Essay by James Monroe

           We had hoped, from the temperate language of the representatives of the federal and eastern sections of the union on the course of measures lately adopted, that, when the national will was decidedly expressed, there would have been no difference, either in our public councils, or among the people, in rendering those measures efficient.  It was reasonable to calculate that, in government whose brief existence furnishes scarcely any precedents, and in a state of the world without a parallel in preceding ages, there would be much diversity of opinion on the best system to be pursued; but this system once planned, and sanctioned by the highest and the only legitimate authority, the will of a majority fairly expressed, we did hope would have been the rallying point of the united affections and exertions of the whole people.  We have not yet abandoned this hope; although there are some indications of the existence of local passions, that may partially falsify it.  An attempt is making in the important and patriotic state of Massachusetts to produce the impression that the embargo is not honestly intended to be the precursor of war, but that it is intended to be the instrument of destroying trade; that it ought not, therefore, to be viewed in the light of a precautionary measure to insure our property in the event of war, but as the fatal means of subverting and annihilating the wealth and the happiness of the mercantile sections of the nation.
            Men that harbor and inculcate such sentiments must be in the highest degree poisoned by prejudice and influenced by passion, or they must consider those to whom they address themselves as under the dominion of error and passion.
            If there can be confidence in man, the nation have the strongest reason to confide in the multiplied declarations of their government, both in its Executive and Legislative Departments, and in the course of measures taken in correspondence with these declarations.  For the seven past years remonstrance has followed remonstrance against the invasion of our undisputed rights as a neutral nation; laws have been passed, having the double effect of restricting the trade of the aggressor and impairing our own freedom of trade, and consequently manifesting, by the evils we [unreadable] of the importance of producing a radical change in the disposition of the belligerents; an embargo of considerable duration, with its heavy privations, and its natural tendency to impair the popularity of those that imposed it have been resorted to; and last of all a non-importation with Great Britain, the known and anticipated effects of which were the derangement of our fiscal affairs, and the consequent necessity of resorting to loans or new taxes, which tend invariably to derogate from the popularity of rulers.  Every one of these measures, fraught with self privation and with a magnanimous sacrifice of popularity to duty on the part of the government, furnishes a proof of the honest and determined purpose of the government to break the ignoble shackles imposed upon our trade and sovereignty by the unprecedented injustice and violated faith of foreign aggressors.  If party virulence, blinded by passion or infuriated by disappointment, has from time to time, ascribed to our government feelings and views, which are now universally seen to have been unjust, it must thank itself for all the evils that may have been produced by error, or folly, or vice, and so fatal a delusion having once prevailed should arrest the libelous spirit that has heretofore so iniquitously sported with reputation and truth.  Those, whose predictions have been invariably falsified, should give up the trade of prophecy, and no longer vilify what they do not or will not understand.
            The truth, then, is, the undeniable truth, that the Embargo is meant to be the precursor of war, and that, so soon as the physical resources of the nation can be arranged, war will ensue, unless the deportment of the British government evinces a very different temper from that which has hitherto prevailed.  To enter on a vindication of this measure under this aspect would evince a contempt for the understanding of the public; and not to have resorted to it, under so troubled a sky would have justly exposed our rulers to the invectives of those very men who are now most clamorous against it, but who can only give a color to their philippics by slanders against others whose lives have been made up of a succession of public virtues.  There is not a fairer name on the roll of Fame or among the records of patriotism than Madison; and he is the man who proposed the measure.
            Let then the habitual opponents of government realise—the lesson, though so late acquired, may be of signal use to them—let them realise, that what it professes it will practise.  Let them know that the will of the majority, when legally expressed, is the law of the land; that just governments were constituted for the good of communities, and that, under a republican government, the public good can only be decided by the voice of a majority, and that this voice must be obeyed; that when it ceases to be obeyed, government is annihilated.  Whatever then may be yielded to remonstrance or conciliation, nothing should be yielded to an attitude of defiance; to a disorganizing spirit; to attempts to array separate and local against general interests.
            It must not be forgotten, moreover, that however in municipal affairs we may prosper notwithstanding our divisions, and indeed profit by the sharp rivalries of the different portions of our people, we must, in our measures with a foreign foe, act with the unbroken strength of a nation.
            The crisis, in our opinion, devolves high and sacred duties as well on the citizen as the ruler.  On the ruler it devolves the duty of maintaining his course undisturbed by any momentary or local clamor that my be excited; on the citizen it devolves the duty of honest and active co-operation.  The cool and undaunted brow of the former amidst all the vicissitudes that may attend him will most efficaciously tend to avert danger by the display of an energy that is neither to be appalled or driven from its course; the holy zeal of the latter in the best of causes will raise an impregnable rampart around the liberties and interests of an insulted and wronged nation.
Transcription courtesy of the James Monroe Papers
[The fifth in a series of seven essays written by Secretary of State James Monroe. Published 28 April 1812 in the National Intelligencer]


From Roger Griswold to William Eustis

April 20, 1812

I had the honor this morning to receive your letter of the 15th instant, containing the directions of the President of the United States for detaching three thousand of the militia of this State, agreeably to the provisions of the act of Congress of the 10th instant.  The act itself has not been received, and it will be very satisfactory to me to receive a copy of it, by the next mail, from your Department.  In the mean time, every preparation will be made for detaching the officers and men, agreeably to the directions already received. 

I have the honor to be, &c.
Roger Griswold

Courtesy of the Library of Congress


Essay by James Monroe

[The fourth in a series of seven essays by Secretary of State James Monroe.  Published 14 April 1812 in the National Intelligencer]

            The public attention has been drawn to the approaching arrival of the Hornet, as the period when the measures of our government would take a decisive character, or rather their final cast.  We are among those who have attached to this event a high degree of importance, and have therefore looked to it with the utmost solicitude.
            But if the reports which we now hear are true, that with England all hope of honorable accommodation is at an end, and that with France our negotiations are in a forwardness encouraging expectations of a favorable result, where is the motive for longer delay?  The final step ought to be taken; and that step is war.  By what course of measure we have reached the present crisis, is not now a question for freemen and patriots to discuss.  It exists; and it is by open and manly war only that we can get through it with honor and advantage to the country.  Our wrongs have been great; our cause is just; and if we are decided and firm, success is inevitable.
            Let war therefore be forthwith proclaimed against England.  With her there can be no motive for delay.  Any further discussion, any new attempt at negotiation, would be as fruitless as it would be dishonorable, with France, we shall still be at liberty to pursue the course which circumstances may require.  The advance she has already made by the repeal of her decrees; the manner of its reception by our government; and the prospect which exists of an amicable accommodation, entitle her to this preference.  If she acquits herself to the just claims of the U. States, we shall have good cause to applaud our conduct in it, and if she fails we shall always be in time to place her on the ground of her adversary.  And on that ground, in that event, it is hoped she will be placed.
            But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it.  This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only.  The fact is otherwise.  Our preparations are adequate to every essential object.  Do we apprehend danger to ourselves?  From what quarter will it assail us?  From England, and by invasion?  The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration.  Where are her troops?  But lately, she dreaded an invasion of her own dominions, from her powerful and menacing neighbor.  That danger, it is true, has diminished, but it has not entirely, and forever, disappeared.  A gallant effort, which called forth the whole energies of the nation, has put it at a distance, but still it is one of those sparks which peer above the horizon, & excite alarm even in those least liable to it.  The war in the peninsula, which lingers, requires strong armies to support it.  She maintains an army in Sicily; another in India; and a strong force in Ireland, and along her own coast and in the West Indies.  Can any one believe, that, under such circumstances, the British government could be so infatuated, or rather mad, as to send troops here for the purpose of invasion?  The experience and the fortune of our revolution, when we were comparatively in an infant state, have doubtless taught her an useful lesson which cannot have been forgotten.  Since that period our population has increased three-fold, whilst her’s has remained almost stationary.  The condition of the civilized world, too, has changed.  Although G. Britain has nothing to fear, as to her independence, and her military operations are extensive and distant, the contest is evidently maintained by her rather for safety than for conquest.  Have we cause to dread an attack from her neighboring provinces?  That apprehension is still more groundless.  Seven or eight millions of people have nothing to dread from 300,000.  From the moment that war is declared, the British colonies will be put on the defensive, and soon after we get in motion must sink under the pressure.  Little predatory incursions on our frontier will not be encouraged by those who know that we can retort them ten-fold, and pursue and punish the authors, retire where they may, if they remain in this hemisphere.  Nor is any serious danger to be apprehended from their savage allies.  Our frontiers may be easily protected against them.  The colonial governments, aware of our superiority, and of the certainty of their subjugation in case of war, will feel their responsibility for the conduct of the Indian tribes, and keep them in order.  But should the war lately terminated be renewed, the struggle will be short.  Numberless expeditions from different quarters may be led forth against them.  A single campaign would drive these unfortunate people into the most distant and desart wilds.
            But our coast and seaport towns are exposed and may be annoyed.  Even this danger, which exists in a certain degree, has been much exaggerated.  No land force can be brought to bear against them, because G. Britain has none to spare for such a service; and without a land force, no great impression can be made.  Ships of war cannot approach near the coast, except at the entrance of our great bays and rivers.  They cannot annoy the sea coast generally by their cannon; and if detachments of marines should be sent on shore, they may be repelled by the militia where they land.  It is, however, unusual for incursions to be made on land from ships of war by sailors or marines.  The law of nations forbids, and humanity revolts, at the idea of mere wanton desolation; and in that light only can such incursions be viewed.  In the present war between G. Britain and France, which has been prosecuted with so much violence and animosity, no example of this kind, on either side, is recollected.  In our Revolutionary war, in which the object of G. Britain was conquest, no great injury was sustained in this mode.  Some of our towns, it is admitted, may be exposed to danger from ships of war, but with suitable precautions it will soon vanish.  No ship of war can stand long before a good battery well manned and well supplied with heavy artillery.  An attack by ships of war only, on any of our towns, could have no object but that of distressing the inhabitants; and if those towns are put in such a state of defence, as to enable them to repel the attack, as all of them are, or soon may be, it is not probable that the experiment would be made, or, if once made, that it would be repeated.  The importance of the protection of our seaport towns is sensibly felt.  It is a subject which claims the particular attention of the government, and that attention has doubtless been already bestowed on it.
            The great question on which the United States have to decide, is, whether they will relinquish the ground which they now hold, or maintain it with the firmness and vigor becoming freemen.  That the sense of the nation favors the latter course, is proved by a series of important and solemn facts, which speak a language not to be misunderstood.  From the first attack by Great Britain on our neutral rights in 1805, to the present day, these facts have been multiplied, yearly, by the acts of Congress, by the proceedings of the state legislatures, and by the voice of the people.  Let not the Representatives of the People, therefore, in either branch of the government, disappoint their reasonable wishes and just expectations.
            The pretensions of Great Britain, so unjustly set up, and pertinaciously maintained, by her orders in council, not to enumerate other wrongs, particularly the impressments of our seamen, arrogate to her the complete dominion of the sea, and the exclusion of every flag from it, which does not sail under her license, and on the conditions which she imposes.  These pretensions involve no local interest, nor are they of a transient nature.  In their operation they violate the rights, and would deeply the best interests, of the whole American people.  If we yield to them, at this time, the cause may be considered as abandoned.  There will be no rallying point hereafter.  Future attempts to retaliate the wrongs of foreign powers & to vindicate our most sacred rights, will be in vain.  The subject must be dismissed from the debates of Congress, and from our diplomatic discussions.  An allusion to it will excite contempt abroad, and mortification and shame at home.  Should any of our vessels be hereafter seized and condemned, however unjustly, and that all will be seized and condemned may be confidently expected, we must be silent, or be heard by foreign powers in the humble language of petition only.

Transcription courtesy of the James Monroe Papers


Essay by James Monroe

[The third in a series of seven essays written by Secretary of State James Monroe. Published 11 April 1812 in the National Intelligencer]

            Further Reflections on the present Crisis of our Affairs—In our last we took a rapid and necessarily imperfect view of the series of injustice and violence exhibited in the acts of both belligerents as they have affected the United States.
            In the year 1810, an important change took place in the political relations of the U. States with the belligerent powers.  As this change imposed new duties on all the parties, it may be useful to form a correct idea of its true character.  The impartial of the present day, and unerring posterity, will applaud the motive which led to it, on the part of the U. States, and the scrupulous fidelity with which they have executed the engagements they entered into under it.
            It is an important feature in the character of the present epoch, that through the whole of this belligerent warfare on neutral rights, the U. States have never ceased to expose its iniquity, and to retort its injurious effects on its authors, by severe commercial restrictions.  This was done in 1806, by a limited non importation against G. Britain; in 1807, by an embargo, which operated equally against G. Britain and France; in 1809, by a non-intercourse, and in 1810, by a non-importation act of unlimited extent, which, tho’ she made equally applicable to both powers, was, in consequence of the unaccommodating & hostile spirit of Great-Britain, carried into effect against her only.
            By the act of May 1st, 1810, the United States offered to both the belligerents, that if either 
would revoke its unlawful edicts against our neutral trade and the other should refuse to follow the 
example, they would execute the non-importation against the latter.  France accepted this offer; Great 

Britain rejected it; and hence the difference which we now see in the relations of the United States with 

those powers.
            The various pretexts under which G. Britain has eluded the demand made on her by the United States, to revoke her orders in council, would have done honor; in point of ingenuity and refinement, to the most subtle of the Italian states, in the sixteenth century.  While it seemed probable, that the French government would maintain in full rigor the blockade of the British Islands, that blockade was urged, as the sole pretext for maintaining in force the orders in council.  But as circumstances changed, the British government shifted its ground, accommodating the argument to the pressure made.  When France revoked her decrees the act itself was denied, and that plea has been unceasingly urged since, altho’ not a single case has occurred, evincing their operation, & many practical examples have been adduced to prove their repeal.  The British government demanded in the next instance, that British manufactures should be admitted into France, and that American vessels should carry them there, and lastly when the policy and injustice of that intention were proved, we have seen openly avowed in Parliament by those best acquainted with the views and policy of that government, that a restraint of the commerce of France was not the [sole] object of the orders in council; that the United States were the rivals of England, and that it comported with her interest, to check their prosperity and growth.
            It has been the uniform object of the United States, in every stage of this systematic attack on their neutral commerce, while they asserted with firmness their rights, to obtain, if possible, honorable accommodation with both belligerents:  or with either, if it could not be had with both.  They [have] invariably offered equal terms to [unreadable].  The non-intercourse in 1809 [unreadable] the arrangement with Mr. Erskine, which was disavowed and rejected by his government.  The non-importation of 1810 procured that with France.  The U. States would have executed the former, as they have done the latter, with perfect fidelity.
            The United States, then, hold at this time, in respect to the belligerents, high & commanding ground.  If they are united, and firm, they cannot fail to maintain it.
            How that ground may be maintained, in a manner worthy of our character and consistent with the resolution we have taken to resist the manifold aggressions on our rights, is properly a subject of distinct consideration, on which we shall in our next paper freely speak our sentiments.

Transcription courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe


Essay by James Monroe

[The second in a series of seven essays written by Secretary of State James Monroe. Published 9 April 1812 in the National Intelligencer]

            That an important crisis has arrived in the U States is seen by every one:  that it has been unavoidable is equally certain:  and that it may be made to terminate [line unreadable] republican government, cannot admit of doubt.  We draw this conclusion from a firm belief that our councils will be wisely and honestly administered in every branch of the government, and that the people still possess those virtues and energies which were so eminently displayed in our Revolution.
            The Embargo now laid is a measure whose true character cannot be mistaken.  It is not war, nor does it inevitably lead to war.  But if that result is avoided, however much to be regretted, it is evident that it can only be by an honorable accommodation with the belligerents, on the various and grievous wrongs which this country has received from them.  Among the advantages to be derived from this measure are the following:  It secures from pillage the vessels that are now in port; it warns the commanders of those who are abroad, to return home for safety; and it gives notice to foreign powers, that the period has arrived, when the manifold wrongs which we have received from them must be redressed.
            It would be dishonorable, and might be ruinous, if, without a redress of our wrongs, war did not promptly follow the expiration of the embargo.  No other alternative is left to our choice.  Every other expedient has been tried, and failed.  A new and more solemn position is not taken, which must be maintained.  We cannot retrace our steps and abandon, perhaps forever, our most important rights.  Nor can we rest longer at the point at which we now pause.  We must, without a redress of wrongs, advance, and war is the next step.  It would be folly in the extreme to attempt to disguise from ourselves the true character of the present embargo.  It is not an engine to be wielded in negotiation.  From the privations to which it may expose the belligerents nothing ought to be expected.  If relied on in that sense only, it is known that it would fail.  It is a measure of precaution, intended principally as a warning to our own people, of the nature of the crisis which has arrived, and of the consequences into which it may lead.  If it produces any salutary effect with the belligerents, or with either, it must be by announcing to them, that, the U.S. disdaining longer to submit to dishonor, have resolved to accept the other alternative which they, by so many acts of injustice, have forced on them.
            G. Britain took the lead in the career of violence and injustice.  Every stage of the present war has been marked by some act which evinced the distinguished hostility of her government to this country.  She has impressed our seamen from on board our own vessels, and held them in long and oppressive bondage.  She has intercepted our lawful trade with nations with whom we were at peace.  She has violated our jurisdiction; insulted us on our coast and in our harbors, and finally usurped the absolute dominion of the sea, forbidding our commerce with all nations with whom it does not suit her to allow it, and allowing it to none with whom she is not herself permitted to trade.  She has even set up the extravagant and unheard of pretension that we should become the fraudulent vehicles of her commerce, the carriers of her manufactures to the ports of her enemies, as the condition on which we should trade there at all.  Had we submitted to these oppressions, we should have sunk into a more degraded state than that of her colonies.  Deprived of the profits which belong to dependent possessions, our sovereignty would have served only to expose in a more striking light our humiliation and weakness.
            France has exhibited, in her conduct towards neutral powers, the counterpart to this disgusting picture; she has been emulous, in misdeeds, of the renown of her great political compeer.  If she has done less harm at sea, it was because her means were inferior to those of her rival.  She declared the British Islands and all the British dominions in a state of blockade, when she had not a single ship on the ocean:  and whenever her cruisers could escape from her ports, their course has been marked with the desolation of our unprotected commerce.  But for the want of power on the ocean, and the failure of that full measure of waste of neutral trade which has characterised the conduct of Great Britain on that element, France has supplied the deficiency by her deeds on land.  By her Rambouillet, her Bayonne and other decrees, she has seized and confiscated all the vessels of the U. States and their cargoes that were in port.  Nor has her desolating policy been confined to the limits of France only; It has been felt wherever her influence extended.  Of this truth, Spain, Holland, Italy, &c. afford but too many examples.
            If we look back to past events, we must be sensible that this crisis has been unavoidable.  We should be blind to the evidence of the most striking and important facts if we did not perceive and acknowlege this great truth.  It has been forced on us by the wrongs of the belligerents.  It has been forced on us by the voice of the whole American people, who, deeply incensed at these wrongs, have called on their government for redress.  When it is considered, that the sole alternative presented to us, has been, between a base submission to these wrongs, and a manly assertion of their rights, there is much cause for surprise that this issue was not sooner made up.
Transcription courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe


Essay by James Monroe

[The first of seven essays written by Secretary of State James Monroe regarding the Embargo Laws, and providing an outline of some of the causes of the War of 1812. Published 7 April 1812 in the National Intelligencer]
            We this day present to our readers the Act to lay an Embargo, passed by Congress with closed doors, together with a detail of the proceedings of the two Houses on this subject.  The term of its duration, it appears, it to be ninety days, and it is to apply to all vessels, cleared or not cleared, bound to any foreign port.  The law contains within itself the necessary provisions to ensure its execution, and for that purpose the naval force of the United States is properly put in requisition.
With the motives which induced the Executive to recommend the passage of such an act we are of course unacquainted; but presume they may be found in the circumstance to which we have heretofore adverted as sanction of the measure—in the late inauspicious news from Europe; the hot press for seamen in England; the known intention of the government of that country to send a squadron on our coast to annoy our commerce; the late numerous captures, some of which on our coast, under the Orders in Council; together with the determined perseverance of the British government in those obnoxious measures which strike at the roots of our commerce; these, we say, are the causes to which we are inclined to refer the recommendation of this step by the President.
Under such circumstances, the adoption of this measure by Congress, by a considerable majority in the Senate, and a very large majority in the House of Representatives, proves that the spirit of the nation is up, resolved no longer to submit to the oppression and degradation, which have heretofore been inflicted on us almost with impunity by foreign powers.
The Embargo Law is, in itself, an act equal in its operation as it affects the belligerents; at the same time that the non-importation act is preserved in force against Great Britain for refusing to repeal her Orders in Council.  Being limited in its duration, at the end of the Embargo the Executive and Congress are at liberty to take what measures they think proper as to both or either of these powers; and whilst the door is left open to both powers for accommodation on fair and honorable conditions, in the mean time preparations for warlike operations may and probably will go on with great activity.  These are the prominent features of this measure, on which we have not at present time to enlarge, but to which we shall devote a column or two in our next and succeeding papers.  We will only add, at this time, that there is no danger, whilst a government supports with integrity and firmness the rights of a people, but it will, in return, receive their most ample and vigorous support.  A crisis has arrived which puts to trial the virtue and patriotism of this nation; and we will not permit ourselves to doubt the result.
Transcription courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe