James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Peter Dobell, 14 January 1802

From Peter Dobell, 14 January 1802

Bordeaux Jany. 14th. 1802


Having return’d from Havre for the purpose of arranging definitively my private concerns, I avail myself of this occasion, to communicate to you, some observations, on the obstacles, opposed, to an exact, and faithfull performance, of the duties of the Agency, conformable to your instructions of the 10th. of June, 1801.

Since the discontinuance, of the Blockade, several American vessells, have arrived, which, in a short time, shall be duly ⟨inspected.⟩

Much difficulty [. . .] on this subject, of ascertaining, correctly, the quantity, and quality of imports, names of owners, where bound, &c &c, in consequence, of an extreme aversion, which prevails, on the part of masters of vessels, to making an immediate declaration, and depositt of their papers, in the office, at the moment, of arrival. Indeed, very many of them, altho’ solicited every day, depart, without having once, presented themselves; we are therefore, necessitated to take information, at second hand, from the Custo⟨m⟩ house clerks, who are frequently, both exceedingly inaccurate, and uncivil.

For, observing the disrespectfull treatment, we m⟨eet⟩ with, from Captains, they entertain a contempt⟨uous⟩ opinion, of the Consular character, & conceive it a fav⟨or⟩ to permit a copy of their notes.

From those facts, it will appear to you, clearly ev⟨en⟩ the ordinances of the Government of the United ⟨States⟩ have been insultingly disregarded, and the object ⟨of⟩ the appointment, in a great measure destroy’d, Not to mention, the latitude, an abuse of this nature, gives to fraudulent foreigners, who a⟨re⟩ inclined to usurp, the rights of our Citizens.

Unless, we are legally authorized, to insist, on a strict examination, of every ships documents, wearing the American Flag, the same deceit and villany, practised, during the latter part ⟨of⟩ the war, by means of counterfeit Registers, &c, &c ⟨will⟩ in a parallel case, be pursued, with equal impu⟨nity.⟩ I know not, whether representations, on this ⟨subject⟩ have been made, to our Government, but be assu⟨red,⟩ Sir, the sale & circulation, of such forgeries, have n⟨ot⟩ only provoked the condemnation of many rea⟨l⟩ Americans, but excited also, in the minds of Euro⟨pe⟩ a contemptuous opinion, of our national char⟨acter⟩ and good faith.

After having received an Exequatur, from the first Consul, I observed, it limited the exercise of my authority, to the department, of the Lower Seine, which, throws aside entirely, one of the most important objects, of the Commission vizt. that of naming Agents, at the several bye Ports. Convinced, that many serious inconveniences, would result to my countrymen, visiting those ports, who might have occasion, for the services of an agent, I made application, thro’ my friend Mr Skipwith, to have the powers of the Exequatur, extended, to the utmost intent & meaning, of the commission.

He immediately addressed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the subject, whose reply, is herewith inclosed, and which I beg leave, to submit to your consideration & decision. Annexed to this, I have the pleasure to forward you, a complete file of Paris papers, from the 1st. of Brumaire, down to the 12th. Nivose, and also two sheets of the Courrier Maritime, of Havre. By them, you will perceive, what a formidable force, the French are about to employ against the Island of St. Domingo. Twenty five thousand men, have embarked at Brest, three thousand at Rochelle, Six thousand at Havre, and I believe five or Six thousa⟨nd⟩ from L’Orient.

It has been hinted also, that they are not a⟨ll⟩ intended for the West Indies.

They possitively asserted here, the cession of New Orleans, to the French, and, I have been private⟨ly⟩ informed, that they contemplate, an attack up⟨on⟩ our Western Territory.

I will not however, say, it is absolutely ⟨reliable⟩ information, but appearing to me not altoget⟨her⟩ devoid of probability, I feel too much interest ⟨in⟩ the happiness of my country, to pass it ov⟨er⟩ in silence.

Large Supplies of Flour, have arrived in this place, within those few days, and every Fren⟨ch⟩ vessell, bound to the West Indies, is obliged to ca⟨rry⟩ a certain proportion, for the Army. Tendering my services on all occasio⟨ns⟩ in this country, I have the honour to remain with the highest Esteem & resp⟨ect,⟩ Your most obedt Serv⟨t.⟩

Peter Dobell

Comm. Ag. for the Port of Havre

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