James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Eaton, 12 September 1802

From William Eaton, 12 September 1802

Tunis 12. Sep. 1802.


In former communications I have had the honor to suggest to the department of State that when these regencies prevail on a tributary national Agent to state a demand to his Gov. they raise an assumpsit on this compliance. I have consequently been uniform in refusing to state their demands. Steady to this resolution I now refuse to write for a thirty six gun frigate. The Bey has therefore condescended to write himself; but he conceived a project intirely original to finesse me into his views, which was that I should make a form of the letter which he would send the President under his signature: it would thus become my act, and of course, on their mode of resoning, a promise. This I refused.

At the palace on the 29. ult. argument was drawn from treaty compact and our late delivery of regalia to discourage this demand. I asked the minister, If he was not ashamed to make the demand after having received such valuable presents from the UStates, and so lately? He answered in substance—“The presents already received were mere peace stipulations, which ought to have been delivered years ago. We have forborne with you on account of assurance of the Agents of your government that they were always on the way. It is six years since your peace negociation was begun. We expected full payment in a year. You came out with nothing. More than three years have elapsed since you finished the negociation. We allowed you six months to bring forward the regalia. We have waited more than thirtysix. After so long delay we have received payment for your peace. But you have made us no consideration for this forbearance: nor have we hitherto received any evidence of the veritable friendship of the Prince of America, notwithstanding the repeated amicable intimations we have given him that such an expression of his sincerity would be agreeable to us. We shall expect a different answer to this request. His Excellency, my master, is a man of great forbearance; but he knows what steps to take with the nations who exhaust his patience with illusive expressions of friendship—as you have learnt from the Danes, Spaniards, and others. Don’t you see the Spanish King has changed his Consul at the demand of my master? You may experience the same disgrace. We shall expect therefore that you will give us your influence to obtain us a frigate; though we have much reason to believe you rather discourage your Prince from listening to our solicitations. And should a rupture happen and he be made acquainted with your neglect of duty, he must impute the cause to you alone!”

To which I answered—Let the Bey write the President. He ca⟨n⟩ undoubtedly state his pretensions with more perspicuity than I can. I shall take care to give his letter conveyance.

On the 2d. inst. my drogoman was at the palace. The demand that I should form the project of a letter was reiterated. I had directed him, in case this subject should be revived to tell the Bey decidedly I would not write neither directly nor indirectly. He did so. The Minister said “It is what all the tributary Consuls do—and the American is in an error if he thinks to break our established customs!” He directed the Drogoman to tell me, the Bey woul⟨d⟩ see me at the palace on the 4th. Accordingly on the fourth I rendered myself there. The Bey referred me to the Minister. I waited on him in his private chamber. After some interlocution, he demanded, in an imperious tone, a form of a letter to the President I asked again, on what pretext he founded his claim for a frigate and why he so strenuously insisted on my forming the letter? “I have already explained the grounds of our claim” Said he. “We must have this expression of friendship, as you have given the Dey of Algiers. My master is afflicted that your Prince does not show him as much friendship as he does the Dey! And he will have you write because it is customary (usánza) Besides he don’t know what stile would be agreeable to your master. You therefore must form the letter in a stile to please him and to insure our object.”

I said I thought the idea somewhat singular that the Bey of Tunis, who corresponded with all the Princes of Europe, should find any difficulty in framing a letter to the President of the UStates. Besides, this would not be the first time he had written him. “To no purpose” interrupted the Minister “and we will now try the efficacy of your composition.” Not on this occasion said I: if the Bey writes I shall send the letter. If not it will spare me the trouble. “He will write,” said the Minister, irritated, “and in the English language, that we may be understood. We fancy you don’t understand our letters in a foreign language! And ordered the Dragoman to come on the 7th. and receive the letter “Which,” said he to me “you will send off by your Ship express!”

On the 7th. the Dragoman was at the palace. The letter was written—but being read to the Bey did not please him. The Dragn. ordered to call on the 9th. Called on the 9th. Ordered to call the 10th. Called the 10th. and at 1/2 past 11 a.m. returned with the Bey’s letter, inclosure D.

There can be little doubt that this demand of the Bey has for its object a pretext of rupture, in case circumstances should encourage his hope of plunder or of greater concessions. He certainly cannot be stupid enough to suppose it will be yielded him. He is penetrating and subtile as he is avaricious; and has generally the address to cover his designs till the moment of aiming his blow: witness the surprize of the Danes in 1800. Whatever may be his disguise of friendly expressions his latent views are not concealed by the dissimulation. He certainly starved Mahamet Bashaw out of his kingdom to force him into the hands of his brother. I once thought him partial to the exile—and still believe him personally so: but state policy has outweighed individual attachment. These regencies, though always jealous of and freequently bickering with each other, are one in principle, interest and pursuit; and, of course, either openly or covertly allied in their measures against the Christian nations who furnish them tribute or booty. We find that their arrogance increases in proportion to the moderation of the nations they dare insult, and their exactions to our manifestations of a desire to cultivate their friendship: And not without reason—for they have no need of our friendship. We have of theirs. They will therefore set their own price upon it. This Bey is sore under the uniform refusal to grant passports to Tripoli for his merchantmen, as well as other refusals. He cannot brook resistance of this kind, not being accustomed to it. And, though he has too much good sense to make this an argument to justify outrage, it may stimulate to the procedure. I might, indeed, as well have yielded in this point; for the blockade has formed little or no impediment to their intercourse.

On the 5. inst. the Constellation hove to in the road of the Goulette, with an Amn. jack at fire top gallant mast head, signal to speak the Consul; being at the Goulette, I answered the signal from the Gloria and embarked in her boat to go on board—but before I reached the frigate she filled and stood out to sea. I saw her boat pass alongside the french Admiral; and finding it impossible to come up with her, I went on board the Adml. where I received the letter of which Enclosure A. is a copy—and from which it will appear that the coast of Tripoli is now totally abandoned by our ships of war. Thus ends the expedition of 1802! I am in opinion with Captain Murray, that to keep up the blockade, in the manner it has been kept up, is of no avail. But to abandon the coast at discretion seems to be going farther discretionarily than the Captain’s former cautious movements would lead us to expect from him. The circumstance however furnishes additional evidence of the accuracy of my uniform opinion that our present mode of warfare is not sufficiently energetic. The idea of “giving security to our trade by frequent convoy” will be found as unavailing as the blockade. Our merchantmen, impatient of long delay, will hazard themselves at sea; and the enemy, finding no impediment before his port, will become more enterprizing. But if this mode of protecting our commerce should be found in some measure, to avail, its expence must increase in proportion to the increase of our commercial adventurers and the number of our enemy and its duration would be infinite. Would it not be more safe and less expensive to buy a peace and at once subscribe to tribute at the discretion of these piratical chiefs than to rely on this precario⟨us⟩ mode of defending against their outrage? But are the Government and people of the UStates prepared for this abasement!

On the 8th. 3 oclock p.m. The Constellation again appeared, and hove to in the road of the Goulette, signal as before to speak the Consul. Assured that she would not come to anchor—and fearing that the delay of going to the palace for the Bey’s permission to go on board (no Consul can pass the castle of the Goulette without it) might exhaust her patience, I hastened to the Goulette, bribed the Commandant of the Castle, and pushed off for the frigate—met her boat with an officer about cannon shot from the shore—found she wanted nothing particular of me—and returned and passed the night with the Danish Consul at his garden on the ruins of Carthage. Next morning at daybreak, to cover the corruption of the Commandant of the Castle, sent my Dragoman to the palace to ask the Bey’s permission to go on board. He sent the ⟨ush⟩ery with this message “Tell the American Consul I will not suffer the ships of war of his nation to cruise in my harbor. If they enter here they shall anchor, their commanders come ashore, according to custom let me know their object and their wants—and pay me and the neutrality of my port the respect due to a sovereign!”

I returned the message “Tell the Bey I pledge my personal responsibility for the observance, on the part of our commanders of the neutrality of his port. And when he will pay our ships of war the same respect as those of other nations in amity I will al⟨ways⟩ be responsible that the civilities shall be reciprocated. But so long as he refuses the usual salute to our flag, and with holds the customary present of provisions to our ships of war, as has hitherto been the case, if he expects gratuitous compliments he must be disappointed. I would take care never to invite another Commander on shore until I should have assurance that he would receive the distinctions usually shown those of other sov⟨e⟩reign powers in friendship with him. In the mean time our ships of war would cruise on his coast and look into his ports whenever circumstances rendered it expedient. If he wished to know their object it was their enemy (there was then an enemy cruiser in port) and as to their wants I wished he would not suffer his feelings to be too much interested about them. But if he felt himself hurt at not receiving the usual national respect from them, I would enter with him, in person, into a discussion on the subject whenever he was disposed to do it on principles of reciprocity.

On delivery of the regalia from London last spring I proposed some alterations in the treaty; particularly the articles of duty and salutes. The Bey asked me if I was authorized to enter upon such a negociation? It was an embarrassing question. I told him I knew the will of my Gov. on the subject, and only wished to enter upon it provisionally. “I am satisfied with the treaty as it is” said he “and if your Government be dissatisfied with it, why not furnish you with powers to revise it?” The minister observed—“If your treaty is to be renewed, so are your peace presents. We never write treaties anew on other terms!”

A year ago there was a prospect that commercial considerations would have some influence in this measure. The french are now in our way. They are binding these regencies to conditions which will secure to themselves the exclusive Commerce of this Country. They pay 3 P. ct. on importations, calculated on an old tariff of about 100 P. ct. below the present prices current. We by treaty, pay 10 P. ct. ad valorem. The translated copy, however, say⟨s⟩ six. The translation into English is erroneous: or the french copy was incorrect. It is ten per cent in the original. This however is not a very weighty matter: the commerce of the UStates with this country will never be likely to become an object: These people flatter themselves of profiting of our commercial enterprizes on easier terms.

Enclosure B. is duplicate of a letter from Cap. Murray of 18. Aug. original of which I recd. 2d. inst. by which it will appear that notwithstanding he differed much with regard to my ideas on the project with Mahamet Bashaw when at Gibraltar, he has at length come into the General measure and taken the most direct steps to defeat the object. He certainly could not have attentively read my dispatches of 4th. April, on which he decided 10th. May, or he could have perceived that all my exertions went to impede the Bashaw from going to Derne: but he has offered to carry him thither in the Constellation. It is singular that the Capn. should not have apprehended that the circumstance alone of the Bashaw’s going to that place in an enemy’s frigate would excite a just suspicion of treachery! Besides, Derne, I believe, is a fortified town; and had the Bashaw accepted the Captain’s Courtesy the frigate would have been seized in port. If the Bashaw proceed to Derne he will certainly be put to death—and he must proceed, as a dernier resort, being destitute of supplies, except he received my letter of 6. Aug. which I fear will be too late, as the brig which carried it had not arrived on the 23d. and the Bashaw being about to depart in an English brig on the 25th. It is to be feared therefore this project will be lost.

Though the captain’s letter is evidence of a conviction of the error of his judgement, passed on this measure at Gibraltar, it conveys no thing to remedy the mischief resulting from that decision—neither as it regards national nor individual interest nor character. If his weakness has blasted all the expectations I had formed from the project as it respected the former—his Compliment of respect for my unwearied zeal to serve my Country is not sufficient indemnity for the injuries done the latter.

The enclosures C. are depositions which I took two days after receiving Cap. Murray’s letter of 18. Aug. They place his declarations relative to taking the Gloria’s men in a doubtful point of view.

From the document I have had the honor to forward to the department of State since 24 June it will appear that since the arriv⟨al⟩ of this Commander in the Mediterranean he has taken steps tending to defeat measures calculated to distress the enemy and effect an honorable and secure peace to the UStates; countenanced conduct tending to encourage sedition and mutiny in the merchant vessels of the UStates; neglected his duty in suffering all vess⟨els⟩ to pass unvisited from Gibraltar to this place; and, finally, abandoned his post before the enemy without orders, and thereby left the coast clear for the departure of cruisers of any force and for the entry of all prizes they may make, to the disgrace of the arms and prejudice of the interests of the UStates.

I do not draw these conclusions to be used as information again⟨st⟩ Captain Murray; but rather to show that we need of more of that species of commanders here whom he terms mad-men such, for example, as Truxton, Shaw, Sterret.

When our squadron first appeared in this sea every thing seemed favorably situated to assist our coercion. The enemy’s chief naval force was at sea. His admiral blocked at Gibraltar. His batter⟨ies⟩ in no state of defence—no soldiers at hand to man them—and scarcely a sentinel on their ramparts. He was panic struck at the appearance of an American Squadron—and disheartened at the discipline one of his principal corsairs recd. from Cap. Sterret and equally disturbed that several of his influential subjects merchants of Tripoli, and fifty five of his turkish soldiers had fallen into our hands. Had Commodore Dale kept his prison⟨ers⟩ and laid his two frigates before the enemy’s castle the Bashaw would have yielded to reasonable terms: the clamors of his subjects would have compelled it. The occasion was lost! Every exertion was now made to get possession of the admiral. This project failed—and the coast was abandoned by our ships of war. A stratagem was next resorted to in order to excite a division in the enemy’s country. His brother, the rightful Bashaw, was secured in our interest, and his exertions used to effect this object. The project promised every thing—Till at length, starved out of this regency, no succour from abroad, and compelled to seek subsistence elsewhere, the Bashaw was compelled to close with an illusive proposition of the usurper of accepting in his own regency a subordinate government. The moment now arrived when an exertion was necessary, equally hazardous and uncertain—an exertion, which, though presumptive, indeed and requiring some address and perseverance to save both the Bashaw and the object, succeeded—to a certain degree, as has been detailed. But this project is finally lost also. It has been sacrificed to a punctilio—or disconcerted through weakness.

During these transactions the enemy has gained more than a year to strengthen himself at home—to attach allies to his cause abroad—and to fortify his arrogance by capture of our citizens! And what have we acquired? National contempt! We must now, as it were, begin the war anew under all the embarrassments to which our lenity and moderation have subjected us. Or we must subscribe to a peace which will entail on posterity eternal humiliation and unlimited pecuniary sacrifices. Is this recapitulation too plain? It is nevertheless too true!

On the 28th. ult, at evening, anchored before the castle of the Goulette two french line of battle ships; and a sloop and brig of war, from Algiers, having settled the differences with that regency á l’aimable! But though the “Potent Dey” was greatly humbled by the french he is left intire in all his resourses to humble smaller nations. This we apprehended would be the result of that altercation.

On the 31. the Admiral and suit had audience with the Bey, by whom he was presented with a golden-mounted sabre studded with diamonds, value 800 Venitian Sequins—about 2160 dollars. Same day proclamation issued from the palace That no turk insult a Frenchman on pain of death! At evening sunday subaltern officers of the squadron were taken up, unarmed, in the street by four turkish armed watchmen, who attempted to conduct them to the watch house, it being a late hour. The frenchmen fell upon them by main force; and, being greatly superior in number, disarmed and made them prisoners in turn. The turks fell under the penalty of the proclamation, though manifestly doing their duty. But by the interference of the Admiral they were reprieved. When shall we see these distinctions paid to an American squadron!

On the 2d. inst. the Minister gave a splendid dinner to the Admiral and officers of the squadron at the Bey’s garden, and on the 5th. the compliment was reciprocated on board the admiral.

The object of the french mission here has not wholly transpired. Conjecture says it is to demand indemnity of the Bey for two frigates and a brig of war together with nine merchant vessels captured under the guns of his castle by the British Admiral Waldergrave on the 9th. March 1796—the liberation of one hundred and fifty Sardinian slaves, descendants from Piedmont—with some other reclamations of less magnitude. Whatever is demanded will be yielded. And the Bey will indemnify himself by exactions from the Tributary nations. But a most important article of this convention, as it affects us, is that the flag of the Italian and Ligurian republics shall be free! I am told the same article is yielded to by Algiers. This deprives the regencies of a grand source of plunder.

The Danes have renewed their peace again this summer with the Bashaw of Tripoli for twenty thousand dollars promp⟨t⟩ payment and five thousand annually. A mere trifle: but it is tribute! The stipulation will be valid till the Bashaw shall disembarrass himself of his actual enemy, no longer!

By copies of Mr. Nissen’s letters of 16. & 24. ult. herewith enclosed, it appears that the Dane has made it an article of treaty that their Consul shall not interfere in the American affairs. This is in direct opposition to the assurances given us by his Danish Majesty, by a letter from the Board of Barbary affais addressed to me by his Majesty’s order from Copenhagen July 11. 1801—Copy of which I have had the honor to forward to the department of State. The same document shows that this is a project concerted with a view of placing the affairs of the UStates at Tripoli under the influence of an Algerine Jew and a Spaniard! And this without admitting the Government of the United States a voice in the nomination of these Mediators! It s⟨how⟩s also that Mr. OBrien is in the project. But it is remarkable that none of his arrangements proposed to the Bashaw of Tripoli and communicated through the Algerine Jews, Azulai at Tunis and Farfarra at Tripoli, have been signified to our Agent there nor to this Consulate. I believe there can be no doubt that the Jews at Algiers influenced the rupture with Tripoli with a view of getting Mr. Cathcart out of the Country. They now wish to have the merit of effectuating an accommodation, probably with a view of keeping out of it. Both Farfarra and DeSouza (the Spaniard) are known enemies to Mr. Cathcart. How long will Government suffer foreigners, whose interests are so much opposed to those of the UStates as these, to intermeddle with our affairs?

It seems this Bey expects I shall execute his order of sending the ship Gloria to America with his letter, as it was accompanied with his passport of safe conduct for one year, but conditioned that she proceed directly to America. Be the consequence what it will I shall not yield this point; but shall send her to Leghorn for sale: but that no time may be lost in communicating the Bey’s intentions to Govn. I have desired Capn. Bounds to proceed directly to the seat of Govn. and deliver the letter from the Bey with which he is charged. I have taken this expedient, in case the Bey should quarrel with me for not sending the ship, that I may silence him by saying that I have ordered the Captain to proceed by the most expeditious rout. With this view I have desired our commanders to assist his passage. Should he arrive safely it will be reasonable that he should receive a compensation.

I really do not know what measures to adopt to meet the exactions, importunities and arrogance of these people. If my resistance should influence a rupture I am apprehensive I may incur the disapprobation of my country. If I should yield to their instances I am conscious I should merit it. I have the honor to be with the most perfect respect, Sir, your most Obedt. very humble servant

William Eaton

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