James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 3 July 1805

From John Armstrong

Paris 3 July 1805.


Before the receit of your letter of the 5th. of March,1 I had drawn a few Bills which were made payable at sight. This mode was adopted under a beleif of it’s greater conformity to the provisions of the Convention, than that of paying at different dates and long intervals; and from my not having the smallest suspicion, that any embarrasment would have followed to the Treasury or the Banks. I have since under some degree of obstruction, as well from the claimants as the Government, accomodated the drafts as nearly as possible to your first suggestion; dividing the credits, in most cases, into four parts, and drawing one fourth at sight, 1 Do, at 30, 1 Do, at 60 and the remaining fourth at 90 days. The exceptions to this rule are few and made up of small demands for which I have taken the mean of 45 days. This arrangement will I hope be satisfactory. It was all I could effect without a controversy, doubtful in its issue and unpleasant in it’s temper, and which, on many other accounts, I wished to avoid. The amount already drawn and which (from Mr. Marbois absence) cannot be encreased for a month to come, is about ten millions of francs. I send herewith a list of the bills;2 reserving the vouchers untill some safe and direct conveyance to the United States shall present itself.

Of the case mentioned in your letter of the 26th. of March and transmitted to Mr. Livingston in October 1803,3 I have neither seen nor heard anything. No papers of the late Minister have been left with me, and Mr. Skipwith’s memory does not supply the defect. Everingham’s Memorial4 has been handed to the Agent of claims—but, being entirely unsupported by proofs, no step can be taken with regard to it, except meerly to have it placed on the rolls of the Tribunal. Mr. Skipwith has written to Mr. Everingham instructing him in the kind and degree of evidence necessary to the farther prosecution of the cause.

I have lost no opportunity of presenting as favourably as I could and as the policy itself deserved, the “Act for the Clearance of Merchant Armed vessels.”5 Of this Law, the estimate formed here is tolerably correct. They admit the restriction to have been carried as far as was consistent with our interests or our rights, and as such, receive it as sufficient evedence of the friendly dispositions of the Government—but at the same Time they anticipate outrages of it which, they say, we cannot prevent, and Which will go far to destroy its effect. On this head I make no promises, believing it to be the safest course to permit both parts of Their creed to remain undiminished. On the return of Mr. Talleyrand I shall resume the subject generally, but With little hope of getting Any other answer than—“Have your Government received the propositions suggested last winter? Do they approve the idea on which they were founded?”

Mr. Monroe’s return to this place and the facility with which he Will now be able to communicate our common views & knowlege, Makes it unnecessary for me to say much on the turn his late negociation has taken. In it’s relation to this Country, there is no Shade of difference in our opinions; and so little in the Course to be persued with regard to Spain, that it is scarcely worth noting. The whole may be reduced to this, that, instead of assailing the Spanish posts in West Florida or even indicating an intention to do so, I would, (from motives growing more peculiarly out of the Character of the Emperor) restrict the operation to such as may have been established in Louisiana. This, with some degree of demonstration that we meditate an embargo on our commercial intercourse with Spain and her colonies, would compel this Government to interpose promptly and efficiently and with dispositions to prevent the quarrel from going farther.

You will have heard through the public papers that Genoa has become a part of France6—Parma Placentia &c. are also to be added to the masse—Switzerland will have the same fate and Batavia, it is said, is only to preserve her name, as a province of the Empire.

Of the Allied fleet, we know nothing certainly. The most probable Conjecture now is, that Trinidad or Jamaica is their destination. Nothing can exceed the activity (unless it be the expence) employed in the Ports of the Channel, & the return of the fleet will probably be the Signal for a descent upon England.

The English Alliances on the Continent go on slowly—Russia and Austria, like old Frederick of Prussia on another occasion, wish to see her (England) throw sixes before they take their stand at the table.7 With the highest respect, I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Most Obedient & very humble servant

John Armstrong.

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, DD, France, vol. 10). For enclosures, see n. 2.

1PJM-SS, 9:104–7.

2Armstrong enclosed a list (7 pp.; docketed by Wagner; printed in the 18 Sept. 1805 National Intelligencer) of persons to whom bills had been issued, the amounts paid, and the dates of issue. He also enclosed copies of (1) his 9 May 1805 letter to François Barbé-Marbois (2 pp.) listing exceptions to the general rule that payments should be made to claimants and not to their agents and asking Barbé-Marbois’s opinion on whether payments should be made directly to claimants or to legal creditors of claimants; (2) Barbé-Marbois to Armstrong, 10 May 1805 (3 pp.), agreeing that payments should generally go to the claimants and not to their agents, stating that proven creditors of the claimants should receive the payments in their own names not the name of the claimant, listing acceptable forms of proof under French law, and stating that cases in which the claimants and their creditors disagreed about the validity of the debt would be judged by himself and Armstrong; (3) Armstrong to Barbé-Marbois, 11 May 1805 (7 pp.; marked “Duplicate”), disagreeing with the latter’s implied statement that French law was the deciding factor for proof of the legitimacy of claims covered by the terms of an international treaty, giving an anecdotal example from his own experience of how this could lead to fraud, citing articles 3 and 6 of the Claims Convention of 1803 in support of his position, and presenting several other arguments showing why Barbé-Marbois’s position was untenable; (4) Barbé-Marbois to Armstrong, 26 Floreal an XIII [16 May 1805] (4 pp.), rejecting Armstrong’s interpretation of his words, stating that the treaty presumed that the claims would be paid exactly as they would have had France done so directly except that the funds were now coming from the U.S. Treasury, denying that Armstrong would be held accountable for the disbursements of the funds, rejecting Armstrong’s concerns about possible frauds and asking him to refrain from listing more hypothetical examples, repeating that claimants would be paid in full except in the minority of cases where they had creditors in France, in which case those debts would be deducted from the sums due them, and agreeing to send Armstrong, as requested, all the details of such cases; (5) Armstrong to Barbé-Marbois, 20 May 1805 (3 pp.; marked “Duplicate.”), disagreeing again with Barbé-Marbois’s interpretation of article 3 of the convention, insisting that the United States and not France was the ultimate payer of the claims, denying any intention of giving offense, and stating that his respect for Barbé-Marbois and Napoleon could not deter him from performing his public duty. On the verso of the letter’s last page is Armstrong’s note: “I did not think it prudent, in this letter, to touch Mr. Marbois’s second Argument Viz: the Emperor’s Sovereignty over the claims; but in an interview which took place between us on the 22d. of May, I stated to him fully & freely my opinion on that point, which differed widely from his and which restricted that sovereignty to the twenty four cases on which the Agent had reported to the Commissioners & the Commissioners to me &c.&c.

“In this interview it was agreed, that payment of the Clear and unembarrassed Cases should go on & With regard to oppositions, that none should be maintained but upon Titres pares.” Also on the verso is Wagner’s note: “Correspondence between Genl. Armstrong and Mr. Marbois respecting attachments on and deductions from claims liquidated under the Louisiana Convention. 1805.”

Armstrong also enclosed copies (8 pp.; docketed by Wagner) of: (1) M. Forestier, agent of Rubot & Lorando, to Armstrong, 13 Mar. 1805, stating that the schooner Wilmington Packet, owner Jeremiah Condy, Capt. Moses Andrews, left Bordeaux in 1793 for Saint-Domingue carrying cargo belonging to Rubot & Lorando and Andrews and was seized by a Dutch privateer; that Williams Vans Murray reported the case to the Batavian government, which decreed it an illegal seizure and granted an indemnity of 20,000 florins that was deposited with bankers Willinks, Van Staphorsts, and Hubbard for distribution to the interested parties, that the bankers had refused to release the funds without authorization from the U.S. government, and asking Armstrong to order them to do so; (2) Willinks and Van Staphorsts to Armstrong, 2 May 1805, stating that when Murray deposited the money with them in February 1800, they had credited it to the State Department account and that those concerned in the Wilmington Packet, instead of applying to them, should apply to JM, who “disposed of those monies” after Murray had deposited them (for the case of the Wilmington Packet, see PJM-SS, 2:103 and n. 1, 161, 3:104 and n. 2, 459, 521 and n. 1, 4:27, 8:545–46); (3) Thomas Appleton to Armstrong, 24 May 1805, informing him that the Danes and Swedes had once had a plan to replace Yusuf Qaramanli with his deposed brother, Ahmad, but had given it up as impracticable, that it had been renewed by James Leander Cathcart and put into action by William Eaton supported by Samuel Barron and the squadron, that he had heard Yusuf was aware of the American plans and was making extensive preparation for defense, and that the king of Naples had refused to lend gunboats to the U.S. Navy as he had done the previous year.

3For the details of William Lewis’s claim on France, see Lewis to JM, 15 Oct. 1804, PJM-SS, 8:176–77. For JM to Robert R. Livingston, 27 Oct. 1803, and to Armstrong, 26 Mar. 1805, see ibid., 5:579–80 and 9:178.

4The memorial has not been identified but presumably was one of those enclosed in JM to Livingston, 27 Oct. 1803 (see n. 3 above).

5See JM to Armstrong, 5 Mar. 1805, PJM-SS, 9:104–7 and n. 4.

6For France’s annexation of Genoa, see Peter Kuhn Jr. to JM, 29 May 1805, ibid., 417–18 and n. 1.

7For a discussion of Frederick the Great’s relationship with England during the Seven Years’ War, see J. Holland Rose, “Frederick the Great and England, 1756–1763,” English Historical Review 29 [1914]: 79–93, 257–75.

Index Entries