that Berkeley's order rested on no other ground than the simple and unqualified pretension to such a right, the King had no difficulty in disavowing it, and would have none in showing his displeasure at it.

Although Monroe thought this reply to be "addressed in rather a harsh tone," as was certainly the case, he considered it intended to concede the essential point, and he decided to say no more without instructions. He might well be satisfied, for Canning's "surprise" was a mild expression of public feeling. Hitherto the British press had shown no marked signs of the insanity which sometimes seized a people under the strain of great excitement, but the "Chesapeake" affair revealed the whole madness of the time. August 6, three days after Canning had disavowed pretension to search national vessels, the "Morning Post" published an article strongly in favor of Berkeley and war. "Three weeks blockade of the Delaware, the Chesapeake, and Boston Harbor would make our presumptuous rivals repent of their puerile conduct." August 5 the "Times" declared itself for Berkeley, and approved not only his order, but also its mode of execution. The "Courier" from the first defended Berkeley. Cobbett's peculiar powers of mischief were never more skilfully exerted:—

"I do not pretend to say that we may not in this instance have been in the wrong, because there is nothing authentic upon the subject; nor am I prepared to say that our right of search, in all cases, extends to ships of war. But of this I am certain, that if the laws of nations do not allow you to search for deserters in a friend's territory, neither do they allow that friend to inveigle away your troops or your seamen, to do which is an act of hostility; and I ask for no better proof of inveigling than the enlisting and refusing to give up such troops or seamen."

Owing to his long residence in the United States, Cobbett was considered a high authority on American affairs; and he boldly averred that America could not go to war without destroying herself as a political body. More than half the people of America, he said, were already disgusted with the French bias of their government.

In the face of a popular frenzy so general, Monroe might feel happy to have already secured from Canning an express disavowal of the pretension to search ships of war. He was satisfied to let the newspapers say what they would while he waited his instructions. A month passed before these arrived. September 3 Monroe had his next interview, and explained the President's expectations,—that the men taken from the "Chesapeake" should be restored, the offenders punished, a special mission sent to America to announce the reparation, and the practice of impressment from merchant-vessels suppressed.[16] Canning listened with civility, for he took pride in tempering the sternness of his policy by the courtesy of his manner. He made no serious objection to the President's demands so far as they concerned the "Chesapeake;" but when Monroe came to the abandonment of impressment from merchant-vessels, he civilly declined to admit it into the discussion.

Monroe wrote the next day a note,[17] founded on his instructions, in which he insisted on the proposition which he had expressly discarded in his note of July 29, that the outrages rising from impressment in general ought to be considered as a part of the "Chesapeake" affair; and he concluded his argument by saying that his Government looked on this complete adjustment as indispensably necessary to heal the deep wound which had been inflicted on the national honor of the United States. After the severity with which Monroe had been rebuked for disregarding his instructions on this point barely a few months before, he had no choice but to obey his orders without the change of a letter; but he doubtless knew in advance that this course left Canning master of the situation. The British government was too well acquainted with the affairs of America to be deceived by words. That the United States would fight to protect their national vessels was possible; but every one knew that no party in Congress could be induced to make war for the protection of merchant seamen. In rejecting such a demand, not only was Canning safe, but he was also sure of placing the President at odds with his own followers and friends.

A fortnight was allowed to pass before the British government replied. Then, September 23, Canning sent to the American legation an answer.[18] He began by requesting to know whether the President's proclamation was authentic, and whether it would be withdrawn on a disavowal of the act which led to it; because, as an act of retaliation, it must be taken into account in adjusting the reparation due. He insisted that the nationality of the men seized must also be taken into account, not as warranting their unauthorized seizure, but as a question of redress between government and government. In respect to the general question of impressment in connection with the specific grievance of the "Chesapeake," he explained at some length the different ground on which the two disputes rested; and while professing his willingness to discuss the regulation of the practice, he affirmed the rights of England, which, he said,—

"existed in their fullest force for ages previous to the establishment of the United States of America as an independent government; and it would be difficult to contend that the recognition of that independence can have operated any change in this respect, unless it can be shown that in acknowledging the government of the United States, Great Britain virtually abdicated her own rights as a naval Power, or unless there were any express stipulations by which the ancient and prescriptive usages of Great Britain, founded in the soundest principles of natural law, though still enforced against other independent nations of the world, were to be suspended whenever they might come in contact with the interests or the feelings of the American people."

After disposing of the matter with this sneer, Canning closed by earnestly recommending Monroe to consider whether his instructions might not leave him at liberty to adjust the case of the "Chesapeake" by itself:—

"If your instructions leave you no discretion, I cannot press you to act in contradiction to them. In that case there can be no advantage in pursuing a discussion which you are not authorized to conclude; and I shall have only to regret that the disposition of his Majesty to terminate that difference amicably and satisfactorily is for the present rendered unavailing.
"In that case his Majesty, in pursuance of the disposition of which he has given such signal proofs, will lose no time in sending a minister to America, furnished with the necessary instructions and powers for bringing this unfortunate dispute to a conclusion consistent with the harmony subsisting between Great Britain and the United States; but in order to avoid the inconvenience which has arisen from the mixed nature of your instructions, that minister will not be empowered to entertain, as connected with this subject, any proposition respecting the search of merchant-vessels."

Monroe replied,[19] September 29, that his instructions were explicit, and that he could not separate the two questions. He closed by saying that Canning's disposition and sentiments had been such as inspired him with great confidence that they should soon have been able to bring the dispute to an honorable and satisfactory conclusion. With this letter so far as concerned Monroe, the "Chesapeake" incident came to its end in failure of redress.

One more subject remained for Monroe to finish. His unfortunate treaty returned by Madison with a long list of changes and omissions, had been made by Monroe and Pinkney the subject of a letter to Canning as early as July 24;[20] but the affair of the "Chesapeake" intervened, and Canning declined to touch any other subject until this was adjusted. No sooner did he succeed in referring the "Chesapeake" negotiation to Washington than he turned to the treaty. That a measure which had been the most unpopular act of an unpopular Whig ministry could expect no mercy at Canning's hands, was to be expected; but some interest attached to the manner of rejection which he might prefer. In a formal note, dated October 22, Canning addressed the American government in a tone which no one but himself could so happily use,—a tone of mingled condescension and derision.[21] He began by saying that his Majesty could not profess to be satisfied that the American government had taken effectual steps in regard to the Berlin Decree; but the King had nevertheless decided, in case the President should ratify Monroe's treaty, to ratify it in his turn, "reserving to himself the right of taking, in consequence of that decree, and of the omission of any effectual interposition on the part of neutral nations to obtain its revocation, such measures of retaliation as his Majesty might judge expedient." Without stopping to explain what value a ratification under such conditions would have, Canning continued that the President had thought proper to propose alterations in the body of the treaty:—

"The undersigned is commanded distinctly to protest against a practice altogether unusual in the political transactions of States, by which the American government assumes to itself the privilege of revising and altering agreements concluded and signed on its behalf by its agents duly authorized for that purpose, of retaining so much of those agreements as may be favorable to its own views, and of rejecting such stipulations, or such parts of stipulations, as are conceived to be not sufficiently beneficial to America."

Without discussing the correctness of Canning's assertion that the practice was "altogether unusual in the political transactions of States," Monroe and Pinkney might have replied that every European treaty was negotiated, step by step, under the eye of the respective governments, and that probably no extant treaty had been signed by a British agent in Europe without first receiving at every stage the approval of the King. No American agent could consult his government. Canning was officially aware that Monroe and Pinkney, in signing their treaty, had done so at their own risk, in violation of the President's orders. The requirement that the President of the United States should follow European rules was unreasonable; but in the actual instance Canning's tone was something more than unreasonable. His own note assumed for the British government "the privilege of revising and altering" whatever provisions of the treaty it pleased; and after a condition so absolute, he violated reciprocity in rejecting conditions made by the President because they were "unusual in the political transactions of States:"—

"The undersigned is therefore commanded to apprise the American commissioners that, although his Majesty will be at all times ready to listen to any suggestions for arranging, in an amicable and advantageous manner, the respective interests of the two countries, the proposal of the President of the United States for proceeding to negotiate anew upon the basis of a treaty already solemnly concluded and signed, is a proposal wholly inadmissible."

With this denial of the right of others to exercise arbitrary methods, Canning declared the field open for the British government to give full range to its arbitrary will. A week afterward Monroe left London forever. He had taken his audience of leave October 7, and resigned the legation to Pinkney. October 29 he started for Portsmouth to take ship for Virginia. His diplomatic career in Europe was at an end; but these last failures left him in a state of mind easy to imagine, in which his irritation with Jefferson and Madison, the authors of his incessant misfortunes, outran his suspicions of Canning, whose pretence of friendship had been dignified and smooth.

For reasons to be given hereafter, the Ministry decided to disavow Admiral Berkeley's attack on the "Chesapeake;" but in order to provide against the reproach of surrendering British rights, a proclamation[22] almost as offensive to the United States as Admiral Berkeley's order was issued, October 16. Beginning with the assertion that great numbers of British seamen "have been enticed to enter the service of foreign States, and are now actually serving as well on board the ships of war belonging to the said foreign States as on board the merchant-vessels belonging to their subjects," the proclamation ordered such seamen to return home, and commanded all naval officers to seize them, without unnecessary violence, in any foreign merchant-vessels where they might be found, and to demand them from the captains of foreign ships of war, in order to furnish government with the necessary evidence for claiming redress from the government which had detained the British seamen. Further, the proclamation gave warning that naturalization would not be regarded as relieving British subjects of their duties, but that, while such naturalized persons would be pardoned if they returned immediately to their allegiance, all such as should serve on ships-of-war belonging to any State at enmity with England would be guilty of high treason, and would be punished with the utmost severity of the law.

That the British public, even after the battle of Trafalgar and the firing upon the "Chesapeake," might have felt its pride sufficiently flattered by such a proclamation seemed only reasonable; for in truth this proclamation forced war upon a government which wished only to escape it, and which cowered for years in submission rather than fight for what it claimed as its due; but although to American ears the proclamation sounded like a sentence of slavery, the British public denounced it as a surrender of British rights. The "Morning Post," October 20 and 22, gave way to a paroxysm of wrath against ministers for disavowing and recalling Berkeley. "With feelings most poignantly afflicting," it broke into a rhapsody of unrestrained self-will. The next day, October 23, the same newspaper—then the most influential in the kingdom—pursued the subject more mildly:—

"Though the British government, from perhaps too rigid an adherence to the law of nations, outraged as they are by the common enemy, may, however irritated by her conduct, display a magnanimous forbearance toward so insignificant a Power as America, they will not, we are persuaded, suffer our proud sovereignty of the ocean to be mutilated by any invasion of its just rights and prerogatives. Though the right, tacitly abandoned for the last century, may be suffered to continue dormant, the Americans must not flatter themselves that the principle will be permitted to have any further extent. In the mildness of our sway we must not suffer our sovereignty to be rebelled against or insulted with impunity.... The sovereignty of the seas in the hands of Great Britain is an established, legitimate sovereignty,—a sovereignty which has been exercised on principles so equitable, and swayed with a spirit so mild, that the most humble of the maritime Powers have been treated as if they were on a perfect equality with us." The same lofty note ran through all the "Morning Post's" allusions to American affairs:—
"A few short months of war," said a leading article, October 24, "would convince these desperate politicians of the folly of measuring the strength of a rising, but still infant and puny, nation with the colossal power of the British empire."

The "Times" declared that the Americans could not even send an ambassador to France,—could hardly pass to Staten Island,—without British permission.[23] "Right is power sanctioned by custom," said the "Times;" and October 20 and 22 it joined the "Morning Post" in denouncing the disavowal of Berkeley. The "Morning Chronicle" alone resisted the torrent which was sweeping away the traditions of English honor.

"Our Government," it said,[24] in support of its enemy, Canning, "in acting with prudence and wisdom, have to resist the pressure of a spirit not popular, like that in America, but as violent and as ignorant, with the addition of being in the highest degree selfish and sordid."

In the case of the "Chesapeake" the Ministry resisted that "selfish and sordid" interest; but Americans soon learned that the favor, such as it was, had been purchased at a price beyond its value. Canning's most brilliant stroke was for the moment only half revealed.


  1. New England Federalism, p. 182.
  2. Cabinet Memoranda; Writings (Ford), i. 324.
  3. Adams's Gallatin, p. 358.
  4. Nicholson to Gallatin, July 14, 1807; Adams's Gallatin, p. 360.
  5. Gallatin to Nicholson, July 17, 1807; Adams's Gallatin, p. 361.
  6. Jefferson to Bidwell, July 11, 1807; Works, v. 125.
  7. Jefferson to the Vice-President, July 6, 1807; Works, v. 115.
  8. Jefferson to Governor Cabell, June 29, 1807, Works, v. 114; to Mr. Bowdoin, July 10, 1807, Works, v. 123; to M. Dupont, July 14, 1807, Works, v. 127; to Lafayette, July 14, 1807, Works, v. 129.
  9. Jefferson to Colonel Taylor, Aug. 1, 1807; Works, v[.] 148.
  10. Turreau to Talleyrand, July 18, 1808; Archives des Aff. Étr. MSS.
  11. Erskine to Canning, July 21, 1807; MSS. British Archives.
  12. Madison to Monroe, July 6, 1807; State Papers, iii. 183.
  13. Canning to Monroe, July 25, 1807; State Papers, iii. 187.
  14. Monroe to Madison, Aug. 4, 1807; State Papers, iii. 186.
  15. Canning to Monroe, Aug. 3, 1807; American State Papers, iii. 188.
  16. Monroe to Madison, Oct. 10, 1807; State Papers, iii. 191.
  17. Monroe to Canning, Sept. 7, 1807; State Papers, iii. 189.
  18. Canning to Monroe, Sept. 23, 1807; State Papers, iii. 199.
  19. Monroe to Canning, Sept. 29, 1807; State Papers, iii. 201.
  20. Monroe and Pinkney to Canning, July 24, 1807; State Papers, iii. 194.
  21. Canning to Monroe and Pinkney, Oct. 22, 1807; State Papers, iii. 198.
  22. American State Papers, iii. 25.
  23. The Times, Aug. 26, 1807.
  24. The Morning Chronicle, Aug. 6, 1807.