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JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, AND MR. JEFFERSON'S EMBARGO.
The first eight letters in the “ Correspondence" were interchanged between Nov. 28, 1803, and March 15, 1804. After the lapse of four years and a half, appears No. IX, dated Sept. 19, 1808, from Cunningham; in which he mentions THE EMBARGO; and, after “la“ menting that the bitterness of rebuke so often mani“ fested towards his son (John Quincy Adams) had “ been extended to Mr. Adams himself, asks his opinion “on that public measure, which had so agitated
our country,” and in producing which his son had acted so conspicuous a part. This unlucky question was the putting of a match to a mass of combustibles, which soon kindled to a flame, and threatened to burn
John Q. Adams and myself were, in 1803, chosen by the Legislature of Massachusetts to represent that State in the Senate of the United States; and we took our seats there in the session which commenced in October of that year. He was then a federalist, and for a good while acted in that character. Some cases, however, occurred, in which he displayed a zeal in coincidence with the views and wishes of the President, Mr. Jefferson. He particularly distinguished himself in the attempt to expel from the Senate John Smith of Ohio, as one concerned in Aaron Burr's conspiracy, or project, whatever it was: for Burr and his accomplices were the marked objects of Mr. Jefferson's hatred and revenge. There were passages in Mr. Adams's report in Smith's case, which outraged, I believe, every distinguished lawyer in America. The process of law, with its “ pace of snail,” was too slow for his vengeance. But this by the by. It was the unfortunate question of the Embargo, which, in regard to myself, set the ink a-running through President Adams's pen;
and it continued running in the whole of his correspondence, not unmingled with gall. Of the Embargo, therefore, it is necessary to give an account.
The Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, in the prosecution of his plan of universal dominion, having overturned the Prussian monarchy—and resting a little while in its capital, Berlin-on the 21st of November 1806, issued a decree, called the Berlin decree; whose object was, the destruction of the commerce of GreatBritain, his persevering enemy, and the only country in Europe (the waters of the sea intervening) which his arms could not reach. The decree consisted of ten articles. By the first, “ The British Islands are de" clared in a state of blockade." By the second, “ All “ commerce and correspondence with the British Isl6 ands are prohibited.” And by the fifth, “ All trade “ in English merchandise is forbidden; all merchan“ dise belonging to England, or coming from its manu“ factories and colonies, is declared lawful prize."*
Plain as was the intention of this decree, from the words of it, yet an interpretation, indicating an exception favourable to the neutral commerce of the United States, was given to it, by the French Minister of Marine-but unsanctioned by the Emperor, or even by his Minister for Foreign Affairs, to whose department
as the Minister of Marine avowed) the question more properly belonged. That interpretation, however, served to amuse our government-willing to be amused—even when not bearing on its face (to use the words of President Adams in another case)“ the plausible appearance of a probability” of its giving the real meaning of the decree. At length the time arrived, when it suited the convenience of the Emperor to carry his decree into rigorous execution. The commerce of the United States with the British dominions was probably at that time of as much importance to the former, as their commerce with all the world besides; and, as the benefits of a fair commerce are
* The whole lecree, and the documents communicated with it, by the President, are in the volumes of State Papers, published by Wait and Sons.
reciprocal, Great-Britain shared with the United States the advantages of that intercourse ; and so far the views of the imperial tyrant were obstructed. He had long shown himself indifferent to the interests of his own commercial subjects : the plunder of conquered nations supplied the place of that revenue which would accrue from foreign commerce. He, of course, , would be perfectly regardless of the interests of the United States. So the Berlin decree went into full operation. The papers on the subject were transmitted to our government from Paris, by General Armstrong, our minister at the imperial court; and were communicated by the President to Congress, with the following message, recommending an
EMBARGO. « To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States.
6. The communications now made, shewing the great and increasing dangers with which our vessels, our seamen, and merchandise, are threatened on the high seas and elsewhere, from the belligerent powers of Europe, and it being of the greatest importance to keep in safety these essential resources, I deem it my duty to recommend the subject to the consideration of Congress, who will doubtless perceive all the advantages which may be expected from an inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States.
66 Their wisdom will also see the necessity of making every preparation for whatever events may grow out of the present crisis.
6 I ask a return of the letters of Messrs. Armstrong and Champagny, which it would be improper to make public.” 66 Dec. 18, 1807.
TH: JEFFERSON." The last paragraph of the message in Italics) is omitted in the copy in the State Papers, as well as in the Journal of the Senate ; but is retained in the Journal of the House of Representatives. It was, on a formal motion in the Senate, ordered not to be entered on their Journal. I cannot assign, for I do not recollect, any reason for it. Possibly the mover felt some delicacy on the subject, after voting for the law recommended in the message ; seeing a part of the documents, on which it was avowedly founded, were withdrawn ; and so far the basis of his vote was taken away.
No. 1. Was a proclamation, dated Oct. 16, 1807, by the King of Great-Britain, requiring his “natural born subjects, seafaring men,” serving in foreign vessels, to return home, according to their duty and allegiance, to defend their own country, then menaced and endangered, from the arms of France and of the nations subjected to her power, whom she honoured with the name of allies. Such proclamations are common among nations engaged in war; and no well-informed man will, I presume, dispute their justness. And because it was known that numbers of such seamen did continue to serve in foreign vessels, British naval officers were required to take and bring away all such persons who should be found serving in any foreign merchant vessel ; but with a special injunction to offer no violence to such vessel, or to the remainder of the crew.
No. 2. Was an extract of a letter, dated Sept. 18, 1807, from the French Grand Judge, Minister of Justice, to the Imperial Advocate General for the Council of Prizes. It was an answer to some questions which concerned the execution of the Berlin decree.
“ Ist. May vessels of war, by virtue of the imperial “ decree of the 21st of November last, seize, on board “ neutral vessels, either English property, or even all “ merchandise proceeding from the English manufac66 tories or territory ?”
“ Answer. His Majesty has intimated, that as he “ did not think proper to express any exception in his “ decree, there is no ground for making any in its exe“cution, in relation to any whomsoever."
“ 2. His Majesty has postponed a decision on the "question, Whether armed French vessels ought to
capture neutral vessels bound to or from England, “ even when they have no English merchandise on 6 board.”
(Signed) “ REGNIER.” Of these two papers no secret was made; and for a plain reason; the British proclamation had many days before been published in the newspapers. The copy laid by Mr. Jefferson before the Senate had been cút out of a newspaper—a form not the most respectful, of a document laid before the Legislature of the United States, by their President. In like manner, the sub
stance, if not the words, of the Grand Judge Regnier's letter had been published. But these two papers had excited little, if any, concem among those most interested-our merchants and seafaring people: they saw, in the proclamation, not an increased, but a diminished danger of impressments; and French cruisers on the seas were then few in number.
The third paper was a letter, dated Sept. 24, 1807, from General Armstrong to the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Champagny; asking him, whether the report he had just heard was true—“ that a new and “ extended construction, highly' injurious to the com“merce of the United States, was about to be given to
the Imperial decree of the 21st of November 1806" (the Berlin decree.)
The fourth document was Champagny's answer to Armstrong, bearing date Oct. 7, 1807, and which, with a little difference in the phraseology, is the same with that of the Grand Judge Regnier, before mentioned, to the Imperial Advocate General ; from whom, indeed, Champagny says he received the explanation. These are his words : “ His Majesty has considered every neutral vessel, going from English ports, with cargoes of English merchandise, or of English origin, as “ lawfully seized by French armed vessels.”
Here an obvious question presents itself. Seeing Armstrong's letter simply asks the question, whether his information about the Berlin decree was correctand Champagny's answer tells him that it was—why did Mr. Jefferson ask a return of these two papers, saying, “ it would be improper to make them public” I The solution may be found in the last paragraph of Champagny's letter, in which he says, “ The decree of 66 blockade has now been issued eleven months. The
principal powers of Europe, [meaning Holland, Spain, " and the other powers which the arms of France had “ subjected to her control] far from protesting against “ its provisions, have adopted them. They have per“ ceived that its execution must be COMPLETE to render it " more effectual.” The commerce of the United States