Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Austin, 1 June 1801

From David Austin

Phila: June 1st: 1801.—


The letter of Mr: Humphries enclosing other communications from Mr. OBrien & Mr: Cathcart, Agents of the United States among the Barbarians, falling under my eye this morning, as copied from the “Supplement to the National Intelligencer,” printed at the Seat of Government; induces me to quicken the operations of my pen.

I suppose these communications will warm yr: blood1 agt. these unprovoked Aggressors; Be it so!—Still your own honor, & the safety of the Squadron, & the success of the enterprise depends upon the point of departure from wh: the enterprise shall view its object.

It is warming to our National blood to hear how our Agents are danced about upon the fingers of those sons of plunder; & yet the evil may be (judging from former attempts) hard to correct. Of consequence it is treason against2 our Nation against yr: own honor & the ultimate good of mankind; not to possess yourself of every source of information, needful, nay indispensable! for an accurate calulation upon, & for a correct execution of the objects of so complicated an enterprise.

As things stand, what can you promise the Nation, over which your Sceptre is extended; but the permanent expense of a permanent naval establishment in the Mediterranean? The expense would be heavier than the tribute: & the tribute is already the heaviest curse that hangs upon our hand.

The Shadow of expence, wh: the Chart of proceeding claims, is unworthy of a thought, when weighed with the tribute demanded; tribute doubled, and National character cast down.

The “twenty five thousand dollars” offered in the Bills of Cathcart for time for National interview, is more than is now demanded for an instrument that will teach how to catch these Barbarians, “as a Man catcheth flies.”

Let the fire of the occasion obtain its full play: but take heed that your aim is not taken in the dark.—

With all due esteem

David Austin

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Pres: United States Washington”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 3 June and so recorded in SJL.

In a 28 May supplement, the National Intelligencer printed an extract from the 14 Apr. letter to the secretary of state from David Humphreys and reprinted it in its regular edition the following day. Humphreys enclosed letters from Richard O’Brien (Obrien) that reported the growing impatience of Algiers to receive its overdue tribute from the U.S. and the failed efforts by James Leander Cathcart to appease the bey of Tripoli with an offer of $25,000 in Bills to extend the negotiations (National Intelligencer, 29 May 1801; Humphreys to TJ, 8 May). The correspondence appeared in Philadelphia in the 1 June edition of Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser.

1Austin here canceled “in favor of the attempt.”

2Austin here canceled “the interests of.”

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