March 12 1812: Congress deals with Henry Papers

Senator James Lloyd 
On March 12, 1812, Secretary of State James Monroe responded to the Senate's resolution of March 10, 1812. That resolution had been made by Senator James Lloyd of Massachusetts. He had moved that the President lay before the Senate: 
“any information which may be in his possession, and which in his judgment may be communicated without injury to the public interests respecting the names of any and all persons in the United States, who have, in any way or manner whatever, entered into, or most remotely countenanced, the project or the views, for the execution or attainment of which John Henry was, in the year 1809, employed by Sir James Craig, then governor general of the British Provinces in North America, and which have, this day, been communicated to the Senate of the United States”
James Monroe
Monroe responded in writing as follows:  
"The Secretary of State to whom was referred the resolution of the Senate of the 10th inst has the honor to report. That this Department is not in possession of any names of persons in the United States, who have, in any way or manner whatever, entered into, or countenanced the project or the views for the execution or attainment of which John Henry was, in the year 1809, employed by Sir James Craig; the said John Henry having named no person or persons as being concerned in the said project or views referred to in the documents laid before Congress on the 9th instant. Which is respectfully submitted.”
The House committee on Foreign Relations also conducted an investigation into the Henry Papers [1]. On March 13 and 14 Eduoard de Crillon gave testimony to the committee on  his dealings with John Henry. De Crillon also could not give the committee the names of any persons who Henry had conferred during his 1809 mission to New England. 

On March 19, 1812, the House committee submitted its report. The report confirmed that the committee had examined the originals of the documents that Henry had sold to the administration. The committee was satisfied that the documents were genuine. The committee also concluded that it did not have authority or any evidence to proceed against either Henry or “any individuals within the United States (should there be any such) who were criminally connected with him.” The committee was convinced, however, that the 
“British Government, at a period of peace, and during the most friendly professions, have been deliberately and perfidiously pursuing measures to divide these States, and to involve our citizens in all the guilt of treason, and the horrors of a civil war.” 
The consequences flowing from the Henry Affair are as confused as many aspects surrounding the War of 1812. The papers of John Henry did not provide a convincing justification for war with Britain contrary to the hopes of the Madison administration. In this regard, Madison miscalculated spectacularly. Fortunately for him his opponents did not learn that Comte de Crillon was also a complete fraud. The Henry Affair did divide the country further with the New England federalists becoming even more alienated from the President, who had sought to tarnish them as treasonous secessionists. This alienation was to harm the prosecution of the coming war.  

The other consequence of the Henry Affair is to again demonstrate that history is in many ways a catalogue of unintended consequences. The lessons that the British took away from the Henry Affair was that the Americans were only bluffing about going to war together with sense that Madison was simply incompetent. The result was that the British did not take seriously the American threats of war. They did not repeal the Orders in Council until it was too late. In turn, the Madison administration having threatened war, and passed war legislation, felt it had no other option but to proceed to war. Brad Perkins, in this book Prologue to War: England and the United States, 1805- 1812 (University of California Press, Los Angeles, 19170)  at page 373 puts it this way:
Nevertheless, in ways that few foresaw the events from November to March contributed to  the coming war. They convinced Britain that the United States was merely repeating a stale and rather ineffective  drama, and discussions of the orders proceeded under the assumption that neither a new nor speedy denouement need be anticipated. On the other hand, the legislation passed by Congress created a momentum which eventually imprisoned many who  believed that they had preserved their freedom of action.

1.  Cite as: The Papers of James Madison Digital Edition, J. C. A. Stagg, editor. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2010.
Canonic URL: [accessed 30 Dec 2011] Original source: Presidential Series, Volume 4 (5 November 1811–9 July 1812 and supplement 5 March 1809–19 October 1811)
* The portraits are taken from Wikipedia entries for James Monroe and  James Lloyd.

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