The present document, signed by Jefferson and in his hand, is the copy originally sent to the Senate. (The House copy is in the National Archives, and Jefferson’s retained copy is in the Library of Congress.) The present document became part of a collection assembled for the famous playwright, producer and collector Augustin Daly between 1889–1893 and was bound into an extra-illustrated set of Elisha F Thayer & Co.'s The Presidents of America (1879), by [Henry] Stikeman. Daly died in 1899, and his estate sold the volume along with thousands of other prize art, antique, manuscript and book treasures at an American Art Association Auction.
The Napoleonic Wars, pitting France against Britain in a battle for European supremacy, wreaked havoc on the commerce of the United States. Despite their nation’s neutrality, Americans endured naval blockades, ship seizures and, perhaps most galling, impressment. Merchants and officials cried foul. Still, with war threatening from Britain, France, and Spain, Jefferson vowed to work for “the preservation of peace with every Power, till it could no longer be kept without absolute dishonor” (Malone, p.59).
Jefferson begins with a reference to his December 3, 1805 annual message to Congress, addressing the escalating violations of neutrality and paying particular attention to Britain’s shifting interpretation of maritime law:
"In my message to both houses of Congress at the opening of their present session, I submitted to their attention, among other subjects, the oppression of our commerce & navigation by the irregular practices of armed vessels, public & private, & by the introduction of new principles, derogatory of the rights of Neutrals, & unacknoleged by the Usage of nations.
"The Memorials of several bodies of merchants of the US. are now communicated, & will develope these principles & practices, which are producing the most ruinous effects on our lawful commerce & navigation.
"The right of a Neutral to carry on commercial intercourse with every part of the dominions of a belligerent, permitted by the laws of the country (with the exception of blockaded ports, & Contraband of war) was believed to have been decided between Great Britain & the US. by the sentence of their Commissioners mutually appointed to decide on that & other questions of difference between the two nations; & by the actual paiment of the damages awarded by them against Great Britain, for the infractions of that right. when therefore it was percieved that the same principle was revived, with others more novel, & extending the injury, instructions were given to the Minister Plenipotentiary of the US. at the court of London, & remonstrances duly made by him, on this subject, as will appear by documents transmitted herewith. these were followed by a partial & temporary suspension only, without any disavowal of the principle. he has therefore been instructed to urge this subject anew, to bring it more fully to the  bar of reason, & to insist on rights too evident & too important to be surrendered. in the mean time the evil is proceeding under adjudications founded on the principle which is denied. under these circumstances the subject presents itself for the consideration of Congress.
"On the impressment of our Seamen, our remonstrances have never been intermitted. a hope existed, at one moment, of an arrangement which might have been submitted to. but it soon passed away, & the practice, tho’ relaxed at times in the distant seas, has been constantly pursued in those in our neighborhood. the grounds on which the reclamations on this subject have been urged, will appear in an extract from instructions to our Minister at London now communicated."
This message indicates that the president was still playing for time in the hopes of a peaceful settlement with Britain. Three months later, he appointed James Monroe and William Pinkney as commissioners to treat with the new British administration. They negotiated a treaty but were not able to get guarantees against impressment; when it became public in March of 1807, Jefferson and Congress rejected it. The crisis escalated in June, when the British warship Leopard attacked the American ship Chesapeake off the Virginia coast.
America was also being pressed by the French. In December, Jefferson learned that Napoleon had authorized seizure of American ships. In a desperate attempt to maintain neutrality, at the end of 1807 Congress passed Jefferson’s Embargo Act, closing all American ports to foreign trade. The measure temporarily averted war, but at a disastrous economic cost to the United States and political cost to Jefferson.
According to James P. McClure, general editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, it was Jefferson’s regular practice to create two signed copies of his messages to Congress and have his secretary deliver them to the House and Senate. The docketing on the present document, some of which is in the hand of Senate secretary Samuel A. Otis identifies it as the Senate copy. (This message does not appear in the corresponding microfilm of Senate documents from this period in the National Archives.) The last portion of the docketing records the Senate’s January 29, 1806 referral of the message to a committee headed by Maryland Senator Samuel Smith. Jefferson’s retained copy is at the Library of Congress.
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT JEFFERSON MANUSCRIPTS TO HAVE COME TO THE MARKET IN MANY YEARS.
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