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Jeffersonian Response to the “Chesapeake Affair” and
British Insults on the High Seas 

Summary: Advocating a more forceful response to British attacks against American shipping, particularly the “Chesapeake Affair,” which occurred two weeks prior to this.
“What will be the consequence of the last outrage upon our national flagg?”

 

Robert R. Livingston. Autograph Letter Signed, to Vice President Elbridge Gerry, Clermont, July 3, 1807. 1 p.

$1,800 

Partial Transcript:
      “I received at New York your favor & enclose a letter for Mrs. Blake which I hope she will receive before she sails. She may depend upon every attention from both Mr and Mrs Armstrong during her stay in France.
      What will be the consequence of the last outrage upon our national flagg? I very much fear that though our ministers have been instructed to speak decisively on former occasions they have been too delicate in following their instructions. The affair of  Cambria was by no means in my opinion followed up with the spirit with which it should have been. And the trial of [Wilbry?] by a court marshal, instead of a special maritime court as the laws of England direct where a person is charged with murder committed on the high seas, was a mere mockery. The rewards that have attended every insult offered to us by the capt. of ships of war, can not but encourage them to heap one upon the others, as the best and cheapest means of preferment…”  

Historical Background:
On June 21, 1807, the British warship H.M.S. Leopard fired upon the U.S.S. Chesapeake off the Virginia coastline. Three Americans died and 18 were wounded. British officers boarded the Chesapeake and impressed four seamen. As is apparent from this letter, Livingston shared the outrage of the Jefferson administration. In December, President Jefferson responded with the fateful Embargo Act, prohibiting all Americans from trading with Britain and France, both of which violated the rights of neutral shipping. 
Interestingly, one month after this letter, on August 9, Robert Fulton first tested the Clermont (the first viable steamboat, partially bankrolled by Livingston) in the East River. 
Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813) was a member of the Continental Congress, and one of the committee of five who drew up the Declaration of Independence. Under the Articles of Confederation, he was appointed the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs, serving until 1783, when he became Chancellor of the State of New York. An advocate of the Federal Constitution, Livingston served as a delegate to New York’s ratifying convention in 1788, and a year later administered the oath of office to George Washington. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston resident minister at the court of Napoleon, where he subsequently negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. He was an innovative gentleman farmer in the Hudson Valley, and funded Robert Fulton’s construction of the first commercially successful steamboat, the Clermont, in 1807. 
Livingston had been succeeded as Minister Plenipotentiary to Napoleon by his brother-in-law, John Armstrong, Jr.