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June 6 1812: Monroe to Foster


On June 6 1812, as the House bill to declare war on Great Britain is  before the Senate, Secretary of State James Monroe continues to trade diplomatic notes on the Orders in Council with the British  Minister in America, Augustus Foster. Monroe is responding to Foster's letter of June 4, 1812. On that that day, Foster had forwarded an extract from an  English newspaper that purported, in Foster's words, "to be an official declaration of his royal highness the prince regent, that the Orders in Council will be and are absolutely revoked from the period when the Berlin and Milan decrees shall, by some authentic act of the French government, publicly promulgated, be expressly and unconditionally repealed."
Foster wanted to bring the newspaper article to the attention of Monroe because he thought it represented a new position of his own government and might offer a way out of the impasse over the Orders in Council. The reason that he forwards the newspaper article is because he knows he cannot wait to receive the official government declaration or document. He knows that President Madison has sent a message to Congress on June 1, 1812 to set the stage for a declaration of war from Congress. Foster writes in his letter of the 4th of June: "I cannot but trust that no measure will meanwhile be adopted by the congress, which would defeat the endeavor of procuring a complete, reconciliation between our two countries." As we know, the House has already passed a war bill which is being considered by the Senate. Monroe must be aware of this as he responds on June 6, 1812 in the letter that is reproduced below: 

The Hon. James Monroe, &c.
Mr. Monroe to Mr. Foster.
Department Of State, June 6, 1812.

Sir:
I have lad the honor to receive your letter of the 4th instant. The receipt of that of May 30th has already been acknowledged. As these letters relate to the same subject, (the orders in council,) I shall take both into view in this reply.

I am not disposed to make any unnecessary difficulty, on account of the informality of the document alluded to in the last letter. If the declaration of the Prince Regent was such as to afford the satisfaction desired, it would be received in any form entitled to credit with great interest, as a token of just and friendly sentiments in jour Government towards the United States. But nothing is seen in that act of the character which you impute to it. Without removing a single objection to the principle on which the orders in council were issued, and have been maintained, it affords a complete justification of the demand heretofore made on your Government for their repeal.

The British Government has complained that the United States demanded the repeal of the orders in council on a conditional repeal of the French decrees, although the French condition required nothing of Great Britain which she ought not to have consented to, and was, moreover, a condition subsequent, and not precedent; and it now proposes to repeal the orders in council conditionally, also, with this difference: that the condition on which their repeal is to be made, is a condition precedent, and not subsequent, and is likewise one which Great Britain has no right to claim.

This condition requires that the French decrees shall be absolutely and unconditionally repealed, that is, that they shall be repealed, according to explanations given, not only as they related to the United States, but as to all other neutral nations, and also as they prohibited a commerce in British manufactures with the enemies of Great Britain.

So far as the French decrees violated the neutral commerce of the United States, we had a right to demand a repeal of them. To that extent we did demand their repeal, and obtained it. The repeal was declared by an authentic and formal act of the French Government, and communicated to this Government by the minister plenipotentiary of the United States at Paris, and to the British Government by their minister plenipotentiary at London, and has moreover been officially published within the United States. The authenticity of the repeal was placed beyond all controversy, and the official manner in which it was communicated to your Government ought to have been satisfactory to it. A general repeal of the French decrees in,_favor of all neutral nations, and of such parts of them as prohibited a trade with France, and the countries under her control, iu British manufactures, the United States have not demanded, because they had no right to demand it.

The United States have required of Great Britain no more than they required of France, namely, that her unlawful edicts should be repealed so far as they related to us. To a compliance with this demand your Government has prescribed conditions, the mere recital of which is sufficient to show their injustice. The United States can never suffer their rights to be violated by Great Britain, because the commerce of her enemies is not regulated to suit her interest and policy.

If the Duke of Bassano's report to the Conservative Senate of France, published in a French newspaper, be sufficient evidence that the French decrees are now in force, it is not perceived on what ground the high evidence which has been afforded of their repeal could have been resisted.

It is further made a condition of the proposed repeal, by the declaration of the Princo Regent, that it shall take effect at a future uncertain day, and that the orders in council should be again in force, on a contingency of which the British Government is to be sole judge. If this were a ground on which the United States could call on France to repeal her decrees, in case they were still in force as to them, surely the French repeal, to take effect on a future specified day, and whose revival was not provided for on any contingency whatever, was a ground on which their call on Great Britain to repeal her orders in council, in respect to the United States, ought not to have been resisted.

In reply to your insinuation that the demand made on your Government, to repeal its edicts which violate the neutral rights of the United States, is made in concert with France to obtain from Great Britain an abandonment of her maritime rights, it is sufficient to refer you to documents which have been long before the public, and particularly to the letter of Mr. Pinkney to the Marquis Wellesley, of January 14,1811, protesting in the most pointed manner against looking to any other source for the opinions and principles of the United States than to the United States themselves. Let me repeat, with respect to the orders in council, that all we demand is, that they cease to violate the neutral rights of the United States which they have long violated, and still violate, on the high seas. Should they be continued as to France in any form which may not violate these rights, or as to any other neutral nation, to which they may be applicable, it would be for such nation, and not for the United States, to contend against them.

The report of the French minister, on which this declaration of your Government is founded, affords no proof that the French Government intended by it to violate its engagements to the United States as to the repeal of the decrees. It evidently refers to the continental system, by the means relied on to enforce it. The armies of France can be of no avail either in the support or violation of maritime rights. This construction is the more justifiable, from the consideration that it is supported by corresponding acts of the French Government continued from the time of the repeal, and by communications to the minister plenipotentiary of the United States at Paris to the date of that report.

I beg you, sir, to be assured that it is painful to me to have imposed the least embarrassment on you by the correspondence on the difference between the tenor of Lord Castlereagh's letter to you, and yours founded on it to me. I continue to persuade myself, however, that you will become sensible that, with a knowledge of the extent given by your Government to the conditions on which alone its orders will be repealed, and that this extent was always contemplated by your Government, it was imppssible for the President to be inattentive to the fact, or to withhold it from the legislative branch of the Government. I have to add, that had it been proper for him so to have done, the late hour at which your note was received, (not till the noon of the 1st instant,) was not in time to be considered in relation to the message sent to Congress on that day.

With great respect and consideration, I have the honor to be, &c.
JAS. MONROE.

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