James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Albert Gallatin, 15 October 1801

From Albert Gallatin

City of Washington 15th Octr. 1801


I have the honor to enclose a letter this moment received from Mr Latimer on the subject of Mr Hancock’s application in relation to part of the cargo of the prize vessel “Harmony” brought in Philadelphia by a French letter of marque.

By direction of the President, I had written to the Collector that without pretending to decide on the application of treaties to this specific case, he might admit to an entry such part of the cargo owned by Mr Hancock an american citizen as the captors were willing to restore, provided the British Consul made no objection to it.1

From the tenor of that letter, considering what passed between Mr Thornton & Mr Latimer, I think he (Mr Latimer) would have been justifiable in suffering Mr Hancock’s property to be restored, as the Consul having in a verbal manner consented to it provided it was not drawn into a precedent, this mode was the most eligible for ourselves, because the question not having been critically examined, it was best that the restoration should take place in that informal way, without a positive admission on our part that the consent of the British Consul was essentially necessary.

It appears by Mr Latimer’s letter that Mr Thornton intended writing to you & the nature of his letter may assist in forming a decision on the most correct mode of proceeding.2

If the President should be of opinion that the case ought to be decided upon such principles as will hereafter be adopted in similar cases, it will undoubtedly require some deliberation: but, to adopt that course will eventually deprive Mr Hancock in this case of any hope of restoration, as the vessel will probably have sailed, before a determination shall have been taken & the result transmitted.3

Should it appear most eligible, on that account, to give an immediate decision, without making it a precedent for future cases, I may write to Mr Latimer that considering his conversation with Mr Thornton as sufficient evidence that this gentleman has no objection to a restoration in this case, he may admit the property to an entry.4 I have the honor to be with great respect Sir Your most obt. Servt.

Albert Gallatin

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