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John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson Articles in 1809 Newspaper "Independent Chronicle" Impressment Leads to War 1812

Independent Chronicle, Newspaper on laid paper, 13" x 20". Dated "Thursday April 27, 1809" Printed by "Adams, Rhoades & Co, Publishers of the Laws of the United States". Very good condition with a mended separation along the main fold line and with small faded ink marks outside of the margin of the text.

In January 1809, John Adams had written a remarkably lengthy letter to then speaker of the House of Representatives, Joseph Bradley Varnum. The letter was written for publication and its intent was to affect the debate on the Embargo and threats to national sovereignty, and the heinous acts of impressment of American's on board trading ships. Britain, the strongest sea power, began to seize American ships suspected of trading with France, and stepped up its practice of impressment. This newspaper dated in April of 1809 displays John Adams's views on the Embargo in a piece titled "The Inadmissible Principles of the King of England's Proclamation of Oct 22, 1807, By the Late President Adams".

Below is a bit of historical background leading up to this news article and then the aftermath, which ultimately became the war of 1812.

From 1806-1807, the British navy, in desperate need of men to oppose Napoleon, forced roughly 5,000 American sailors into service on the pretense that they were deserters. In 1807, King George III proclaimed his right to call any British subjects into war service and claimed that Britain had full discretion to determine who was a British citizen. The crisis reached one peak for America in June of 1807 when the HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Virginia. Three American sailors were killed, eighteen were wounded, and the Chesapeake surrendered after firing only one shot. The Leopard seized four American seaman, claimed as deserters from the British navy, and hanged one of them.

On October 16, 1807, George III aggravated tensions with America by issuing a proclamation expanding the British right to impressment. News of the King’s Proclamation arrived in the United States in December 1807. Lacking military options, President Jefferson proposed responding with an embargo to ban all U.S. exports on American vessels. While intended to protect the lives and liberties of American sailors, the Act clearly would cripple American trade.

Britain, the strongest sea power, began to seize American ships suspected of trading with France, and stepped up its practice of impressment. From 1806-1807, the British navy, in desperate need of men to oppose Napoleon, forced roughly 5,000 American sailors into service on the pretense that they were deserters. In 1807, King George III proclaimed his right to call any British subjects into war service and claimed that Britain had full discretion to determine who was a British citizen. The crisis reached one peak for America in June of 1807 when the HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Virginia. Three American sailors were killed, eighteen were wounded, and the Chesapeake surrendered after firing only one shot. The Leopard seized four American seaman, claimed as deserters from the British navy, and hanged one of them.

Jefferson and Madison, his Secretary of State, responded with the Embargo of 1807, a ban on all American vessels sailing for foreign ports. John Adams, on the other hand, recognized the dire threat the King’s Proclamation posed in denying America the right to determine its own rules for citizenship. In his own March 1808 private letter to Massachusetts Governor James Sullivan, Adams asserted that the need to protect American sovereignty should take precedence over British or French alliances. 

Congress repealed the Embargo Act on March 1, 1809, following Adams’ suggestion to replace it with the Non-Intercourse Act, allowing trade with all nations except Britain and France.  As Adams anticipated, however, it took another war with Britain to overturn the practice of impressment and confirm American sovereignty.

This newspaper dated in April of 1809 displays John Adams' views on the Embargo in a piece titled "The Inadmissible Principles of the King of England's Proclamation of Oct 22, 1807, By the Late President Adams".

"We acknowledge the high authority of your Lordship's opinion. But we must declare that we are of a very different opinion… Navy Officers and men are sometimes killed and there is no inquisition in their blood. As little noise as possible is made about it. It is known to be justifiable homicide to take the life of an assailant in the necessary defense of a man's liberty. There is not a jury in England who would find a verdict of murder or manslaughter against any sailor, on land or at sea who should kill anyone … in the necessary defense of his liberty from impressment…

… the practice is held in abhorrence by the men-of-wars men themselves. The boatmen of the Royale Frigate after the acquittal of four Irish sailors who were prosecuted in a special court of Admiralty at Bolton for killing a gallant and amiable officer … said "This is a kind of work in which I have been almost constantly engaged for twenty years i.e. in fighting with honest sailors to deprive them of their liberty. I always suspected I ought to be hanged for it, but now I know it".

The article continues describing the absurdity of how a captain must assess risk prior to their voyage, not only how many sailors are needed to accomplish the mission, but also their chances of encountering a British ship and having to deal with impressment, how many British ships of war they will meet on their journey. The lieutenant is to be judge, jury, sheriff and goaler to every seaman

"… whether the sailor is a native of America, whether he has been lawfully naturalized in America, whether is an Englishmen, Scotchman or Irishman, whether emigrated before the revolution of hence … the lieutenant may think it is his duty to impress everyman, who was born in the British dominion… it may be the opinion of this learned judge that the connection between the king and subject is sacred and divine…."

Adams had said:

“The King not only commands his Subjects to return, but he commands the officers of his Navy to Search the Merchant Ships of Neutrals (meaning Americans…) and impress all British Seamen they find on board, without regard to any Allegations of Naturalization; without regard to any Certificates of Citizenship…and without regard to any marriages, Families or Children they may have in America.”

Obviously a topic of enormous importance, and one of the magnitude that culminated in requiring yet another war against England. The climatic ending was the War of 1812, (June 18, 1812–February 17, 1815), the conflict fought between the United States and Great Britain over British violations of U.S. maritime rights. It ended with the exchange of ratifications of the Treaty of Ghent.

A superb look at a lengthy newspaper article on this important period of our history.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.

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