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forward, would have been of itself a material defect in the overture of the President.
But the undersigned is commanded no farther to dwell upon this subject than for the purpose of assuring Mr. Pinkney, that on this and every other point in discussion, between the two governments, his majesty earnestly desires the restoration of a perfect good understanding; and that his majesty would decline no measure for the attain. ment of that object, which should be compatible with his own honour and just rights, and with the interests of his people.
The undersigned requests Mr. Pinkney will accept the assurances of his high consideration.
Copy of a Letter from the Honourable David M.Erskine, Esq. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of his Britannick Majesty, to the Secretary of State of the United States. Washington, March 12, 1807.
Sir, I am charged by his majesty to express to the government of the United States, his majesty's perfect confidence in their good sense and firmness in resisting the unjust pretensions contained in the decree issued by the French government at Berlin, on the 21st November, which, if suffered to take effect, must prove so destructive to the commerce of all neutral nations.
His majesty has learnt that the measures announced in this decree, have already, in some instances, been carried into execution by the privateers of the enemy, and there could be no doubt that his majesty would have an indisputable right to exercise a just retaliation. Neutral nations cannot, indeed, expect that the king should suffer the commerce of his enemies to be carried on through them, whilst they submit to the prohibition which France has decreed against the commerce of his majesty's subjects. But though this right of retaliation would unquestionably accrue to his majesty, yet his majesty is unwilling, except in the last extremity, to have recourse to measures which must prove so distressing to all nations not engaged in the war against France.
His majesty, therefore, with that forbearance and mode ration 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, and has issued an order for preventing all commerce from port to port of his enemies, comprehending in this order, not only the ports of France, but those of other nations, as, either in alliance with France, or subject to her dominion, have by measures of active offence, or by the exclusion of British ships, taken a part in the present war.
His majesty feels an entire confidence that the moderation and justice of this conduct will be duly appreciated by the United States, and has charged me to express to their government, in the strongest terms, the regret he has experienced in being thus compelled, in his own defence, to act in a manner which must prove in some degree embarrassing to the commerce of neutral nations, and his sincere desire to avoid any stronger measures, to which, however, if the injustice and aggression of his enemies should not be resisted by those nations, whose rights and interests are invaded by so flagrant a violation of all publick law, it may be ultimately necessary for the king to have recourse. I have the honour to be, &c.
D. M. ERSKINE. Hon. James Madison, Esq.
Secretary of State.
Mr. Madison to Mr. Erskine. Department of State, Murch
20, 1807. SIR, I have laid before the President your letter of the 12th instant, communicating the views of his Britannick majesty, in relation to the French decree of November 21st, 1806, and the principle of retaliation, through the commerce of neutrals, who may submit to the operation of that decree; as also, the measure actually taken, of prohibiting all neutral commerce from port to port, of his enemies, not only the ports of France, but those of such Ather nations, as, either in alliance with France, or subject to her dominion, have, by measures of active offence,
or by the exclusion of British ships, taken a part in the present war.
The President cannot be insensible, sir, to the friendship and confidence towards the United States, which are signified by his Britannick majesty in this communication. In making this acknowledgment, however, the President considers it not less incumbent on him, to reserve, for a state of things which it is hoped may never occur, the right of discussing the legality of any particular measures, to which resort may be had, on a ground of retaliation. At this time, it would suffice to observe, that it remains to be more fully ascertained, in what sense the decree in question will be explained, and to what extent it will be carried into execution; and consequently, whether in any. case, the United States can be involved in questions concerning measures of retaliation, supposed to accrue to one belligerent, from such a proceeding, by another. But it is worthy the justice and the liberality of the British government to recollect, that within the period of those great events which continue to agitate Europe, instances have occurred, in which the commerce of neutral nations, more especially of the United States, has experienced the severest distresses from its own orders and measures, manifestly unauthorized by the law of nations. The respect which the United States owe to their neutral rights, and the interest they have in maintaining them, will always be sufficient pledges, that no culpable acquiescence on their part, will render them accessory to the proceedings of one belligerent nation, through their rights of neutrality, against the commerce of its adversary.
With regard to the particular order issued against the trade of neutrals, from one port to another of the enemies of Great Britain, no fair objection can lie against it, provided it be founded on, and enforced by, actual blockades as authorized by the law of nations. If, on the other hand, the order has reference, not to such a blockade, but to a supposed illegality of the neutral trade from one to another of the described ports, the remark is obvious, that on that supposition, the order is superfluous; the trade being, as interdicted by the law of nations, liable at all times, without any such order, to the capture of British cruisers, and the condemnation of British courts ; and if not interdicted as such by the law of nations, it can no
otherwise be made illegal, than by a legal blockade of the ports comprehended in the order. This inference is ap- , plicable even to the case of a neutral trade between the ports of France herself; since it is not a principle of the acknowledged law of nations, that neutrals may not trade from one to another port of the same belligerent nation.' And it would be an innovation on that law, not before attempted, to extend the principle to a neutral trade between ports of different countries, confessedly open in times of peace as well as of war.
If the British order refers for its basis, to the principle of retaliation against the French decree, it falls under the observations already made on that subject, and which need not be repeated.
I am, &c.
JAMES MADISON. Hon. David M. Erskine, &c. &c.
Mr. Madison to Mr. Erskine. Department of State,
March 25, 1808. Sir,---Having laid before the President your letter of the 23d of February, explaining the character of certain British orders of council issued in November last, I proceed to communicate the observations and representations, which will manifest to your government the sentiments of the President on so deep a violation of the commerce and rights of the United States. These orders interdict to neutral nations, or rather to
, the United States, now the only commercial nation in a state of neutrality, all commerce with the enemies of Great Britain, now nearly the whole commercial world, with certain exceptions only, and under certain regulations, but too evidently fashioned to the commercial, the manufacturing, and the fiscal policy of Great Britain; and on that account the more derogatory from the honour and independence of neutral nations.
The orders are the more calculated to excite surprise in the United States, as they have disregarded the remonstrances conveyed in my letters of the 20th and 29th of March, 1807, against another order of council, issued on a similar plea, in the month of January, 1807. To those just
remonstrances no answer was indeed ever given ; whilst the order has continued in its pernicious operation against the lawful commerce of the United States; and we now find added to it others, instituting still more ruinous depredations, without even the addition of any new pretext: and when, moreover, it is notorious that the order of January was of a nature greatly to overbalance, in its effects, any injuries to Great Britain that could be apprehended from the illegal operation of the French decree, on which the order was to retaliate, had that decree, in its illegal operation, been actually applied to the United States, and been acquiesced in by them.
The last orders, like that of January, proceed on the most unsubstantial foundation. They assume for fact, an acquiescence of the United States in an unlawful application to them of the French decree: and they assume for a principle, that the right of retaliation accruing to one belligerent is not to have for its measure that of the injury received; but may be exercised in any extent, and under any modifications, which may suit the pleasure or the policy of the complaining party.
The fact, sir, is unequivocally disowned. It is not true that the United States have acquiesced in an illegal operation of the French decree: nor is it even true, that at the date of the British orders of November 11, a single application of that decree to the commerce of the United States, on the high seas, can be presumed to have been known to the British government.
The French decree in question has two distinct aspects ; one clearly importing an intended operation within the territorial limits as a local law; the other apparently importing an intended operation on the high seas.
Under the first aspect, the decree, however otherwise objectionable, cannot be said to have violated the neutrality of the United States. If the governing powers on the continent of Europe choose to exclude from their ports, British property or British productions, or neutral veseels proceeding from British ports, it is an act of sovereignty which the United States have no right to controvert. The same sovereignty is exercised by Great Britain, at all times, in peace as well as in war, towards her friends as well as her enemies. Her statute book presents a thoutsand illustrations.