sold Pinkney’s Instructions to Negotiate With The British Over Chesapeake Affair and Embargo of 1808

With his Handwritten Notations. Incidents played an important part in the leadup to the War of 1812.

This document has been sold. Contact Us

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy expanded to 175 ships of the line and 600 ships overall, requiring 140,000 sailors.  While the Royal Navy was able to man its ships with volunteers in peace time, in war it competed with merchant shipping and privateers for a small pool of experienced sailors...

Read More

sold Pinkney’s Instructions to Negotiate With The British Over Chesapeake Affair and Embargo of 1808

With his Handwritten Notations. Incidents played an important part in the leadup to the War of 1812.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy expanded to 175 ships of the line and 600 ships overall, requiring 140,000 sailors.  While the Royal Navy was able to man its ships with volunteers in peace time, in war it competed with merchant shipping and privateers for a small pool of experienced sailors and turned to impressment when unable to man ships with volunteers alone. A sizeable number of sailors in the United States merchant navy were Royal Navy veterans or deserters who had left for better pay and conditions.  The Royal Navy went after them by intercepting and searching U.S. merchant ships for deserters.

In June 1807, the vessel Chesapeake lay off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia. The Leopard hailed and requested to search the Chesapeake for deserters from the Royal Navy; when the Chesapeake refused, the Leopard began to fire broadsides, killing three aboard the Chesapeake and injuring another 18.   The boarding party claimed to find four Royal Navy deserters among the Chesapeake crew.  The American public was outraged by the incident, as President Thomas Jefferson noted: "Never since the battle of Lexington have I seen this country in such a state of exasperation." The President closed U.S. territorial waters to British warships, and demanded both payment of damages and an end to British efforts to search United States ships for deserters. It seemed that another war with the British might break out.

Hoping to stave off hostilities, Jefferson turned to diplomacy and economic pressure in the form of the Embargo Act of December 1807, passed by Congress, which sought to deprive Britain of the benefits of trade with the U.S. To enforce this purpose, the Act placed restrictive measures on Americans shipping and doing business in foreign ports. Congress would between that time and late April 1808 pass four embargo acts.

In February 1808, William Pinckney was appointed U.S. ambassador to Great Britain and given responsibility for negotiating a resolution to this crisis. In April, James Madison, Jefferson’s secretary of state, wrote to Pinckney, "In order to entitle the British Government to a discontinuance of the Embargo as it applies to Great Britain, it is evident that all its decrees, as well those of Jany. 1807 as of Nov. 1807, ought to be rescinded as they apply to the United States." Should this be the case, Pinckney could, Madison wrote, tell the British to expect that the president would release the trade restrictions.  In return, the Americans wanted a statement that such impressment would end and that neutral ships could travel safely back and forth to Continental Europe.  A few months later, Madison sent Pinckney instructions containing a statement of the American position in the entire affair, the response to be made to British demands, and Madison’s expectations from the British. These instructions, copied out in the hand of a secretary, were likely sent by more than one messenger, given the state of communications during periods of naval warfare and the uncertainty of one specific letter arriving. The below letter is likely the only copy that Pinckney ever received, and was his working copy, as it bears his docket, as well as notations of import in his hand.  It is several pages and only a small portion is transcribed here.


Manuscript Letter of James Madison, unsigned, Department of State, July 18, 1808, to Pinckney, with points of significance highlighted in Pinckney’s hand and his notes indicating that he has read the letter to the Prime Minister in its entirety.  This shows that this was not only the received copy but was used during the negotiation itself. "Your communications by Lt. Lewis were safely delivered on the evening of the 8th inst….If Mr. Canning was disappointed because he did not receive fresh complaints against the orders in Council, he ought to have recollected that you had sufficiently dwelt on their offensive features in the first instance… But it cannot be supposed that his disappointment was in the least produced by your reserve on this topic, as indeed is clearly shown by his disinclination to listen to your suggestions with regard to it. It must have proceeded as you seem to have understood from some expectation of proposals having for their basis or their object, arrangements adverse to the enemies of G. Britain, or favorable to herself; an expectation contrary, surely, to all reason and probability under the accumulated injustice which the United States are suffering from British measures, and forming of itself, an additional insult to their just and honorable feelings. A very little reflection ought to have taught the British Cabinet, that no nation which either respects itself or consults the rule of prudence, will ever purchase redress from one of its aggressors by gratifying his animosity against another aggressor; and least of all when a suspicion is authorized that redress is insidiously withheld lest the example should be followed.

…If [the British government] has nothing more in view than it is willing to avow, it cannot refuse to concur in an arrangement rescinding on her part the orders in Council, and on ours, the Embargo. If France should concur in a like arrangement, the state of things will be restored which is the alleged object of the orders. If France does not concur the orders will be better enforced by the continuance of the Embargo against her than they are by the British fleet and cruizers, and in the mean time all the benefits of our trade will be thrown into the lap of Great Britain. It will be difficult therefore to conceive any motive in Great Britain to reject the offer which you will have made, other than the hope of inducing on the part of France, a perseverance in her irritating policy towards the United States, and on the part of the latter, hostile resentments against it.  If the British Government should have elected the more wise and more worthy course of meeting the overture of the President in the spirit which dictated it, it is to be hoped that measures will have been taken in concert with you, and thro’ its Minister here, for hastening as much as possible the renewal of the intercourse which the orders and the Embargo have suspended; and thereby smoothing the way for other salutary adjustments.

…The British order…evidently inviting our Citizens to violate the laws of their Country,…has made its appearance in which the United States…A more disorganizing and dishonorable experiment is perhaps not to be found in the annals of modern transactions. It is aggravated too by every circumstance that could make it reproachful. It is levelled against a nation towards which friendship is professed, as well as against a law the justice and validity of which is not contested; and it sets the odious example, in the face of the world, directly in opposition to all the principles which the British Government has been proclaiming to it. What becomes of the charge against the United States for receiving British subjects who leave their own Country contrary to their allegiance? What would be the charge against them, if they were by proclamation to invite British subjects, those too expressly and particularly prohibited from leaving their Country, to elude the prohibition; or to tempt by interested inducements a smuggling violation or evasion of laws, on which Great Britain founds so material a part of her national policy? In the midst of so many more important topics of dissatisfaction, this may not be worth a formal representation; but it will not be amiss to let that Government understand the light in which the proceeding is regarded by this.

…So strong and general an indignation seems particularly to prevail here against the Americans in Europe who are trading under British licenses, and thereby sacrificing as far as they can the Independence of their Country, as well as frustrating the laws which were intended to guard American vessels and mariners from the dangers incident to foreign Commerce, that their continuance in that career ought to be frowned upon, and their return home promoted in every proper manner. It appears by information from our Consul at Tangier that great numbers of our vessels are engaged in a trade between Great Britain and Spanish ports under licenses from the former, and that the experiment proves as unsuccessful as it is dishonorable; the greater part of them being either arrested in port, or by French & Spanish Cruisers."

Frame, Display, Preserve

Each frame is custom constructed, using only proper museum archival materials. This includes:The finest frames, tailored to match the document you have chosen. These can period style, antiqued, gilded, wood, etc. Fabric mats, including silk and satin, as well as museum mat board with hand painted bevels. Attachment of the document to the matting to ensure its protection. This "hinging" is done according to archival standards. Protective "glass," or Tru Vue Optium Acrylic glazing, which is shatter resistant, 99% UV protective, and anti-reflective. You benefit from our decades of experience in designing and creating beautiful, compelling, and protective framed historical documents.

Learn more about our Framing Services