James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Robert R. Livingston, 16 March 1802

To Robert R. Livingston

Department of State, March 16th. 1802.


Your two favours of the 10, continued on the 12th Decr., and of the 31 of the same Month, have been duly received, as were the two of preceding dates written on your arrival at Nantz and L’Orient.1

We are anxious to know the result of your communications with the French Government on the subject of restitutions, both as to the rules by which they are to be settled, and the prospect of their being satisfied. From the information of Mr Pichon, it seems that the nett proceeds only will be allowed where the property has been sold; which will operate against the United States in the proportion in which the claims of their citizens exceed those on the side of France. As the object of the stipulation is rather to restore what has been lost, than what has been gained, there appears to be good ground for contending that the gross and not the nett proceeds should be the measure of indemnification. Mr. Pichon gives us to understand also that the non-existence of the Insurgente at the date of the Treaty, will be no bar to the demand of her value. On a former occasion he had admitted the contrary, and his private opinion is no doubt still the same; but it is overruled by instructions from his government.2 It is still hoped that the claim will not finally be pressed. A copy of my answer to a late note of Mr Pichon, which I send you3 chiefly on account of the other subjects contained in it, will shew you what has been added to the former reasoning addressed to him on the case of the Insurgente.

The uncertainties supposed to attend a fulfilment of the Convention by the French Government, have excited a lively sensation in our Citizens having claims under it; and have produced applications both to the Legislature and the Executive, urging a retention of the monies due to French claimants, as an eventual fund for the justice stipulated to themselves. A proceeding of this kind, however, is liable under existing circumstances at least, to the strongest objections. It would be grounding a breach of faith, on the presumption only of a breach of faith on the other side, and would be considered as mingling insult with injury. It would furnish a motive and a pretext for disregarding a compact; the complete and favourable execution of which it is our interest to require and to excite by our example. And it ought the less to be wished by our citizens, as the sum to be paid by the United States, if distributed among them, would bear so small a proportion to their claims, that it could not, according to any just calculation, balance the danger to which these would be subjected by such a precaution. A different course therefore has been pursued. The requisitions of Mr Pichon have been answered by promises of good faith, and of payment as soon as legal provision for it shall be made. He will even be permitted to receive, under the instructions, from his government the sums due to individuals who do not themselves put in their claims. This is an arrangement not entirely agreeable, but it is pressed with much anxiety; and probably has relations to the armament at St Domingo which give it a critical value. A refusal of it therefore, would not only be taken unkindly, but might, by suspicion, be connected with an unfriendly policy charged on the preceding administration, towards the French interests in that Island.

For the state of things there I refer you to the letter of Mr. Lear in the News-papers herewith forwarded.4 No information of later date has been received from that quarter. I refer you to the news-papers also for the late proceedings of Congress, and the subjects at present before them.

Your suggestions with respect to Mr. Patterson did not come to hand till he had left the United States. When last heard of, he was at Gibraltar. A commission for him is herewith enclosed; but if he should be indifferent to a Consular appointment, or should be willing to accept one for the Seven Islands as you presume, the Commission need not be delivered, and the person acting as Consul at L’Orient may continue in his functions.5 The situation of this gentleman was unknown to the President, and it is left with you to arrange, as you may find best, the matter between him and your friend Mr Patterson; keeping in mind that the President does not wish the inclinations of the latter to be violated.

The subject of your letter to Mr. King of the 30th of Decr. is regarded by the President as not less delicate than you have supposed6 considering the particular views which Great Britain may mingle with ours and the danger that a confidential resort to her may be abused for the purpose of sowing jealousies in France and thereby thwart our object you and Mr. King will both be sensible that too much circumspection cannot be employed.

This letter might have been made fuller, but the short notice of the opportunity, required the abridgment. With sentiments of the truest respect & consideration I remain Dear Sir Your most Obedient servt

James Madison

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