PRESIDENT JAMES MADISON
STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
5 November 1811
Fellow Citizens of the Senate and of the 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 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 1 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 s 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
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 2 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 them 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 accepts 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, WRT 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
The receipts into the Treasury during the year ending on the 30th day
of September last have exceeded $13.5M, and have enabled us to defray the
current expenses, including the interest on the public debt, and to reimburse
more than $5M 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
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.