James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George W. Erving, 6 March 1802

From George W. Erving, 6 March 1802

No. 6

London March 6th. 1802.


I think it my duty to make you particularly acquainted with the proceedings of the Commissioners under the 7th. Article of the British Treaty respecting one of the appointments in connection with the Board, with which the President has been pleased to honor me, & that the business may be more fully before you, I have annexed to this the several letters & extracts from No. 1 to 6 inclusive. By your letters of July 27t. I was authorized to take upon me the duties of Mr. Cabot which were particularly pointed out to be the ascertainment of losses upon references made by the commissioners; these letters I communicated as you desired to Mr. King. When the board Reassembled, concluding that Mr. King had made known the intentions of the President to the American Commissioners, who woud in Course do what was necessary at the Board for carrying these intentions into Effect, I did not address any direct communication to that body myself on the first day of their meeting; (15 Feby.) on that day after considering the convention in form, the board directed their Secretary to write letters to Messrs. Cabot & Glennie “assesors” of the Board requiring them to attend their duty; on the 22d. the Board met again, & on the 23d. happening to Receive a letter from Mr. King respecting some other busi⟨ness⟩ on which I had officially written to him, I found the Postscript marked No. 1, to which I replyed No. 2, & on the 24th. gave formal notice to the Board of my appointments; & on the suggestion of Mr. King ⟨in⟩ a conversation which I had with upon this subject, on the 27th. addressed the letter No. 4 with the Extract to them; this was read at the Board on the 2d. of March, being the third day of their meeting. On that day also a letter was Read from Mr. King to the Effect stated in his letter No. 5; On that day I presented myself to the Board & the subject of my appointment as “assessor” cam⟨e⟩ under consideration. The board observed that they had Received the several notifications before mentioned, & that of course they recognized me a⟨s⟩ Agent for claims before the Board, as well as for conducting the cases in the Courts; but the particular office held by Mr. Cabot & so clearly pointed out in the letter of the Secretary of State was one originally of their own appointment; the assessor of the Board was an officer belonging to the board, & amenable to them; they imagined that this had not been understood by the secretary of state; they expressed all respect for his Recommendation & that of the President, yet they were of Opinion that the Offices of Agent & of Assessor were in their nature incompatible. The laudable desire of the Agent, & perhaps his duty, was to swell the claimant’s account of loss as much as possible; but the business of assessor was to direct the judgement of the board in fixing the Estimate of loss on an Equitable footing according to mercantile Rules ⟨&⟩ experience; how then coud the same person acting one day as agent, & next day as “assesor” cut down his own accounts; they observed also that it was fit for me to consider how far I shoud be able to give from my other business sufficient attention to this department, & also whether not being a merchant I considered myself to be possessed of sufficient mercantile information to undertake this business which they upon the sam⟨e⟩ grounds confessed themselves incompetent to, & whic⟨h⟩ therefore had induced them at first to appoint Mr. Cabot in connection with Mr. Glennie; & of whose conduct & ability they Expressed themselves perfectly satisfied. They then stated some minor objections which as they seemed calculated merely to discourage me from undertaking the Office it will be needless to trouble you with. To the whole of this I answ⟨ered⟩ that I coud not pretend to say what you might have understood of the precise Nature of the appointm⟨ent⟩ in question, that Mr. Cabot had been informed by Government that there was no necessity for his attendance here, & that all his duties it was manifest were assigned to me by your letter; but upon the supposition that Government was aware that the Office of “assessor” to the board was in t⟨he⟩ appointment of the board, yet as it woud doubtless be agreed by the English Commissioners that the person now to be connected with Mr. Glennie shoud be an American (to which they assented) & as the assessors were paid out of a fund half of which was furnished by Government, it might have been reasonably concluded that the individual designated by the President woud as a matter of course be the person chosen by the Board. As to the question of incompatibility, I conceived that I stood precisely on the same ground as Mr. Cabot; by Referring to Mr. Pickerings letters I found that Mr. Cabot was appointed Commercial Agent, as Mr. Williams was the law Agent in the Room of Mr. Bayard; that his duty as commercial Agent, was to state the amount of Claimants loss as high as the documents woud admit of, in the same manner as that was now my duty. As to the Remainder, being no Merchant & having no pursuit of my own, all my time woud be devoted to the public & I did not doubt woud be found sufficient. ⟨As⟩ to the other objection which was put to me for consideration I observed, that it appeared to me that precisely the same Extent of mercantile information was necessary to make up those Estimates of Loss which it is my duty to make & which I have already made for cases in the Courts, as woud be Required for making up the Estimates for their board; that those Estimates were always made up from documents furnished by the claimants themselves, & in fact besides attention & care, Required nothing but such an acquaintance with Arithmetic as every man had. As to the first point of my Reply I was answered by the American Commissioners Messrs. Gore & Pinkney that at the time of Cabots being appointed assessor it being before understood that he was the commercial Agent, the same objection upon the ground of incompatibility occurred; but that the board had been assured by them. Messrs. G. & P. that Mr. Cabot’s Agency shoud cease! & that it did in fact merge in that of Mr. Williams; to this I observed that if there was a merger of his Office, I had good Reason to think that there was no merger of the Salary annexed to it. Not to trouble you with further minutiæ of this discussion, I found the objection of incompatibility so strongly urged, that I concluded a further opposition to their will on my part; might Create dispositions which certainly woud not promote the interest of the Claimants or facilitate my duties; & therefore on March 4h. I wrote to the Com⟨rs⟩. No. 6. I have thought it however a duty not to be dispensed with thus to lay before you the circumstances of this procedure on the part of the board; in doing this, I have stated very faithfully their Arguments as well as my own; nor could I be so insensible to the good opinion of the President as to suffer to pass subsilentio, what I consider as, a most unreasonable oposition to his Arrangement. Permit me to add one or two observations, not I assure you Sir with any personal motive, but because I think them calculated to shew the spirit of this proceeding on the part of the American Commissioners. Whatever may be said on the merger of Mr. Cabots Office into that of Mr. Williams; it must have been known to Mr. Gore, that Mr. Cabot had many powers of Attorney from the Claimants, & acted as their private Agent, which would certainly render him as objectionable on the Score of incompatibility as tho he were the public agent; the same is to be said of Mr. Glennie; the house of McKenzie & Glennie of which he is a member having also several powers of Attorney; but perhaps it may be said that Mr. Cabot transferred his Powers to Mr. Williams, & Mr. Glennie his powers to Mr. McKenzie. But did they retain no Interest in the Commissions or profits of these Agencies? This situation of “Assessor” too, has been made by the commissioners ⟨a⟩ place of great profit; upon the representation some time ago of the assessors that 5 Gs Each upon Each Report was not a sufficient Compensation for their trouble, the commissioners in Effect allowed them 10 Gs by directing that in Each case two Reports should be made, one for the Ship, & another for the Cargo. Mr. Pinkney observed that he did not think Mr. Cabot overpaid for all his trouble by his Salary & by the proceeds of these Reports; & yet the Commissioners now leaving with me the care of bringing the cases from the Courts collecting the documents, & stating the claimants Account of loss, assign the assessorship to Mr. Cabot, the duties of which Office are certainly not so great & the Emoluments of which are so profuse. But I state these things Sir with no other view than that the whole business may be clearly before you. Remaining always with the most perfect Respect Your very obt. St.,

George W Erving


17th: March 1802.

P:S. In Mr: Williams’s Accot: forwarded to you are found these two entries

Decr: 31. To Cash pd: Samuel Cabot, Commercial Agent of the United States of America, for Postage of Claimants’ letters and Papers, in ’98. } 90: 0: 10
Jany: 1 To Cash pd: Saml: Cabot Esqr: for Postage last year thro’ Bird & Co: } 47: 7: 4

⟨It⟩ will be also observed that Mr: Williams in no part of his ⟨Ac⟩count charges more for his Salary than was originally allowed ⟨hi⟩m; which seems to shew that, to the last Mr: C. received ye: ⟨Sa⟩lary and was considered by Mr: W’s as Commercial Agent.

George W Erving

March 18th.

The French have Received Accts. of the Landing Effected by their Troops in St. Domingo, & Buonoparte has been congratulated by the two Emperors on the Settlement of the Italian Republic.

G. W. E.

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