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London, January 10. The earnest endeavours of the prince regent to preserve the relations of peace and amity with the United States of America having unfortunately failed, his royal highness, acting in the name and on the behalf of his majesty, deems it proper publicly to declare the causes and origin of the war in which the government of the United States has compelled him to engage.
No desire of conquest, or other ordinary motive of aggression, has been, or can be with any colour of reason in this case imputed to Great Britain: that her commercial interests were on the side of peace, if war could have been avoided, without the sacrifice of
her maritime rights, or without an injurious submission to France, is a truth which the American government will not deny.
His royal highness does not however mean to rest on the favourable presumption to which he is entitled. He is prepared, by an exposition of the circumstances which have led to the present war, to show that Great Britain has throughout acted towards the United States of America with a spirit of amity, forbearance, and conciliation; and to demonstrate the inadmissible nature of those pretensions, which have at length unhappily involved the two countries in war.
It is well known to the world, that it has been the invariable object of the ruler of France to destroy the power and independence of the British empire, as the chief obstacle to the accomplishment of his ambitious designs.
He first contemplated the possibility of assembling such a naval force in the channel, as, combined with a numerous flotilla, should enable him to disembark in England an army sufficient, in his conception, to subjugate this country; and through the conquest of Great Britain he hoped to realize his project of universal empire.
By the adoption of an enlarged and provident system of internal defence, and by the valour of his majesty's feets and armies, this design was entirely frustrated; and the naval force of France, after the most signal defeats, was compelled to retire from the ocean.
An attempt was then made to effectuate the same purpose by other means'; a system was brought forward, by which the ruler of France hoped to annihilate the commerce of Great Britain, to shake her public credit, and to destroy her revenue, to render useless her maritime superiority, and so to avail himself of his continental ascendancy, as to constitute himself in a great measure the arbiter of the ocean, notwithstanding the destruction of his feet.
With this view, by the decree of Berlin, followed by that of Milan, he declared the British territories to be in a state of blockade ; and that all commerce or even correspondence with Great Britain was prohibited. He decreed that every vessel and cargo, which had entered or was found proceed- . ing to a British port, or which under
any circumstances had been visited by a British ship of war, should be lawful prize: he declared all British goods and produce wherever found, and however acquired, whether coming from the mother country, or from her colonies, subject to confiscation: he further declared to be denationalized the flag of all neutral ships that should be found offending against these his decrees; and he gave to this project of universal tyranny the name of the continental system.
For these attempts to ruin the commerce of Great Britain, by means subversive of the dearest rights of neutral nations, France endeavoured in vain to rest her justification upon the previous conduct of his majesty's government.
Under circumstances of unparalleled provocation, his majesty had abstained from any measure which the ordinary rules of the law of nations did not fully warrant. Never was the maritime superiority of a belligerent more complete and decided. Never was the opposite belligerent so formidably dangerous in his power and in his policy to the liberties of all other nations. France had already trampled so openly and systematically on the most sacred rights of neutral powers, as might well have justified the placing her out of the pale of civilized nations. Yet in this extreme case, Great Britain had so used her naval ascendancy, that her enemy could find no just cause of complaint ; and in order to give to these lawless decrees the appearance of retaliation, the ruler of France was obliged to advance principles of maritime law unsanctioned by any other authority than his own arbitrary will.
The pretext for these decrees were, first, that Great Britain had exercised the rights of war against private persons, their ships and goods; as if the only object of legitimate hostility on the ocean were the public property of a state, or as if the edicts and the courts of France itself had not at all times enforced this right with peculiar rigour; secondly, that the British orders of blockade, instead of being confined to fortified towns, had, as France asserted, been unlawfully extended to commercial towns and ports, and to the mouths of rivers; and thirdly, that they had been applied to places,
he called upon
and to coasts, which neither were, nor could be actually blockaded. The last of these charges is not founded upon fact; whilst the others, even by the admission of the American government, are utterly groundless in point of law. Against these decrees, his majesty protested and appealed,
the United States to assert their own rights, and to vindicate their independence, thus menaced and attacked; and as France had declared, that she would confiscate every vessel that should touch in Great Britain, or be visited by British ships of war, his majesty, having previously issued the order of January, 1807, as an act of mitigated retaliation, was at length compelled, by the persevering violence of the enemy, and the continued acquiescence of neutral powers, to revisit upon France, in a more effectual manner, the measure of her own injustice, by declaring, in an order in council, bearing date the 11th of November, 1807, that no neutral vessel should proceed to France, or to any of the countries to which, in obedience to the dictates of France, British commerce was excluded, without first touching at a port in Great Britain, or her dependencies. At the same time his majesty intimated his readiness to repeal the orders in council whenever France should rescind her decrees, and return to the accustomed principles of maritime warfare; and at a subsequent period, as a proof of his majesty's sincere desire to accommodate, as far as possible, his defensive measures to the convenience of neutral powers, the operation of the orders in council was, by an order issued in April, 1809, limited to a blockade of France, and of the countries subject to her immediate dominion.
Systems of violence, oppression, and tyranny, can never be suppressed, or even checked, if the power against which such injustice is exercised, be debarred from the right of full and adequate retaliation; or, if the measures of the retaliating power are to be considered as matter of just offence to neutral nations, whilst the measures of original aggression and violence are to be tolerated with indifference, submission, or complacency.
The government of the United States did not fail to remonstrate against the orders in council of Great Britain. Although they knew that these orders would be revoked if the decrees of France, which had occasioned them, were repealed ; they resolved at the same moment to resist the conduct of both belligerents, instead of requiring France in the first instance to rescind her decrees. Applying most unjustly the same measure of resentment to the aggressor and to the
party aggrieved, they adopted measures of commercial re. sistance against both-a system of resistance, which, however varied in the successive acts of embargo, non-intercourse, or non-importation, was evidently unequal in its operation, and principally levelled against the superior commerce and maritime power of Great Britain.
The same partiality towards France was observable in their negotiations, as in their measures of alleged resistance.
Application was made to both belligerents for the revocation of their respective edicts, but the terms in which they were made were widely different.
Of France was required a revocation only of the Berlin and Milan decrees, although many other edicts, grossly violating the neutral commerce of the United States, had been promulgated by that power. No security was demanded, that the Berlin and Milan decrees, even if rescinded, should not under some other form be re-established; and a direct engagement was offered, that upon such revocation the American government would take part in the war against Great Britain, if she did not immediately rescind her orders. Whereas no corresponding engagement was offered to Great Britain, of whom it was required, not only that the orders in council should be repealed, but that no others of a similar nature should be issued, and that the blockade of May, 1806, should be abandoned. This blockade, established and enforced according to accustomed practice, had not been objected to by the United States at the time it was issued. Its provisions were on the contrary represented by the American minister, resident in London at the time, to have been so framed as to afford, in his judgment, a proof of the friendly disposition of the British government towards the United States.
Great Britain was thus called upon to abandon one of her most important maritime rights; by acknowledging the order of blockade in question to be one of the edicts which violated the commerce of the United States, although it had never been so considered in the previous negotiation; and although the president of the United States had recently consented to abrogate the non-intercourse act, on the sole condition of the orders in council being revoked; thereby distinctly admitting these orders to be the only edicts which fell within the contemplation of the law under which he acted.
A proposition so hostile to Great Britain could not but be proportionably encouraging to the pretensions of the enemy. As by thus alleging that the blockade of May, 1806, was illegal, the American government virtually justified, so far as depended on them, the French decrees.
After this proposition had been made, the French minister of foreign affairs, if not in concert government, at least in conformity with its views, in a despatch dated the 5th of August, 1810, and addressed to the American minister resident at Paris, stated that the Berlin and Milan decrees were revoked, and that their operation would cease from the 1st day of November following, provided his majesty would revoke his orders in council, and renounce the new principles of blockade; or that the United States would cause their rights to be respected; meaning thereby that they would resist the retaliatory measures of Great Britain.
Although the repeal of the French decrees thus announced was evidently contingent, either on concessions to be made by Great Britain (concessions to which it was obvious Great Britain could never submit), or on measures to be adopted by the Uwted States of America ; the American president at once considered the repeal as absolute.
Under that pretence the non-importation act was strictly enforced against Great Britain, whilst the ships of war and merchant ships of the
enemy were received into the harbours of America. The American government, assuming the repeal of the French decrees to be absolute and effectual, most unjustly required Great Britain, in conformity to her declarations, to revoke her orders in council. The British government denied that the repeal, which was announced in the letter of the French minister for foreign affairs, was such as ought to satisfy Great Britain; and in order to ascertain the true character of the measure adopted by France, the government of the United States was called upon to produce the instrument by which the alleged repeal of the French decrees had been effected. If these decrees were really revoked, such an instrument must exist, and no satisfactory reason could be given for withholding it.
At length, on the 21st of May, 1812, and not before, the American minister in London did produce a copy, or at least what purported to be a copy of such an instrument.
It professed to bear date on the 28th of April, 1811, long subsequent to the despatch of the French minister of foreign affairs of the 5th August, 1810, or even the day named therein, viz. the 1st of November following, when the operation of the French decrees was to cease. This instrument expressly declared that these French decrees were repealed in