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MADISON, James. Letter signed ("James Madison") as Secretary of State, TO WILLIAM PINCKNEY, U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Department of State [Washington], 23 December 1807. 2¼ pages, 4to, with postscript, page 4 with recipient's docket. Fine condition.

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MADISON, James. Letter signed ("James Madison") as Secretary of State, TO WILLIAM PINCKNEY, U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Department of State [Washington], 23 December 1807. 2¼ pages, 4to, with postscript, page 4 with recipient's docket. Fine condition.

MADISON INFORMS THE U.S. MINISTER TO BRITAIN OF THE EMBARGO ACT, THE DAY AFTER ITS ENACTMENT BY CONGRESS

As Secretary of State, Madison developed an extremely close working relationship with President Jefferson. As one biographer writes, "Jefferson's administration was very nearly as much Madison's as his. They were coarchitects and coexecutors of a Republican policy to which they were equally devoted" (R. Ketcham, James Madison, p.412). This was certainly the case with the most controversial enactment of Jefferson's presidency, the Embargo Act. In the Fall of 1807, the British cabinet--determined to prevent all trade with France-- passed notorious Orders in Council, requiring every American vessel trading with Europe to dock at a British port and obtain a license to proceed; Napoleon countered with the Milan Decree, proclaiming that any vessel that docked at an English port, or complied with the Orders, would be considered a lawful prize. "The time had come for a full trial of the hallowed Republican doctrine of commercial retaliation. Madison hastily drafted a message for Jefferson, calling for an immediate embargo on all American shipping. Congress agreed and passed the Embargo Act" (Ibid., 456). The legislation passed on 22 December, the day before this key letter, notifying Pinckney of the drastic measure, and forwarding the Act Madison had drafted.

Madison explains that he has taken the imminent departure of a British mail packet to "inclose you a copy of a message from the President to Congress, and their act in pursuance of it, laying an immediate embargo on our vessels and exports. The policy, and the causes of the measures, are explained in the message itself." Then, he is careful to keep diplomatic channels open: "But it may be proper to authorize you to assure the British Government, as has been just expressed to its minister here, that the act is a measure of precaution only called for by the occasion; that it is to be considered as neither hostile in its character, nor as justifying or inviting or leading to hostility with any nation..,.and particularly as opposing no obstacle...to amicable negotiations and satisfactory adjustments with Great Britain, on the subjects of differences between the two countries."

He notes that the former American Minister to Great Britain, "Mr. Monroe arrived at Norfolk...last night" while Mr. Rose, an English diplomat "has not been heard of since his reported departure from England...The suddenness of the present opportunity does not allow me time to add more than a newspaper containing a part of the proceedings of Congress in relation to the Embargo..." In a postscript, he asks Pinckney to pass on the news of the Embargo Act to General Armstrong, in Paris, and to Washington Irving, presently in Madrid.

Unfortunately, the Embargo Act proved a dangerous double-edged sword; "world trade and the economy of the British Empire simply were not as critically dependent on the United States as Jefferson and Madison thought" (Ketcham, p.462). Nevertheless, Madison remained one of the staunchest defenders of the Act, even when it became evident its provisions were causing considerable hardship to the nation's economy and resistance to its strictures grew.
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