James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Morton, 17 March 1802

From John Morton, 17 March 1802

Havana, Mar. 17. 1802.


My last address was of the 20. Jany. in which I informed you of the precarious tenure under which the remnant of our Trade to this island was held—that the admission of our Vessels had become reduced to a System of tedious & expensive negotiation.

Those which were then in waiting for a further decree were afterwards joined by others ’till they amounted to near the number of Fifty; which were called the "2d. Class" & finally incurred the additional Expense of two (making six) per Cent on the amount of the Invoices of the cargoes. Nearly the same Number followed those, & were three weeks in waiting for the 3d. Decision; on which a similar loss was sustained in regard to the above premium, the damage Cargoes (particularly provisions) receive in a warm climate; the ordinary Expenses of Vessels, & the interest of Capital employed. And the further Effect of this kind of Embargo upon our Vessels was, that by creating a great Influx of Merchandize & provisions at once into the market, & the necessity many were under of disposing of them immediately, the Spaniards supplied themselves almost on their own terms: and I will venture to pronounce them the most ruinous Voyages ever made to this island.

Many causes, produced by the peace, combined in effecting a submission of our Citizens to this injustice.

The vast quantity of European Merchdz. imported into & on hand, in the United States, and only saleable in the W. In⟨dies⟩ markets; the loss which must therefore ensue on returning su⟨ch⟩ goods; and the advantage of changing the nature of the Capital, so employed, even at a considerable sacrafice.

Even those terms of admission however have ⟨been⟩ at length closed: and, for about ten days past an Ent⟨ry⟩ even into the Harbor, has been rigorously denied.

Previously thereto, every person rested (if it could be so termed) on that precarious state which, without poi⟨n⟩ting to any period of termination, seemed, solely calcul⟨a⟩ted to serve the avaricious purposes of an abandoned Ad⟨mi⟩nistration, & the total destruction of American concern⟨s.⟩

During the whole of those occurrence⟨s⟩ I have endeavored to effect a readier & less injurious admission of our Vessels, but with too little success.

The natural disposition of the Governor which I ha⟨ve⟩ ever found, & stated, to be inclining to things fair & equita⟨ble⟩, has in almost every instance, been counterbalanced by his caution & timidity. His desire to do rightly has b⟨een⟩ accompanied by that hesitation in its execution which h⟨as⟩ enabled others of his Administration having less equitab⟨le⟩ & less honorable views, to take an undue advantage thereof ⟨&⟩ make their concession to the measures which were finally adopted, an affair of compomise & bargain upon the urgent necess⟨ity⟩ of the American trader!

With such insidious & distracting Counsellors about him it could scarcely be expected to happen otherwise than that my own Exertions, & the actual Tendency of His Excell.y’s original purposes, should be obstructed or entirely defeated.

The Circumstance which finally produced an absolute refusal of Admission to our Vessels was occasioned, as it would appear, in a great measure by the representations of a respectable class of Merchants here (the most so as to property) principally connected in the Trade between the Mother-Country & the Colonies; which stated the Consequence of admitting the Americans to supply the Market to be an obstacle, if not an exclusion, of their own citizens. They appealed in the first instance to the Royal Chamber of Commerce of this Island, intreating their interference, & that they would transmit their remonstrance to the Court of Madrid.

The communication by American Vessels being thus entirely closed, the Consideration that arose once more was, how the existing Accounts were to be settled, & the balances due to our Citizens remitted? and upon those points I had again several conferences with his Excelly. but not with any satisfactory conclusion.

Furnished with the Arguments used by the Party in opposition, he replied that as the Trade had never been open but only suffered; and as the Americans knew the Tenure upon which the Intercourse was held, they could not, or should not, have extended any Concerns beyond the reach of a very short period to adjust: that under this Idea & with this view, sufficient time & notice had already been allowed.

It was in vain I answered those argume⟨nts⟩ by stating that an Intercourse, even on the tenure mentio⟨ned⟩, which had been protracted to the length this had, must in the natural & ordinary course of things have occasio⟨ned⟩ many Engagements & Contracts, & actual shipments of m⟨u⟩tual Interest or concern, of a nature & magnitude no⟨t⟩ within the command of so short a time to arrange; that property unsold, & unliquidated Balances to a very large amount, were known to exist at this mom⟨ent.⟩

It was then observed by the Governor that m⟨eans⟩ of Correspondence would be found thro’ those Vessels un⟨der⟩ Spanish Colors which would be permitted to transpo⟨rt⟩ certain Articles, such as Lumber, Horses, Utensils for plantations &c: and that the Merchants of the place properly empowered, would, no doubt, make a satisf⟨cto⟩ry settlement of existing concerns.

There was no difficulty in appealing to His Exce⟨lly’s.⟩ own knowledge of the Delays & Losses always attending a settlement of Accounts, & recovery of property, where one of ⟨the⟩ parties was so much left to his own choice of the time ⟨&⟩ means, as in the case now suggested.

I proposed to His Excelly. the expediency & propr⟨iety⟩ of permitting such of our Vessels to come, in Ballast on⟨ly⟩ as, it should be satisfactorily made to appear, were disp⟨atched⟩ for the sole purpose of conveying the American property fr⟨om⟩ hence; for that I saw no other possible means of effec⟨ting⟩ it.

This was opposed on the ground of impossibility of getting over the restricting orders of his Government, & the liability it would occasion to him for censure from others claiming similar privileges or indulgence.

We thus remained placed in a state of Things most difficult & embarrassing. Our Vessels for several Days have not been permitted even to enter the Harbor, & no persons being in consequence permitted to board them, we could not procure the advices which might have been dispatched by them from the U: States. Even Vessels in distress have been ordered off by the Commandant of the Castle. On complaining of those Hardships to the Governor, he absolutely denied such a breach of hospitality; but I was, too well, enabled to assure His Excelly. that, altho’ I had no doubts of his own humanity, & that the reports of his officers would be different, vessels in the predicament I had stated, had been seen, from the shore, refused an admittance. He engaged to see into this matter, & give more particular orders.

As it was generally & confidently reported & believed that the Order of Jany: for the departure of strangers would be immediately enforced, I took occasion to acquaint the Governor that I expected that such an instance would not be added to the inconveniences we already felt; but that he would adhere to his original promise of giving such an extension in regard to residents as should be found absolutely necessary. He promised to give the required accommodatio⟨n.⟩

I had been more particularly appris⟨ed⟩ of the Intentions of the Government by a Licence for two Ve⟨s⟩sels which had arrived, or might arrive, at the Port of Tri⟨ni⟩dad in this island from the U: States; signed by the Governor & Intendant, & conditioning that the Seamen of those Vessel⟨s,⟩ if foriegners (as was expected) should be immediately delivered over to the Marine Department, that measures might be taken for conveying them, "according to Law", out of the Coun⟨try.⟩

That license was given to some foreigners for services ⟨ren⟩dered the Government at Trinidad; copies of which, certify⟨ed⟩ by the Notary of the Custom-House, were brought to procure my testimony to his signature; but which, for very eviden⟨t⟩ reasons, I of course refused.

With all the barriers to our Trade there is at this moment a very serious demand for provisions. It is ascertained, that there is not mor⟨e⟩ than a month’s supply (if that) of flour in the port where the consumption is at least five thousand b⟨ar⟩rels. Representations thereof have been mad⟨e⟩ to the Governor, but as yet without effect, ’tho’ it ⟨is⟩ generally allowed that, for a considerable time to come, they have no certain resources but in the U: States.

In the Mother-Country, as every account confirms, there is not Enterprize, or ability sufficien⟨t⟩ to promise any supplies: and the inconsiderable quantity imported in time of peace from the Country of Mexico thro’ the port of Vera Cruz, cannot be looked for; for the Farmers, having no Export in war, had not sown more than will produce sufficient for their own consumption.

From the best Information I can obtain, the greatest Quantity usually imported from that Quarter in one year amounted to Ten Thousand Peroons, equal to about the Same number of barrels. The amount imported, last year, from the U: States was 64,703. barrels.

A very short time must therefore show in still stronger light, their precarious situation; & inevitably lead, I think, to a further admission of our provisions, Lumber, & other articles of the first necessity.

Having already drawn this Dispatch to a considerable length, I deem it proper to close, with only adding that I shall continue in this quarter so long as I can prove of any real service. Any definite period the present state of affairs does not enable me to ascertain. I have the Honor to be, Sir, With sincere respect, Your mo: Obed: Servt:

Jno: Morton

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