On February 9, 1812, Jonathan Russell, the American Chargé d’Affaires in Britain, wrote to Secretary of State James Monroe. Russell discusses the Berlin and Milan Decrees that had been issued by Napoleon. The decrees prohibited the importation of British goods into European countries allied with or controlled by France in what was called the Continental System. The Milan Decree made it French policy that all neutral shipping using British ports or paying British tariffs were to be regarded as British and seized. In turn, the British maintained their Orders in Council which forbade trade with France and imposed a blockade of the continent.
Napoleon repeatedly misrepresented to the Americans that the decrees were no longer in force.
On February 9, 1812, Russell included a number of letters, the last one being to the Marquis Wellesley trying to have the Orders in Council rescinded on the basis that the decrees had been rescinded.
Mr. Russell to the Secretary of State
February 9 1812
I have the honor to transmit to you, enclosed, a copy of a letter, dated the 29th ult. from Mr. Barlow and a copy of the note in which I yesterday communicated that letter to the Marquis Wellesley.
Although the proof of the revocation of the French decrees contained in the letter of Mr. Barlow, is when taken by itself of no very conclusive character, yet it ought, when connected with that previously exhibited to this Government, to be admitted as satisfactorily establishing that revocation, and in this view I have thought it to be mv duty to present it here.
I have the honor to be, &c.
(Enclosed in Russell's letter of February 9th 1812 was the letter of Mr. Barlow, the American diplomat in Paris dated January 29, 1812 and Russell's letter to the Marquis Wellesley dated February 8, 1812. These letters can be found below)
Mr. Barlow to Mr Russell
Paris January 29, 1812Sir
The ship Acastus, Captain Coffee, from Norfolk, bound to Tonningen with tobacco, had been boarded by an English frigate, and was taken by a French privateer and brought into Fecamp for the fact of having been so boarded. This was in November last. On the 2d of December I stated the facts to the Duke of Bassano; and in a few days after the ship and cargo were ordered by the Emperor to be restored to the owners, on condition that she had not violated the French navigation laws, which latter question was sent to the council of prizes to determine. The council determined that no such violation had taken place, and the ship and cargo were definitively restored to Captain Coffee.To the above fact I can add that since my residence here, several American vessels with cargoes have arrived and been admitted in the ports of France, after having touched in England, the fact being declared; and there is no instance within that period of a vessel, in either of the cases of the Berlin and Milan decrees being detained or molested by the French Government.
I have the honor to be &cJ Barlow
Mr. Russell to the Marquis Wellesley
London February 8 1812
I have the honor herewith to hand to your lordship a copy of a letter addressed to me, on the 29th of last month, by Mr Barlow the American minister at Paris.
I have felt some hesitation in communicating this letter to your lordship, lest my motive might be mistaken, and an obligation appear to be admitted on the part of the United States to furnish more evidence of the revocation of the Berlin and Milan decrees than has already been furnished, or than has been necessary to their own conviction I trust however that my conduct on this occasion will be ascribed alone to an earnest desire to prevent the evils which a continued diversity of opinion on this subject might unhappily produce.
The case of the Acastus necessarily implies that American vessels, captured by the cruisers of France are adjudged by the French navigation laws only, and that the Berlin and Milan decrees make no part of these laws; the Acastus being acquitted, notwithstanding the fact of her having been boarded by an English vessel of war.
To the declaration of Mr Barlow, that since his residence at Paris there had been no instance of a vessel, under either the Berlin or Milan decrees, being detained or molested by the French Government I beg leave to add that previous to his residence and subsequent to the 1st of November, 1810, these decrees were not executed in violation of the neutral or national rights of the United States.
Whatever doubts might have been entertained of the efficient nature of the revocation of those decrees, on account of the form in which that measure was announced, these doubts ought surely now to yield to the uniform experience of fifteen months, during which period not a single fact has occurred to justify them.
I do not urge in confirmation of this revocation the admission of American vessels with cargoes arrived in the ports of France after having touched in England, as stated by Mr Barlow, and as accords with what occurred during my residence at Paris, because such admission is evidence only of the cessation of the municipal operation of the decrees in relation to the United States of which it cannot be presumed that the British Government requires an account.
I cannot forbear to persuade myself that the proof now added to the mass which was already before your lordship will satisfactorily establish, in the judgment of His Britannic Majesty's Government the revocation of the decrees in question and lead to such a repeal of the orders in council in regard to the United States, as will restore the friendly relations and commercial intercourse between the two countries.
I have the honor to be &c