The United States, Great Britain, and British North America from the Revolution to the Establishment of Peace after the War of 1812

By A. L. Burt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE WAR OF 1812: THE EVOLUTION OF CAUSES, FROM 1809

THOUGH the war did not come in 1809, that very year saw the precarious peace seriously damaged by a bungled effort to patch it. Sometime about the beginning of December, 1808, Gallatin pointed out to Erskine that the nonintercourse law, which had just been proposed in the House, would "remove two very important grounds of difference with Great Britain." By excluding impartially all ships of both belligerents, it would obliterate the anti-British discriminations of the nonimportation act and the Chesapeake proclamation. From this he went on to suggest that the impressment issue might cease from troubling, because the employment of foreign seamen on American ships of war had been forbidden and now the extension of the prohibition to all American vessels "under heavy penalties or forfeitures" was being considered. He also intimated a willingness to tolerate the application of the Rule of 1756 to direct trade between belligerents and their colonies; and he observed that all points of difference between the two countries might be "smoothed away" in this manner. Furthermore, he would apply to commercial intercourse with Great Britain the principle of reciprocity or of the most favored nation; and he led Erskine to believe that, with the accession of Madison, American policy would swing from a pro-French to a pro- British course if London would only supply a fair wind. Erskine was greatly impressed, though he saw that the American's eagerness was inspired by a desperate desire to extricate the United States from a terrible predicament; and he cautiously suggested to Canning the sacrifice of the orders-in-council to purchase American good will.1 This conversation in Washington was supplemented in London, where Canning discussed with Pinkney the delicate problem of enforcing the embargo against France should it be lifted for Britain; and, according to the Englishman, the American agreed that the Royal Navy might undertake the task, for otherwise the law "must be altogether nugatory."2

Canning reacted immediately to Erskine's dispatch and Pinkney's acquiescence. On January 23, 1809, just a fortnight after receiving the former, he directed the minister in Washington to open negotiations for a settlement with the United States. If he sent back a favorable report, a special minister would be hurried off to America for the formal

____________________
1
Erskine to Canning, No. 47, Dec. 4, 1808, F.O. 5, Vol. LVIII.
2
Canning to Erskine, No. 4, Jan. 23, 1809, ibid., Vol. LXII.

-269-

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