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History of the Late War between Great Britain and the United States by David Thompson: Chapter 9

Chapter IX.

The Effect produced upon the public Mind in Consequence of the preceding Declaration—Lord Stanley moves, in the House of Commons for a Consideration of the Petitions then on the table, respecting the Distresses— A Discovery of Henry's pretended secret Mission to Boston made to Congress in a Message from the Presi­dent—That Subject undergoes a partial Investigation.

Notwithstanding such a display of magnanimity and justice on the part of Great Britain, as was exhi­bited in the foregoing declaration, even in England, it was looked upon, by those hostile to the Orders in Council, in no other light than as an official answer to the petitions then before parliament, complaining of the disastrous effect which had been produced by the opera­tion of these orders. In pursuance of such a supposition, Lord Stanley availed himself of the earliest opportunity, after the promulgation of this declaration on the part of His Majesty's government, to introduce into the House of Commons, a motion that the house should resolve itself into a committee of the whole, in order to take those petitions into consideration. This motion was sustained by arguments differing but little in tenor from those adduced on a former occasion, the substance of which is contained in the preceding chapters, except in a very few instances. As regarded the declaration itself, it was maintained that the measures of the French government were neither new nor extraordinary but had, in principle, been adopted, although with less rigor, by the British government, in the years 1739 and 1756; and were actually such, as all independent states had a right to pursue. The measures of the French government had proved wholly impotent, till they were supported by the retaliatory system to which the British government had recourse. The petitions on the table concurred in attributing the distresses of the country to the Orders in Council; yet the declaration lately issued had announced the determination of government to ad­here to its principles, regardless of the general calamity which prevailed in every district of the country. This resolution reduced the measures of the British govern­ment, and the prosperity of British commerce, to a dependence on the will of the enemy; and although it had become impossible to obtain employment for the lower orders, and the price of provision was rapidly advancing, there seemed to be no prospect of redress.

Mr. Rose, in reply to this view of the subject, said, "that if British goods were found on board of an Ameri­can ship trading between America and China, by the Berlin Decree, they must be forfeited; and that it was absurd, therefore to talk of the decree as a mere munici­pal regulation. Although the Berlin Decree had been in a great measure inoperative until the peace of Tilsit, because the enemy had not till that period the means of enforcing it, yet immediately afterwards, the French had marched their troops into all parts of the continent, for the purpose of carrying their system into effect; and the consequences had been immediately felt in the ex­treme depression of the commerce of this country. In the event of a repeal of the Orders in Council, in the existing state of Europe, the ports of France would then be open to American commerce, and by which means the enemy would be easily supplied with the raw mate­rials, and thereby enabled to manufacture them and compete with England directly in the market of South America, and in every other place to which her precarious trade might extend. The fulling off in the direct trade of this country to America had been in a great measure compensated by the increase of our exports to other countries, to which the same commodities had formerly been carried in American ships. Of the exports of America, amounting annually to forty-five millions of dollars, thirty-eight of which went to Great Britain and her allies, and only two millions to France and her de­pendencies, whose friendship the government of America seemed so anxious to cultivate. But there was no neces­sity for a protracted debate; the distresses of the country were unquestionably great; the people seemed to look to the Orders in Council as a source of relief; and in such circumstances the ministers did not think of resist­ing inquiry, but gave their consent to the motion for appointing a committee."

A very extraordinary occurrence transpired about this crisis. It was communicated to the congress of the United States, in a message from the president, that, "While the United States were at peace with Great Britain, a secret agent of the British government had been employed in certain states, more especially at the seat of government of Massachusetts, in fomenting dis­affection to the constituted authorities of the country, for the purpose of seducing the southern part of the Union into a political connection with Great Britain. "

In delivering the message to Congress, containing this dirge against the British government, the president accompanied it with certain papers purporting to be communications between a person of the name of Henry, the secret agent alluded to, and certain officers of His Majesty's government. Henry, in his commu­nication to Mr. Munroe, the United States secretary, on the subject, pretended to have been employed by officers of the highest authority under the British govern­ment, and under the sanction of the British cabinet, for the express purposes stated in the president's message; and in consequence of the refusal of the British govern­ment to allow him a reward commensurate with the nature of the services on which he said he had been employed, he expressed the strongest feelings of disappointment and of revenge toward the government, by whose servants he pretended to have been employed. The first of Henry's papers alluded to, purported to be a letter from the private secretary of Sir James Craig, then governor in chief of Canada, &c., from Quebec, dated January, 1809, enquiring whether he [Henry] would engage in a secret embassy to Boston. The second purported to be the instructions of Sir James Craig to Henry, directing him to form an acquaintance with some of the leading Federalists in the southern states, to ascer tain what they conceived of a separation from the Union, and how, in such an event, they would be disposed to avail themselves of the aid of the British government to promote their views. The next of these papers produced, was a memorial to Lord Liverpool, in which Henry expatiated largely on the important services which he said he had rendered to Great Britain, while on his mission to the United States; that through the influence alone which he had exercised over the gover­nor and legislative assemblies of Connecticut and Mas­sachusetts, the public acts of those bodies had greatly repressed the hostile disposition of the United States government against Great Britain. The envelope en­closing this memorial was a letter to Mr. Peel, from Henry, claiming a large reward for the services perform­ed on his mission. The next in succession was a letter from Mr. Peel, purporting to be written at the request of Lord Liverpool, stating that, as the opinion of Sir James Craig, respecting the merits and services alluded to in the memorial, had not been received, and as no wish had been expressed by Sir James that the claim should be preferred to this country, it has been deter­mined to transmit the memorial to Sir James Craig's successor in the government of North America. There were other papers of the correspondence, but the slight importance of which do not entitle them to notice.

No sooner did the news of this arrive in England, than a motion was brought forward in the House of Peers, by Lord Holland, that copies of the whole correspon­dence connected with the pretended mission of Henry should be laid on the table of that house. "The grounds upon which this motion was founded," said Lord Hol land, "were obvious: a serious charge, affecting the honor of Great Britain, had been made by the United States government, and it was proper to have it investi­gated. The British ministers had been charged, not mere­ly with employing Henry to procure and communicate intelligence on subjects which might be lawfully inquired into, but to induce some of the states of the Union to cast off their allegiance to their lawful government. What would have been the public feeling in England, or the conduct of the government, if, while Andreossi were here during the peace of Amiens, he had been detected carrying on a secret intercourse with the mal­contents of Ireland. Who would have hesitated, if such an event had occurred, to have advised immediate hostilities, unless a satisfactory explanation had been immediately offered? And what bounds should we set to our resentment against those who had dared to insult the honor, and to intrigue against the peace of the country. It could afford no matter of defence for the conduct of Sir James Craig, or of the government, (if indeed the government had been accessory to these proceedings,) that the American government had been making preparations to invade Canada; for although such a state of things warranted Sir James in taking all pro­per means for defence, and in doing every thing to secure the most correct information, yet it by no means entitled him to attempt the seduction of the American people from their allegiance."

Lord Liverpool's reply to the foregoing was a full and complete defence of the British Cabinet from the accu sations which had been thus so unbecomingly preferred against them by the government of the United States. In the course of his Lordship's speech he went on to state, that the employment of Henry, by Sir James Craig, had not been authorised by government; nor was it even known at home that such a person was employed, till many months after the transactions were concluded. It was necessary, however, to attend to the situation in which Canada was at that time placed, with respect to the government of the United States. In consequence of the embargo act, great heat and clamor prevailed in America at that time; that country assumed a very warlike and menacing attitude; not only were defensive measures adopted, but on the 25th to November the governor of Massachusetts received orders to hold 10,000 men in readiness to march at a mo­ment's notice, a circumstance which was quite notorious, and frequently mentioned in the public journals of the day. This army could have but one solitary object, the invasion of Canada; and such, accordingly, was the impression made on the mind of Sir James Craig, which many other circumstances, and particularly the sudden enrolment of 50,000 volunteers by the government of the United States, tended to confirm. Mr. Erskine, the minister then resident in America, had also entertained the same suspicions, and had sent an express to Sir James Craig, informing him that Canada or Halifax was to be immediately attacked. Such were the circumstan­ces in which Sir James Craig was placed, at a moment too, when the separation of some of the states, in the event of a war, had become the subject of general specu­lation. Sir James had already received communications from Henry, a person who professed to be well acquaint­ed with the sentiments of the people of the southern states; and whatever falsehoods and exaggerations might have been industriously propagated, the object of the governor of Canada, in sending Henry into the United States, was not to excite discontent, but to obtain information, which, in the event of a war, might have enabled him to avail himself of the prevalent temper and disposition of the people in these states.

As a proof that the instructions of the governor, (such as they were,) had reference only to a state of hostili­ties, no sooner did Sir James Craig learn that the points in discussion bad been adjusted, than he sent orders to Henry to return. Ministers had been more anxious to caution Sir James against the employment of individu­als who might disturb the harmony subsisting between Great Britain and America; and the motives for recommending Henry for a reward were entirely dictated by a wish to make him a fair remuneration for his services, without intimating any opinion as to the policy of the mission with which he had been entrusted.

After all, at the close of this discussion, both parties were decidedly agreed that the conduct of the U. States Presi­dent (to say the least of it,) was highly unbecoming and indelicate, to lay the papers before congress, posse sing the uery limited inforffiation on the subject which he did at the time, without ever requiring an explanation, or in the least apprizing the British government of his intention; it was therefore said, as no shadow of reason existed for charging the British government with such a mode of proceeding as that mentioned in the American president's message, parliament should reject at once any motion for interference on the subject; and as the accusation was prepared against ministers, to leave the ministers alone to manage it. The motion was rejected by a large majority.

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