James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Eaton, 20 December 1802

From William Eaton, 20 December 1802

Tunis 20. Dec. 1802


Since the letter I had the honor to address to the department of State 14th. ult. nothing material has occurred here. But the changeable aspect of affairs in Europe forebode changes here, as elsewhere, not wholly indifferent to the United States. The treaty of Amiens, like a cancer in the breast, preys on the vital sources of Great Britain: if she collect fortitude to bear the torture it will only serve to heighten the horrors of the abys to which she sees herself descending with a lingering, reluctant, but certain step. She seems to view this to be her situation; and to be resolved once more to apply sovereign remedies. Reinforcements and fresh supplies are passed and passing to Egypt. Malta is still in her possession. The troops of Naples destined to garrison that post are returned and returning home—and there is now at Cagliari a british squadron of eighteen sail of the line. These movements in this quarter must undoubtedly correspond with movements in other quarters. They are in consonance with the kings speech to both houses, and to the address in answer. Do not all announce the almost certain probability of a recommencement of hostilities in Europe? May not Russia, notwithstanding late events, steady to her purpose of siezing on the Ottoman empire, the collosal pillars of which are already shaken to their base and which seem actually to find a prop in the ambition of the French dictator till he can admit them to fall for his own benefit, come into an alliance with England? In any events of a renewed war the attention of those great powers would be diverted from these regencies, except as one or the other should have occasion of them as instruments; and they, of course, will be left at large to pursue their system of rapine against the smaller christian nations. The United States seem to be singled out as their object. A sketch of the actual relations between them and us will put this conjecture beyond a doubt. The Bashaw of Tripoli has subdued or rather reduced to his own terms, all his other enemies; and exacts from the United States the same conditions of peace. The Bey of Tunis, though having received and acknowledged himself contented with the peace stipulations, demands a good frigate of thirty six guns as proof of equal regard the President has for him and the Dey of Algiers. The Dey refuses to receive the Consul of the United States; rejects the cash commutation; and demands 1000 quintals of powder, as a regalia, with the annual munitions in arrear to be delivered in three months from the date of the demand. This Bey’s minister also insists on the double barrelled, gold mounted fowling peace, and the bulls, cows and oxen demanded in 1801. Impossible concessions! But such as cannot be resisted except by force. My means and my resources of resistance are totally exhausted at this place. The operations of ⟨our⟩ squadron this season have done less ⟨than last to aid my efforts.⟩ Only one frigate of this squadron has been [. . .] seen on the coast of the enemy. I can no longer talk of resistance and coercion without exciting a grimace of contempt and ridicule; I am neither permitted nor inclined to talk of concessions: and, of course, my personal services can be no longer useful here under actual circumstances. Any body whose fidelity can be relied on, and who is capable of writing an intelligible letter, may be of equal service and less exposed. This regency view me with a jealous and suspicious eye. They say "The American Consul is an enemy to the Barbary interests." (God forbid he should be a friend to them) And, in case of a rupture I have not the least reason to suppose the Bey would consent to my departure. When the Commodore and Mr. Cathcart arrive I shall consult with them, and if they concur in the measure, I shall endeavor by stratagem to get out of this country and repair to the seat of Government of the United States.

The enclosed extracts are the outlines of a project for a reformed system of intercourse here submitted to the consideration of Mr. Smith two years ago, and his answer. Copies were forwarded to the government. The actual state of our affairs renders some such plan more necessary than at the period of that date. Whatever may be the decision of government on the subject, I cannot remain any longer in this employ. With an ardent zeal to defend the interest and support the dignity of my country I have sacrificed four years of active life, my whole property, and perhaps my public reputation also in this horrid state of exile from all rational felicity; than which the desert of Siberia or Botany Bay has more enjoyments; for there may at least be found a green tuft and a shade where the exile may repose himself without being exposed to the clanking of chains and the brandishing of a tagon from the hand of a merciless pirate. Is it but reasonable that some other citizen should take his tour here? And, if it can be done embracing at the same time the public interest, is it but reasonable that I should desire once more to see my orphaned family? If I do not succeed in getting away without endangering our affairs, I pray the President will be pleased to send out an agent to replace me. I cannot serve another summer in this station! I have the honor to remain with perfect respect, Sir, your most obedient servant

William Eaton

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