British-American Diplomacy
Hunter Miller's Notes on The Exchange of Notes 1817


The original British note of April 28, 1817, is in D. S., 9 Notes from the British Legation; the text of the note of April 29 is from D. S., 2 Notes to Foreign Legations.

The agreement embodied in the notes exchanged was immediately put into operation on both sides. The necessary orders of the Secretary of the Navy were dated May 2, 1817 (American State Papers, Foreign Relations, IV, 206-7). Nearly a year elapsed, however, before the arrangement was submitted to the Senate by President Monroe on April 6, 1818, with this message (Executive Journal, III, 132):

An arrangement having been made and concluded between this government and that of Great Britain, with respect to the naval armament of the two governments respectively, on the Lakes, I lay before the Senate a copy of the correspondence upon that subject, including the stipulations mutually agreed upon by the two parties. I submit it to the consideration of the Senate, whether this is such an arrangement as the Executive is competent to enter into, by the powers vested in it by the Constitution, or is such an one as requires the advice and consent of the Senate; and, in the latter case, for their advice and consent, should it be approved.

In the Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, IV, 41-42, under date of January 14, 1818, appears this interesting and relevant statement:

Met and spoke to Mr. Bagot this morning on my way to the President's. He asked me if it was the intention of the President to communicate to Congress the letters which had passed between the Secretary of State and him (Bagot) containing the arrangement concerning armaments on the Lakes, which he said was a sort of treaty. I spoke of it to the President, who did not think it necessary that they should be communicated. It has been usual heretofore with the message at the opening of the session of Congress to send a collection of documents with it relating to the principal subjects mentioned in it. This was not done at the present session, and some inconvenience has resulted from the omission.

Reference is also to be made to the act of February 27, 1815 (3 Statutes at Large, 217), which authorized the President "to cause all the armed vessels thereof on the lakes, except such as he may deem necessary to enforce the proper execution of the revenue laws, to be sold or laid up, as he may judge most conducive to the public interest; such vessels being first divested of their armament, tackle and furniture, which are to be carefully preserved."

The following resolution of the Senate of April 16, 1818 (God., 134), an attested copy of which is in the treaty file, was voted unanimously:

Resolved, two thirds of the Senators present concurring therein, that the Senate do approve of, and consent to the arrangement made in April 1817, and contained in the President's message of the 6th of April 1818, between the United States, and his Britannic Majesty, relative to the Naval force of the respective nations, to be maintained on the Lakes; and recommend that the same be carried into effect by the President of the United States.

The original proclamation has not been found; the text below is from that printed in Laws of the United States, Bioren & Duane ea., VI, 597-98, a volume which is dated 1822. The proclamation, in part, is in 8 Statutes at Large, 231, and in 18 Statutes at Large, pt. 2, Public Treaties, 296, and is in full in 11 Statutes at Large, 766-67; it appears also, with the notes and various other papers in the matter, in American State Papers, Foreign Relations, IV, 202-7. It may be added that the proclamation was published in the press of the period. It appeared in the Daily National Intelligencer of April 30, 1818, two days after its date; and it was printed in the pamphlet edition of the Session Laws for the first session of the Fifteenth Congress, published in 1818. The proclamation is printed here because of its unusual form; and it is to be observed that, like some other proclamations of about the same period, it does not purport to have passed under the Great Seal. The bracketing of its text in Treaty Series, No. 1105 was intended, as a note in the file shows, to indicate that the original was not available; but the use of a bracket in such case gives, in itself, no such indication; and while various original proclamations of early date are not to be found, in no other case is a bracket used for the purpose stated.

Whereas an Arrangement was entered into at the City of Washington, in the month of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventeen, between Richard Rush, Esquire, at that time acting as Secretary for the Department of State of the United States, for and in behalf of the government of the United States, and the right honorable Charles Bagot, his Britannic majesty's envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, for and in behalf of his Britannic majesty; which Arrangement is in the words following, to wit:
"The naval force to be maintained upon the American lakes, by his majesty and the government of the United States, shall henceforth be confined to the following vessels on each side, that is-
"On lake Ontario, to one vessel not exceeding one hundred tons burden, and armed with one eighteen pound cannon.
"On the upper lakes, to two vessels, not exceeding like burden each, and armed with like force.
"On the waters of lake Champlain, to one vessel not exceeding like burden, and armed with like force.
"All other armed vessels on these lakes shall be forthwith dismantled, and no other vessels of war shall be there built or armed.
"If either party should hereafter be desirous of annulling this stipulation, and should give notice to that effect to the other party, it shall cease to be binding after the expiration of six months from the date of such notice.
" The naval force so to be limited be restricted to such services as will, in no respect, interfere with the proper duties of the armed vessels of the other party.
And whereas the Senate of the United States have approved of the said Arrange. meet, and recommended that it should be carried into effect; the same having also received the sanction of his royal highness the Prince Regent, acting in the name and on behalf of his Britannic majesty:
Now, therefore, I, James Monroe, President of the United States, do, by this my proclamation, make known and declare that the Arrangement aforesaid, and every stipulation thereof, has been duly entered into, concluded, and confirmed, and is of full force and effect.
Given under my hand, at the City of Washington, this twenty-eighth day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, and of the independence of the United States the forty-second.
By the President.
Secretary of State.


The notes exchanged on April 28 and 29, 1817, refer to the correspondence which passed between the British Minister and the Secretary of State in 1816; that correspondence (from the same volumes as the final notes) follows; but the "account of the actual state of the naval force of the United-States on the Lakes, " which was enclosed in the letter of Monroe of November 7, 1816, is from The Neutrality of the American Lakes, 82, by James Morton Callahan.

WASHINGTON July 26, 1816

SIR, Mr Adams having intimated to His Majesty's Government, that it was the wish of the Government of the United States, that some understanding should be had, or agreement entered into between the two Countries, in regard to their Naval armaments upon the Lakes, which while it tended to diminish the expenses of each country, might diminish also the chances of collision, and prevent any feelings of jeaslousy; 1 have the honour to acquaint you, that I have received Lord Castlereagh's instructions to assure you, that His Royal Highness the Prince Regent will cheerfully adopt, in the spirit of Mr Adams's suggestion, any reasonable system which may contribute to the attainment of objects so desirable to both States.

Mr Adams not having entered into any detailed explanation of the precise views of his Government for giving effect to the principle which he had offered for consideration, the British Government is unacquainted with the particular arrangements which the Government of the United States would propose to make for this purpose. but I have been instructed to assure you of the general disposition of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent to listen with satisfaction to any proposal which may secure such ends, and of His readiness to act in a spirit of the most entire confidence upon the principle which has been suggested by Me Adams.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant.



&c. &c. &c. &c.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE, August 2. 1816.

The Right Honorable CHARLES BAGOT

SIR I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 26th of July, by which you inform me, that Mr Adams had intimated to your government, the desire of The President to arrange by compact, the naval force which should be retained on the Lakes by both Nations, with a view to lessen equally the expence of each, and likewise to guard against collision, but that he had not explained in sufficient detail, the proposal, which he had been authorized to make, to lead, at that time, to any practical result. You assure me that H. R. H. the Prince Regent is well disposed, to the object, and that, in concert with this government, he is wining to adopt, such measures, as may be deemed expedient, to give it effect.

The President, being satisfied, that if each nation should maintain on the Lakes, a large naval force, it would expose both, to considerable and useless expense, while it would multiply the risks of collision, between them, instructed Mr Adams, shortly after the peace, to make the proposal which you mention, in the hope, from the amicable spirit in which it was conceived, and the advantage, which it was believed, both parties would derive from it, that it might be carried into immediate effect. It is very satisfactory, to The President, to find that your government, approves the principle, on which the proposal is founder, and that H. R. H. the Prince Regent is willing to act on it.

I infer from your letter that you are desirous of obtaining a precise project, either for the purpose of acting on it here, immediately, in conformity with the powers already given you, or of transmitting it to your government for its consideration. Whether it be for the one or the other purpose, I am instructed to afford all the facility that I may be able; though it would undoubtedly be more agreeable to The President, that the arrangement should be made, and executed, with the least delay possible.

I have the honor now to State that The President is willing, in the spirit of the peace which so happily exists between the two nations, and until the proposed arrangement shall be cancelled, in the manner herein after suggested, to confine the naval force to be maintained on the Lakes on each side, to the following vessels, that is, on Lake Ontario, to One Vessel not exceeding One Hundred Tons burthen and One Eighteen Pound Cannon, and on the Upper takes to Two Vessels of like burthen and force, and on the Waters of Lake Champlain to One Vessel not exceeding the like burthen and force; and that all other armed vessels on those Lakes, shall be forthwith dismantled, and likewise that neither party shall build or arm any other vessel on the Shores of those Lakes.

That the Naval Force thus retained by each party on the Lakes, shall be restricted in its duty, to the protection of its Revenue Laws, the transportation of troops, and goods, and to such other Services, as will in no respect interfere with the armed vessels of the other party.

That should either of the parties be of opinion hereafter that this arrangement did not accomplish the object intended by it, and be desirous of annulling it, and give notice thereof, it shall be void and of no effect, after the expiration of months from the date of such notice.

If this project corresponds with the views of your government, and you are authorized to accede to it, under any modifications which you may propose, and in which we can agree, I am instructed to give it immediate effect, either by Convention, the interchange of Notes, or in any form, which may be thought, best adapted, to the ends proposed. If, on the other hand, you consider it your duty, to submit this project to your government, for consideration, and to wait its sanction, before you can adopt it, and have power to make, ad interim, any provisional reciprocal arrangement, having the same objects in view, I shall be happy to digest with you such provisional arrangement, and to carry it, reciprocally, into effect, for such time, and in such manner, as may be agreed on: or, should your powers be adequate, I am ready to concur in an immediate Suspension of any further construction or equipments of armed vessels for any of the waters above named.

I have the honor to be &c.


WASHINGTON August 6: 1816.

SIR. I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 2d instant, containing the project of an arrangement into which it is proposed that, our respective Governments should enter, for the purpose of giving effect to the principle, upon which I had the honour to acquaint you, in my letter of the 26th lilts, that His Royal Highness The Prince Regent was willing to act in respect to the Naval Armaments upon the Lakes.

The general coincidence of sentiment which exists between our Governments in regard to entering into some arrangement upon this subject, gives reason to hope that, the several parts of it will become matter of easy adjustment, but as, in the consideration of any precise proposition to this effect, reference must necessarily be had to various points connected with the internal administration of His Majesty's Provinces, and to the naval assistance which the ordinary business of a Peace establishment may require, I am not authorized to conclude definitively any agreement as to details, without previously submitting it to my Government.

1 shall therefore immediately forward for consideration the proposal contained in your letter: But I shall, in the mean time, willingly take upon myself to give effect to any arrangement upon which we may mutually agree, for the purpose of suspending the further construction and equipment of armed Vessels upon the Lakes, and of generally abstaining from exertion in those quarters.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration, Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant



&c. &c. &c.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE, August 12. 1816.

The Right Honble. Mr BAGOT

Sin I have had the honor to receive your letter of the 6th of this month, by which, you inform me, that altho' you have full confidence, that an agreement will finally be entered into by our governments, to limit in a satisfactory manner, the naval force to be maintained by them on the Lakes, you consider it your duty to submit to your government, the project which I lately communicated to you to that effect, and to wait its orders before you can proceed to make a definitive arrangement on the subject. You intimate however that you are willing to give effect to any arrangement, on which we may agree, for suspending in the mean time, the farther construction and equipment of armed vessels on the Lakes, and for abstaining from farther exertion there.

To this delay no objection is entertained, provided such a provisional arrangement is made, as may accomplish the just objects which our governments have in view. This arrangement however, like the other, should be equal. In the same spirit, therefore, I now propose the regulations stated in my former Note, to be adopted as a provisional arrangement. If your powers authorize, and you approve those regulations, on being assured that you will adopt a similar measure, an order will be immediately issued by this government, for carrying them fully into effect.

If your powers do not extend to this object, but are confined exclusively to the suspension of the further augmentation of the naval force on the Lakes, I have then to observe, that on receiving from you a statement, of the force which your government now has, on the Lakes, with an assurance that its further augmentation shall be suspended, an order will be immediately issued by this government, for confining the naval force of the United States there, strictly within the same limit.

I have the honor to be &c.


WASHINGTON August 13th 1816.

SIR, I have had the honour to receive your letter of yesterday's date.

For the same reasons which I have assigned in the letter which I had the honour to address to you on the 6th instant, I conceive, that I am not authorized to make, even provisionally, any precise agreement as to the exact manner in which the respective Naval Forces upon the Lakes shall be limited; as in any such agreement, whether permanent or provisional, reference must equally be had to the arrangements of a peace establishment, and the ordinary administration of His Majesty's Provinces.

I am not in possession of a correct statement of His Majesty's Naval Force now in commission upon the Lakes, but I will take the earliest means of procuring, and communicating to you the most accurate information upon this point; and I can in the mean time give you the assurance, that all further augmentation of it will be immediately suspended.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration-Sir, Your most obedient humble Servant.


The Honble James MONROE

&c. &c. &c.

WASHINGTON, Novr 4th 1816.

SIR, In conformity with the arrangement made between us in our correspondence of the 12t. and 13th of August last, I have now the honour to enclose to you an account of the actual state of His Majesty's Naval Force upon the Lakes; and to acquaint you, that its further augmentation is suspended, until the sentiments of His Majesty's Government, upon the project contained in your note of the 5th of August, and which I have transmitted to Lord Castlereagh, are known.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration, Sir, Your most obedient humble servant.



&c. &c. &c.


Statement of His Majesty's Naval Force on the Lakes of Canada 1st September 1816.

Lake Ontario.

St Lawrence can carry 110 guns-laid up in ordinary.
Psyche do. 50. do.
Princess Charlotte do. 40. do.
Niagara do. 20. Condemned as unfit for service.
Charwell do. 14 Hauled up in the mud condemned likewise
Prince Regent do. 60. In Commission but unequipped being merely
used as a Barrack or receiving Ship and
the Commander in Chief's Head Quarters

Montreal, in Commission carrying 6 guns used merely as a Transport for the service of His Majesty.

Star. Carrying 4 guns used for current duties only, and unfit for actual service. Netley Schooner. Carrying no guns attached for the most part to the Surveyors, and conveying His Majesty's servants from Port to Port.

There are besides the above some Row Boats capable of carrying long guns- 2 seventy four gun Ships on the Stocks, and one Transport of 400 Tons, used for conveying His Majesty's Stores from Port to Port.

On Lake Erie.

Tecumseth and Newash carrying 4 guns each, and Huron and Sauk which can carry 1 gun each. these Vessels are used principally to convey His Majesty's Servants and Stores from Port to Port.

On Lake Huron.

The Confiance and Surprize Schooners which may carry one gun each, and are used for purposes of Transport only.

On Lake Champlain.

12 gun Boats, 10 of which are laid up in ordinary, and the other two (one of which mounts 4 guns and the other 3 guns) used as guard boats, besides the above there are some small row Boats which are laid up as unfit for service.

Keel, Stem, and Stern Port of a Frigate laid down at the Isle Aux Noix.


Captn of H. M. Ship Prince Regent and Senior Officer.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE November 7. 1816.

The Right Honble CHARLES BAGOT

SIR, I have received and laid before The President your letter of the 4th instant, in which you do me the honor to give me an account of the actual state of His Britannic Majesty's naval force on the Lakes; with an assurance that its further augmentation is suspended, until the sentiments of your Government upon the project contained in my Note of the 5 Aug'.t, are known.

As this proceeding is in conformity to one of the propositions heretofore made by me, I have now the honor to enclose to you an account of the actual state of the naval force of the United-States on the takes, and to assure you, that orders will be immediately given by this government to prevent any augmentation of it, beyond the limit of the British naval force on those waters.

I have the honor to be &c.



On Lake Ontario

Brig Jones (18 guns). Retained for occasional service.

Schooner Lady of the Lake (1 gun). Employed in aid of the revenue laws.

Ship New Orleans (74 guns). On the stocks, building suspended.

Ship Chippewa (74 guns). On the stocks, building suspended

Ships Superior (44 guns), Mohawk (32 guns), General Pike (24 guns), Madison (18 guns); and the brigs Jefferson (18 guns), Sylph (16 guns), and Oneida (18 guns). Dismantled.

Schooner Raven. Receiving vessel.

15 barges (each, 1 gun). Laid up for preservation.

On Lake Erie

Schooners Porcupine and Chent (each, 1 gun). Employed in transporting stores. Ship Detroit (18 guns), and brigs Lawrence (20 guns), and Queen Charlotte (14 guns). Sunk at Erie.

Brig Niagara (18 guns). Dismantled at Erie.

On Lake Champlain

Ships Confiance (32 guns), and Saratoga (22 guns); brigs Eagle (12 guns), and Sinnet (16 guns); the schooner Ticonderoga (14 guns); and 6 galleys (each, 1 gun). All laid up at White Hall.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE, November 8. 1816.

The Right HonbIe CHAR BAGOT

Sir, I have the honor to inform you that the orders alluded to in my letter of yesterday's date, in relation to the naval force on the Lakes, have been given by this Department.

I have the honor to be &cc.


WASHINGTON Novr 8: 1816.

SIR, In the statement of the American Naval Force upon the Lakes which I yesterday morning received from you at your Office in exchange for a similar statement at the same time delivered to you of the Naval Force of His Majesty, I observe that no return is made of any Force upon the Upper Lakes.

I shall be much obliged to you if you will have the goodness to acquaint me whether the Force upon those Lakes is comprehended in the return of that upon Lake Erie.

I have the honour to be with the highest consideration-Sir, Your most obedient humble servant



&c. &c. &c.

DEPARTMENT OF STATE November 8. 1816.

The Right Honble CHAR BAGOT

SIR, I hasten to inform you in reply to your letter of this date, that the naval force of the United States upon the Upper Lakes is comprehended in the return of that, upon Lake Erie, which I gave to you yesterday.

I have the honor to be &.


An elaborate report on the agreement, transmitted by President Harrison to the Senate on December 7, 1892, with earlier and later correspondence, is in Senate Executive Document No. 9, 52d Congress, 2d session; that document was reprinted with certain subsequent material in House Document No. 471, 56th Congress, 1st session.

Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America.
Edited by Hunter Miller
Volume 2
Documents 1-40 : 1776-1818
Washington : Government Printing Office, 1931.
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.