James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joel Barlow, 3 March 1812

From Joel Barlow


Paris—3 March 1812

Dear Sir,

I rather think that Mr. Serurier mistakes the temper of his government if he thinks to recommend himself by a zeal so intemperate & a stile of writing so little suited to the dignity of his station as is observed on every occasion that he has for indulging his favorite talent of complaint. I may be decieved, but I believe he will get a reprimand instead of praise for his manner of treating some of these subjects, particularly the recent one at Savanah.1 The day I recd. that account by the Hornet & before I sent the Duke his letters I happened to meet him at the table of the Austrian Ambassador, & to take off the wire edge a little I told him the story. And I took this occasion to characterize his minister whom the duke does not know personally. I observed that he was an amiable man in Society & we liked him very much. Above all he was remarkably zealous for the honor of his prince, which we likewise applauded if he would not carry it into affectation. But his zeal sometimes seemed to get the better of diplomatic propriety, & it required a good portion of the American phlegm to make the proper allowances for his intemperance. He assured me that my observations should have their proper weight. I do not indeed know what is to come, but nothing has yet been said to me either on the affair at Savanah, that at Norfolk,2 that of Grassin,3 or that of libelling the emperors dispatch ship.4

I have some suspicion that Serurier has paralized the effect of his own tales by his manner of telling them.

I am so very anxious to remove the cause of a war with England, that besides what I send over to day to Mr. Russell, a copy of which I enclose to the Secy of State,5 I shall probably collect another budget of facts in a few days, & if the Hornet is not then off I may dispatch her over to carry it & to return for the treaty. I dont know but my anxiety may carry me too far in detaining that ship, but it seems to me, to put arms into the hands of Mr. Russell to overset the orders in Council, & then to get this treaty home, are objects of infinitely more importance than to send her back soon, if she must go empty.

You will recollect that I have no other certain way of communicating with England but by a public ship. The way by Morlaix is always tedious, never less than 15 days, often 30—& always uncertain. My last Dispatch sent from here by a special messenger the 10 of Feby. is still detained at Morlaix.

I would suggest that when you send a public ship on the message service it may perhaps be better to do without special messengers. Confide the dispatches to the captain, & order him to send a midshipman or a lieutenant with them from the port to the capital in each country. Such an officer can well be spared while the ship lies in port, or even while she is passing the channel. I understand from Mr. Biddle that he & Mr. Tayloe are paid six Dol. a day each for personel expences from the time they leave washington till they return to it. This will cost at least 1800 Dol. The service might be done, & I should think as well, for 200. [I have the honor to be with great respect yr. ob. St.

J. Barlow]

RC and duplicate (DLC). Complimentary close and signature omitted from RC and supplied from the duplicate. Duplicate in a clerk’s hand, with Barlow’s complimentary close and signature.

1Between 13 and 15 Nov. 1811 four American seamen were killed by crew members from two French privateers, the Vengeance and the Franchise, in the port of Savannah, possibly after a quarrel that had arisen in a house of ill repute. The Franchise had also fired upon a group of Americans gathered to protest the quarrel. In response, angry American crowds managed to destroy both French privateers, killing two crew members of the Franchise and wounding several others. Sérurier sent lurid accounts of the episode to his government and demanded compensation for the French victims and punishment for the Americans involved (Clifford L. Egan, “Fracas in Savannah: National Exasperation in Microcosm, 1811,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, 54 [1970]: 79–86). For Sérurier’s protest, see his letters to the duc de Bassano, 28 Nov. and 1 Dec. 1811 [AAE: Political Correspondence, U.S., vols. 65 and 66]).

2On 16 Apr. 1811 the French privateer Revanche du Cerf was “burnt to the water’s edge” in Norfolk, Virginia, by two boatloads of armed men, apparently because the commander of the French vessel “had rendered himself obnoxious by capture of American vessels heretofore” (Norfolk Gazette and Publick Ledger, 17 Apr. 1811). For Sérurier’s protest, see his letters to the duc de Cadore, 5, 13, and 24 May 1811 (AAE: Political Correspondence, U.S., vol. 65).

3For the case of Captain Grassin and the ship Diligente, see Timothy T. Edwards to JM, 29 July 1811 (PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (4 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 3:394, 395 n. 1).

4Barlow referred to the case of the Balaou (see William Pinkney to JM, 22 Jan. 1812, and n. 1).

5In his 3 Mar. 1812 dispatch to Monroe, Barlow enclosed a copy of his 2 Mar. letter to Jonathan Russell, providing “a few cases in addition to what have already been furnished” as proof of the repeal of the Berlin and Milan decrees. Barlow narrated details relating to seven American vessels that had touched at a British port before coming to France, from which place they had then been allowed to depart without molestation. The minister denied that any of these vessels had been protected by special licenses and explained that he took “the liberty to be thus particular on this head” because of the tendency of British officials to confuse special licenses with the French decrees and other municipal regulations that bore “no relation to neutral rights or to the decrees in question.” Barlow added that since his arrival in France in September 1811 there had “not been a single instance of the application of the Berlin & Milan Decrees to an American vessel or Cargo” and that indeed there had not been any since 1 Nov. 1810. It would be difficult, he concluded, to “conceive, probably impossible to procure, and certainly insulting to require, a mass of evidence more positive than this, or more conclusive to every unprejudiced mind” (DNA: RG 59, DD, France; printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:518–19).

Index Entries