Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 8 April 1803

Notes on a Cabinet Meeting

1803. Apr. 8. present 4. Secretaries & Atty Genl.
1. is there sufficient ground to recall Morris & institute enquiry into his conduct. unanim. not.
2. shall Morris be ordd home in the returng vessel, & leave some other officer to command? unanim. not.
3. shall the return of the Chesapeake & Adams be countermanded till the 4. small vessels arrive? unanim. not. will be too [long?]
4. shall we buy peace of Tripoli? unan. yes.
5. by a sum in gross or a tribute? Gall. Dearb. Lincoln for both.1 Mad. Smith for sum in gross & promise of renewing presents at [terms?] Dearb. 50. & 8,000 Lincoln 30. & 15,000. Mad. 10. & 5000. with some margin Gall 20. & 10. Smith 50. and 10.
Great Britain. if refusg our rights by France, forces us to overtures to England as an ally? on what conditions?
1. not to make a separate peace? } all reject the 2d & 3d. condns. Dearborne & Lincoln reject the 1st. the others agree to the 1st.
2. to let her take Louisiana?
3. commercial privileges?
agreed to instruct our ministers, as soon as they find that no arrangement can be made with France, to use all possible procrastinations with them, and in the mean time enter into conferences with the British govmt thro’ their ambassador at Paris to fix principles of alliance, and leave us in peace till Congress meets, & prevent war till next spring.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 112:19297); entirely in TJ’s hand; follows, on same sheet, Notes on a Cabinet Meeting of 21 Oct. 1802; portions obscured by tape.

ground to recall morris: for TJ’s dissatisfaction with Commodore Richard V. Morris, see Gallatin to TJ, 21 Mch., TJ to Gallatin, 28 Mch., and the Navy Department’s summaries of dispatches, [on or before 8 Apr.].

buy peace of tripoli: according to instructions that Madison gave James L. Cathcart a year earlier, even “the smallest contribution” to the bey of Tripoli “as the price of peace” was out of the question. In a new directive dated 9 Apr., the secretary of state informed Cathcart that “the President has thought proper” to revise the original instructions. Yusuf Qaramanli was “no longer under the domestic distresses which at one time humbled his pretensions.” The United States was the only country that had not acceded to the bey’s demands. A “concurrent policy of all civilized nations” could have forced the “barbarians” to alter their conduct, wrote Madison. The costs of the United States fulfilling that goal on its own—“not only without the co-operation of a single other power, but in opposition to the example of all, and at a period in different respects critical” to U.S. affairs—were too high. Cathcart was “accordingly authorized by the President,” the new instructions stated, to agree to give Qaramanli $20,000 outright plus “8 or ten thousand dollars a year” thereafter. If Cathcart could persuade the Tripolitans to accept lesser amounts, “you will of course avail yourself of the opportunity. But no enlargement of them towards the example of other nations,” Madison instructed, “will be admissible, especially, if at the date of the negotiations, none of our Citizens should be in captivity.” The “periodical payments” must be payable in money, not in goods or stores, and made at two-year intervals rather than annually. If possible, any agreement about presents should be covered by “a private promise and understanding” rather than by treaty (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 3:135; 4:494–5; Vol. 38:277n).

overtures to england: in a long, encoded passage in a communication to James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston dated 18 Apr., Madison advised that if the French “should be found to meditate hostilities or to have formed projects which constrain the United States to resort to hostilities,” the American diplomats must open discussions with the British government. Despite the “just repugnance” Americans felt for alliances with any of the contending powers of Europe, the “advantages to be derived from the cooperation of Great Britain” against France were “too obvious and too important” to overlook. To form a pact with the United States, the British might want “a stipulation that neither of the parties shall make peace or truce without the consent of the other.” Such a condition would be reasonable, Madison conceded, but in return the Americans should try to obtain a statement of British objectives for the coalition, to protect the United States against an open-ended commitment. If the British pressed for new commercial advantages, the U.S. negotiators could say that Britons would have most favored nation status for trading in any ports along the Mississippi that should come into American jurisdiction. Should trade concessions became “an essential condition,” the terms of the alliance could include a guarantee that British subjects would have, for “about ten years,” the same commercial privileges as American citizens in those newly acquired Mississippi Valley ports. The United States was not, however, “to be bound to the exclusion of the trade of any particular nations or nation.” Livingston and Monroe must reject any demand for “a mutual guaranty of the existing possessions or of the conquests to be made by the parties.” Such a provision was “of no value to the United States,” it would have the effect of “entangling” the U.S. in Britain’s “frequent wars,” and it could generate conflict between Britain and the United States. Finally, Madison warned, it was likely that the British would ask for all or part of “the country on the west side of the Mississippi understood to be ceded by Spain to France.” The “evils” that would accompany British acquisition of any of that territory were “obvious.” In addition to being “extremely displeasing to our western citizens,” a British foothold in that region would alarm Spain and France and prolong the conflict with France. “Should this pretension therefore be pressed,” the secretary of state instructed, “it must be resisted as altogether repugnant to the sentiments and the sound policy of the United States.” What Monroe and Livingston could offer instead was that France would not be allowed to control any part of the trans-Mississippi territory from which the British were excluded. It was “manifestly desirable,” Madison advised, that the United States not go to war with France until the alliance with Great Britain was in place and “legislative and other provisions can be made here.” For the measures that TJ and Madison took to give Monroe or Livingston the authority to negotiate an agreement in Britain, see Preparations to Negotiate an Alliance with Great Britain, 18 Apr. (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:527–9).

1Word interlined in place of “tribute.”

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