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In the summer of 1816, James Monroe (then Secretary of State) and Sir Charles Bagot (the British Minister to the U.S.) began a correspondence that resulted in a reduction of each nation’s naval forces on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. After Monroe’s election to the presidency, Richard Rush continued negotiations as Acting Secretary of State. The demilitarization agreement was finalized with one last exchange of notes between Bagot and Rush on April 28 and 29, 1817, and both parties considered it to be instantly binding. Just a few days later, Navy Secretary Benjamin Crowninshield received orders to downsize the contingent of American vessels then residing on the Lakes.

John Quincy Adams’ diary entry for January 14, 1818 helps to explain the eventual distinction between the Rush-Bagot Agreement (1817) and the Rush-Bagot Treaty (1818), as well as why the treaty ever came into being, given the first agreement’s apparent efficacy:

“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 & 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.”

In other words, President Monroe not only didn’t request Senatorial approval of the agreement—he had no intention of communicating its particulars and procedural history to Congress. Monroe hadn’t entirely conceded the semantic point when he submitted this message to the Senate on April 6, 1818:

…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 other words, if you think Rush-Bagot was within my constitutional power to conclude and execute (’twas a “sole executive agreement,” in modern parlance), here are some neat documents for you to look at. If you insist on having something to do with all of this, as some believe is your prerogative, at least ratify what I’ve done. This is easily one of the most fascinating presidential ratifications requests one might ever hope to come across. And if the number of vessels and the weight of their burdens had already been reduced by April 1818, Monroe was playing some serious constitutional hardball, daring the Senate to abrogate the fine accomplishments of American diplomats.

Here’s the Senate’s ratification resolution, which was approved unanimously:

Interestingly, the Senate ratified “the arrangement made in April 1817.” Did it lack the institutional cojones to label Rush-Bagot a “treaty,” even though it had the perfect opportunity to assert itself vis-à-vis the presidency, as it halfway did by purporting to effectuate the agreement? I’m guessing the Senate endured some major administration lobbying here—we’ll indulge your formalist fancies to a point, but you’d better not claim it’s a “treaty” you’re ratifying. (Maybe this dramatization is unwarranted or can be disproved. I don’t claim to be an expert!)

Here’s the only other paper contained in the treaty file:

And here’s my own Charles Bagot autograph: