James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jacob Wagner, 26 September 1805

From Jacob Wagner

Department of State 26 Septr. 1805

Dear Sir

I have examined the point you refer to relative to the British order of 8 Jany. 1794,1 in the appendix to the 4th. vol. of Robinson. This government was very far from recognising the right of a belligerent to confine neutrals within the limits of their commerce in time of peace. The order of Novr. 17932 was known at the Admiralty only a few days before the 26th. Decr. It was superseded therefore in about a fortnight after it was published: of course it could not have admitted of any actual opposition from Philada. and it appears that on the 9th. Jany. Mr. Pinckney, in an interview with Lord Grenville, in remonstrating against the order of the 8 Jany. observed “that we did not admit the right of belligerent powers to interfere further in the commerce between neutral nations and their adversaries, than to prevent their carrying to them articles, which, by common usage, were established as contraband, and any articles to a place fairly blockaded; that consequently the two first articles, though founded upon principles of not suffering in war a traffic, which was not admitted by the same nations in time of peace, and of taking their enemies property when found on board of neutral vessels, were nevertheless contrary to what we contended to be just principles of the modern law of nations.”3 At the time Mr. Pinckney received the order of Novr. Ld. Grenville was absent, and after his return an interview was avoided by him until it was agreed in the Cabinet to rescind the order. Mr. Robinson is therefore mistaken in his assertion that we made representations analogous to the British doctrine.4

In one of the Moniteurs you sent me is a detail of the massacre of the Jews at Algiers, coming in all probability from the French legation. It seems that Basnach was the first sacrifice. It ended by a stipulation of the Dey, that no jews, except Artisans, should be permitted to reside at Algiers, and that their number should be limited as agreed upon in a treaty between Barbarossa and their nation. It is probable that at least the pecuniary corruption, necessary to the management of affairs, will be diminished by the fall of the Jews.

I am preparing details of Spanish depredations for the Spanish Minister, but I am fearful as they are in most instances authenticated by our Consuls in Cuba, the Spaniards may act vindictively towards them.

There is an Indian Agency at Natchitoches vacant, which Cathcart is desirous of obtaining. He has applied to the Secretary of war for it, and as he has no intimate acquaintance with him, he is about to apply for your assistance. I observed to the Secretary of war, that there was a disposition to provide reasonably for Cathcart in what he might be competent to perform; and the appointment is to remain open until the return of the President. As C. understands French & Spanish and knows enough of the quality of goods and keeping accounts to qualify him, he seems not5 be very unfit. The Secretary of war, wishing a person who would stand behind the counter and attend with patience to the minute wants of the Indians, is fearful that in practice Mr. C’s dignity may be found an inconvenience. The emolument I am told is a salary of 1000 dollars, with a Clerk at 500, which he wishes to unite if he obtains the appointment. I have the honor to remain, Dear Sir, With great attachmt. & respect, Your most obed. servt.

Jacob Wagner


1For the British instructions of 8 Jan. 1794 that eased the restrictions in the November 1793 order, see ASP, Foreign Relations, 3:264.

2The British instructions of 6 Nov. 1793 said naval commanders and privateers “shall stop and detain all ships laden with goods the produce of any colony belonging to France, or carrying provisions or other supplies for the use of any such colony, and shall bring the same, with their cargoes, to legal adjudication in our Courts of Admiralty” (ibid.).

3Wagner quoted from a 9 Jan. 1794 letter that Thomas Pinckney sent Secretary of State Edmund Randolph, enclosing a copy of the instructions of 8 Jan. 1794. On 28 Jan. 1794 Pinckney told Randolph that he had nothing to do with the revocation of the instructions of 6 Nov. 1793, since the foreign secretary had avoided meeting with him until 9 Jan., by which time the British cabinet had already decided on the revocation (DNA: RG 59, DD, Great Britain, vol. 3). The italics were added by Wagner.

4Robinson’s statement, to which Wagner objected, was: “American vessels, had been admitted to trade in some articles, and on certain conditions, with the colonies both of this Country and of France. Such a permission had become a part of the general commercial arrangements, as the ordinary state of their trade in time of peace. The commerce of America was therefore abridged by the foregoing [November] instructions, and debarred of the right generally ascribed to neutral trade in time of war, that it may be continued, with particular exceptions, on the basis of its ordinary establishment. In consequence of representations made by the American government to this effect, new instructions to our cruizers were issued, 8th Jan. 1794, apparently designed to exempt American ships, trading between their own country, and the colonies of France” (Robinson, Admiralty Reports [London ed., 1799–1808], 4:appendix A, 2).

5Wagner apparently omitted the word “to” here.

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