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Madison, James (1751-1836) to David Erskine [copy]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC01096.02 Author/Creator: Madison, James (1751-1836) Place Written: Washington, D.C. Type: Manuscript letter Date: 29 March 1807 Pagination: 4 p. ; 25 x 20 cm. Order a Copy

Clerical copy of a letter written by Madison to Erskine, the British minister plenipotentiary. The letter was sent to James Monroe, the American minister plenipotentiary, along with GLC1096.01. Secretary of State Madison criticizes tactfully and at length the British order made in Council on 7 January 1807 prohibiting neutral nations from trading with France. Considers the measure too extreme and discusses its consequences for trade and international relations. Stresses that President Jefferson seeks to "cultivate harmony, and beneficial intercourse." The British order was a response to Napoleon's Berlin decree, and led to the Embargo Act of 1807 (and eventually to the War of 1812).

Signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Opportunities for American merchants and shippers to make quick profits in Europe evaporated in 1805 when an English court ruled (in the Essex case) that U.S. ships could not carry cargo from French colonies to France. Britain then began to blockade American ports, intercept American ships, and confiscate cargoes bound for France.
In 1806 and 1807, Napoleon tried to ruin Britain's economy by cutting off its trade with continental Europe. His "Continental System" ordered the seizure of any neutral ship that visited a British port, paid British duties, or allowed itself to be searched by a British vessel.
Britain retaliated by issuing an Order-in-Council forbidding trade with French ports and other ports under French control. U.S. shipping was caught in the crossfire. By 1807, France had seized 500 American ships and Britain a thousand.
The Order-in-Council was the brainchild of British abolitionist James Stephen (1758-1832), whose hidden agenda included an attack on illegal slave ships using the American flag as protection. Stephen understood that American ships supplied Caribbean slave colonies with provisions of all sorts and that ships engaged in the African slave trade were flying the American flag.
The following letters by Secretary of State James Madison condemns the British Order-in-Council as a violation of America's rights as a neutral nation.

Madison, James, 1751-1836
Erskine, David Montagu, 1776-1855

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