Major-General Henry Lee and Lieutenant-General Sir George Beckwith
on Peace in 1813
Note: The following is taken from the January 1927 issue of The American Historical Review (volume 32), pp. 284–92.
Major-General Henry Lee and Lieutenant-General Sir George Beckwith on Peace in 1813.
ON June 18, 1812, Congress declared war on Great Britain. A few days later, a Baltimore newspaper, the Federal Republican, having published vigorous denunciations of the war, a mob made a violent attack upon its house. Friends of the editors defended it, under the direction of Major-General Henry Lee (“Light Horse Harry” of the Revolutionary War). At the jail, to which these Federalist defenders were conducted for safety, they were again attacked by the mob, which broke into the building, killed one of their number, a Revolutionary veteran, and inflicted upon General Lee (as upon several others) very severe injuries, from the effects of which he never recovered, dying in 1818. In the spring of 1813, under medical advice to seek recuperation in the West Indies, he was enabled to go to Barbados, despite war-time conditions, through the good offices of President Madison and of Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren, then commander-in-chief on the North American station. President Madison and he had been born but a few miles apart in Virginia, had served together in 1787 as delegates of that state in the Continental Congress, and had not been fatally estranged by subsequent political differences. In the biographical sketch which General Robert E. Lee prefixed to his edition of his father's Memoirs of the War [of the Revolution] in the Southern Department of the Uniited States (New York, 1869, p. 54), there is printed a letter from Lee to Madison, dated Barbados, August 24, 1813, expressing his gratitude to the President and to Admiral Warren for making possible his voyage, and sending the President Madeira and a green turtle.
Lieutenant-General Sir George Beckwith was governor of Barbados from 1808 to 1814, and commander-in-chief of the military forces in the Windward and Leeward Islands, in which capacity he conquered Martinique in 1809 and Guadeloupe in 1810, but he is best known to American readers as informal representative of British diplomacy in the United States in the period just preceding the appointment of a regularly accredited British minister. In that capacity he paid five visits to this country in the period from 1787 to 1791. Their history may be traced in the appropriate portions of the Canadian Archives Report for 1890, in Professor Bemis's The Jay Treaty, and most succinctly in a memorial of Beckwith to Dundas, June 20, 1792, printed in an appendix to that volume.1 As Henry Lee attended the Continental Congress in New York in both 1787 and 1788 as a delegate from Virginia,2 it is very likely that his acquaintance with Beckwith began at that time.
The following documents are from the British Public Record Office, C.O. 28:82.
I. BECKWITH TO BATHURST.3
BARBADOS 26th Novem'r 1813.
I have the honor to submit Six Inclosures, numbered from One to Six, to Your Lordship's consideration.
These Papers disclose a correspondence that has passed between General Henry Lee of Virginia, and myself, on the subject of Peace, which might perhaps have been declined by me with propriety in the first instance; but having neither sought nor shunned it, and conceiving it now brought to a close, I feel it my duty to report what has passed.
I have already mentioned to Mr. Goulburn,4 that General Lee came to this Government about the end of June last, with strong recommendations from Sir John Warren and from Colonel Barclaynote5 and I have extended towards him every countenance and protection to which his ill Health, general Character, and Introduction entitled him; but I apprehend he will never recover those wounds and bruises, especially about the Head, which he received from the Baltimore Rioters. He remains here for the present. I have the honor to be with great respect, etc.
II. LEE TO BECKWITH.
“More recently the true Policy of the British Government towards the United States, has been completely unfolded. It has been publicly declared by those in power, that the Orders in Council should not be repealed, until the French Government had revoked all its internal restraints on the British Commerce, and that the Trade of the United States with France and her Allies should be prohibited, until Great Britain was also allowed to trade with them. By this declaration it appears, that to satisfy the pretensions of the British Government, the United States must join Great Britain in the War with France, and prosecute the War, until France should be subdued.”
My Dear Sir,
The above is taken out of the Report of the foreign Committee to Congress,6 which Report may be deemed the harbinger of our deplorable War.
The Allegation against the British Government is so extraordinary, that I cannot bring myself to believe it possible, and as I am anxious to inform myself accurately upon the subject, I take the liberty of asking from you its solution. With unchangeable respect and real regard I have the Honor to be, Your Excellency's etc.
8 Sept. 1813.
Sir Geo. Beckwith
III. BECKWITH TO LEE.
BARBADOS 12th October 1813.
My Dear Sir,
Your note of the 8th of September, subjoined to a short extract of a Report of a Committee of Congress, on your Foreign Relations, but which, you delivered to me personally, upon the gth Instant, I cannot reply to, from the want of the requisite information.
It may be observed, in general terms, that no just opinion can be formed of a paper of this sort, by a reference to a short extract. It is necessary to peruse the whole, attentively, in order to ascertain with precision, its real object. I am inclined to tlhink from what you have given, that this report is published by your Government, as an answer to the late Memorial or Petition of Massachusetts,7 and with a view to draw away the public feeling in the Eastern States, and of many enlightened Individuals in other parts of the Union, from the origin of the War, the mode in which it has been conducted and its real objects; and it appears to be the wish, to excite an Alarm in New England, respecting the carrying Trade and even the Fisheries, in both of which great objects, that industrious and persevering People, are deeply interested.
I should think the great work of peace, far from a difficult object in the hands of Men, who will be pleased to divest themselves of passion and listen to the dictates of reason. The sound Principle seems to be, that nothing should be asked on one side, that would not be conceded on the other, in return.
Has the United States, a rising Maritime Power, and actually such at this hour, no permanent interest, in claiming the exclusive Services of her Native Eastern Seamen?
If principle did not forbid it, and was it not impracticable in its execution, I would as a matter of profit and loss, give you all our Renegades, in exchange for your Young New England Seamen, who are numerous, and as fine Young Men, as I ever saw. Yet are you the Aggressors in this War, in which you have nothing essential to gain, and much, very much to lose; in a war, where failure is disgrace, and success destruction-the loss of Liberty and the introduction of Military Tyranny. I have the honor to be etc.
General Henry Lee.
IV. LEE TO BECKWITH.
BARBADOS 10th November 1813.
My Dear Sir,
My reflections on the sad and wanton war, waged by my Country against yours, make me wonder and weep by turns.
These agitating sensations were latterly tranquilized by the presumption, that our Ministers sent to St. Petersburg,8 would under the Mediation of Russia, have restored Peace and intercourse; but unhappily for both Nations, my fond hope turns out illusory.
It seems indubitable, that our Embassadors are on their voyage home, without having advanced one step towards Peace; and war, with its iliad of woe, must consequently continue to embitter and destroy two kindred People, disposed to preserve and perpetuate, mutual amity and good will.
What aggravates the National and Individual ills which grow out of the War, is, that really the acknowledged object, can never be effected, without the destruction of one of the Parties, an event impossible, and if practicable to be deprecated by the Civilised World, especially by the United States.
This concise statement, of our condition and prospects leads to one conclusion, namely, that no effort ought to be left unessayed, to put an end to Calamity alike grievous and destructive.
I am persuaded you will agree with me in my conclusion and that you would cheerfully lend a helping hand to perpetuate the good work.
To me it appears certain, that every obstacle in the way of pacification would be readily surmounted, if those authorised to negotiate were single minded, candid and sincere.
Your Country openly and explicitly avows her determination to seize her own subjects, whenever found employed in neutral Vessels: at the same time with equal explicitness avows, that she will never knowingly take our Seamen, and that whenever this shall happen, which sometimes must, from our resemblance to each other, the sailor shall be restored the moment his nativity is proved. We do not pretend any right to the use of your subjects, and only wish the exclusive use of our own Citizens.
These Principles brought into Action, will produce Peace.
Your Government will I presume cheerfully admit them as the basis of a treaty between the Two Countries and although mine may not cordially relish such conclusions of the war, it must in conformity to the will of the nation acquiesce. It is an easy task to draft a Treaty embodying these Principles, followed by all the minor details, necessary to give them full and faithful execution.
Would to God I could be assured that Great Britain was willing to stop the war, as I verily believe her to be, in the manner suggested, infirm as I am, I would hasten to my Country and hasten back to you, with the wished for Answer, which I am persuaded would be in the Affirmative. Your own solicitude to shut the door of the Temple of Janus, will I am sure be my adequate Apology, for the Freedom with which I have addressed you.
Accept my best wishes for your Health and Happiness and believe me to be with the highest respect and regard Your Excellency's etc.
Sir Geo. Beckwith
V. BECKWITH TO LEE.
BARBADOS 15 November 1813.
My Dear Sir,
I have read with particular attention, your letter of the 10th Instant, which accords so much with my sentiments, in its general feeling and principle, that I judge it unnecessary to do more, than to refer you to mine, addressed to you upon the 12th of October last, on the important subject of our correspondence.
An honorable Peace is most devoutly to be wished for, but the wish must be mutual and sincere. Irritating Language and harsh measures towards unoffending Individuals, not in Arms, increase the difficulties of Approximation and convey an impression, that the Policy of your Administration, is founded on a desire to widen the breach and to excite a general spirit of animosity, amongst the Young and the high minded, whose feelings, in early Life, glow with an ardent sense of Glory, and a powerful love of Country—Whilst I, who view every drop of Blood, shed on either side, as a sacrifice to Tyranny, am filled with amazement, that the general voice of your discerning Country, does not speak a language, not to be misunderstood, which would lead to a cessation of the war, and to a fair adjustment of our differences.
These are the opinions of a private Man, on this great Question, but they are the result of reflection and considerable local knowledge, and if the Gentlemen to whom your Country has thought proper to confide the direction of its Councils, are now actuated by an honest desire, for the restoration of Peace, I think early measures might be adopted to stop the effusion of HuLman Blood and to employ Persons of high and enlightened Characters, to take up this most important subject in the language and the spirit too, of the most perfect conciliation and Peace. I have the Honor to be etc.
Genl. Henry Lee.
VI. LEE TO BECKWITH.
BARBADOS 16th November 1813.
My Dear Sir,
I duly received the answer which your Excellency has been pleased to give to my last letter. In it, I find confirmed the sentiments expressed in your favor of the 12th of October with the solacing declaration, that early means might be found, to stop the effusion of Human Blood, and that Peace might readily be effected, “in the language and spirit of the most perfect conciliation” provided my Government “was actuated by an honest desire” to accomplish the important and desirable end.
From my personal knowledge of the President and Secretary of State, with both of whom, I held various conversations, before my departure from Home, on the subject of Peace, I can venture to assert, repugnant as may be appearances, that no event is more dear to the President's heart, than the immediate restoration of Peace on honorable Terms. By the latter expression, I mean not to intimate that Doctrines inadmissible on the part of Great Britain will be contended for, but that Peace will be sincerely sought, compatible with the Principles always claimed by your Government, and which are not only sanctioned by immemorial usage, but vitally affect the existence of your Nation.
Let these Principles be made to bend in practice, to Humanity and Moderation and perpetuate amity, rather than excite discord between our Countries.
To delineate with more precision my opinion, I subjoin on another Paper, a sketch of a Treaty, confined to the main point of controversy between us, dismissing all minor Matters, as the latter can be easily settled in the hour of pacification.
The three topics of dispute which led to our declaration of War, were, orders in Council, the mode of Blockade, and impressment of our Seamen—a fourth seems now edging in, effect of naturalization. This we will pass over, hoping that it will never be introduced, if it is, it must be put to rest. The orders in Council are at rest, as is blockade, but having aided in leading to the War, it is politic to glance at them. This consideration I entreat, and when you amend my sketch, which I pray, erase, change, curtail or amplify.
My Wish is to produce a just and agreeable Plan of restoring Peace, in which I know your superior Talents and experience can greatly contribute.
I have always found that whenever we urge the adoption of a measure, especially of magnitude, it is prudent to present the mode of effecting the end, as it brings the Parties to the more immediate consideration of the proposition, and smoothes the difficulties which ever more or less encompass the endeavours of Man.
Do my Dear Sir, turn your mind to our blood stained Nations and lead in returning the sword to its scabbard. With the highest respect and regard, I have the Honor to be etc.
Sir Geo. Beckwith, K.B.
First Inclosure containing the Heads of a Project for a Treaty.
After the common ceremonial is put down Proceed
Whereas the blessings of Peace ought always to be restored, when to be effected with due regard to mutual honor and mutual interest, We do determine and agree, that the existing war shall terminate in every quarter of the Globe as soon as the present Treaty shall be mutually ratified and at the times following that Act, on the days hereinafter specified.
The Orders in Council on the part of Great Britain, being one of the alleged causes of the War, declared by the United States, before the repeal of the said Orders was known to its Government, cannot now be considered as a Topic of discussion, having been repealed.
In like manner may the Question of Blockade, another alleged cause of the War, be considered as put at rest, in as much as the signification of Blockade as claimed by Great Britain, comports with the principle avowed by the United States.
There remains then only the impressment of Seamen to be discussed.
To wave every possible Topic, whose discussion might confound or delay the conclusion of Peace, so sincerely desired by both the contracting Nations, it is agreed that the right to impress Seamen, the Citizens of one and Subjects of the other from private Vessels belonging to either and from neutral Vessels shall remain To each Nation—But, that principles to be specified in the Treaty, shall govern its exercise, and so long as the object in view shall thereby be effectually executed, both nations will abstain from practising the right of impressment, to be resumed by either and both, whenever the end in view viz, the exclusive use of their respective Seamen, shall not be practically secured. To give effect to the said Principles Laws shall be passed, at the first Sessions of Congress and of Parliament, making among other Things, the owner of the Vessel and Cargo, and Captain of the said Vessel, responsible in heavy damages by the Captain, for every individual found in such Vessel, the Citizen or Subject of either nation, as the case may be; also making it the duty of the owner and Captain of every Vessel, when clearing out from the Ports of either Nation, to give into the Custom House, a roll of the Crew, specifying the name and place of Birth, of each Man inrolled, which shall be signed and retained, and an official Copy thereof be given to the Captain, to be submitted by him to the proper Officers at the Ports said Vessel may enter, who may examine the Crew and may detain any Individual or Individuals found to be erroneously enrolled, and furthermore shall legally proceed against the owner or Captain, or both, as provided and directed by Statute, made and provided in such case.
It is further agreed and declared, that as soon as the ratification of this Treaty, on the part of Great Britain shall be known to the Government of the United States, orders shall be forwarded to the Commander in Chief of its Armies, stopping Military operations and relinquishing all Posts it may hold in Canada, every part of which shall be given up forthwith and the Territory of each Nation shall comport to the Statu quo ante Bellum.
In like manner, The Government of Great Britain, shall on ratification of the Treaty transmit Orders to the Commanders of its Army and Fleet in America, to desist from offensive operations of every sort the moment a Copy of the ratification by the Government of the United States, shall be officially announced to them.
My vexatious wound is closing without pain. My anxiety to try the Sea for a week or two continues, and as Mr. Beverley, by the last account is seriously sick, I may if I find a conveyance go to him.
Whatever letters you may honor me with, will be, I am sure my best protection, and will be thankfully received. You know that I am incapable of abusing the Hospitality given to me.
VII. BECKWITH TO LEE.
BARBADOS 18th November 1813.
My Dear Sir,
I was favored yesterday with your letter of the i6th Instant, and with its two accompanying Inclosures, one of which contained the heads of your project for a Treaty, the other your short Note, respecting the state of your health.
Under my impressions of the condition of affairs, betwixt our two Countries, as they appear to exist, to the 8th of October; I confess I did not flatter myself, that your administration, which eagerly sought the war, had ever evinced, even in its declarations, public or private, anything of a pacific spirit, nor did the Russian Mediation, seem to me a proof to the contrary; for the measure of sending Ministers to St. Petersburg, on such an object, when Powers existed in the Chesapeake to suspend Hostilities, had more the aspect of a procrastinating Policy, to watch the events of the War in Europe, than an honest change of system, by the restoration of Peace.
Your declaration, however, to the contrary, in so far as respected the President and the Secretary of State, founded on your conversation with both, convinces me, that they were pleased to hold a different language to you, before your departure from Home; yet, true it is, that pacific overtures were made to your administration, which included Mr. Maddison and Mr. Munroe, both by Sir John Warren and by Sir George Prevost, which were peremptorily rejected.9
It should seem natural, therefore, if any change shall have since arisen, of a pacific tendency, on the part of your Government, that it should be made to appear to be the case, all our sincere endeavours, in the first instance to avert, and subsequently to suspend Hostilities, having proved ineffectual.
I do not feel justified in entering into details, but this is a secondary object; provided the intention should be truly pacific in both sides, I cannot think great difficulties will occur on this point, if conducted by honorable minds competent to the subject.
You justly observe “that the orders in Council are at rest”; they were indeed an ostensible, but not the real cause of the War; “and that the blockading system is admitted by your Government under certain Modifications”.
The question of impressment of Seamen we have been most explicit upon; whilst we possess a Man of War, it can never be abandoned; but we admit the riglht to be perfectly reciprocal and we have no desire to infringe it. It may therefore be mutually secured by Regulations.
I shall feel happy, if since your departure from the States, no measures of a contrary tendency, may have been adopted by your administration, but it strikes me that Mr. Mason's Circular letter, dated Washington the 31st of May last and addressed to all the Marshals10 asserted indeed, to be “a modification of a former order, with a view to indulgence” is in fact a detainer “on all British Subjects, according in principle with the French detenu”, but milder in its execution; yet the mitigations evidently proceed from interested motives, distinct from considerations of Humanity. This important letter professes to regard Alien Enemies and consequently emanates from the office of the Commissary General of Prisoners of War; but it is in truth a state Paper, on the part of your Government, regulating the naturalization of our Subjects, by Municipal Authority.
We claim in common with every Independent Nation, more especially France, the Allegiance of all our People. We deny their right to alienate it; and will never concede to any Foreign Power, the exercise of doing so, by Municipal Regulations.
In these opinions, I write from the best of my belief, as a private Man, but without any Authority whatever.
Such is my train of thinking on this great question. That you entertain an earnest desire for the restoration of peace, I firmly believe, and that you join me in opinion, that it would be difficult for any Statesman, in either Country, to assign a good reason for the continuance of this war, I entertain little doubt, but I can go no further than I have done.
I learn with real satisfaction, that your distressing wound is closing up. I strongly recommend your not trifling with it, surrounded as you are, by our Medical Officers, and by Surjeons of the first reputation.
I shall endeavour to afford you every protection, of which my situation and the times shall admit, for your comfort and security whenever you will point out to me, specifically, the route you mean to take, and your ultimate destination. I have the Honor, etc.
General Henry Lee.
VIII. BECKWITH TO BATHURST.
BARBADOS 24th March I114.
I have the honor to acknowledge the reception of Your Lordship's Despatch of the 10th of February last marked Confidential; General Lee had quitted this Government for Porto Rico on his return to the American States, before it reached me, and I possess no means of further intercourse. I have the honor to be with great respect, My Lord Your Lordship's most obedient and most humble Servant
To The Right Honorable Earl Bathurst