Search billions of records on






Hopes created by a new British Ministry. – Disappointment. – Negotiations reopened. – Charles James Fox. – Progress and Character of Negotiations. – A Treaty agreed to. – The Berlin Decree considered. – Treaty withheld from the Senate. – War on the Administration. – Blockade of the European Coast declared. – The Berlin Decree. – The "Continental System." – Americans the only Neutrals. – Their Expectations. – Change in the Policy of the French. – Seizure of American Ships. – British Orders in Council. – Napoleon’s Milan Decree. – Its Effects on American Commerce. – British Cruisers in American Waters. – Reorganization of the Naval Service. – The "Gun-boat Policy." – Deserters from British Ships. – The Deserters American Citizens. – Their Surrender refused. – The Chesapeake watched by a British Squadron. – The Chesapeake boarded. – The Demand for the Deserters refused. – The Leopard fires into the Chesapeake. – Surrender of the Chesapeake. – The Deserters carried away. – The Outrage resented. – British Vessels ordered to leave American Waters. – Harbors to be defended. – Punishment of Barron. – Reparation demanded of England. – Failure to obtain it. – Royal Proclamation concerning British Seamen. – Special Envoy to the United States. – His Mission fruitless. – Critical Situation. – Political Complexion of the Tenth Congress. – The President’s Message. – An Embargo established. – Effects of the Embargo. – Prophecy of Josiah Quincy. – Party Spirit violently aroused. – Inconsistency of Politicians. – Violations of the Embargo. – Supplementary Acts. – A young Poet’s Denunciations. – An insulting Proposition by Great Britain. – Tribute exacted from Neutral Nations. – The Embargo denounced as suicidal. – Dangers of National Vanity. – A notable Illustration.


"You all remember well, I guess,

The Chesapeake disaster,
When Britons dared to kill and press,
To please their royal master."

"From the deep we withdraw till the tempest be past,

Till our flag can protect each American cargo;
While British ambition’s dominion shall last,
Let us join, heart and hand, to support the EMBARGO:
Will promote our increase;
Then embargoed we’ll live till injustice shall cease:
For ne’er, till old Ocean retires from his bed,
Will Columbia by Europe’s proud tyrants be led."


While the debate on the Non-importation Act was at its height in Congress, intelligence came of a change in the British ministry that promised a speedy adjustment of all matters in dispute between the two countries. William Pitt died in January [January 23, 1806.], and at the beginning of February a new Cabinet was formed, known in English history as "All-the-talents Ministry," of which the peaceful, humane, and liberal Charles James Fox was the most influential member, 1 as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

Under the impression that the new ministry would be more ready to act justly toward the Americans than the old one, Mr. Pinkney sailed for England. He was soon undeceived. England’s policy in the conduct of the tremendous war in which she was engaged was too firmly established to be disturbed by the private opinions and wishes of individuals, and Mr. Fox appears to have imbibed the views of his predecessors in office concerning the complaints of the Americans on the subject of the impress and neutral rights.

Before Pinkney’s arrival Fox had expressed to Monroe some sensibility at the passage of the Non-importation Act. He declared that it embarrassed him, because it would place him in the position of treating under seeming compulsion. Monroe gave a satisfactory explanation, and, on the arrival of Pinkney, Lords Holland and Auckland were appointed to negotiate with the American envoys.

The negotiations commenced in August [August 2.]. As the American commissioners were instructed to make no treaty which did not secure the vessels of their countrymen on the high seas against visitations from press-gangs, this topic naturally occupied the early and earnest attention of the negotiators. The American commissioners, under instructions, contended that the right of impressment existing by municipal law could not be exercised out of the jurisdiction of Great Britain, and, consequently, upon the high seas. In reply, the British commissioners recited the old doctrine that no subject of the king could expatriate himself – "once an Englishman, always an Englishman" – and argued that to give up that right would make every American vessel an asylum for British seamen wishing to evade their country’s service, and even for deserters from British ships of war. They were sustained in this view by the law officers of the crown and the Board of Admiralty, and would not yield the point. Here the American commissioners might have terminated the negotiation, because the vital object of their appointment could not be obtained.

At length this impressment question was placed in an attitude to allow negotiations upon other topics to go on. While the British commissioners declared that their government would not relinquish by formal treaty the right of impressment on the high seas, they agreed that special instructions should be given and enforced for the observance of great caution against subjecting any American-born citizens to molestation or injury. They gave the American commissioners to understand, although it was not expressed in terms, that the intention of the British government was not to allow impressments from American vessels on the high seas except under extraordinary circumstances, such as having on board known deserters from the British navy, and thus gradually to abandon the practice. This proposition was put in writing [November 8, 1806.], and the negotiations on other topics proceeded.

The terms of a treaty considered in many respects more favorable to the Americans than that of Jay in 1794, to continue for ten years, were soon agreed to. The trade between the United States and the European possessions of Great Britain were placed on a footing of perfect reciprocity, but no concessions could be obtained as to the trade of the West Indies; while in the matter of the East India trade terms as favorable to the Americans as those of Jay’s would not be granted. The provisions in that treaty concerning blockades and contraband were adopted, with an additional provision that no American vessels were to be visited or seized within five miles of the coast of the United States.

In regard to the carrying-trade, in which American vessels were so largely concerned, the modification of the "rule of 1756" (stipulated in the treaty with Russia in 1801, already alluded to) 2 was agreed to, but to operate only during the current war, by which such vessels could transport to any belligerent colony not blockaded by a British force, any European goods not contraband of war, providing such goods were American property, and the continuity of the voyage had been broken by their having been previously landed in the United States, and a duty paid of at least one per cent, above the amount drawn back on re-exportation. In like manner the produce of the colony might be carried back, and taken into any port in Europe not blockaded.

At this point in the negotiation, intelligence of the issue of the Berlin Decree, 3 which we shall consider presently, reached the commissioners. It produced hesitation on the part of the British negotiators. They required assurances that the United States would not allow their trade with Great Britain, and in British merchandise, to be interrupted and interfered with by France without taking measures to resent it. This assurance the American commissioners refused to give, as they were not inclined to pledge their government to quarrel with France for the benefit of English trade. Holland and Auckland waived the point and signed the treaty, at the same time presenting a written protest against the Berlin Decree, reserving to the British government the right, should that decree be actually carried into force as against neutrals, and be submitted to by them, to take such measures of retaliation as might be deemed expedient.

Had this treaty not been based in a degree upon contingencies and promises, leaving American commerce {original text has "commence".} still, in the absence of positive treaty stipulations, at the mercy of British policy, it might have been considered so advantageous to the merchants of the United States, being an advance in the right direction, as to have received the favor of the administration. But it was too loose in its actual guarantees, and the experience of the past was too admonitory to allow such a treaty to be accepted as a satisfactory settlement of difficulties between the two governments. It also failed to secure the most vital advantages contemplated in the appointment of the commission, namely, the abolition of the impress from American vessels and relinquishment on the part of Great Britain of its claims to a right of search. Such being its character, the President, at the risk of being charged with usurpation, did not even lay the treaty before the Senate, but, on his own responsibility, seconded by the co-operation of Mr. Madison, his Secretary of State, he refused to ratify it. That refusal destroyed all hope of negotiating another treaty so favorable to the Americans, for, long before it reached the British government in official form, the Fox and Grenville ministry had disappeared. It had been superseded [March, 1807.] by one in which Liverpool, Percival, and Canning, all disciples of the more warlike Pitt, were the leading spirits. The remains of Fox had lain in Westminster Abbey six months when this change in the administration took place. 4

As might have been expected, Jefferson was vehemently assailed by the opposition; and the merchants, as a class, misled by the deceptive clamor of politicians, swelled the voice of denunciation. The Federalists, ever suspicious of the President, their arch-enemy in former crises of the government, charged him with insincerity when he protested his earnest desire for an honorable adjustment with England; and they were inclined to regard the rejection of the treaty as a deliberate manœuvre to cherish popular passion, and thus to strengthen the party hold of the President and his destined successor, Mr. Madison. 5

The war against the administration was waged unrelentingly. Another great struggle between the Democrats and Federalists for the prize of the Presidency and national rule now commenced, and some leading men of the opposition who, when in power, had bitterly denounced the course of the British government because of its course on the impress and neutral rights, now became either silent spectators or virtual apologists for England. Yet the Democratic party steadily gained in numbers and influence even in New England, and the war feeling became more and more intense and positive among the people.

We have already alluded to the seizure of Hanover by the Prussians at the instigation of Napoleon. 6 This offense against the Crown of England was immediately resented; or, rather, it was made the pretext for employing against France a measure which, as in 1756 and 1792, was calculated to starve the empire. By orders in Council, issued on the 16th of May, 1806, the whole coast of Europe from the Elbe, in Germany, to Brest, in France, a distance of about eight hundred miles, was declared in a state of blockade, when, at the same time, the British navy could not spare from its other fields of service vessels enough to enforce the blockade over a third of the prescribed coast. It was essentially a "paper blockade," then valid according to English "laws of nations" – laws of her own enactment, and enforced by her own material power. The almost entire destruction of the French and Spanish fleets off Trafalgar, a few months before [October 21, 1805.], had annihilated her rivals for the sovereignty of the seas, and she now resolved to control the trade of the world, by which she might procure pecuniary means to carry on the war.

The British orders in Council somewhat startled American commerce, and by some was considered, so far as that commerce was concerned, as not only a countervailing measure in view of the Non-importation Act of the American Congress, but a positively belligerent one. But its effects were slight in comparison with the prostrating blow inflicted upon the American shipping interest when, from the "Imperial Camp at Berlin" on the 21st of November, 1806, Napoleon issued the famous decree which declared the British Islands in a state of blockade, forbade all correspondence or trade with England, defined all articles of English manufacture or produce as contraband, and the property of all British subjects as lawful prize of war. 7

Resting for moral support upon England’s cherished "law of nations," Napoleon made this declaration of a practically universal blockade when he had scarcely a ship at his command to enforce it; for Lord Nelson, as we have just observed, had almost demolished the whole French and part of the Spanish fleet off Trafalgar just thirteen months before [October 21, 1805.].

On land the power of Napoleon was scarcely bounded by any river in Europe. Within his grasp was seemingly the sceptre of universal empire, of which he dreamed with the ambition of an Alexander. State after state had been added to his dominions, and brother after brother had been placed upon thrones of his own construction, amid the ruins of old dynasties. He now endeavored, by the practice of England’s logic, to dispute with her in a peculiar way the sceptre of the seas. 8

This was the beginning of what was afterward called the Continental System, commenced avowedly as a retaliatory measure, and designed primarily to injure and, if possible, to destroy the commercial prosperity of England. Napoleon adhered to it for several years as a favorite scheme, to the delight and profit of smugglers created by the system, and the immense injury of the commerce of the world. He compelled most of the states of Europe to become partners in the league against Great Britain. A refusal to join it was considered a just cause for war. Yet England, with such powers against her, and such an injurious system impinging heavily upon her maritime and trading interests, defied Napoleon and his allies, and exhibited a moral and material energy which commands our wonder and highest respect.

America was at this time really the only neutral in the civilized world. Her isolation enabled her to maintain that position, and enjoy prosperity while Europe was resonant with the din of battle, clouded with the smoke of camps and ruined towns, and wasted by the terrible demands of moving armies. But her security and prosperity were likely to be disturbed by this unrighteous decree from the "Imperial Camp." It was so broad in its application, that it would be equally injurious to neutrals and belligerents. The commercial world perceived this with its keen eye, and American commerce was convulsed by a thrill of apprehension. Rates of insurance ran up to ruinous heights at the beginning of 1807, and commercial enterprises of every kind were suspended.

This panic was somewhat allayed by a letter from John Armstrong, American minister at Paris, who believed the operations of the decree would be only municipal, and was assured by the French Minister of Marine that the existing commercial relations of the United States and the French Empire, as settled by the Convention of 1800, 9 would not be disturbed. 10 This assurance was subsequently strengthened by the fact that the decree was not enforced against American vessels until about a year afterward, 11 Napoleon doubtless hoping the United States, growing every day more and more hostile toward England because of her injustice, would be induced to join the league against that power. The Americans were also taught to rely upon the traditional policy of France concerning the rights of neutrals, so plainly avowed in the Armed Neutrality Treaty in 1780, earnestly proclaimed ever since by the French rulers, and reiterated in the charges against England in the preamble to the famous decree under consideration.

The promises of security to American commerce from the operations of the Berlin Decree were soon broken. The powers of that decree were put forth in the autumn of 1807. The Peace of Tilsit 12 had released a large number of French soldiers from duties in the camp and field, and these were employed at various ports along the coasts of Europe in strictly enforcing the blockade and putting the Continental System into active operation. Even American commerce did not remain undisturbed; on the contrary, it was directly threatened by a decision of Regnier, the French Minister of Justice, who declared that all merchandise derived from England and her colonies, by whomsoever owned, was liable to seizure even on board neutral vessels. 13 As Americans were then the only neutrals, this decision was aimed directly at them, with the intention, no doubt, of forcing the United States into at least a passive cooperation with Bonaparte in his deadly designs against British commerce and the liberties of that people. When Minister Armstrong made inquiries concerning this interpretation of the Berlin Decree, Champagny, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, coolly replied that the principal powers of Europe for eleven months had not only not issued any protest against the decree, but had agreed to enforce it, and that to make it effectual its execution must be complete. He disposed of the treaty obligations in the matter by saying that, since England had disregarded the rights of all maritime powers, the interests of those powers were common, and they were bound to make common cause against her; 14 that is to say, any nation that would not join Napoleon in enforcing his iniquitous Continental System, ostensibly against England, but really against the commerce of the world, forfeited its claim to have its treaty stipulations regarded! This doctrine was speedily followed up by practice, when the American ship Horizon, stranded upon the French coast, was, with her cargo, in violation of every principle of humanity, confiscated in the French prize court, acting under Regnier’s decision [November 10, 1807.], on the ground that that cargo consisted of merchandise of British origin. This decision and confiscation became a precedent for the speedy seizure and sequestration of a large amount of American property.

Almost simultaneously with this practical illustration of Regnier’s interpretation of the Berlin Decree in the case of the Horizon [November 10.] Great Britain made a more destructive assault on the rights of neutrals than any yet attempted by either party. By orders in council, adopted on the 11th and promulgated on the 17th of November, all neutral trade was prohibited with France or her allies unless through Great Britain. 15 This avowed measure of retaliation for the issue of the Berlin Decree was only a pretext for pampering the greed of the British colonial merchants and ship-owners. As the Americans were the only neutrals, it was a direct blow against their commerce, of which, for ten years, the British had been exceedingly jealous. The effect was to deprive American vessels of all the advantages of neutrality.

In retaliation for the issuing of these orders, Bonaparte promulgated another decree, dated "At our Palace at Milan, December 17, 1807," which extended and made more vigorous that issued from Berlin. It declared every vessel which should submit to be searched by British cruisers, or should pay any tax, duty, or license-money to the British government, or should be found on the high seas or elsewhere bound to or from any British port, denationalized and forfeit. 16 With their usual servility to the dictates of the conqueror, Spain and Holland immediately issued similar decrees. Thus, within a few months, the commerce of the United States, carried on in strict accordance with the acknowledged laws of civilized nations, was swept from the ocean. Utterly unable, by any power it then possessed, to resist the robbers upon the great highway of nations, the independence of the republic had no actual record. It had been theoretically declared on parchment a quarter of a century before, but the nation and its interests were now as much subservient to British orders in council and French imperial decrees as when George the Third sent governors to the colonies of which it was composed, and Beaumarchais, in behalf of Louis the Sixteenth, supplied their feeble, rebellious hands with weapons wherewith to fight for liberty and independence.

While the commerce of the world was thus becoming the sport of France and England – traditionary enemies and implacable duelists for a thousand years – unscrupulous gamesters for power – an event occurred which excited in the United States the most intense animosity toward Great Britain, and created a powerful war party among legislators and people.

To give efficiency to the Orders in Council, the British government kept a naval force continually hovering along the American coast. They frequently intruded into American waters, and were a great vexation and annoyance to navigators and merchants. They were regarded as legalized plunderers employed by a strong nation to despoil a weaker one. 17 Every American vessel was liable, on leaving port, to be arrested and seized by this marine police, sometimes under the most untenable pretexts, and sent to England as a prize. The experience of the Leander, already mentioned (see page 147), was the experience of hundreds of vessels, excepting the murder of their commanders; and, as we have seen, remonstrances and negotiations were of no avail. A crisis was at length reached in the summer of 1807.

Notwithstanding the many depredations upon American commerce and the increasing menaces of the belligerents in Europe, very little had been done to increase the efficiency of the navy of the United States since its reduction at the close of the war with the Barbary States. The squadron in the Mediterranean had been gradually reduced, but several small vessels had been built. Two of these, the ship Wasp, 18, and brig Hornet, 18, constructed after French models, and ranking as sloops-of-war, were beautiful, stanch, and fast-sailing craft.

In the spring of 1806 the naval service was reorganized, 18 yet nothing of great importance was contemplated to increase its material strength excepting the construction of gun-boats. 19 The President had imbibed very strong prejudices in favor of these vessels. A flotilla of them, obtained from Naples, had been used effectively in the war with Tripoli in 1804, and they were favorites in the service because they afforded commands for enterprising young officers. A few were built in the United States in 1805, their chief contemplated use being the defense and protection of harbors and rivers. Then was inaugurated the "gun-boat policy" of the government, so much discussed for three or four years afterward.

Toward the close of 1806 the President officially announced that the gun-boats (fifty in number) "authorized by an act of the last session" were so far advanced that they might be put in commission the following season. 20 Yet only in the Mediterranean Sea was there a foreign station of the navy of the United States where an American cruiser might be seen at the beginning of 1807, notwithstanding American merchant vessels to the amount of 1,200,000 tons were afloat. Nor was there a home squadron worthy of the name; while British and French cruisers were swarming on our coasts, and British orders and French decrees were wielding the besom of destruction against our commerce.

In the spring of 1807 a squadron of British ships of war, whose rendezvous was Lynnhaven Bay, 21 just within Cape Henry, in Virginia, were watching some French frigates which had been for some time blockaded at Annapolis, in Maryland. One of the British vessels was the Melampus, 38. Three of her men deserted, and enlisted among the crew of the United States frigate Chesapeake, then being fitted for sea at the navy yard at Washington to join the Mediterranean squadron. Mr. Erskine, the British minister, who had been sent to Washington by Fox to supersede Merry, the successor of Liston, made a formal request of the President for their surrender, but without any warrant found in the laws of nations, or in any agreement between the two governments. A proposition to deliver up British deserters had been made by Monroe and Pinkney during the late negotiations, as an inducement for the British to abandon the practice of impressment, but nothing on that point had been accomplished.

The United States government, willing to be just, and anxious for honorable peace, instituted inquiries concerning the deserters. They were actually enlisted for service on board the Chesapeake; but it was established by competent testimony that one was a native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, that another was a colored man and a native of Massachusetts, and in the case of the third there was strong circumstantial evidence of his being a native-born citizen of Maryland. 22 Under these circumstances, as the claims of British citizenship could not be established, and as the government was not disposed to surrender any seamen who claimed its protection, a refusal in respectful terms was communicated to Mr. Erskine. No more was said upon the subject; but it appears to have stimulated Vice-Admiral Berkeley, on the Halifax station, under whose command was the squadron in Lynnhaven Bay, to the assumption of authority which led to much trouble.

At about the beginning of June the Chesapeake sailed from Washington to Norfolk, and on the 19th she was reported to Commodore James Barron, the appointed flag-officer of the Mediterranean squadron, as ready for sea. She dropped down to Hampton Roads, and on the morning of the 22d of June – a bright, beautiful, hot morning – at about eight o’clock, she weighed anchor, under the command of Captain Gordon, and bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Barron. She was armed with twenty-eight 18-pounders on her gun-deck, and twelve carronades 23 above, making a total of forty guns. She was a vessel of ordinary character, and bore a crew numbering three hundred and seventy-five.


On the evening of the 21st [June, 1807.], the British squadron in Lynnhaven Bay, charged with the double duty, it seems, of watching the French frigates and the Chesapeake, consisted of the Bellona, 74; the Melampus, 38; the Leopard, 50; and another whose name was not mentioned. The Leopard, Captain Humphreys, was charged with the duty of intercepting the Chesapeake. She was a small two-decker, and is said to have mounted fifty-six guns. She preceded the Chesapeake to sea several miles, her sails bent by a gentle northwest breeze.

The Leopard kept in sight of the Chesapeake until three o’clock in the afternoon, when the former bore down upon the latter and hailed, informing Commodore Barron that she had a dispatch for him. The Chesapeake responded by lying-to, when some of her officers discovered that the Leopard’s ports were triced up – an evidence of belligerent intent – but they did not mention the fact to Captain Gordon or the commodore. A British boat came alongside, and the lieutenant in command was politely received by Barron in the cabin of the Chesapeake. He informed the commodore that he was in search of deserters, and, giving their names, he demanded their release, on the authority of instructions issued at Halifax on the 1st of June by Vice-Admiral Berkeley. Those instructions directed all captains under his command, should they fall in with the Chesapeake out of the waters of the United States, to show their orders, and "to proceed and search" for such deserters; at the same time, should the commander of the Chesapeake make a similar demand, they were to allow him to search for deserters from the American service, "according to the usages of civilized nations on terms of peace and amity with each other." 24 He also presented a note from Captain Humphreys of the Leopard, expressing a hope that every circumstance respecting the deserters might "be adjusted in a manner that the harmony subsisting between the two countries might remain undisturbed."

Barron was justly astonished at the impertinence of Humphreys and the assumptions of Berkeley. The "customs and usages" referred to by the latter were confined to the British navy, and were subjects for complaint by "civilized nations." The practice had been advocated only in the British Parliament and by the British press; and twice already the "usage" had been applied to American vessels by British cruisers and denounced as outrageous. 25 Barron knew well that the first outrage of the kind had caused the issuing of a standing order from his government to the commanders of national vessels never to allow their crews to be mustered except by their own officers. He therefore made a short reply to Humphreys, telling him he knew of no deserters on board the Chesapeake, that he had instructed his recruiting officers not to enlist British deserters, and explicitly assuring him that his crew should not be mustered except by their own officers.

While the lieutenant was waiting for Barron’s answer, the officers of the Chesapeake, suspicious of some mischief brewing, were busy in clearing the ship for action. She had left port all unprepared for conflict. Without the least expectation of encountering an enemy, she had gone to sea without preparation for hostile service, either in the drilling of her men or in perfecting her equipments. She was littered and lumbered by various objects, and her crew had been mustered only three times.

When the lieutenant left, Barron seems to have imagined that some hostile demonstration might follow his refusal to allow a search for deserters, His men were silently called to quarters, and the ship was regularly prepared for action. He soon received a trumpet message from Humphreys, saying, "Commodore Barron must be aware that the orders of the vice-admiral must be obeyed." Barron replied that he did not understand. The hail was several times repeated, and then a shot was sent from the Leopard athwart the bows of the Chesapeake. This was speedily followed by another, and as quickly the remainder of the broadside was poured into the almost helpless frigate. Owing to obstructions it was difficult to get her batteries ready; and when one broadside was ready for action there was no priming-powder. When a small quantity was brought, there were no matches, locks, nor loggerheads, and not a shot could be returned. Meanwhile the Leopard, at not more than pistol-shot distance, and in smooth water, poured several broadsides upon the unresisting ship, killing three men and wounding eighteen. Barron and his aid (Mr. Broome), who were standing in the gangway watching the assailant, were slightly hurt. The commodore frequently expressed a desire that one gun, at least, might be fired before he should strike his flag, for he perceived that a surrender would be necessary to save the ship from utter destruction. He was gratified. Just as the colors in their descent touched the taffrail, Lieutenant Allen, who had made ineffectual attempts to use a loggerhead, 26 ran with a live coal between his fingers and touched off one of the guns of the second division of the ship, of which he was commander.

The Leopard had kept up her cannonade, without any response, for about twelve minutes. Twenty-one of her round shot had hulled the Chesapeake, and her grape had made considerable havoc with the victim’s sails and rigging. When the American ensign was lowered, two British lieutenants and several midshipmen went on board, mustered the crew, arrested the three deserters from the Melampus, dragged from his concealment in the coal-hole the fourth, named John Wilson, who had deserted from the Halifax, and bore them all away to the Leopard. Barron, meanwhile, had informed Humphreys by note 27 that the Chesapeake was his prize; but that commander refused to receive her, saying, "My instructions have been obeyed, and I desire nothing more." He then expressed regret because of the loss of life, and offered any assistance the crippled ship might require. His proffered sympathies and aid were indignantly rejected; and the Chesapeake, with mortified officers and crew, made her way sullenly back to Norfolk.

The unfortunate deserters were taken to Halifax, tried by a court-martial, and sentenced to be hung. The three Americans were reprieved on condition that they should re-enter the British service, but Wilson, the English subject, was hanged.

When Canning, the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, heard of the outrage, he expressly disavowed the act in behalf of his government, and informed Monroe and Pinkney that orders had been sent out for the recall of Berkeley from his command. Humphreys also suffered the displeasure of his government because he had exceeded his instructions, and he was never again employed in service afloat. One of the Americans remanded to slavery in the British navy died in captivity; the others, after five years of hard service, were restored [June 13, 1812.] to the deck of the ship from which they had been taken. Provision was also made for the families of the slain.

The attack on the Chesapeake created the most intense excitement and indignation throughout the United States, and for a time all local politics were forgotten, and all parties, Federalists and Democrats, natives and foreigners, were united in a firm resolve that Great Britain should make reparation for the wrong, or be made to feel the indignation of the insulted republic in the power of war. Public meetings were held in all the principal cities from Boston to Norfolk, 28 in which the feelings of the people were vehemently expressed. "It is an act of such consummate violence and wrong," said the citizens of Philadelphia, 29 "and of so barbarous and murderous character, that it would debase and degrade any nation, and much more so a nation of freemen, to submit to it." Such were the sentiments every where expressed, and there was a general desire for an immediate declaration of war against Great Britain to redress all wrongs and grievances. But the President and his Cabinet, averse to war, preferred a pacific course, and determined to allow Great Britain an opportunity for a disavowal of the act, and to make reparation of the wrong. The former, as we have observed, was promptly done by Mr. Canning; the latter, embarrassed by intricate negotiations, was accomplished more tardily.

In response and submission to the popular will, the President issued a proclamation on the 2d of July, in which he complained of the habitual insolence of the British cruisers, expressed his belief that the present out rage was unauthorized, and ordered all British armed vessels to leave the waters of the United States immediately. As his government possessed no power to compel compliance with this order, he directed that, in case of their refusal to leave, all intercourse with them, their officers and crews, should be at once suspended. He forbade all persons affording such vessels aid of any kind, unless in the case of a ship in distress or charged with public dispatches. Preparations for defense were also made. Most of the gun-boats in commission were ordered to New York, Charleston, and New Orleans; military stores were purchased; one hundred thousand militia were ordered to be detached by the different states, but without pay, and volunteers were invited to enroll themselves.

Commodore Barron was made to feel the nation’s indignation most severely, He was accused of neglect of duty, and was tried by a court-martial on specific charges of that nature. The navy, government, and nation appear to have predetermined his guilt. the wounded national pride needed a palliative, and it was found in the supposed delinquencies of the unfortunate commodore. He was found guilty, and sentenced to five years’ suspension from the service, without pay or emoluments. 30 Captain Gordon was tried on the same charge, but his offense was so slight that he was only privately reprimanded. Such also was the fate of Captain Hall, of the marines; while the gunner, for neglect in having priming-powder sufficient, was cashiered.

It was the opinion of Mr. Cooper that these officers were made the scape-goats of the government, where divided power is too often not only irresponsible but inefficient. "It may well be questioned," he says, "if any impartial person, who coolly examines the subject, will not arrive at the conclusion that the real delinquents were never put on their trial." He then adverts to the fact that four months had been consumed in fitting this single vessel for sea, under the immediate eye of the government, at a time when there was pressing necessity for her service; that she did not receive all her guns until a few days before she sailed; that her crew were coming on board until the last hour before her departure; that her people had been quartered only three days before she put to sea, and that she was totally unfitted for active service when she was ordered to leave port. "When it was found that the nation had been disgraced," continues Mr. Cooper, "so unsound was the state of popular feeling that the real delinquents were overlooked, while their victims became objects of popular censure." 31

The President’s proclamation was followed by the dispatch of the armed schooner Revenge to England with instructions to the American ministers (Monroe and Pinkney) to demand reparation for insults and injuries in the case of the Chesapeake, and to suspend all other negotiations until it should be granted. Unfortunately for the success of the special negotiations, these instructions also directed them, in addition to a demand for an apology and indemnity to the families of the killed, to insist, by way of security for the future, that the visitation of American vessels in search of British subjects should be totally relinquished. This was inadmissible. The British government refused to treat upon any other subject than that of reparation. A disavowal of the act had already been made, and every disposition to be just and friendly had been shown. The ministry even placed their government in the position of an injured party, inasmuch as the proclamation concerning British ships of war in American waters was evidently an act of retaliation before a demand for reparation had been made, or the disposition of the British Cabinet had been ascertained.

Monroe and Pinkney had already proposed to reopen negotiations for a treaty on the basis of the one returned from their government unratified, 32 and, with these new instructions, they pursued the subject with so much assiduity that Mr. Canning made to them a formal and final reply [October 22, 1807.] that, while he was ready to listen to any suggestions with a view to the settlement of existing difficulties, he would not negotiate anew on the basis of a treaty concluded and signed, and already rejected by one of the parties. Indeed there was a decided aversion to treating at all on the subject of impressments; and the views of the government on that topic were plainly manifested when, by royal proclamation [October 17.], all British mariners, in whatever service engaged, were required to leave it forthwith and hasten to the aid of their native country, then menaced and imperiled, and her "maritime rights" called in question. It authorized all commanders of foreign ships of war to seize British seamen on board foreign merchant vessels (but without undue violence), and take them to any British port. It also demanded from all foreign ships of war the delivery of all British mariners on board of them; and that in case of a refusal to give them up, proper notice should be communicated to the British minister resident of the nation to which such contumacious vessel and commander might belong, that measures for redress might be employed.

Mr. Monroe formally objected to this proclamation, as shutting the door against all future negotiations on the subject of impressments. 33 Canning replied that it was only a declaration of existing law, and necessary for the information of British commanders who might be placed in a situation similar to that of Captain Humphreys, of the Leopard. It was evident to both parties that the topic of that outrage could not be satisfactorily treated in London, because the American ministers could not separate it from that of impressment. The British resolved therefore to send a special minister to Washington, provided with instructions to bring the unhappy dispute to an honorable conclusion. H. G. Rose, a son of one of the ministers, was appointed for the delicate duty, and arrived at Annapolis in January, 1808. His mission was fruitless. He was instructed not to treat of the affair of the Chesapeake while the recent proclamation of the President was in force, nor to connect the subject with that of impressments from private vessels. As the proclamation had reference to the conduct of British armed vessels in American waters from the beginning of the current European war, the President refused to withdraw the document, and Rose returned in the same vessel that bore him to our shores. Meanwhile Monroe had returned home, leaving Pinkney resident minister in London. All hopes of settling existing difficulties with England were at an end, and from the beginning of 1808 the political relations between the two governments foreboded inevitable hostilities at no distant day.

The critical condition of foreign relations induced the President to call the Tenth Congress together as early as the 25th of October. The administration party had an overwhelming majority in that body, and was daily increasing in strength throughout the country. The confidence of the Democrats in Jefferson’s wisdom, sagacity, and patriotism was unbounded. In the United States Senate there were only six Federalists, and one of them, John Quincy Adams, soon left their ranks and joined those of the dominant party. 34 A new Democratic member appeared at about the same time, and began a career as a national legislator which forms a wonderful chapter in the history of the government. It was Henry Clay, 35 who had been appointed to fill, for a single session, the seat made vacant by the resignation of General John Adair, then under a cloud because of his recent participation with Aaron Burr in his schemes in the Valley of the Mississippi.

In the House of Representatives the Democratic party had about the same average majority as in the Senate. The opposition, even with the "Quids" – John Randolph and his Virginia seceders – could not command at any time more than twenty-eight votes. Their chief leaders were Samuel W. Dana, of Connecticut, who had been a member since 1796; the late Josiah Quincy, of Massachusetts, who took his seat in 1805; Barent Gardinier, of New York, and Philip Barton Key, of Maryland. Among the new administration members was Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky. Thus sustained by the National Legislature and the people, the policy of the President and his Cabinet became the policy of the country.

In his seventh annual message [October 27, 1807.] the President called the attention of Congress to several very important subjects. He gave a narrative of unsuccessful efforts to settle with Great Britain all difficulties concerning search and impressments; considered the affair of the Chesapeake, the refusal of the British commanders to obey the orders of his proclamation to leave American waters, the orders in Council and Decrees, the subject of national defenses, the uneasiness of the Indians on the frontiers, and the relations with other foreign governments. He also expressed great dissatisfaction at the acquittal of Burr, through erroneous, if not mischievous interpretation of law, as he evidently believed; and he pressed upon the attention of Congress the propriety of so amending the law as to prevent the destruction of the government by treason. 36

Having been officially informed [December 11.] of the new interpretation of the Berlin Decree, 37 and unofficially apprised of the almost simultaneously issued British orders in Council, the President communicated to Congress [December 18.] the facts in his possession, and recommended the passage of an Embargo Act – "an inhibition of the departure of our vessels from the ports of the United States." 38 The Senate, with closed doors, proceeded to the consideration of the subject, and, after a session of four hours and a departure from ordinary rules, passed a bill [December 18.] laying an embargo on all shipping, foreign and domestic, in the ports of the United States, with specific exceptions. The minority made a feeble opposition to the measure. 39 They asked for delay, but it was not granted, and the act was passed by a strictly party vote – ayes twenty-two, noes six. John Quincy Adams thus signified his adherence to the dominant party by voting with them. In the House, which also sat with closed doors, the passage of the act was pressed with equal zeal by the friends of the administration, and was as warmly opposed by the Federalists and "Quids." The bill was debated for three days in Committee of the Whole, the sittings continuing far into each night. The bill was passed on Monday, the 21st, at almost midnight, by a vote of eighty-two to forty-four, and became a law by receiving the signature of the President on the following day. It prohibited all vessels in the ports of the United States from sailing for any foreign port, except foreign ships in ballast, or with cargoes taken on board before notification of the act; and coastwise vessels were required to give heavy bonds to land their cargoes in the United States. What little life was left in American commerce under the pressure of the orders and decrees of the belligerents was utterly crushed out by this act.

The Embargo Act, universal in its application and unlimited in its duration, was an experiment never before tried by any nation – an attempt, by withholding intercourse from all the world, to so operate upon two belligerent nations as to compel them to respect the rights and accede to the claims of an injured neutral. Its professed objects were to induce France and England to relax their practical hostility to neutral commerce, and to preserve and develop the resources of the United States. But it accomplished neither. The French government viewed it as timely aid to their Continental System, and far more injurious in its effects upon Great Britain than upon France; while England, feeling that her national character and honor were at stake, and believing that she could endure the privations which the measure would inflict in both countries longer than America, proudly refused to yield a single point under the pressure of this new method of coercion. The words of Josiah Quincy became prophetic. "Let us once declare to the world," he said, "that, before our embargo policy be abandoned, the French decrees and the British orders must be revoked, and we league against us whatever spirit of honor and pride exists in both those nations. . . . No nation will be easily brought to acknowledge such a dependence on another as to be made to abandon, by a withholding of intercourse, a settled line of policy." 40

Opposition to the measure, in and out of Congress, was violent and incessant. The topic was made a strong battery from which the Federalists hurled their hottest denunciatory shot against the administration. Old party cries were again heard, and the people were startled by the bugbear of French influence in the councils of the nation. The President was charged with secret intrigues with Bonaparte for an alliance of the United States and France against Great Britain, the traditional object of hatred by the Democratic party. The suggestion alarmed intelligent men, for the history of six years had taught them that the allies of the Corsican soon became his subjects. 41 The New England people were taught to believe that the Embargo was the result of a combination of Western and Southern states to ruin the Eastern commonwealths; and every art which party tactics could command was brought to bear in the service of the opposition, who, as politicians, hoped, by means of the alarm, distraction, and real distress which then prevailed, to array such numbers against the dominant party that, in the election for President of the United States to be held a few months later, they might fill the Executive chair with one of their own number.

That section of the Federalists known as the "Essex Junto" were the most uncompromising opponents of the administration and the Embargo; and many of those who, only two years before, had vehemently denounced Great Britain because of her persistent assaults upon the rights of neutrals, were now, in the heat of party zeal, the apologists of, and sympathizers with that government, whose aggressions had constantly increased. In the very month [February, 1808.] when that eminent British merchant, Alexander Baring, declared before the world that "it would be no exaggeration to say that upward of three fourths of all the merchants, seamen, etc., engaged in commerce or navigation in America, have, at some time or other, suffered from acts of our [British] cruisers," 42 a leading Federal politician (who, two years before [February 10, 1806.], declared, by his vote in the National Senate, that the conduct of Great Britain was "an unprovoked aggression upon the property of the citizens of the United States, a violation of their neutral rights, and an encroachment upon their national independence"), wrote to a friend that, "although England, with her thousand ships of war, could have destroyed our commerce, she has really done it no essential injury." 43

It was soon discovered that the Embargo Act was frequently violated by enrolled coasting vessels carrying cargoes to the West Indies, and it became necessary to pass supplementary acts to prevent such evasions of the law. It was chiefly in the debates upon these acts that the acrimony already noticed appeared. Gardinier, of New York, made the most sweeping charges of corruption, and affiliation with the "French usurper" against the majority in Congress. His violence and abuse elicited some personal attacks, and one of them so incensed him that he challenged his assailant (Campbell) to mortal combat. They met at Bladensburg. Gardinier was shot through one side of his body, but, after weeks of suffering, he recovered and came back to Congress, not a whit subdued. Disputes ran high throughout the country, and public speeches, newspapers, and pamphlets teemed with the most vehement assaults upon the dominant party. 44 Many men, dreading the horrors of a war with England, which they believed the Embargo Act would evoke, preferred to give freedom to the commerce of the country, and let it provide itself against the risks that menaced it, rather than to kill it outright. Such was the feeling of many merchants; but patriotic statesmen, holding the dignity and the independence of the United States as of far more consequence than the temporary interests of trade, advocated the most stringent execution of the Embargo Act, and at the middle of March [March 12, 1808.] the supplementary enactments became law.

At about the same time the British Parliament, with an air of condescension, passed an act [March 25.], "as a favor to neutrals, permitting them (United States and Sweden) to trade with France and her dependencies, on the condition that vessels engaged in such trade should first enter some British port, pay a transit duty, and take out a license! 45 In other words, the United States were told by England, with as much insolence and hauteur in fact as the Dey of Algiers ever exhibited, "Pay me tribute, and my cruisers (or corsairs) will be instructed not to plunder you." This was properly regarded as a flagrant insult – one which the British government would never have offered except to a nation supposed to be incapable of efficiently resenting it. When to this insult was added a positive injury, a few weeks later [April 11.], in the form of instructions issued by ministers, in the name of the half-demented king, to the British naval commanders, expressly intended to induce Americans engaged in commercial pursuits to violate the blockade, the administration resolved to plant itself firmly upon that dignity and independence which a free people ought always to assert. Those instructions, so disgraceful to the British ministers, were severely condemned by every honest man in the British realm. 46

Evasions of the Embargo continued, and another supplementary act, applying to the navigation of rivers, lakes, and bays, increased its stringency, and awakened new and more bitter denunciations of the measure. But the government was immovable. It was deaf to the prayers for a repeal made in petition after petition that poured into Congress, especially from New England. A proposition for repeal, and to allow merchant vessels to arm and take care of themselves, was voted down by a large majority; and the only glimpse of light was seen through an authorization given to the President to suspend the Embargo Act, according to his discretion, in case of peace in Europe, or such changes in the policy of the belligerents as might, in his judgment, make the navigation of the seas safe to American vessels. It was in the debate on this proposition that Josiah Quincy, who had then taken a place among the acknowledged leaders of the Federal party, used the language already quoted on page 163. He denounced the whole policy as fallacious and mischievous. "The language of that policy is," he said, " ‘Rescind your decrees and your orders, or we will, in our wrath, abandon the ocean!’ And suppose Great Britain, governed by the spirit of mercantile calculation, should reply, ‘If such be your mode of vengeance, indulge it to your heart’s content! It is the very thing we wish. You are our commercial rivals, and, by driving you out of the market, we shall gain more than we can lose by your retirement.’ . . .

"It is to be feared," continued Mr. Quincy, "that, having grown giddy with good-fortune, attributing the greatness of our prosperity to our own wisdom, rather than to a course of events over which we have had no influence, we are now entering that school of adversity, the first blessings of which is to chastise our overweening conceit of ourselves. A nation mistakes its relative importance and consequence in thinking that its countenance, or its intercourse, or its existence is all-important to the rest of mankind. An individual who should retire from intercourse with the world for the purpose of taking vengeance on it for some real or imaginary wrong, would, notwithstanding the delusions of self-flattery, be certainly taught that the world moved along just as well after his dignified retirement as before. Nor would the case of a nation which should make a similar trial of its consequence be very different. The intercourse of human life has its basis in a natural reciprocity, which always exists, however national or personal vanity may often suggest to inflated fancies that, in the intercourse of friendship, civilities, or business, they give more than they receive."

These were words of wisdom – words as wise and significant now as they were then. They combated a great error – an error fully exemplified in our day in the assumption of a single class of our citizens, namely, the cotton-growers. These, knowing the value of their great staple and its consequence to the civilized world, believed or asserted, before the late Civil War, that it gave them power to dictate certain lines of policy to the governments of the earth. In the madness of their error they proclaimed cotton a KING too potent for all other kings. Believing that the producers of the raw material have the consumers of it always in their power, and may bring the latter to terms at any time by cutting off the supply, they forgot the great fact that dependence is reciprocal, and that, in commercial conflicts, the producer, being the poorer party, is always the first to succumb. The events and results of the late Civil War laid bare that radical error to the full comprehension of all, as well as to acute political economists.

So it was with the Embargo. Those who expected to see great national triumphs follow that measure, which was expected to starve the English manufacturing operatives and the West India slaves, were bitterly disappointed. The evils brought upon their own national industry in various forms were far greater than those inflicted upon England or France. It had one good effect, namely, the encouragement and establishment of various manufactures in the United States, which have ever been important elements of our national independence. 47



1 Fox and Burke stood side by side in the opposition to Lord North in the long struggle before and during the American Revolution. He was always on the liberal side in politics, of the Whig school, and was intensely hated by the king. At one time, at the close of the Revolution, the nation appeared to be divided into parties, one known as the king’s, and the other as Fox’s. On one occasion Dr. Johnson said, "Fox is an extraordinary man; here is a man who has divided a kingdom with Cæsar, so that it was a doubt which the nation should be ruled by – the sceptre of George III. or the tongue of Fox." He was always an advocate for a peace policy, and his accession to power in 1806 gave the thinking men of England hopes of a cessation of the wasting war with the all-conquering Napoleon. To that end he labored, and had well-nigh accomplished measures for pacification when, on the 13th of September, 1806, he died.

2 See note 2, page 138.

3 See page 129.

4 See page 128.

5 Hildreth’s History of the United States, Second Series, ii., 663.

6 See page 128.

7 See note 1, page 129.

8 Napoleon at this time had been compelled to abandon his schemes for the invasion of England. He had lost St. Domingo, and all prestige in the West Indies, and had no means of annoying his most potent enemy, on the sea.

9 See twelfth and fourteenth articles of that Convention in Statesman’s Manual, iv., 342, 343.

10 On the 10th of December, Minister Armstrong asked for an explanation of the Berlin Decree. Monsieur Decres, the Minister of Marine, replied on the 24th that he considered the decree as in no way modifying "the regulations at present observed in France with regard to neutral navigators, nor, consequently, of the Convention of the 30th of September, 1800, with the United States of America."

11 Baring’s Inquiry, etc., page 116, cited in note 1, page 129.

12 This was a treaty of peace concluded between France and Russia on the 7th of June, 1807, when Napoleon restored to the Prussian monarch one half of his territories, and Russia recognized the Confederation of the Rhine, and the elevation of Napoleon’s three brothers, Joseph, Louis, and Jerome, to the thrones respectively of Naples, Holland, and Westphalia.

13 Letter to the Imperial Attorney General for the Council of Prizes, September 18, 1807.

14 "All the difficulties which have given rise to your reclamations," said Champagny to Armstrong, "would be removed with ease if the government of the United States, after complaining in vain of the injustice and violations of England, took, with the whole Continent, the part of guaranteeing itself therefrom. England has introduced into the maritime war an entire disregard for the rights of nations: It is only in forcing her to a peace that it is possible to recover them. On this point the interest of all nations is the same. All have their honor and independence to defend." – LYMAN’S Diplomacy of the United States, i., 411.

This was all very true, but the terms on which the United States were invited to join that Continental league were entirely inconsistent with their principles concerning blockades – principles identical with those of the Armed Neutrality of 1780. The Berlin Decree asserted principles the very reverse of these, and in an extreme degree – principles against which the Americans had ever protested – principles which the French minister, only a year before, had pronounced "monstrous and indefensible."

15 Mr. Baring, in his able Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of the Orders in Council, gives the following analysis of the extremely lengthy document:

"All trade directly from America to every port and country of Europe at war with Great Britain, or from which the British flag is excluded, is totally prohibited. In this general prohibition every part of Europe, with the exception at present of Sardinia, is included, and no distinction whatever is made between the domestic produce of America and that of the colonies re-exported from thence.

"The trade from America to the colonies of all nations remains unaltered by the present orders. America may export the produce of her own country, but that of no other, directly to Sweden.

"With the above exception, all articles, whether of domestic or colonial produce, exported by America to Europe, must be landed in this country [England], from whence it is intended to permit their re-exportation under such regulations as may hereafter be determined.

"By these regulations it is understood that duties are to be imposed on all articles so re-exported; but it is intimated that an exception will be made in favor of such as are the produce of the United States, that of cotton excepted.

"Any vessel the cargo whereof shall be accompanied with certificates of French consuls abroad of its origin, shall, together with the cargo, be liable to seizure and confiscation.

"Proper care shall be taken that the operation of the orders shall not commence until time is afforded for their being known to the parties interested." – See Inquiry, etc., page 15.

When introducing this analysis of the orders of the 11th of November, Mr. Baring remarks that "they are so much enveloped in official jargon as to be hardly intelligible out of Doctors’ Commons, and not perfectly so there." In a note he says, "I beg to disclaim any intention to expound the titual text; it seems purposely intended that no person should profane it with his comprehension without paying two guineas for an opinion, with an additional benefit of being able to obtain one directly opposed to it for two more."

16 "These measures," said the fourth article of the Milan Decree, "which are resorted to only in just retaliation of the barbarous system adopted by England, which assimilates in its legislation to that of Algiers, shall cease to have any effect with respect to all nations who shall have the firmness to compel the English government to respect their flag." It declared that the provisions of the present decree should be null as soon as England should "abide again by the principles of the law of nations which regulate the relations of civilized states in a state of war."

17 Privateers with French commissions were guilty of depredations upon American commerce, but the occasions were rare.

18 By an act of Congress in April, 1806, the President was authorized to employ as many of the public vessels as he might deem necessary, but limiting the number of officers and seamen. The list of captains was increased by the act to thirteen, that of the masters and commanders to nine, and that of the lieutenants to seventy-two. In consequence of deaths and resignations there were many promotions, and sixty-nine midshipmen were raised to the rank of lieutenant.

The names of the captains under the new law were as follows: Samuel Nicholson, Alexander Murray, Samuel Barron, John Rodgers, Edward Preble, James Barron, William Bainbridge, Hugh G. Campbell, Stephen Decatur, Thomas Tingey, Charles Stewart, Isaac Hull, John Shaw, and Isaac Chauncey. Of these Commodore Stewart is now (1867) the only survivor.

The names of the masters and commanders were as follows: John Smith, George Cox, John H. Dent, Thomas Robinson, David Porter, John Carson, Samuel Evans, and Charles Gordon. Not one survives.

19 The act of Congress for "fortifying the Ports and Harbors of the United States and for building Gun-boats" was approved on the 21st of April, 1806. It provided for the construction of fifty gun-boats.

20 Annual message, December 2, 1806. – See Statesman’s Manual, i., 282.

21 Here the French fleet under the Count de Grasse lay early in September, 1781, when the English fleet under Admiral Graves appeared off Cape Charles, entering the Chesapeake Bay. The French prepared for conflict, and put to sea. The British bore down upon them, and on the afternoon of the 5th of September a partial action took place. The two fleets were within sight of each other for five consecutive days, but had no other engagement. For an account of these events and a diagram, see Lossing’s Field-book of the Revolution, ii., 306, latest edition.

22 The names of the deserters were William Ware, who had been pressed from an American vessel on board the Melampus in the Bay of Biscay; Daniel Martin, colored, pressed at the same time and place; and John Strachan, pressed on board the same vessel from an English Guineaman off Cape Finisterre. Ware and Strachan had protections, but Martin had lost his. – See Commodore Barron’s Letter to the Secretary of the Navy, dated April 2, 1807. It is proper to state that Mr. Hamilton, the British consul at Norfolk, made repeated official demands for these three seamen and another, and was as often refused by the officers of the Chesapeake, acting under government orders.

23 A carronade is a short piece of ordnance, having a large calibre, and a chamber for the powder like a mortar. It derives its name from Carron, in Scotland, where it was first made. – Webster.

24 Vice-Admiral Berkeley’s circular order recited that many seamen, subjects of his Britannic majesty, and serving in the British Navy, had deserted from several British ships, which he named, and had enlisted on board the frigate Chesapeake, and had openly paraded the streets of Norfolk, in sight of their officers, under the American colors, protected by the magistrates of the town and the recruiting officer, who refused to give them up, either on demand of the commanders of the ships to which they belonged or on that of the British consul.

25 See the account of outrage in case of the Baltimore, Captain Phillips, on page 102, and that of the American gunboat overhauled by one of Admiral Collingwood’s vessels in the Mediterranean, note 2, page 146. An apology was made for the former outrage, but the latter was passed by.

26 A loggerhead is a spherical mass of iron heated and used in place of a match in firing cannon in the navy.

27 Barron’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy, June 23, 1807; Cooper’s Naval History of the United States, ii., 97-104; Hildreth’s History of the United States, Second Series, ii., 678; Perkins’s History of the Late War, page 22.

28 On the return of the Chesapeake to Norfolk a public meeting was held there, when it was resolved that no intercourse of any kind should be held with the British squadron in the vicinity until the pleasure of the President should be known. Captain Douglas, the commander of the squadron, made some insolent threats, when Cabell, Governor of Virginia, ordered detachments of militia to Norfolk and Hampton. Douglas, finding his threats to be working mischief for himself, became as obsequious as he was before insolent, and withdrew from a menacing position in Hampton Roads to Lynnhaven Bay. Decatur, then in command of the American naval force at Norfolk, was ordered not to molest him while he remained there. Some rather spicy correspondence with Erskine, the British minister, ensued, in the course of which he asked indemnification for some water-casks belonging to the British fleet destroyed by the indignant people of Hampton after the return of the Chesapeake! In a letter to the Secretary of State from Monticello, concerning this demand under such circumstances, President Jefferson wrote: "It will be very difficult to answer Mr. Erskine’s demand respecting the water-casks in a tone proper for such a demand. I have heard of one who, having broken his cane over the head of another, demanded payment for his cane. This demand might well enough have made part of an offer to pay the damages done to the Chesapeake, and to deliver up the authors of the murders committed on board her."

29 July 1, 1807. The secretary of the meeting, who drafted the resolutions, was Joseph Hopkinson, Esq., a leading Federalist, and author of Hail, Columbia!

30 James Barron was born in Virginia in 1768, and commenced his services in the navy under his father, who was "commodore of all the armed vessels of the Commonwealth of Virginia" during the Revolution and the Confederation. He was commissioned a lieutenant under Barry in 1798, and the following year was promoted to the highest grade then known to the navy, namely, captain. With, and subordinate to his brother Samuel, he sailed to the Mediterranean that year, where he soon acquired fame for his skill in seamanship. He was one of the best officers and disciplinarians in the navy. The affair of the Chesapeake and its effects upon himself cast a shadow over his future life. He was restored to official position, but, somewhat broken in spirit, he never afterward entered the service afloat. In 1820 he and Decatur had a correspondence on the affair of the Chesapeake, which resulted in a duel, the particulars of which will be given hereafter. The duel was fought near Bladensburg, four miles from Washington City. Both were badly wounded. Decatur died; Barron recovered after months of intense suffering.

Barron held several important commands in the service on shore, and at the time of his death, on the 21st of April, 1851, he was the senior officer of the United States Navy. He died at Norfolk, in Virginia, and was buried in St. Paul’s Church-yard there, with military and civic honors, on the morning of the 28d of April. A funeral sermon was preached in the venerable and venerated church by Rev. William Jackson. It was a beautiful tribute to the worth of a brave and ill-requited patriot.

31 Cooper’s Naval History of the United States, ii., 110.

32 See page 151.

33 James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, in Virginia, on the 2d of April, 1759. His youth was spent among political excitements when the old war for independence was kindling. He left the College of William and Mary for the camp, and enrolled himself a soldier for freedom. He was severely wounded in the van of battle at Trenton, and was promoted to captain. In other battles he was conspicuous for bravery; and after that of Monmouth he left the army, and commenced the study of law with Mr. Jefferson. When Arnold and Cornwallis invaded Virginia in 1781, he again took up arms as a volunteer. He was elected a member of the Virginia Legislature in 1782. He was promoted to the Executive Council, and at the age of twenty-five was elected to a seat in the National Congress. He remained in public life, and, with Patrick Henry and others of his state, he opposed the ratification of the National Constitution. He was one of the first United States senators from Virginia under it. He was sent to France as embassador in 1794, and was recalled by Washington in 1796. In 1798 he was elected Governor of Virginia, and three years afterward Mr. Jefferson sent him to Paris to assist in negotiations for the purchase of Louisiana. He was then transferred to the British court as co-laborer in diplomacy with Mr. Pinkney. In 1811 he was again elected Governor of Virginia, but was soon called to the Cabinet of Mr. Madison as Secretary of War. In 1816 he was elected President of the United States, and held that office eight years, when he retired from public life. He lived in Virginia until 1831, when he took up his residence with his son-in-law in the city of New York. He died there on the 4th of July of that year, at the age of little more than seventy-one years.

34 Mr. Adams was then forty years of age, and had been in the Senate since 1803. "He is a man of much information," wrote his contemporary and friend, Senator Plumer, of New Hampshire, in April, 1806, "a correct and animated speaker, of strong passions, and of course subject to strong prejudices, but a man of strict, undeviating integrity. He is not the slave of party, nor influenced by names, but free, independent, and occasionally eccentric."

35 "This day [December 20, 1806"], wrote Senator Plumer, "Henry Clay, the successor of John Adair, was qualified, and took his seat in the Senate. He is a young lawyer. His stature is tall and slender. I had much conversation with him, and it afforded me much pleasure. He is intelligent, and appears frank and candid. His address is good, and his manners easy." – Life of Plumer, page 351.

36 "The framers of our Constitution," said the President, "certainly supposed they had guarded as well their government against destruction by treason, as their citizens against oppression under pretense of it; and if these ends are not attained, it is of importance to inquire by what means more effectual they may be secured." – Statesman’s Manual, i., 297. Jefferson, like many other sagacious men, felt at that time that the Union had barely escaped dissolution from the infamous machinations of Burr and his dupes.

37 See page 129.

38 Special Message to Congress, December 18, 1807.

39 The President was charged with having recommended an embargo before receiving positive information of the Berlin Decree and the Orders in Council. This was a mistake. Of the former he had been informed for a week previously to his communication to Congress on the subject by an official letter from Mr. Armstrong; and on the morning of the day on which the message was sent in, the National Intelligencer, of Washington City, contained a paragraph from a London paper of the 10th of November, announcing the Orders in Council "awaiting his majesty’s signature." Private letters had also reached him, by which he was satisfied that, by the combined action of the belligerents, the foreign commerce of the United States was utterly destroyed.

40 Speech In Congress on the supplementary Embargo Act, February, 1808.

41 In the course of debate on a supplementary Embargo Act in Congress, on the 20th of February, Gardinier denounced the whole affair as a sly, cunning measure to aid France. "Is the nation prepared for this?" he vehemently exclaimed. "To settle that point," he said to the defenders of the measure, "tell the people what your object is; tell them that you mean to take part with the ‘Great Pacificator.’ Else stop your present course. Do not go on forging chains to fasten us to the car of the imperial conqueror!"

"The commercial portion of the United States (I mean from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire"), wrote Timothy Pickering on the 26th of January, 1808, "are in general yet patient, because, from their unlimited confidence in the President’s wisdom and patriotism, they believe that some mighty state secret induced him to recommend the Embargo. If they supposed, as I do, that it originated in the influence of France – perhaps in a concert with that government, the sooner to pull down the power of Britain – the public indignation would be roused, and our country saved from becoming the provinces of the ‘emperor and king.’

"I greatly regret the retaliating order of Great Britain; for, though it really furnishes no ground for the Embargo, it will yet be urged by the President’s friends to justify it. The path of interest and common policy was plain. We should have pursued our ordinary commerce with all the British dominions, and armed our vessels against French cruisers. This would have offended Bonaparte. No matter. While Britain maintains her own independence ours will be safe. If she fall (which I do not believe will happen), our condition would not be worse. With arms in our hands, and a manly military spirit pervading our country, we should be respected by the conqueror; but tamely crouching, without any resistance, we should be treated, as we should deserve, with contempt, and all the indignities due to voluntary slaves." – MS. Letter to General Ebenezer Stevens, dated "City of Washington, January 26, 1808."

This remarkable letter, now before me, from a senator of the United States to a leading merchant of the city of New York, is cited to show, first, how powerfully partisan feelings may operate upon the opinions and judgment of a true patriot, and, secondly, how much the leading men of the country at that time considered the United States a dependent on Great Britain. "While Britain maintains her own independence ours will be safe!" The war that speedily followed dispelled that servile spirit.

42 Baring’s Inquiry, etc.

43 Timothy Pickering to James Sullivan, Governor of New Hampshire, February 16, 1808.

44 Among the few political pamphlets of that period, now extant, is a remarkable one before me, entitled The Embargo; or, Sketches of the Times: a Satire. It is a poem, and was written by WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, then a lad only about thirteen years of age, who is still (1867) in active political life, and holds a front rank among the literary celebrities of the age. In rhythm, vigor of thought, and force of expression, this production of his early years gave ample assurance of the future distinction of the author as a poet and political writer. * But politics were seldom the theme for his muse after this early effusion of that nature.

In the preface he spoke of the "terrapin policy" of the administration – the policy designed by the Embargo of shutting the nation up in its own shell, as it were, like the terrapin. His epigraph, from Pope’s Essay on Satire, contained the significant line,

"When private faith and public trust are sold."

He assailed the President and his supporters as vigorously as if his weapon had been wielded by the hand of long experience. Seriously believing that his country was in great peril, he wrote –

"Ill-fated clime! condemned to feel th’ extremes
Of a weak ruler’s philosophic dreams:
Driven headlong on to ruin’s fateful brink,
When will thy country feel, when will she think?"

Of the Embargo he wrote –

"Curse of our nation, source of countless woes,
From whose dark womb unreckoned misery flows,
Th’ Embargo rages, like a sweeping wind –
Fear lowers before, and Famine stalks behind."

Influenced by the common opinion of the opposition, he said to his countrymen –

"How foul a blot Columbia’s glory stains!
How dark the scene! Infatuation reigns!
For French intrigue, which wheedles to devour,
Threatens to fix us in Napoleon’s power.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Oh ne’er consent, obsequious, to advance
The willing vassal of imperious France!
Correct that suffrage you misused before,
And lift your voice above a Congress roar.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Rise, then, Columbia! heed not France’s wiles,
Her bullying mandates, her seductive smiles;
Send home Napoleon’s slave, and by him say
No art can lure us, and no threats dismay,
Determined yet to war with whom we will,
Choose our allies, or dare be neutral still."

I have cited the above as an example of the intensity of feeling against the administration at that time among those politically opposed to Jefferson and his party – a feeling that made even boys politicians.

* In a notice of the second edition, with other poems, printed in 1809, the Monthly Anthology for June of that year said, "If the young bard has met with no assistance in the composition of this poem, he certainly bids fair, should he continue to cultivate his talent, to gain a respectable station on the Parnassian Mount, and to reflect credit on the literature of his country."

45 This was essentially a tribute in the form of a duty, more odious in principle and application than the stamp tax that aroused the American colonists in 1765. The effect may be illustrated by showing the amount of tribute which American commerce was required by the act to pay upon only two of the many articles specified, with the percentage of the tariff, namely, cotton and tobacco. The amount on a cargo of cotton, at the then current prices, costing at New Orleans $43,500, would be subjected to a tax in some English port, before it would be allowed to depart for a French port, of $6500. To this would be added about $2000 more on account of other charges. A cargo of tobacco of four hundred hogsheads would be subjected to a tribute of about $13,000. The estimated annual tribute upon tobacco alone was $2,338,000. It was proposed to tax a great variety of American productions in the same way.

46 The following is a copy of the instructions:


"George R.: Instructions to the commanders of our ships of war and privateers. Given at our Court at Windsor, the 11th day of April, 1808, in the 48th year of our reign:

"Our will and pleasure is that you do not interrupt any neutral vessel laden with lumber and provisions, and going to any of our colonies, islands, or settlements in the West Indies or South America, to whomsoever the property may appear to belong, and notwithstanding such vessel may not have regular clearances and documents on board. And in case any vessel shall be met with, and being on her due course to the alleged port of destination, an indorsement shall be made on one or more of the principal papers of such vessel, specifying the destination alleged and the place where the vessel was so visited. And in case any vessel so laden shall arrive and deliver her cargo at any of our colonies, islands, or settlements aforesaid, such vessel shall be permitted to receive her freight and to depart, either in ballast or with any goods that may be legally exported in such vessel, and to proceed to any unblockaded port, notwithstanding the present hostilities, or any future hostilities which may take place. And a passport for such vessel may be granted by the governor, or other person having the chief civil command of such colony, island, or settlement."


A British-born writer of the day, after declaring that this order was a sufficient cause of war, said, "What! one of the most potent monarchs in the world, rather than do justice to an unoffending nation, on which, for fourteen years, his ministers had perpetrated the most flagrant outrages, invites, and tempts, and affords facilities to its citizens to violate the laws of their country, and openly pursue the infamous trade of smuggling." - Mathew Carey.

47 When war was declared against Great Britain in 1812, the manufacture of cotton was carried on extensively in Rhode Island. A writer in 1813 estimated the number of cotton factories built and in course of erection at that time, eastward of the Delaware River, at five hundred.



Transcription and html prepared by Bill Carr, last updated 11/15/2001.

Please provide me with any feedback you may have concerning errors in the transcription or any supplementary information concerning the contents.

Copyright Notice: Copyright 2001. All files on this site are copyrighted by their creator. They may be linked to but may not be reproduced on another site without the specific permission of their creator. Although public information is not in and of itself copyrightable, the format in which it is presented, the notes and comments, etc., are. It is, however, quite permissible to print or save the files to a personal computer for personal use ONLY.