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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 19

Chapter XIX.

The American Secretary of State transmits to the American Minister in London, certain Documents relative to the Declaration of War—Pursuant to Instruction from the Secretary, Mr. Russel communicates with Lord Castlereah, on the Subject of an Armistice—Mr. Russel's Propositions rejected—Lord Castlereah transmits the Prince Regent's Decision on the foregoing—Mr. Russel obtains an admiralty Order for Protection during his Passage to America—Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren invested with Power to negotiate on Terms of Pacification with the Government of the United States—Communicates with Mr. Monroe on the Subject—Mr. Monroe's Answer.

During the period, the events of which have but just been taken in retrospect, negotiations were in progress for the purpose of bringing to a good understanding the differences between the two countries.

A few days after the declaration of war, a letter was addressed to Mr. Russel, the charge des affairs of the United States in London, by Mr. Monroe, the secretary of state, bearing date the 26th of June 1812, enclosing a copy of the President's message and an act of congress, by which the appeal to hostilities was made, together with the report of the committee of foreign relations which brought the subject under consideration.

This letter, after recapitulating the grievances so often repeated by the American government, and stating the impossibility for that nation to surrender her rights, relinquishing the ground which she had taken, and that it was equally incompatible with her interests and character to rely longer on measures which had hitherto failed to accomplish her objects, it proceeds to state that war was the only remaining alternative; and, that fact being clearly ascertained, he would discover, by the enclosed documents, that it was adopted with decision.

Mr. Russel was further advised in this letter, that although the United States had many just and weighty causes of complaint against Great Britain, yet, if the Orders in Council were repealed, and no illegal blockades were substituted for them—and orders were given to discontinue the impressment of seamen from American vessels, and those restored who had already been im­pressed—there would exist no reason why hostilities should not immediately cease.

As an inducement (says Mr. Monroe in his letter,) to the British government to discontinue the practice of impressment from American vessels, Mr. Russel should give assurances that a law would be passed (to be reciprocal,) to prohibit the employment of British seamen in the public or commercial service of the Uni­ted States.

Agreeably to the instructions contained in Secretary Monroe's letter, Mr. Russel addressed a letter to Lord Castlereah, dated the 24th of August, on the subject of his instructions, in which, after expatiating at length on the unceasing anxiety at all times manifested by his government, to maintain the relations of peace and friend­ship with Great Britain—of its patience in suffering the many wrongs it had received—and finally of its perseverance, by all the amicable means within its power to obtain redress, it had despaired of ever being able to receive that redress from the justice of the British government, to which it had so often appealed in vain—it therefore conceived (says Mr. Russel,) that a further forbearance would be a virtual surrender of interests and rights essential to the prosperity and independence of the nation confided to its protection, and was therefore compelled to discharge its high duty by an appeal to arms.

Mr. Russel, however, states to his lordship, that notwithstanding the government of the United States, for the preservation of its character as a nation, regarded this as the only course it could pursue, yet he was au­thorised to stipulate with the British government an armistice to commence at or before the expiration of sixty days after the signature of the instrument providing for it, upon the conditions set forth in Mr. Monroe's letter of the 26th June; and likewise adds that he was instructed by his government, that such an arrange­ment would prove much more efficacious in securing to Great Britain her seamen, than the practice for which it is proposed to be a substitute, independent of all the other objections to it.

In reply to this communication of the American charge des affairs, Lord Castlereah, in a letter dated 29th August, informed him that although the diplomatic intercourse between the two countries had been termi­nated by a declaration of war on the part of the United States, he had not hesitated, under the peculiar circum­stances of the case and the authority under which he acted, to submit to the Prince Regent the proposition contained in his letter of the 24th inst., for a suspension of hostilities.

But his lordship did not forget to inform Mr. Russel, that, from the period at which his instructions must have been issued, it was obvious this overture must have been determined upon by his government in ignorance of the Orders in Council of the 23d June; and as a clause in his instructions actually forbid a departure from the conditions already specified, it only remained for his lordship to add that the Prince Regent felt him­self under the necessity of declining to concede the proposition therein contained, as being on various grounds absolutely inadmissible.

His lordship, in the same letter apprised Mr. Russel, that the British government, as soon as it had reason to apprehend that Mr. Foster's functions might have ceased in America, in consequence of war having been declared by that government before the aforementioned repeal of the Orders in Council of the 23d June, and the in­structions consequent thereupon could have reached him, measures had been taken for authorising the British admiral on the American station to propose to the government of the United States an immediate and reciprocal revocation of all hostile orders, with the ten­der of giving full effect, in the event of hostilities being discontinued, to the provisions of said order, upon the conditions therein specified.

His lordship, in consequence, as he himself states, declines entering into a detailed discussion of the propo­sitions which Mr. Russel had been directed to bring forward; as his [Mr. Russel's] government had delega­ted to him no powers to negotiate thereon; and therefore rested the negotiation wholly between the admiral at the port of Halifax, and the government of the United States.

His lordship further expressed his surprise, that a condition preliminary even to a suspension of hostilities, no greater security should be given by the American government, than a simple assurance that a law should be hereafter passed prohibiting the employment of Bri­tish seamen in the public or commercial .service of the United States; and even on such fallacious security a demand should be made, that that government should immediately desist from its ancient and accustomed practice of impressing British seamen from the merchant ships of foreign nations; yet his lordship expressed the willingness of the British government to receive from the government of the United States, and amicably dis­cuss, any proposition professing to have in view, either to check abuse in the exercise of the practice of impress­ment, or to accomplish by means less liable to vexation the object for which impressment had hitherto been found necessary.

On the morning of the 1st of September, Mr. Russel received Lord Castlereah's communication containing the Prince Regent's decision regarding the propositions alluded to; upon which the American ambassador addressed a note, on the same day, announcing his in­tention to embark immediately at Plymouth on board the ship Lark, for the United States; and on the day follow­ing, an admiralty order was transmitted to him from the foreign office, for the protection of that ship as a cartel on her voyage to America, and for the free embarkation of his family, retinue and baggage, and the effects of the legation.

During the diplomatic intercourse between Lord Castlereah and Mr. Russel, for the purpose of arresting the progress of the war, Sir John Borlase Warren, admiral of the blue and British naval commander on the Halifax station, opened a correspondence with Mr. Monroe, the American secretary of state, having in view the same object.

Admiral Warren, in a note dated 30th September, acquaints Mr. Monroe of the revocation of the Orders in Council affecting American commerce, proposing at the same time that the American government should in­stantly recall their letters of marque and reprisal against British ships, together with all instructions for any acts of hostility whatever against the territories of His Majesty, or the persons or property of his subjects, with a particular understanding that immediately on the receipt of an official assurance to that effect, corresponding instructions should be issued by the British government, preparatory to a final pacification between the two countries.

In answer to the above communication, Mr. Munroe, ir a despatch dated "Department of State, 27th October, 1812," after referring to Mr. Russel's correspondence with Lord Castlereah, and its unhappy issue, and ex­pressing his hopes that, as the British government had authorised him to propose a cessation of hostilities, it was doubtless aware of the important and salutary effect which a satisfactory adjustment of this difference cannot fail to have on the future relations between the two countries—he likewise added, that he indulged the hope that the British government, before this period, had invested him with full power for that purpose. "Expe­rience," adds Mr. Monroe, "has sufficiently evinced that no peace can be durable unless this object is pro­vided for."

After the secretary informing Admiral Warren that it was, without further discussion of questions of right, the ardent desire of the President to provide a remedy for the evils complained of on both sides, he proceeds to state, that the claim of the government of Great Britain is to take from the merchant vessels of other countries British subjects; in the practice of which, the command­ers of British ships of war often take from vessels of the United States American citizens.

If the United States prohibit the employment of Bri­tish subjects in their service, and enforce the prohibition, by suitable regulations and penalties, the motive for the practice is taken away. It is in this mode that the President is willing to accommodate this important con­troversy with the British government, and it cannot be conceived on what ground the arrangement can be refused.

A suspension of the practice of impressment, pending the armistice, (continues Mr. Monroe,) seems to be a necessary consequence. It cannot be presumed, while the parties are engaged in a negotiation to adjust amicably this important difference, that the United States would admit the right, or acquiesce in the practice, of the opposite party, or that Great Britain would be un­willing to restrain her cruisers.

By what parity of reasoning Mr. Monroe could for a moment presume that the British government would immediately suspend a practice by which the strength of her navy was ensured, and her right to which had never been questioned but by America—merely on an assurance that a reciprocal law should be afterwards passed by his government—is a problem not easy of solution.

Mr. Monroe, after making a few explanations on some clauses of Mr. Russel's instructions, adds in conclusion, "that if there were no objection to an accommodation of the differences relating to impressment in the mode pro­posed, other than the suspension of the British claim to impressment during the armistice, there can be none to proceeding, without the armistice, to an immediate dis­cussion and arrangement of an article on that subject. This great question being satisfactorily adjusted, the way would be opened to an armistice or any other course leading most conveniently and expeditiously to a general pacification."

However, the instructions transmitted to Admiral Warren by the British government, only authorised him to arrange with the government of the United States, in the event of an armistice, as far as regarded the revoca­tion of the laws which interdicted the commerce and ships of war from the harbors and waters of the United States, while those of France, her adversary, had ever enjoyed that privilege—leaving for a subsequent discus­sion all other grounds of difference between the two governments. All means which had been hitherto resorted to, for an accomodation between the rival states, having failed, negotiations were stopped; and war con­tinued to be prosecuted with every possible energy on both sides.

It is probably not altogether unworthy of remark, that the British government, in return for the numerous concessions it was called upon to make, was to rest wholly upon the assurances of the American minister, that a law would be passed at some subsequent period—that is, no doubt, when it would best suit the interests of the United States in its collusions with the French ruler. This is what Mr. Russel, in his letter to Lord Castlereah, already alluded to, calls proof of the spirit which has uniformly distinguished the United States government, in all its proceedings.

[Public Domain mark] Copyright/Licence: This work was published in 1922 or earlier. It has therefore entered the public domain in the United States.