On May 25, 1812, as President Madison prepares his War Message to Congress, Jonathan Russell in London writes to Secretary of State James Monroe to update him on the political situation in Great Britain. Russell writes that new government of Earl of Liverpool has resigned as a result of losing a vote on the motion brought by Stuart Wortley, a Tory backbencher. Liverpool is negotiating with other members to try to form a new government. Also vying for the position of Prime Minister is Lord Wellesley, Wellington's brother, but he has alienated most of the party. George Canning is also in the game. In fact, Russell suspects that Wortley's motion was made at his instigation. Canning is unlikely to be chosen because he favours Catholic Emancipation, which the Prince Regent opposes. He will also be opposed by Lord Castlereagh, on the account of the duel that both men fought in 1809 on Putney Heath. Canning fired first but missed his mark, being a poor shot, while Castlereagh, a very good shot, returned fire and wounded Canning in the thigh. (As an aside, it makes one nostalgic for the parliamentary traditions of the past, unlike the dishonourable parliaments of today, where a slight on a member's honour is not met with a discharge of a pistol, but rather by shouted inane quips and indignant scrums.) In any event, as Russell writes everything is up in the air as to who will form the government, though he hopes that the Orders in Council will be repealed. They will but too late to avert war. Russell's letter is reproduced below.
Mr. Russell to Mr. Monroe.
London, May 25, 1812.
The assassination of Mr. Perceval has led to a dissolution of his ministry, and I hope may lead to an abandonment of his system, as far as we are concerned.
The vote on the motion of Mr. Stuart Wortley on the 21st for an address to the Prince Regent to form a more efficient administration, has driven the old ministers to offer their resignation. The new arrangements are entrusted to Lord Wellesley, but nothing is yet effected. Mr. Canning appears to be associated with his lordship in this business, which I cannot consider as a circumstance very auspicious to us.
There will, undoubtedly, be much difficulty in forming the new cabinet; none of the old ministers will act under Lord Wellesley, he having so recently refused to act under them. Besides, there is considerable difference on essential points of policy. The members of opposition have a repugnance to act under any leader not taken from their own ranks, and they certainly will'not constitute a part of any administration that does not adopt their system.
The probability, therefore, is, that either Lord Wellesley and Mr. Canning will not succeed in performing the task imposed upon them, or that they will perform it so imperfectly as to expose their work to early destruction.
Whatever may be the ingredients of which the new cabinet may be composed, I am not altogether without hope that the orders in council will be modified, if not removed. The effects of our embargo, the evidence before Parliament of the distresses occasioned by those orders, and the change of ministers itself, afford both cause and color for this proceeding.
I say nothing of the French decree, of which I this day send you a copy, as, without the circumstances just mentioned, it would, I am persuaded, have been disregarded.
I shall dismiss the Wasp as soon as the new ministry is formed, or before, unless that event happens in a few days. She will return to Cherbourg.
With great respect, I am, &c.