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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 8

Chapter VIII.

The United States Government appears, for a time, more amicable towards Great Britain—<Suspicions, on the Part of the British Government as regarded those Pretensions—Reasons for those Suspicions—Extrava­gant Demand of Buonaparte.

The American government seemed, for a time, to exhibit a more amicable disposition towards Great Brit­ain, partly, no doubt, in consequence of the increasing acts of plunder and piracy perpetrated by the French on their merchant vessels, under the favorite title of seques­tration; and partly in consequence of the recent discoveries made of the impoverished state of the public finances.* Yet there was still much reason to doubt the sincerity of their proposals of pacification, but that it was merely an illusion to gain time for preparing mea­sures for prosecuting a war with effect. It must be acknowledged that at the time there existed strong grounds for suspicion that the latter reason predomi­nated; for while the United States government offered for consideration, to the ministers of Great Britain, under other modifications, the treaty which had been concluded by the plenipotentiaries of the two govern­ments, in 1806, but refused to be ratified by Mr. Jefferson, that government was at the same time negotiating a loan of eleven millions of dollars for the services of the cur­rent year, with which to carry on the war. The circumstance, that the American government was fully aware that if the British government assented to that trea­ty in its present form, and at that period, she would have surrendered every pretension she then held forth, taken in connection with that of their treating for a loan for the use of the public service, was a full betrayal of the motives by which they were actuated. These grounds of suspicion were the more strengthened by bills which were introduced about the same time into the American legislature, estimating the loans of 1813 and '14 at eighteen millions of dollars for each year; and notwith­standing a strong opposition was made to such a measure, a measure which menaced the United States with an overwhelming debt, and of course an intolerable taxation for an indefinite length of time, yet so intent were they on war that it received the sanction of that body.

It was only a short time subsequent to the passing of the above estimates, that a bill of a very uncommon nature passed the legislature of that country. The bill in question provided, that any foreigner guilty of im­pressing American citizens on board of a foreign ship, should, when arrested, be tried and, if convicted, suffer death as a pirate. Now, the intention of this, as well as of many other bills which at that time received the sanction of the legislature of America, could not be mis­apprehended; in defiance of all their affectation towards a pacific disposition, the spirit which rankled in the bosom of that government was clearly evident; and every effort made by the British government to avert the impending hostilities, only seemed to widen the breach between the two countries.

However, it immediately became evident to Great Britain, from the course pursued by the French govern­ment about this time, that it was necessary she should make a full and positive declaration of the principles by which she should he governed, as regarded the new state of commercial hostilities into which the trade of the whole world had been drawn.

The French minister of foreign affairs, on the 10th of March, introduced into the conservative senate, an offi­cial report by which all doubt was henceforth removed, as regarded the manner in which the ruler of France was determined to persist in the prosecution of his wild and extravagant principles. The government of Great Britain, after this, lost no time in issuing a declaration, stating, that the novel and extraordinary principles to which the French government had recourse, had called for measures of retaliation on the part of England. His Majesty had always been desirous to exercise his un­doubted right with as little injury as possible to neutrals, and had at all times professed his readiness to revoke the Orders in Council, so soon as the decrees of the enemy were fairly repealed, and the commerce of neutral nations restored to its accustomed course. The state of Europe, in the year 1809, had enabled His Majesty to reduce these beneficent views to practice, and to confine the retaliatory measures to France and the countries on which the French yoke had been most strictly imposed; and His Majesty had readily availed himself of so favor­able an opportunity for abridging the miseries of war. The government of the United States had still remained dissatisfied: it had been pretended by that government that the French decrees were revoked, although ample proofs of their existence at a recent period had been brought forward. The enemy had now, however, laid aside all dissimulation, and had declared that the ships of every power which refused to acknowledge his prin­ciples, were (to use the language of his own code,) denationalized. In addition to the disavowal of the blockade of 1806, and the repeal of the Orders in Coun­cil, he demanded the admission of the principle, that free ships should make free goods; that neutral property, in the hands of enemies should be treated as hostile; that arms and warlike stores alone, to the exclusion of ship-timber and other articles of naval equipment, should be regarded as contraband of war; and that no ports should be considered as lawfully blockaded, except such as were invested and besieged, in the presumption of their being taken, and into which no merchant ship could enter with safety.

The enemy thus demanded that the established law of nations should be overthrown, that Great Britain should forego the advantages of her naval superiority, and that her commerce should be excluded from every country of the world, to which the influence of France might ex­tend. Acting on this principle, the enemy did not hesi­tate to incorporate, with his own dominions, all states which refused to sacrifice their national honor at his command. The provisions of the treaty of Utrecht, which were founded on a voluntary compact, were refer­red to as evidence of principles which were to be established by force; and thus had France departed from the very Conditions on which the pretended repeal of her decrees had been accepted by America. It had there­fore become the duty of America to relax the measures of severity, which, by misconception she had adopted towards Great Britain; and as a proof of the desire of the British government to fulfil its engagements, it wm declared that so soon as the Berlin and Milan de­crees should be actually and unconditionally revoked, the British Orders in Council should be consi­dered, without any farther declaration, as at an end; reserving, at the same time, to His Majesty, the most ample powers to re-establish any measures of this kind, should it afterwards appear that the repeal by the enemy had been illusory.

*The United States revenue is derived from two sources; duties on importation, and the sale of public lands. The duties on importation, it was admitted, would be diminished by a war with Great Britain; but, even under such a deficit, they were estimated at six millions of dollars, while the sale of public land would produce above half a million more. A deficiency, to the extent of two millions and a half in the general revenue, would thus arise; and to meet this, it was proposed that an addition of 50 per cent should be made to the duties now in existence. Such was the state of the American revenue, with a view even to the peace establishment; and it was the principle of the government of that nation, that the increased expenditure, occasioned by war, should be provided for by loans.

In the event of any farther deficiency, the duties on salt were to be restored, and a selection of "external taxes," as they were called, were recommended; and it was supposed that there would be no difficulty in raising the permanent revenue of the United States to nine millions of dollars per annum. The difficulty of raising the loans at home was, however, foreseen; nor did any chance of finding them abroad present itself; and the Ameri­can minister of finance was aware that an interest far above that allowed by law would be necessary to secure a regular supply of money, that the public service, in the event of war, might not be impeded.

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