Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

Chapter 58 Monroe's Treaty

ON January 15, 1806, the Senate referred to a committee that section of Jefferson's message which dealt with British seizures and searches. On February 5th, Samuel Smith reported out a series of resolutions which denounced the seizures and recommended prohibitions of British woolens. linens, silks, glassware and other articles as a retaliatory measure.

At almost the same time, a bill was introduced to deal forcibly with British impressments. Any one so impressing an American, it decreed, would be liable to the death penalty as "a pirate and felon," and the President was authorized to retaliate against the offending nation by seizing and punishing vicariously the subjects of that nation and forfeiting their goods as indemnities to the injured seamen.

Such a bill, of course, was so intemperate in its terms and its consequences so assuredly fatal that even though it initially came out of committee in all its pristine crudity, it was later recommitted and quietly postponed to the next session.1

In the House, Andrew Gregg of Pennsylvania moved a series of resolutions that were much more stringent anti sweeping than Smith's in the Senate. Gregg proposed that "no goods, wares or merchandise, of the growth, product, or manufacture of Great Britain, or of any of the colonies or dependencies thereof, ought to be imported into the United States."2

But Joseph Nicholson liked neither Gregg's resolutions nor Smith's. He argued that total prohibitions would hurt the United States much more than England. We would lose some $5,000,000 annually in duties and England would refuse our cotton if she could not sell us her manufactured cloth. His solution to the dilemma, therefore, was to select for prohibition only those British manufactures which we could either supply ourselves or import from other countries. He enumerated these as leather goods, tin and brass wares, hemp and flax products, silks, the more expensive woolens, wool hose, window glass, silver ware, paper, nails, hats, ready-made clothes, millinery, playing cards, beer, ale and porter, pictures and prints.3

Other members rose to offer their own panaceas. Sloan went even further than Gregg. He would cut off all trade with England; while Joseph Clay preferred a milder system which refused trade to ships of those nations which refused similar privileges to our ships.4

By common consent, however, Gregg's and Nicholson's resolutions were taken as major and representative of different points of view.

The great debate began on Gregg's sweeping prohibitions on March

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