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June 10 1812: Foster to Monroe


On June 10, 1812, Augustus Foster, the British Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, continues his paper war with the Secretary of State Monroe. He again writes on the issue of the Orders in Council. In a long letter, Foster marshals the same points that he has raised in previous letters. He ends the letter with an almost palpable sense of frustration that Monroe will not see the justness of the British case. Foster writes: "It is indeed impossible to see how, under such circumstances, America can call upon Great Britain to revoke her orders in council. It is impossible that she can revoke them at this moment in common justice to herself and her allies; but, sir, while under the necessity of continuing them, she will be ready to manage their exercise so as to alleviate as much as possible the pressure upon America; and it would give me great pleasure to confer with you at any time upon the most advisable manner of producing that effect." Foster is not aware that the Orders in Council will be suspended in six days. War between the two countries will be declared in eight days. Foster's letter is reproduced below.


Mr. Foster to Mr. Monroe.
Washington, June 10, 1812.

Sir: It has been extremely satisfactory to me to find., by your letter dated June 6, which I had the honor to receive yesterday morning, that it was not the wish of the American Government to close all further discussion relative to the important question at issue between the two countries. I beg you to be assured, sir, that it never was my intention, in alluding to my letters which had remained without answer at your office, to use any expressions which would, in the most remote manner, contain any thing personal. I shall ever be ready, with pleasure, to bear testimony to that frankness, candor, and good temper, which so eminently distinguish you, and have been acknowledged to belong to you by all who have ever had the honor to discuss with you any question of public interest.

But, sir, although you were not backward in entering into full explanations with me verbally, I could not but feel, particularly as I had just had communications to make to you of the greatest importance, that I had a right to expect from you a written reply to them; and while I remembered that two of my former notes were still unanswered, the one written three months ago, containing, among other important topics, a particular question which I was expressly instructed to put to you, as to whether you would point to any public act on the part of the French Government by which they had really revoked their decrees, and the other furnishing strong evidence of the continued existence of those very decrees; also, when I perceived that my note, communicating the Duke of Bassano's report, which you knew was to bo sent to you on the 1st instant, was not waited for, but that a message was transmitted by the Executive to Congress, which, it seems, contained a reference to an insulated passage in the despatch on which my note was founded, that, if taken unconnected with what preceded or followed, it might be liable to misconstruction, I could not avoid apprehending that no means of further explanation might be left open to me.

I beg you to be assured, sir, that if I was embarrassed by your demands of an explanation, as to what appeared to you to be a difference between Lord Castlereagh's despatch, communicated to you, and my note, it arose irom the novelty of the demand, that seemed to involve an informality of proceeding, in which I could not feel myself justified in acquiescing. Had you, in making a reply to my communication, asked me how far a repeal of the French decrees was demanded by my Government, and as to whether a special repeal as far as respected America would be sufficient, I should have had no hesitation in giving you every satisfaction.

Your note of the 6th instant has, by showing that the door was not absolutely shut to a continuation of our discussion, relieved me from further difficulty on this point.

I have no hesitation, sir, in saying, that Great Britain, as the case has hitherto stood, never did, nor ever could, engage without the grossest injustice to herself and her allies, as well as to other neutral nations, to repeal her orders as affecting America alone, leaving them in force against other States, upon condition that France would except singly and specially America from the operation of her decrees. You will recollect, sir, that the orders in council are measures of defence, directed against the system contained in those decrees; that it is a war of trade which is carried on by France; that what you call the municipal regulations of France have never been called municipal by France herself, but are her main engines in that novel and monstrous system. It cannot then be expected that Great Britain should renounce her efforts to throw back upon France the evils with which she menaces Great Britain, merely because France might seek to alleviate her own situation by waiving the exercise of that part of her system which she cannot enforce.

But, sir, to what purpose argue upon a supposed case; upon a state of things not likely to occur, since the late report and senattis consultum which have been published to the world, as it were insultingly in the face of those who would contend that any repeal whatever had taken place of the decrees in question.

You draw a comparison between the mode in which this instrument has appeared, and that which you call the high evidence of the repeal as stated in Mr. Champagny's note; and it would almost seem as if you considered the latter as the most authentic of the two; but, sir, you cannot seriously contend that the Duke of Bassano's report, with the senattis consultum accompanying it, published in the official paper of Paris, is not a very different instrument from the above letter, offering a mere provisional repeal of the decrees, upon conditions utterly inadmissible; conditions too, which really formed of themselves a question of paramount importance.

The condition then demanded, and which was brought forward so unexpectedly, was a repeal of the blockade of May 1806, which Mr. Pinkney, in the letter you have referred me to, declared to have been required by America as indispensable in the view of her acts of intercourse and non-intercourse, as well as a repeal of other blockades of a similar character, which were maintained by Great Britain to be founded on strict maritime right.

The conditions now annexed to the French demand are much more extensive, and, as I have shown, include a surrender of many other of the most established principles of the public law of nations.

I cannot, I confess, see upon what ground you contend that the report of the Duke of Bassano affords no proof against any partial repeal of the French decrees. The principles advanced in that report are general; there is no exception made in favor of America; and in the correspondence of Mr. Barlow, as officially published, he seems to allow that he had no explanation respecting it. How can it, therefore, be considered in any other light than as a republication of the decrees themselves, which, as it were to take away all grounds for any doubt, expressly advances a doctrine that can only be put in practice on the high seas, namely, " that free ships shall make free goods;" since the application of such a principle to vessels in port is absolutely rejected under his continental system.

It is indeed impossible to see how, under such circumstances, America can call upon Great Britain to revoke her orders in council. It is impossible that she can revoke them at this moment in common justice to herself and her allies; but, sir, while under the necessity of continuing them, she will be ready to manage their exercise so as to alleviate as much as possible the pressure upon America; and it would give me great pleasure to confer with you at any time upon the most advisable manner of producing that effect.
I have the honor to be, «&c.
AUGUSTUS J. FOSTER.

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