Research Subjects: Government & Politics



The Acts, Orders in Council, &c. of Great Britain [on Trade], 1793 - 1812


The Government of France, having, by an official report, communicated by its Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Conservative Senate, on the 10th day of March last, removed all doubts as to the perseverance of that Government in the assertion of the principles, and in the maintenance of a system not more hostile to the maritime rights and commercial interests of the British empire, than inconsistent with the rights and independence of neutral nations; and having thereby plainly developed the inordinate pretensions which that system, as promulgated in the decrees of Berlin and Milan, was from the first designed to enforce;  His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of His Majesty, deems it proper, upon his formal and authentic republication of the principles of those decrees, thus publicly to declare His Royal Highness's determination still firmly to resist the introduction and establishment of this arbitrary code, which the Government of France openly avows its purpose to impose, by force, upon the world as the law of nations.

From the time that the progressive injustice and violence of the French Government made it impossible for His Majesty any longer to restrain the exercise of the rights of war within their ordinary limits, without submitting to consequences not less ruinous to the commerce of his dominions than derogatory to the rights of his crown, His Majesty has endeavored, by a restricted and moderate use if those rights of retaliation, which the Berlin and Milan decrees necessarily called into action, to reconcile neutral States to those measures, which the conduct of the enemy has rendered unavoidable, and which His Majesty has at all times professed his readiness to revoke, so soon as the decrees of the enemy which gave occasion to them should be formally and unconditionally repealed, and the commerce of neutral nations be restored to its accustomed course.

At a subsequent period of the war, His Majesty, availing himself of the then situation of Europe, without abandoning the principle and object of the orders in council of November 1807, was induced so to limit their operation, as materially to alleviate the restrictions thereby imposed upon neutral commerce.  The order in council of April, 1809, was substituted in the room of those of November, 1807, and the retaliatory system of Great Britain acted no longer on every country in which the aggressive measures of the enemy were in force, but was confined in its operation to France, and to the countries upon which the French yoke was most strictly imposed, and which had become virtually a part of the dominions of France. 

The United States of America remained, nevertheless, dissatisfied; and their dissatisfaction has been greatly increased by an artifice too successfully employed on the part of the enemy, who has pretended, that the decrees of Berlin and Milan were repealed, although the decree effecting such repeal has never been promulgated; although the notification of such pretended repeal distinctly described it to be dependent on conditions in which the enemy knew Great Britain could never acquiesce, and although abundant evidence has since appeared of their subsequent execution.

But the enemy has at length laid aside all dissimulation; he now publicly and solemnly declares, not only that those decrees still continue in force, but that they shall be rigidly executed until Great Britain shall comply with additional conditions, equally extravagant; and he further announces the penalties of those decrees to be in full force against all nations which shall suffer their flag to be, as it is termed in this new code, "denationalized."

In addition to the disavowal of the blockade of May, 1806, and of the principles on which that blockade was established, and in addition to the repeal of the British orders in council, he demands an admission of the principles, that the goods of an enemy carried under neutral flag shall be treated as neutral; that neutral property under the flag of an enemy shall be treated as hostile; that arms and warlike stores alone (to the exclusion of ship timber and other articles of naval equipment) shall be regarded as contraband of war; and that no ports shall be considered as lawfully blockaded, except such as are invested and besieged, in the presumption of heir being taken, (en prévention d'étre prise,) and into which a merchant ship cannot enter without danger.

By these and other demands, the enemy, in fact, requires Great Britain and all civilized nations shall renounce, at his arbitrary pleasure, the ordinary and indisputable rights of maritime war; that Great Britain, in particular, shall forego the advantages of her naval superiority, and allow the commercial property, as well as the produce and manufactures of France and her confederates to pass the ocean in security, whilst the subjects of Great Britain are to be in effect proscribed from all commercial intercourse with other nations; and the produce and manufactures of these realms are to be excluded from every country in the world to which the arms or the influence of the enemy can extend.

Such are the demands to which the British Government is summoned to submit, to the abandonment of its most ancient, essential, and undoubted maritime rights.  Such is the code by which France hopes, under the cover of a neutral flag, to render her commerce unassailable by sea, whilst she proceeds to invade or to incorporate with her own dominions all States that hesitate to sacrifice their national interests at her command, and, in abdication of their just rights, to adopt a code, by which they are required to exclude, under the mask of municipal regulation, whatever is British in their dominions.

The pretext for these extravagant demands is, that some of these principles were adopted by voluntary compact in the treaty of Utrecht; as if a treaty once existing between two particular countries, founded on special and reciprocal considerations, binding only on the contracting parties, and which in the last treaty of peace between the same Powers had not been revived, were to be regarded as declaratory of the public law of nations.

It is needless for His Royal Highness to demonstrate the injustice of such pretensions.  He might otherwise appeal to the practice of France herself, in this and in former wars, and to her own established codes of maritime law.  It is sufficient that these new demands of the enemy form a wide departure from those conditions on which the alleged repeal of the French decrees was accepted by America, and upon which alone, erroneously assuming that repeal to be complete, America has claimed a revocation of the British orders in council.

His Royal Highness upon review of all these circumstances, feels persuaded that so soon as this formal declaration, by the Government of France, of its unabated adherence to the principles and provisions of the Berlin and Milan decrees, shall be made known in America, the Government of the United States, actuated not less by a sense of justice to Great Britain than by what is due to its own dignity, will be disposed to recall those measures of hostile exclusion, which, under a misconception of the real views and conduct of the French Government, America has exclusively applied to the commerce and ships of war of Great Britain.

To accelerate a result so advantageous to the true interests of both countries, and so conducive to the re-establishment of perfect friendship between them, and to give a decisive proof to His Royal Highness's disposition to perform the engagements of His Majesty's Government, by revoking the orders in council whenever the French decrees shall be actually and unconditionally repealed, His Royal Highness the Prince Regent has been this day pleased, in the name and on the behalf of His Majesty's, and by and with the advice of His Majesty's privy council, to order and declare:

That if at any time hereinafter the Berlin and Milan decrees shall, by some authentic act of the French Government, publicly promulgated, be absolutely and unconditionally repealed, then, and from thenceforth, the order in council of the 7th day of January, 1807, and the order in council of the 26th day of April, 1809, shall, without any further order be, and the same are hereby declared from thenceforth to be, wholly and absolutely revoked; and further, that the full benefit of this order shall be extended to any ship or cargo captured subsequent to such authentic act of repeal of the French decrees, although, antecedent to such repeal, such ship or vessel shall have commenced, and shall be in the prosecution of a voyage which, under the said orders in council, or one of them, would have subjected her to capture and condemnation; and the claimant of any ship or cargo which shall be captured or brought to adjudication, on account of any alleged breach of either of the said orders in council, at any time subsequent to such authentic act of repeal by the French Government, shall, without any further order or declaration on the part of His Majesty's Government on this subject, be at liberty to give in evidence in the High Court of Admiralty or any Court of Vice-Admiralty, before which such ship or cargo shall be brought in for adjudication, that such repeal by the French Government had been by such authentic act promulgated prior to such capture; and upon proof thereof, the voyage shall be deemed and taken to have been as lawful as if the said orders in council had never been made; saving, nevertheless, to the captors such protection and indemnity as they may be equitably entitled to in the judgment of the said court, by reason of their ignorance, or uncertainty as to the repeal of the French decrees, or of the recognition of such repeal by His Majesty's Government at the time of such capture.

His Royal Highness, however, deems it proper to declare, that, should the repeal of the French decrees, thus anticipated and provided for, prove afterwards to have been illusory on the part of the enemy, and should the restrictions thereof be still practically enforced or revived by the enemy, Great Britain will be compelled, however reluctantly, after reasonable notice, to have recourse to such measures of retaliation as may then appear to be just and necessary


Placed on the Napoleon Series April 2003


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