State of the Union Address

James Madison

November 05, 1811

Fellow—Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

In calling you together sooner than a separation from your homes would
otherwise have been required I yielded to considerations drawn from the
posture of our foreign affairs, and in fixing the present for the time of
your meeting regard was had to the probability of further developments of
the policy of the belligerent powers toward this country which might the
more unite the national councils in the measures to be pursued.

At the close of the last session of Congress it was hoped that the
successive confirmations of the extinction of the French decrees, so far as
they violated our neutral commerce, would have induced the Government of
Great Britain to repeal its orders in council, and thereby authorize a
removal of the existing obstructions to her commerce with the United
States.

Instead of this reasonable step toward satisfaction and friendship between
the two nations, the orders were, at a moment when least to have been
expected, put into more rigorous execution; and it was communicated through
the British envoy just arrived that whilst the revocation of the edicts of
France, as officially made known to the British Government, was denied to
have taken place, it was an indispensable condition of the repeal of the
British orders that commerce should be restored to a footing that would
admit the productions and manufactures of Great Britain, when owned by
neutrals, into markets shut against them by her enemy, the United States
being given to understand that in the mean time a continuance of their
nonimportation act would lead to measures of retaliation.

At a later date it has indeed appeared that a communication to the British
Government of fresh evidence of the repeal of the French decrees against
our neutral trade was followed by an intimation that it had been
transmitted to the British plenipotentiary here in order that it might
receive full consideration in the depending discussions. This communication
appears not to have been received; but the transmission of it hither,
instead of founding on it an actual repeal of the orders or assurances that
the repeal would ensue, will not permit us to rely on any effective change
in the British cabinet. To be ready to meet with cordiality satisfactory
proofs of such a change, and to proceed in the mean time in adapting our
measures to the views which have been disclosed through that minister will
best consult our whole duty.

In the unfriendly spirit of those disclosures indemnity and redress for
other wrongs have continued to be withheld, and our coasts and the mouths
of our harbors have again witnessed scenes not less derogatory to the
dearest of our national rights than vexation to the regular course of our
trade.

Among the occurrences produced by the conduct of British ships of war
hovering on our coasts was an encounter between one of them and the
American frigate commanded by Captain Rodgers, rendered unavoidable on the
part of the latter by a fire commenced without cause by the former, whose
commander is therefore alone chargeable with the blood unfortunately shed
in maintaining the honor of the American flag. The proceedings of a court
of inquiry requested by Captain Rodgers are communicated, together with
the correspondence relating to the occurrence, between the Secretary of
State and His Britannic Majesty’s envoy. To these are added the several
correspondences which have passed on the subject of the British orders in
council, and to both the correspondence relating to the Floridas, in which
Congress will be made acquainted with the interposition which the
Government of Great Britain has thought proper to make against the
proceeding of the United States.

The justice and fairness which have been evinced on the part of the United
States toward France, both before and since the revocation of her decrees,
authorized an expectation that her Government would have followed up that
measure by all such others as were due to our reasonable claims, as well as
dictated by its amicable professions. No proof, however, is yet given of an
intention to repair the other wrongs done to the United States, and
particularly to restore the great amount of American property seized and
condemned under edicts which, though not affecting our neutral relations,
and therefore not entering into questions between the United States and
other belligerents, were nevertheless founded in such unjust principles
that the reparation ought to have been prompt and ample.

In addition to this and other demands of strict right on that nation, the
United States have much reason to be dissatisfied with the rigorous and
unexpected restrictions to which their trade with the French dominions has
been subjected, and which, if not discontinued, will require at least
corresponding restrictions on importations from France into the United
States.

On all those subjects our minister plenipotentiary lately sent to Paris has
carried with him the necessary instructions, the result of which will be
communicated to you, by ascertaining the ulterior policy of the French
Government toward the United States, will enable you to adapt to it that of
the United States toward France.

Our other foreign relations remain without unfavorable changes. With Russia
they are on the best footing of friendship. The ports of Sweden have
afforded proofs of friendly dispositions toward our commerce in the
councils of that nation also, and the information from our special minister
to Denmark shews that the mission had been attended with valuable effects
to our citizens, whose property had been so extensively violated and
endangered by cruisers under the Danish flag.

Under the ominous indications which commanded attention it became a duty to
exert the means committed to the executive department in providing for the
general security. The works of defense on our maritime frontier have
accordingly been prosecuted with an activity leaving little to be added for
the completion of the most important ones, and, as particularly suited for
cooperation in emergencies, a portion of the gun boats have in particular
harbors been ordered into use. The ships of war before in commission, with
the addition of a frigate, have been chiefly employed as a cruising guard
to the rights of our coast, and such a disposition has been made of our
land forces as was thought to promise the services most appropriate and
important.

In this disposition is included a force consisting of regulars and militia,
embodied in the Indiana Territory and marched toward our northwestern
frontier. This measure was made requisite by several murders and
depredations committed by Indians, but more especially by the menacing
preparations and aspect of a combination of them on the Wabash, under the
influence and direction of a fanatic of the Shawanese tribe. With these
exceptions the Indian tribes retain their peaceable dispositions toward us,
and their usual pursuits.

I must now add that the period is arrived which claims from the legislative
guardians of the national rights a system of more ample provisions for
maintaining them. Notwithstanding the scrupulous justice, the protracted
moderation, and the multiplied efforts on the part of the United States to
substitute for the accumulating dangers to the peace of the two countries
all the mutual advantages of reestablished friendship and confidence, we
have seen that the British cabinet perseveres not only in withholding a
remedy for other wrongs, so long and so loudly calling for it, but in the
execution, brought home to the threshold of our territory, of measures
which under existing circumstances have the character as well as the effect
of war on our lawful commerce.

With this evidence of hostile inflexibility in trampling on rights which no
independent nation can relinquish, Congress will feel the duty of putting
the United States into an armor and an attitude demanded by the crisis, and
corresponding with the national spirit and expectations.

I recommend, accordingly, that adequate provisions be made for filling the
ranks and prolonging the enlistments of the regular troops; for an
auxiliary force to be engaged for a more limited term; for the acceptance
of volunteer corps, whose patriotic ardor may court a participation in
urgent services; for detachments as they may be wanted of other portions of
the militia, and for such a preparation of the great body as will
proportion its usefulness to its intrinsic capacities. Nor can the occasion
fail to remind you of the importance of those military seminaries which in
every event will form a valuable and frugal part of our military
establishment.

The manufacture of cannon and small arms has proceeded with due success,
and the stock and resources of all the necessary munitions are adequate to
emergencies. It will not be inexpedient, however, for Congress to authorize
an enlargement of them.

Your attention will of course be drawn to such provisions on the subject of
our naval force as may be required for the services to which it may be best
adapted. I submit to Congress the seasonableness also of an authority to
augment the stock of such materials as are imperishable in their nature, or
may not at once be attainable.

In contemplating the scenes which distinguish this momentous epoch, and
estimating their claims to our attention, it is impossible to overlook
those developing themselves among the great communities which occupy the
southern portion of our own hemisphere and extend into our neighborhood. An
enlarged philanthropy and an enlightened forecast concur in imposing on the
national councils an obligation to take a deep interest in their destinies,
to cherish reciprocal sentiments of good will, to regard the progress of
events, and not to be unprepared for whatever order of things may be
ultimately established.

Under another aspect of our situation the early attention of Congress will
be due to the expediency of further guards against evasions and infractions
of our commercial laws. The practice of smuggling, which is odious
everywhere, and particularly criminal in free governments, where, the laws
being made by all for the good of all, a fraud is committed on every
individual as well as on the state, attains its utmost guilt when it blends
with a pursuit of ignominious gain a treacherous subserviency, in the
transgressors, to a foreign policy adverse to that of their own country. It
is then that the virtuous indignation of the public should be enabled to
manifest itself through the regular animadversions of the most competent
laws.

To secure greater respect to our mercantile flag, and to the honest
interests which it covers, it is expedient also that it be made punishable
in our citizens to accept licenses from foreign governments for a trade
unlawfully interdicted by them to other American citizens, or to trade
under false colors or papers of any sort.

A prohibition is equally called for against the acceptance by our citizens
of special licenses to be used in a trade with the United States, and
against the admission into particular ports of the United States of vessels
from foreign countries authorized to trade with particular ports only.

Although other subjects will press more immediately on your deliberations,
a portion of them can not but be well bestowed on the just and sound policy
of securing to our manufactures the success they have attained, and are
still attaining, in some degree, under the impulse of causes not permanent,
and to our navigation, the fair extent of which is at present abridged by
the unequal regulations of foreign governments.

Besides the reasonableness of saving our manufactures from sacrifices which
a change of circumstances might bring on them, the national interest
requires that, with regard to such articles at least as belong to our
defense and our primary wants, we should not be left in unnecessary
dependence on external supplies. And whilst foreign governments adhere to
the existing discriminations in their ports against our navigation, and
an equality or lesser discrimination is enjoyed by their navigation in
our ports, the effect can not be mistaken, because it has been seriously
felt by our shipping interests; and in proportion as this takes place the
advantages of an independent conveyance of our products to foreign
markets and of a growing body of mariners trained by their occupations for
the service of their country in times of danger must be diminished.

The receipts into the Treasury during the year ending on the 30th day of
September last have exceeded $13.5 millions, and have enabled us to defray
the current expenses, including the interest on the public debt, and to
reimburse more than $5 millions of the principal without recurring to the
loan authorized by the act of the last session. The temporary loan
obtained in the latter end of the year 1810 has also been reimbursed, and
is not included in that amount.

The decrease of revenue arising from the situation of our commerce, and the
extraordinary expenses which have and may become necessary, must be taken
into view in making commensurate provisions for the ensuing year; and I
recommend to your consideration the propriety of insuring a sufficiency of
annual revenue at least to defray the ordinary expenses of Government, and
to pay the interest on the public debt, including that on new loans which
may be authorized.

I can not close this communication without expressing my deep sense of the
crisis in which you are assembled, my confidence in a wise and honorable
result to your deliberations, and assurances of the faithful zeal with
which my cooperating duties will be discharged, invoking at the same time
the blessing of Heaven on our beloved country and on all the means that may
be employed in vindicating its rights and advancing its welfare.

TeachingAmericanHistory.org is a project of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University

401 College Avenue | Ashland, Ohio 44805 (419) 289-5411 | (877) 289-5411 (Toll Free)

info@TeachingAmericanHistory.org