James Madison Papers

From James Madison to the House of Representatives, 31 December 1805

To the House of Representatives

Dept. of State 31 Decr. 1805

The Secretary of State, to whom, by a Resolution of the House of Representatives of the 16th. inst.,1 the memorial of Peter Landais2 was referred, has examined the same, and thereupon makes the following report.

That it appears from the documents hereunto annexed,3 that the Alliance, a Frigate belonging to the United States, whilst she was cruising in concert with several other armed Vessels under the command of the Chevalier Jones, in the year 1779, captured three British Vessels & sent them to Bergen into Norway. That at the time of the said Capture, the Frigate Alliance was under the command of the memorialist: that the distribution of the prize money which might accrue from the success of the cruize was regulated by the commanders of the Squadron in the agreement of which a copy is subjoined. That on the arrival of the prizes at Bergen, where they were consigned to the French Consul, they were seized by order of His Majesty the King of Denmark, and restored to the original British proprietors, on the ground as appears, that as Denmark did not acknowledge the Independence of the United States, the captures were to be considered illegal.

That the sentiments of Congress have been expressed upon the subject in their resolutions of the 25th. Octr. 1787, of which a copy is annexed: but notwithstanding the application for compensation made in pursuance thereof and an antecedent demand by Doctor Franklin, then the Minister of the United States at Paris, nothing has been accorded by Denmark as a satisfaction for the injury sustained. Extracts of Doctor Franklin’s correspondence upon the subject are annexed. It would be superfluous to add any remarks to evince the illegality of this interposition in the war between the United States and Great Britain, for were it admissible that it should be considered in the view of Denmark as merely a civil war, the restoration of the prizes to either party in the war would still be unauthorized, and the right of the United States to compensation consequently remain valid. All which is respectfully submitted.4

James Madison.

Letterbook copy (DNA: RG 59, DL, vol. 15); Tr and Tr of enclosures (DNA: RG 233, Transcribed Reports and Communications from the Secretary of State, 5C–B1, 3:339). Minor differences between the copies have not been noted. For enclosures, see n. 3.

1For the resolution (DNA: RG 59, ML; 1 p.; docketed by Wagner), see Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Being the First Session of the Ninth Congress (Washington, 1826), 5:198.

2Pierre (Peter) Landais (ca. 1731–1820) was born in Brittany and served in the French navy. He entered American service in 1777 and sailed the Flamand from Marseilles to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with military supplies, for which Congress voted him an award of twelve thousand livres. In 1778 he was named commander of the Alliance and was naturalized as an American citizen. After Landais averted a mutiny, the Alliance arrived in France, where Benjamin Franklin ordered Landais to join John Paul Jones’s squadron. Landais and Jones were totally incompatible and made charges against each other to Franklin, who referred their quarrel to Congress and gave Jones command of the Alliance. Landais was supported by Arthur Lee who encouraged him to take unauthorized possession of the Alliance from Jones and return to America, on which voyage he again encountered a mutinous crew. Landais was found guilty at a court-martial that also recommended him to government indulgence because of all he had suffered. He spent the rest of his life in New York City except for the years 1792 to 1797, which he spent in the French navy during that country’s revolution. In 1785 Congress voted to give him $1,814.40, and in 1806 he was paid $4,000 on account on his Danish claim. In 1848 Congress awarded £50,000 to Jones and his squadron members; the share for the by then deceased Landais, after the previous $4,000 had been deducted, was $3,457.40, but no next of kin could be found to receive the funds (Charles O. Paullin, “Admiral Pierre Landais,” Catholic Historical Review 17 [1931]: 296–305, 307).

3The enclosures (9 pp.; printed in Public Documents printed by Order of the Senate of the United States, First Session of the Twenty-Fourth Congress [6 vols.; Washington, 1836], doc. 198) are (1) extracts from Benjamin Franklin to Continental Congress member James Lovell, 17 Oct. 1779, reporting that “two of the most valuable prizes taken by the Alliance” had arrived at Bergen; (2) Franklin to Continental Congress president, Samuel Huntington, 4 Mar. 1780, reporting that three prizes sent to Bergen had been seized and returned to the British and that he was sending a memorial to the Danish government reclaiming them; (3) Franklin to Danish foreign minister Count Andreas Peter Bernstorff, 22 Dec. 1779, describing the capture of the ships and their conveyance to Bergen and asking their return; (4) Franklin to Huntington, 31 May 1780, enclosing a reply from Bernstorff, stating that the Danish minister at Paris had told him that the return of the ships to Britain had been in accordance with a treaty between the two countries, but he did not show Franklin a copy of such a treaty, and adding that the Americans left at Bergen had been “treated with the greatest kindness” by order of the Danish court; (5) Bernstorff to Franklin, 8 Mar. 1780, saying that had Franklin’s letter come from anyone less distinguished he would have considered it calculated to embarrass the Danes, reminding Franklin that there were “perplexing situations in which it is impossible to avoid displeasing one party,” and adding that the Danish minister at Paris would speak to Franklin in confidence on the subject; (6) an undated agreement between John Paul Jones, head of the American squadron and captain of the Bonhomme Richard, Pierre Landais of the Alliance, Dennis Cottineau of the Pallas, Joseph Varage of the Stag, and Philip Ricot of the Vengeance, that they would act under their United States brevet and fly the American flag, that the division of prizes would be agreeable to American laws and that they would answer to the French minister of marine and Franklin, and that all prizes would be remitted to Jacques-Donation Le Ray de Chaumont, who had paid for arming the squadron “for the purpose of injuring the common enemies of France and America”; (7) the 25 Oct. 1787 resolution of Congress to instruct Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, to remind the Danish king that the United States expected compensation for all prizes returned to Great Britain by Denmark; (8) Timothy Pickering to Pierre Landais, 4 Jan. 1798, stating, in reply to Landais’s question of whether Denmark had ever paid the claim, that they had not; and (9) Pickering to Landais, 17 Jan. 1798, stating that the United States had, at various times, renewed the claim, that Jefferson had appointed John Paul Jones as agent, who went to Copenhagen in March of 1788 and again pressed the claim, that Jones had been told the Danish minister at Paris would deal with Jefferson, after which Jones went into the service of Russia, “and here the business appears ever since to have rested.”

4On 3 June 1813 Landais wrote to JM about his claim, describing his supporting documents with his arguments. On 8 Oct. 1814 he wrote again and explained that he was having his former letter and the current one printed in New York lest his papers had been destroyed when the British burned Washington during the War of 1812 (“May it please your excellency, To receive my hearty and sincere congratulations on your reelection to the president-ship of the United States of America …” [New York, 1813 [sic]]; Shaw and Shoemaker 28905).

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