Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Refflexions on a Treaty of Peace between United States of America and Algiers, 20 January 1791

Refflexions on a Treaty of Peace between United States
of America and Algiers

Marseilles the 20th. January 1791.

It is not to me to Shew to Congress, the Great Advantages it would result to America, by a Peace or a Truce with Algiers.

I have not been authorised to do what I have done till now; it may be desowned, and my too much active Zeal in that affair, may be with Reason Censured.

The Conversing here or at Paris on that subject, with Thos. Jefferson Esqr. Secretary of State, when he was Minister in France, we have seen, with the greatest concern that as long as a Treaty should not take Place with Algiers, the Mediterranean would be shut to the American Colour, and of Course American Trade, which cou’d become very extensive in this Part of the Globe, would remain as it is since the Independency, of very Little Consequence.

When Ths. Barclay Esqr. went to Algiers, to treat for a Peace, Algerians having taken very Little time before two American Vessels, and hoping to have for the Rapacity of their Cruziers, a New and advantageous chance, encouraged I doubt not by the English Consul, treated him with scorn; but Since, Seven Years are elapsed, Algerians have made any other Prizes on the Americans, and have Little hopes of making any others; it appears then that now it is Time to make a New attempt.

Having been honoured by Congress, with the Appointment of Vice-Consul for United States of America in the Port of Marseilles, finding that very seldom I may have opportunities to be useful to the Country which has Adopted me, whishing however to deserve and answer to the confidence Congress has in me, by some Important Services for my own Part, being established in the European Place, the best situated to Correspond with Algiers, and very Intimate with the Single Merchants who have a Factory there, where they remained Long, who are highly considered by the Dey, at Lenght knew by a Long experience the Sprit or the Politick of that country, and the Best Manner of Treating there; I suggested my Ideas in September last to Mr. Willm. Short, chargé d’affaires a Paris. He answered me the 6th. october last.

“I cannot say any thing at present, about the Algerine Business. Still if that house would find out whether the Dey would take a Moderate Price for our Prisonners who are there, it would be an Agreeable Circumstance; if they make inquiries, they Should take care to do it as of their own Accord and not authorised by U. S. Hitherto the Dey has demanded an Exhorbitant Price.”

On that kind of encouragement, tho’ I don’t dissemble to me my little Knowledge in Politick, and the Difficulties I would have to Surmount in a Negotiation for a Peace, I found that American Prisonners could not be treated with advantage for U. S. but in Treating at the Same Time for a Peace.

I then Remitted the 14th. october Last, a Note of which I annex here a Copy No 1. Joined is the Copy of the Answer from Algiers No 2, which I received the 12th. Inst. to which I have repplyed the 15th. do. as per Copy No 3.

I will not fail of advising Ths. Jefferson Secretary of State of the News I will receive on that affair, but I will now Wait the Orders Congress or he will Give me and not Go on Further.

The advantages of a Peace with Algiers will be very great ones if it can be obtained on Moderate Terms.

The Spanish and Italians Markets would be open to the American Codfish or Baccalao, which Could be Sold at under Prices than the English Fishery, that would become a Large Branch of Trade, Yearly extended to the advantage of U. S., when of Course the English Fishery would Lessen by the Concurence. (Tho’ Marseilles will remain a Free Port, Foreing Fisheries are and will remain subjected to a Prohibitive Duty, to favor the French fishery).

Wheat and Flour Tobacco and all the others American Products would be carried into the Mediterraneans Ports, on the American Bottoms, at more moderate Freights than on any others.

The American Navy would Soon become Powerfull, their Stocks full of Ships on the Building, which would be sold advantageously in the Mediterranean Ports, when since the Act of the English Parliament, prohibiting the Purchase by their fellow subjects, of the American Built-Vessels, that Important Branch is quite Lost in America.

The American Vessels could be employed on Freight, for any Voyage in Europe in Concurence with the Danish, Dutch, English or Sweedish Vessels; and in Case of Warr between France, England or Spain, if U. S. were Neutrals, their Vessels would be employed as other Neutral Vessels at Very advantageous Freights.

At Lenght can we calculate yet what may Gett U. S. by Such a Treaty in the actual circumstances of F ‥‥ e, and her C . ‥‥ es [France and her colonies].

Now it is to be Weighed, what it will cost to U. S. to obtain by a Peace, with Algiers, the above advantages or any others; Congress will Judge in his Wisdom what Sacrifices he will make to obtain it.

As to the means for recover what will be lost, without hurting the Finances of the U. S. by some Moderate Tax, it is not to me to Suggest it to Congress; however as in a Scheme, all what may contribute to it’s Success, ought enter in it, I dare yet Give also my Oppinion, on that Point tho’ perhaps I go to far out of my Line.

A Small Tax, of a retenûe of about 6 Pence per Pound Currency on the Wages of the Mariners; a Moderate Tax of So much per Ton on any American Vessels Bound to Cadix, and for any Mediterranean Ports; at Lenght a Tax on each Mediterranean Pass, delivered to any American Vessels, which by their destination would be in need of; These three objects I dare Say would not be found heavy or un Popular; the wages and Freights would rise in Proportion to those triffling Taxes, and would Soon cover the Amount of the Expences of that Peace, and in Case that the above taxes would not be Sufficient, a Very Small Duty on the Cargoes exported from U. S. for the Mediterranean would exceed it Soon.

As to the Agents I have employed, and am of Opinion that Congress should employ, if he not prefers employ me by their interposition, they are not very Interested People, but if they Succeed, what Congress will allow them for their Benefit on such a Negotiation, will be more economical to U. S. even in doing it with a kind of munificiency worth of a Powerfull Nation, than the Charges &c. &c. &c. attending an Embassy on that Purpose, of which I dare Say, the Success would be a great deal more uncertain.

What the Dey of Algiers may ask from U. S. may be easily Foreseen, some fine Vessel for Cruizer, or Small Fregatte, well Feeted, Ship Timber, Iron, Ropes, Gun Powder and other things for Ship’s use, with some Cash intended for the Liberty of the Slaves; more or Less, are the Basis of Such a Treaty.

If Congress intends on the above to Treat, it will be necessary that he Gives all at wants [once] orders for a Proposal, with the ultimatum at the same Time; because by the Results of the Meetings with the Persons I employ, we find that Success will depend to Lay hold of a favorable opportunity, from the Dey in Getting in the Same Instant his first and Last word all at wants, before any Body Can’t be inform’d. To find that moment, is the most Difficult Matter.

I have enough Said on that Subject; happy I will be! if my Proceedings may obtain the approbation of Congress; if on the Contrary they deserve Censure, I dare hope to be excused in favour of a too ardent Zeal for my own Part, having sought this Occasion to Shew how I am tied to the welfare and Prosperity of the United States of America.

Stephen Cathalan Junr.

RC (DNA: RG 59, CD). Dupl (same) at head of text: “Copy.” Enclosures: (1) “Copy of a Note remitted by Stephen Cathalan Jr. Vice-Consul for the United States of America to Messrs. Gimon Brothers,” Marseilles, 14 Oct. 1790, asking that firm to write to their house at Algiers to find out the names and numbers of American prisoners there and at the same time to inquire of the Dey the lowest price required for their ransom, since until then “il en a demandé un prix exhorbittant, que les Etats unis ne peuvent absolument payer” and if the Dey would set a good price a humanitarian order might raise the sum. Cathalan also pointed out that, since the corsairs had made no other captives among American sailors, it would be better to make peace: “ce peuple,” he added, “est encore nouveau et Pauvre, il ne peut Gueres donner, et le Dey ne peût raisonablement exiger des condittions pareilles a celles qu’il a mis aux diverses nations d’Europe qui Frequentent La Mediterannée ou qui y ont Leur Ports”; if the Regency were in fact disposed to make proposals for a treaty with the United States, then Cathalan would seek powers of treating through the agency of Messrs. Gimon & Cie. He inquired of the conditions that would be set for treating and concluded: “Il Parait que Jusqu’a Present, C’est Le Consul d’Angleterre, par ordre sans doutte de cette Puissance, qui doit y avoir mis Les plus Grands obstacles; Le Ressentiment des Anglais contre Les Americains est encore assés fort pour Leur faire sacrifier de L’Argent pour traverser ou rompre toute Negociation, C’est Suivant mon Oppinion Le Point Le plus difficille. L’essential quant a present doit etre de recommander Le Secret, et d’empecher autant que possible que Le Consul Anglais soit Informé” (MS in DNA: RG 59, CD; at head of text: “Algier’s Affair No. 1”; in Cathalan’s hand; Dupl in same).

(2) “Algier’s Answer to the Preceding Note, received at Marseilles the 12th January, 1791,” unsigned and undated, acknowledging Cathalan’s inquiry and stating that they had had an audience with the Dey and “nous serions peutetre venûs a Bout de traitter de suitte et de la Paix et du Rachapt des Esclaves, si nous Eussions été authorisés de faire des Propositions acceptables, Car il y aurait Vraysemblablement plûs d’attention, mais comme nous n’avons pû luy en parler que Vagûement, il a Seulement Repondû qu’il ne pouvait pour le moment entendre a aucun Accomodement.” The correspondent of Messrs. Gimon & Cie. added that, although they had acted in secret, there were grounds for believing that several persons at Algiers knew of their activity; that the Dey had sent to them that day to say that he demanded 15,000 sequins or 150,000livre tournois for the fourteen American slaves, to which 25,000livre tournois should be added for “Fraix de Rachapt ou Droits de Sortie”; and that “dans quelque temps il pourra S’Expliquer pour la Paix.” The correspondent listed names of the captives (garbling these and omitting the name of one) and concluded that, if the United States intended to make some sacrifices to achieve a peace and to redeem the slaves, they would strongly advise them not to send any ambassador “ou autre Personne ad hoc sur le Pays,” but instead to treat through someone already established there who had standing enough with the Dey to succeed (MS in DNA: RG 59, CD; at head of text: “No. 2”; Dupl in same).

(3) “Copy of a note remitted the 15th. January 1791. to Messrs. Gimon freres, by Stephen Cathalan Junr., Vice Consul for the united States of america at Marseilles,” acknowledging the foregoing and stating that five or six months would be required to receive information on the subject; that, having no order or power to act, he could only give his own opinions; that, in these circumstances, it was advisable not to discuss the business with the Dey again unless he himself should speak of it first; that, in case he did so, they should say to him that the price of 15,000 sequins in addition to other costs was “furieusement Cher”—that a philanthropic order would never be able to raise a fourth of that sum-that there was no evidence whatever that the United States would ever dream of ransoming the slaves except by making a treaty of peace of which the release of the captives would constitute one of the principal articles—that, although the Americans desired to free their fellow citizens, they would accept the harsh necessity of leaving them in slavery rather than to pay such an excessive price. Cathalan added that, although the number of the slaves was small, the news of their captivity had made such a deep impression on the Americans, who attached such a great price to liberty and who had such a horror of slavery, that since then no captain or crew could be found in all the United States to sail an American ship into the Mediterranean, even if the voyage might have made their fortune; that as long as these fourteen men were detained in Algiers, no other American would sail there—a warning to their compatriots that would be a consolation to the captives in their misery; that, besides, it would be well for the Dey to know that there were not in America, as in Catholic countries, charitable works of redemption which, though doubtless founded on praiseworthy humanitarian motives, had nevertheless contributed to the progressive increase of the demands of the Dey, who knew of the great revenues of these philanthropic orders. Cathalan concluded by saying that he was writing to the United States to inquire whether sacrifices would be made to achieve a peace and the ransom of the captives; that in the meantime, in case the Dey appeared to have pacific dispositions, it would be well for him to make explicit the terms in money and goods that would be demanded; that the treaty would have to be made for at least fifty years; that, from the manner in which he wrote to the United States, he presumed that the negotiation, if it took place, would not be conducted by others sent there; and that “il faut du secret” (MS in DNA: RG 59, CD; at head of text: “No. 3”; Dupl in same).

Index Entries