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October 15 1812: Alexander's Mediation



On October 15, 1812, in St Petersburg, John Quincy Adams writes the following diary entry: 

15th. I received this morning a note from Count Romanzoff, requesting me to call on him at his house on the quay at seven o'clock in the evening. I accordingly went, and he said he wished to consult me as to the manner of sending to the United States dispatches to Mr. Daschkoff, containing the proposal of the Emperor Alexander's mediation between the United States and Great Britain; that with regard to my dispatching a courier directly, he had spoken to the English Ambassador to ask if he would furnish a passport or paper to secure such a person from being taken by the British, which Lord Cathcart answered he could readily do, provided the courier should go by the way of England. But the Count said that he had replied that he could not propose to me to agree to such a condition.


I thought it not advisable on my part to agree to it, but mentioned to the Count that I should in a few days apply to him for a courier's passport for an American whom I should charge with my dispatches, and who would take his for Mr. Daschkoff, if he thought proper to trust them to this conveyance. He said his dispatches were all ready, and the passport could be furnished as soon as I should ask for it. He asked if there would not be an opportunity to send direct to the United States from Archangel. I told him I believed it was too late. He said upon reflection he believed it was, and it reminded him of an answer of Admiral Tchitchagoff, after a visit he had made to Archangel, to the Emperor, who asked him how long he had stayed there. He said he had spent the whole summer there. The Emperor, knowing his absence had been very short, said, with some surprise, " How so?—the whole summer?" "Three days, Sire," said the Admiral. I told the Count that I should probably ask for the passport towards the close of the next week. The courier would probably be obliged to go through England. If he was stopped, the English Government might perhaps read the dispatches; for that I could not answer. The Count said that as to his dispatches, it would not be of any consequence; they would only read over again in the identical words the proposition that had been made to themselves.


I asked him if he had any good news from the armies. He said, none of any consequence, nothing but what was in the bulletins. He enquired concerning a report circulating here, that a suspension of hostilities had already taken place between the United States and England. I mentioned my information from Mr. Russell directly to the contrary, and that a proposition made by him to that effect had been rejected by the English Government. He said this would not discourage him from the proposition of the Russian mediation, but, on the contrary, would rather make him more earnest in the proposal, from the confirmed opinion that an indirect negotiation would not be liable to the mutual irritations which had attended the direct attempts. He also mentioned the account he had seen in the newspapers that the American troops had taken the town of Sandwich, in Canada. I told him that was nothing more than that they had entered the province. There had been no fighting.

I was with the Count about half an hour, and spoke to him of Mr. Fulton's letter to me, with his wish to obtain an exclusive privilege for constructing steamboats in Russia. I asked him if exclusive privileges were granted here to the inventors of useful machines. He said they sometimes were, not by a general law, but by a special grant from the Emperor, of which there was one recent example. I explained to him the nature of Mr. Fulton's steamboats, the very advantageous experience of them in America, and my own persuasion that the introduction of them between St. Petersburg and Cronstadt would be not only useful but important to the commerce of this city. He asked if I had any memoir upon the subject from the inventor which I could give him to show to the Emperor, after consultation with the Minister of the Marine. I told him I had only a letter from Mr. Fulton himself, and I would send him an abstract of his proposals in that. The Count appeared well disposed to favor an application of this sort, and asked some questions respecting the operation of our patent laws, as whether they did not give frequent occasion to litigation as to the fact of a new invention, how the claims to patents were examined, and upon what conditions they were granted. He asked also whether Mr. Fulton's steamboat could stem rapids in rivers as well as currents. I said I believed not. That, he said, would be a most important invention indeed to this country, where, owing to a few very insignificant falls of water, they were obliged to break up and burn for common fuel all the boats that brought merchandise down their rivers.

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