James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Caleb Strong, [29] January 1814

From Caleb Strong

Boston January [29] 1814


Agreeably to the request of the Legislature of this Commonwealth I transmit to your Excellency the enclosed resolution of the two Houses together with the evidence in support of the complaint of the Memorialists therein mentioned, and of the outrage that has been committed by the Collector of the District of New York on one of the Corporations of this State.1

At the same time permit me, Sir, to express the sensibility which is felt by the Legislature of Massachusetts on this occasion, and its reliance that the said Collector will be compelled immediately to restore to the Memorialists, or their agent or representative, the money unjustly seized and detained without colour of right or shadow of proof of its unlawful employment or illicit destination, and that you will be pleased to remove the said Collector from his said Office.2 I have the honor to be, Sir, with great respect your most obedt and humble Servant

Caleb Strong

RC and enclosures (DLC). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Strong. Dated “January 1814”; day supplied based on evidence in n. 1. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1The enclosed documents (13 pp.) consisted of 1) a copy of the undated memorial and petition of the president and directors of the New England Bank, stating that $138,875 in specie belonging to their bank had been detained in New York by the order of port collector David Gelston as it was being transported to Boston, and requesting that the Massachusetts legislature intervene to obtain the return of this property seized under the “arbitrary, unconstitutional and oppressive” Embargo Act; 2) a copy, its accuracy attested by secretary of the commonwealth Alden Bradford on 29 Jan. 1814, of the report of the committee to whom the petition was referred, reiterating the account given in the petition and supporting the bank’s plea for aid, and two appended resolutions, adopted by the Massachusetts House of Representatives on 26 Jan. and by the Senate on 27 Jan. 1814, stating that Gelston’s seizure of the specie “was a flagrant breach of duty, and a violation” of the New England Bank’s rights, and requesting that Strong “transmit the foregoing resolution, together with the evidence in support of the complaint” to JM, with a letter calling for the restoration of the property and for Gelston’s dismissal; 3) copies of correspondence dated from 12 to 20 Jan. 1814 between bank officials and the New England Bank’s agent, Enos Briggs, arranging the transfer of the specie and reporting its detention; 4) an undated copy of a deposition by Nathaniel Goddard, president of the New England Bank, and one of its directors, David Greenough, swearing to the truth of statements made in the letters and petition; 5) an undated copy of a deposition by the bank’s cashier, Ebenezer Frothingham Jr., certifying the authenticity of the correspondence; 6) a copy of a statement by William Stevenson, notary public and justice of the peace, that the above depositions were made before him on 25 Jan. 1814; and 7) a 29 Jan. 1814 statement by Bradford that the enclosed documents supporting the report and resolutions of the legislature were “true copies.”

2Gelston remained in office as collector of New York until his resignation in 1820 (Senate Exec. Proceedings, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends 3:218). An explanation of his rationale for ordering the seizure of the New England Bank’s specie was communicated to JM via a 28 Jan. 1814 letter from John Haff to an unidentified correspondent (DLC; docketed by JM). Haff, soon to be nominated and confirmed as surveyor and inspector of the revenue for the port of New York (PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:345 n. 1), had carried out Gelston’s order, suspecting that the specie was actually destined for the British because it had been packed in barrels by night and then hastily conveyed from the city “in the heighth of a Snowstorm.” Furthermore, in a cartel ship that left New York about the same time, Haff found three men from Boston in a concealed cabin, in possession of two torn-up British bills written to New York merchants in payment for “supplies furnished his Majestys Service.” Due to the detention of the funds, Haff wrote, New England banks would likely draw on their New York counterparts for specie in large amounts, which would cause financial hardship. He recommended that the secretary of the treasury “restore the equilibrium” by ordering the collectors of customs to send the duties paid at their ports to New York as soon as possible.

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