June 23 1812: Foster Meets Madison and Monroe

On June 23 1812,  Augustus Foster, the British Minister has a final meeting with President Madison and subsequent meeting with James Monroe. Foster records what transpired in  Minutes that are reproduced below. Foster pressed Madison to agree that if the Orders in Council were repealed that this would be sufficient to end the war. Madison hedged but said, according to Foster,"if the Orders in Council were revoked, and a promise of negotiation given on the question of impressment, it would suffice; that we could not, perhaps, do more on the latter at present, than offer to negotiate." Foster also understood that the President wanted to "avoid as much as possible, pushing matters to extremity." Madison would not agree to an armistice to allow for negotiation.

Minute of Conversation.

Washington  June 23, 1812,
I ascertained that the President would be pleased, if I called to take leave of him previous to my departure; I had the honour of waiting upon him on the 23d of June, When, after some conversation on different topics, Mr. Madison expressed his regret at the situation in which the two countries were placed, and his sincere desire to see the causes removed. Mr. Foster joined with him in the regret. The President entered into a good deal of explanation as to the declaration of war; he observed, upon the embarrassments created to the Executive branch in America, on a question of war, as the Act of Congress was specified, and allowed of no modifications; wishing, as it appeared, to give it to be understood, that his desire was to avoid as much as possible, pushing matters to extremity, although he did not well see how it could be avoided. I observed, upon the danger there was of collision at sea; and, in particular, of the danger there was a few days back of two American frigates, which sailed from the Chesapeake before the declaration of war, meeting His Majesty's ships Tartarus and Belvidera, which were reported to be off New York. The President then observed, he had not thought the former would have arrived from the Chesapeake, at New York so soon; he had not thought the wind was favourable at the time they sailed. The conversation fell a good deal upon the possibility of a change of measures in England, grounded on the late news. I asked, if the Orders in Council were revoked, would peace be restored? Mr. Madison said, if the Orders in Council were revoked, and a promise of negotiation given on the question of impressment, it would suffice; that we could not, perhaps, do more on the latter at present, than offer to negotiate. I observed, the latter did not form prominent feature in the late discussions, and urged that a mistake in knowing the views of each other, would create three months delay; and wished to know if an immediate armistice would be produced. The President talked much of the responsibility on the Executive, that he would do what would best consult his dutv. I asked how long Congress would sit. The President said ten days or a fortnight; and that if the Orders were revoked in that time, they would certainly take some step in consequence. On some expressions of his, I asked if there was no danger of any of the American officers undertaking some measure which might further commit the two countries. He said no measures would be taken but for defence.

In talking of neutrals, I observed, perhaps there would be no further occasion for the Orders in Council, now that scarce a neutral remained. The President seemed to acquiesce. He did not know if Portugal were considered neutral: asked if the treaty between England and Portugal were offensive and defensive. -I said not against America, as I was convinced. I asked if Spain would be considered neutral and here the President expressed his idea, that secret articles might exist between Spain and England, and seemed willing to understand, that Spain would be obliged to make common cause with England, in the war against America. I put him in mind of Mr. Monroe's former expressions, relative to Mr. Wellesley's having urged the Cortes to war with America, that I had reported home those expressions of Mr. Monroe, and had been enabled afterwards most decidedly to contradict them. On mv again pressing the subject of expeditions, which might be undertaken by the United States' Government (having allusion to Florida); the President observed, the Executive could not well be justified in stopping any expeditions, which might have been undertaken at a time, when, perhaps alone, they would be successful. It seemed, indeed, evident that he was decided to take Florida it he could, and for purposes of defence, that something elsewhere might be done, probably, Fort Maiden taken. I observed, that the Bramble was expected, with the seamen taken from the Chesapeake; and that Mr. Baker would see that arrangement carried into complete execution, remaining here with that view as had been agreed on. Mr. Baker then said, Mr. Monroe had, he understood, communicated to the President what had passed relative to his (Mr. Baker's) remaining behind, to which the President replied that he had.

I went with Mr. Baker afterwards to Mr. Monroe's office, where I had some conversation with the Secretary of State. Mr. Monroe said, the United States officer's orders were confined to the marine league: I could scarcely get him to speak on the subject of Florida, though I expressed my hopes they would not commence hostilities in that quarter. I wanted Mr. Monroe distinctly to state, whether, if the Orders in 'Council were revoked, (which, however, he could say nothing about, believing the contrary) the war would cease? Mr. Monroe declined saying positively, it would be the case, on the grounds of not fully knowing the President's intentions.

Mr. Monroe agreed to sec Mr. Baker as often as he pleased; and said he would be glad if I should hear any thing in the way of news from London, materially to affect the -United States, that I would communicate to him by letter. .1 promised to communicate with him in that case through Mr. Baker.

Both Mr. Madison, and Mr. Monroe, left the impression with me, that should the Orders in Council be revoked, while Congress was in Session, hostilities would be suspended on the part of America. I urged repeatedly, the good policy of at once suspending all hostility by agreement, until further intelligence should be received from Great Britain; as the President being only authorised by the Act of Congress, but not directed to carry on th« war, it would seem that ho might, if it so pleased him, have suspended all military and naval operations ; and, I engaged, on my own responsibility, for Vice Admiral Sawyer's observing the armistice in such case. I could, however, obtain no satisfactory answer to this proposition, although I was assured by Mr. Monroe, in the most decided manner, than the marine league would be as much as possible the limits of the operation; of the United States' navy. The chief objection of the American Government to enter into such agreement was, that there did not appear at present any certainty of the Orders in Council being repealed.
(Signed) A. J. FOSTER.

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