April 10, 1812 : Castlereagh's Instructions

On April 10, 1812, the newly appointed British Foreign Minister Castlereagh wrote or approved instructions to Augustus J. Foster, British Minister in America. The instructions seek again to justify Britain's policy and assert that the Orders in Council would not be repealed until the French decrees were "rescinded, absolutely and unconditionally." Castlereagh's instructions to Foster were only received in Washington on or about June 1, 1812. Days after the instructions become public, Madison sent his message to Congress calling for war with Great Britain. Madison took the instructions as the final diplomatic rebuff from Britain. Foster had also received instructions to offer, as a concession, that Britain would relax or modify the Orders in Council, which required licensing trade with the continent, and in  its place enforce a rigorous blockade. Madison chose not to consider this offer. In addition, when war was declared the British government had already announced that the  Orders in Council would be repealed. Miscommunication, caused by distances that could only be traversed in months, leads to a war whose main cause had ceased to exist when it started. The instructions from Castlereagh to Foster are reproduced below:

No. 9. FOKEIGN OFFICE, April 10th: 1812. 


The communication which you are authorized by my dispatch No. 8 
to make to the American Government, cannot fail to prove a touch- 
stone of their policy and intentions. It is impossible they should not 
deeply feel the embarrassments, in which the insidious policy of the 
enemy and their own weakness, have placed them. Under ordinary 
circumstances it might be expected, that the conduct of a Government, 
determined to prove to the World, that they would neither submit 
to be deceived, nor be involved by France in such disgraceful trans- 
actions, would be to resent in the most decided manner, the imposi- 
tion practised upon them; but the internal Politicks of America have 
so much connected the interests of the Party in power with the French 
Alliance, that I cannot encourage much expectation, whatever they 
may in their hearts feel, that they will be induced to assume any 
authoritative Tone against France. 

It is more probable, that the new aspect the question has now as- 
sumed, may awaken them to a Sense of the folly of attempting either 
to force, or intimidate Great Britain; and that, alarmed at the danger 
even to themselves of the former attempt, and the hopelessness of the 
latter, they may with more prudence than has lately marked their 
Councils, see, in this new posture of affairs, an opportunity of receding 
without disgrace from the precipice of War, to which they have been 
so inconsiderately approached. 

To assist their retreat without any unnecessary sacrifice of national 
dignity, is the sincere desire and the best policy of Great Britain: 
To rescue America from the influence of France, is of more im- 
portance, than committing Her in War with that Power; and to 
revive the relations of amity and commerce between Great Britain 
and America, are more to be aimed at (whilst none of our essential 
rights are compromised) than protracted discussions or controversial 
questions of maritime Law. It is on these grounds the desire of 
the Prince Begent, if you should perceive a becoming temper in the 
Councils of America, that it should be met by a marked disposition 
on your part to conciliate. In the close of the former dispatch I was 
commanded by His Koyal Highness to declare, that, whilst He never 
could compromise the maritime Bights of Great Britain, His Boyal 
Highness would be ready at all times to concert with America as to 
their exercise, and so to regulate their application, as to combine 
as far as possible the interests of America with the object of effectually 
retaliating upon France the measure of Her own injustice. 

It is with reference to this principle that I am now directed to 
call your attention to the question of Licences to trade with the block- 
aded Ports, in relaxation of the Orders of April 1809. You will 
not fail to recollect, that the complaints of America have never yet 
been urged very distinctly upon this ground ; The Government of The 
United States having been in the habit of standing upon higher 
grounds of objection : but it nevertheless has been occasionally urged 
by them, that although these Licenses have been uniformly granted 
to neutral as well as to British Trade, the neutral Merchant cannot 
profit by such relaxation, (especially the American Merchant from 
his remote situation) in the same degree as the British Merchant can, 
regulating his transactions on the Spot where the Licenses are issued. 

The extent to which this intercourse under Licenses has been car- 
ried, and the disposition evinced on the part of the French Govern- 
ment to give greater extension to it, will probably attract the notice 
of the American Government, and lead them to instance the magni- 
tude of this particular trade, as an additional proof of the alledged 
injustice of Our System; but, if it should not occasion any formal 
representation on their part, there can be no objection to your revert- 
ing to it as a circumstance strongly indicative, that, whatever the 
Duke of Bassano may think fit to assert, of the efficacy of the French 
Decrees against British Commerce, and however France may be de- 
sirous to cloak Her present projects in the North of Europe, under 
the pretext of enforcing by Her arms the Continental System, She 
is Herself at this moment obliged to yield at home, in breach of 
Her own System, to the pressure of our retaliating measures, a very 
extensive direct trade with this Country. 

In adverting to this subject, you will observe that if, instead of 
impeaching the fundamental principles of our Retaliatory Rights, the 
Government of America had represented against the partial effects 
of any particular relaxation of those Eights which We had adopted, 
the British Government would not have been indisposed to listen to 
such representations. It would have been ready on the contrary to 
have sustained much of national inconvenience, to remove such 
grounds of complaint, provided there had been reason at the same 
time to believe, that such a Concession on It's part, would have led 
to a return of amity and Commercial intercourse between the two 

You may represent to the American Government, that the Order 
of April 1809, was in a great measure intended to meet the wishes 
of America, as well as to consult the interest of Our Allies, by the 
removal of certain inconveniences, to which they were subjected, but 
which were not considered essential to the efficacy of our Retaliatory 

If America at the time had expressed any satisfaction with that 
modification of our Orders in Council, which, whilst it confined 
their Sphere of action within narrower limits, applied the principle 
of the blockade itself within those limits, without any modification or 
exception; the British Government would not have broken in upon 
the strict rule of that order by Licenses: But when We found it 
received by America, in as hostile a Spirit, as the original Orders in 
Council, there remained no reason, as far as the question of concilia- 
tion was concerned, why We should not accompany that Order with 
some of the same regulations, relative to trade to and from the block- 
aded Coast, and the Ports of Great Britain (not only for ourselves 
but for neutrals) by means of Licenses, as were, without any Licenses, 
introduced into the original Orders, and formed a material part of 
the system on which they proceeded. 

It has been urged against these partial relaxations of the blockade, 
that they tend to prevent or retard the attainment of it's alledged 
object, namely, the abandonment of the hostile decrees on the part 
of the enemy, in which Neutral Powers, who suffer from the effects 
of the blockade, have an interest as large as our own. 

The objection would be just, if urged by a neutral who had 
acquiesced in the blockade, consented to await it's effect, and done 
nothing to obstruct it's operation. But the United States on the con- 
trary have opposed our exercise of this retaliatory right, and per- 
mitted, not to say, encouraged, the breach of the blockade, by the 
American Merchants. The consequence has been, that very con- 
siderable numbers of American Ships have been able, either by avoid- 
ing the notice of our Cruizers, or by the mask of a false destination, 
to enter the Ports of blockaded Countries, and to sail from thence ; 
thus relieving the necessities of the enemy, and delivering him in 
no small, degree from the pressure of our retaliatory measures. They 
have also cooperated with France, by prohibiting, in concurrence 
with Her, the importation of British produce and manufactures into 
the Ports of America. 

Under such circumstances, America cannot fairly object to our 
accepting from the enemy such partial and progressive practical 
retractions of  his own rigorous system, as his necessities, arising 
out of the pressure of these very measures, may constrain him to 
yield, nor to our enabling Our Merchants by Licenses to avail them- 
selves of those reluctant concessions, without being exposed to cap- 
ture, by Ships of War of their own Country, for engaging in a 
prohibited trade. 

To relieve our commerce and manufacture from the oppressive 
effects of the hostile decrees, by imposing upon the enemy such a 
measure of distress, as might oblige him to recall them, was the main 
object of our retaliatory system. To reject the exceptions, there- 
fore, which He is driven to admit, would be in some degree to sacri- 
fice the end for the sake of the means. The only adequate motives 
for such a Sacrifice, would be either, that, by refusing the exception, 
and maintaining the blockade with undeviating strictness, the gen- 
eral end might be sooner and more entirely attained; or that our 
retaliatory System might by such strictness be reconciled more easily 
to the views of neutral Powers. But both these motives have been 
hitherto precluded by the conduct of the United States. While 
they are found irreconcileably adverse to the rule itself, it matters 
not, in a view to harmony with them, whether the rule itself be more 
strictly or loosely applied; nor can it be material to the ultimate 
effect on the enemy, whether exceptions to the rule by British Li- 
censes, or Contraventions of it by American Merchants, with the 
approbation of their own Government, alleviate the enemy's distress. 
At least America has no right to exact from Us an abstinence from 
the one, while She refuses to desist from the other. 

If, however, the views of the American Government are altered 
on this subject; and if, without raising any further question on the 
principles in dispute, they are disposed to open the intercourse with 
Us, upon condition, that We shall again resort to the principle of 
rigorous blockade against the French Dominions, to the exclusion of 
our trade equally with that of neutral Nations, an arrangement upon 
such a basis you are hereby authorized to concludfe; In which ar- 
rangement you may undertake, that, upon an assurance being received 
through you, that the Government of America had actually deter- 
mined to re: open Her intercourse with Great Britain, from a period 
to be named, when it might be presumed, that such a notification 
had been received here; no fresh Licenses in defeasance of such 
blockade will be issued by this Government. 

You will understand, that these Acts must be made contemporane- 
ous as far as possible in their effects, as the British Government 
could not stand justified to it's own Merchants and manufacturers, 
were they to relinquish the trade to France, at a moment when it 
promises to become so considerable, and affords so decisive a proof 
of the efficacy of our Orders in Council: unless the immediate re- 
opening of the markets of America should afford some sufficient 
compensation for the loss of that Trade. 

If you are right in supposing, that the American Government 
only wants some new Step on the part of this Government, on which 
to found a change of policy; and if the new and extravagant pre- 
tensions of the French Government should strangely fail to furnish 
a satisfactory ground for such conduct; the proposition you are 
hereby authorized to make will afford them the fairest Opportunity. 
If it fails of success, it will at least have served, as a test of the 
principles on which America stands. It will remove the whole argu- 
ment of grievance on our part, so far as it rests upon the collateral 
ground of the relaxations our Orders in Council have undergone, 
and bring the question at once back to the broad principles of our 
rights of blockade and retaliation. 

If, however, America persists in requiring Us to abandon Our 
maritime Rights, either as resting on the ordinary Laws of maritime 
blockade, or the particular right We now insist on of retaliating 
upon the Enemy, as claimed under the Orders in Council, You will 
not express yourself in such a manner as to encourage the most dis- 
tant hope of our being induced to make such a sacrifice. 

If, on the other hand, She complains only of the mode in which 
these rights are exercised, in the intercourse permitted under Li- 
censes with the blockaded Ports, the British Government is ready, 
either to concert with America as to the mode in which they shall 
be hereafter exercised upon principles of mutual Convenience; or 
it is ready, as above proposed, to wave all relaxations whatever, and 
to stand in future on the rigorous execution of the blockade. 

Should, however, America refuse either of these Alternatives; 
and, notwithstanding the evidence She has lately obtained of the 
real designs of France, continue to exclude British Commerce and 
British Ships of War from Her Ports, whilst they are open to those 
of the enemy, it is then clear, that we are at Issue with America 
upon principles, which, upon the part of this Government, You are 
not at liberty to compromise. 

No. 10. Private. FOREIGN OFFICE, April 10 : 1812. 


In the management of the Negociation, with which you are en- 
trusted, you will continue to conduct yourself with the utmost concili- 
ation towards America; You will firmly adhere to the, principles, on 
which this Government considers itself bound to act, but you are to 
avoid pressing them upon America, in such a manner as might expose 
the Negociation to an abrupt termination. Whilst no injurious con- 
cession is made to the United States, nor any necessary exertion against 
the Enemy relaxed, it is not essential to the interest of Great Britain, 
that America should be urged to an immediate decision. In proportion 
as a Rupture can be delayed, the insidious designs of France must be- 
come apparent ; the chances of Peace being preserved with America be 
improved, and it will become more and more difficult for the Amer- 
ican Government to embark that Country in a War with Great Britain. 

Should the Councils of America reject every pacific suggestion, it will 
be your object, to regulate the discussion in such a manner, as 
to throw distinctly upon the United States the option of War: Much 
must depend hereafter on the impression made in this respect on the 
feelings, and understandings, of the American People. 

Your forbearance must not however lead you to withdraw from the 
temperate discussion and refutation of the pretences, upon which the 
American Government will attempt to justify their conduct ; and I am 
particularly to recommend to you, whenever the Arguments, against 
which you have to contend, may lead you for a time from the main 
points in dispute, that you do upon all occasions endeavour to bring 
back the discussions to the broad features of the Case ; and never allow 
the American Government to escape from the Position, that if they 
are determined upon War, it is a War undertaken to compel Great 
Britain to submit to France, her inveterate Enemy, her Maritime 
Rights and Power: That the demand upon Great Britain from the 
outset, has been to surrender her Eights, of ordinary Blockade, to 
France, and her Eights of Retaliation, to America; and that she is 
now called upon for the additional sacrifice to France, of every re- 
maining principle, upon which her safety or greatness as a Mar- 
itime Power depends. You must never suffer it to be lost sight of, 
that the Blockade of 1806 is the true hinge, upon which the whole 
Contest turns : whatever may have been supposed to be the State of the 
Question before, it is now plain from the manner in which France 
brings forward her pretensions, that the abandonment of the prin- 
ciples, on which that Measure was founded; vizt. the established 
principles of Maritime Blockade, as distinguished from those now pro- 
mulgated by France, has been throughout the invariable and indis- 
pensable condition, on the part of France, of the Repeal of the Berlin 
and Milan Decrees. Unless Great Britain was prepared to relin- 
quish these principles, She might surrender her System of Retaliation 
to America, but she could not deliver herself thereby from the inter- 
dict of France. 

It is not therefore merely a Contest with respect to the Orders in 
Council. It is a contest for the most ancient, undoubted and essen- 
tial maxims of Maritime Law; and America must never be allowed 
to state, that Great Britain has had any option of complying with her 
demands, but at the Expense of surrendering her most vital and 
essential Rights to France, and standing helpless and disarmed in 
the presence of her adversary. 

To what purpose begin by rescinding the Orders in Council, in 
order to conciliate America, when it has been avowed that the Decrees 
of France, would continue in force, not only against Great Britain, 
but against America herself, if America acted in contravention of 
her new Code? Why should America if she means to resist, and not to 
submit to France, wish us to retract them? Can she in the former 
case find so cheap and so effective an Instrument of coercion against . 
that Power? 

You may put the whole upon this issue: Will America join France 
in an attempt to impose a System upon the World, which, under the 
mask of Municipal Regulations, aided by the overwhelming principles 
of incorporating or invading all States, reluctant, or disobedient to 
her Will, is to give to that Nation absolute Dominion over the Land, 
whilst the Cover of a Neutral Flag is to render her Power as un- 
assailable by Sea ? 

Great Britain, you may declare, has other views and duties to per- 
form, and from the performance of those duties she cannot shrink. 

The Instructions you now receive will enable you to represent, 
that nothing has been omitted to conciliate America. Every minor 
Question has been conceded; and nothing remains but fundamental 
Rights, which can admit of no compromise. The decision therefore 
rests with America, and it is to be hoped her determination will be 
founded on a fair review of the Claims and Interests of both States. 

No comments:

Post a Comment