James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Fulwar Skipwith, 1 August 1806

Paris 1 August 1806.

Dear Sir

To the Memorials referred to in my Letter of the 5th. of June, on the Subject of my claim against the French Government, which were then omitted to be sent, I now add a Supplement (No. 3) lately presented by me to the Emperor and his Council of State, which I beg the favor of you to peruse.

Having in that letter imputed to our Minister an improper and unjustifiable acquiescence to the proceedings of the French Bureaux, by means whereof I consider myself, illegally and Arbitrarily Stirpped of my property I shall attempt in this letter to develope & to Support the grounds of my Complaints; & having, in a late letter to the Minister himself charged him with a culpable abandonment of my rights, under the Convention, I conceive that I owe this exposition of facts to him, to the President & to myself.

On my return to Paris, from the U. States in April last, it was intimated to me by Genl. Armstrong that my claim had been returned, by Mr. Marbois for revision to the Council of Liquidation, a very Short time previous to the dismissal of that Minister from the head of the Treasury Department, and that a Report was made by Mr. Guillaume, one of the Special Directors, which had been or was on the eve of being adopted by the Council, annulling the former liquidation, in my favor, in as much at least as to compensate the Debt alledged to be due to the Government by the House of Taylor & Co., & that pretended to be due by Jno. Higginson to Swan & Sweitzer, formerly agents of the French Republic.

I asked the Genl: whether he had made any formal remonstrance in opposition to this novel mode of procedure He asked me in reply if Mr. Barnet had not sent me a Copy of a letter written by him on the Subject of my claim to Mr Marbois? This copy I did receive: you will See it ⟨among⟩ the Correspondence No. 8. I expresssed my Surprise at his not having interposed in some manner more efficient, and especially that he did not remonstrate directly to the Government against t⟨he⟩ conduct of Mr. Marbois, who he himself had frequen⟨tly⟩ observed to me on former occasions, with respect to ⟨the⟩ extraordinary delay of my claim at the French Treas⟨ury⟩ was disposed, under the influence of his chief, Mr. Dubui⟨sson,⟩ to treat me with injustice.

In order to prevent the arrete Suggested by the Ge⟨neral⟩ from receiving the Sanction of the Government, I wa⟨s⟩ induced to make use of the Letter which you had wri⟨tten⟩ & confided to me (after examining into the Characte⟨r &⟩ merits of my claim) by prevailing on Genl. Armstro⟨ng⟩ to transmit the Same to the Minister of Exterior Relations, who immediately accompanied it with t⟨he⟩ flattering & impressive Letter noticed in my appeal ⟨   ⟩ of the 14th. of May, addressed to Mr. Deser⟨   ⟩, Direct⟨or⟩ General of the Council of Liquidation.

But So far from that letter tending to induce ⟨the⟩ Council to maintain its original decree in my fav⟨or,⟩ it Served only to draw from the Director the letter to ⟨the⟩ Minister which is printed at the close of my Supplem⟨entary⟩ Memorial, Confirming the fact of a new Decree hav⟨ing⟩ been entered into on the 12th. of April last, by which ⟨my⟩ claim is reduced from the Sum of 168487 livres to a⟨bout⟩ 49000.

It was not untill I received the Communication before Spoken of that I became possessed of any evid⟨ence⟩ of a Decree of revision having passed the Council; ⟨but⟩ I now Know that the Genl. was well acquainted, ⟨on⟩ my arrival, with the fact. Nor did I receive immedi⟨ately⟩ from him the least intimation or Confirmation of ⟨the⟩ Decree by the Emperor, previous to his last Communi⟨cation⟩ No. 6 of the 16th. ulto.; tho he had divulged that fact in conversation with a person of my acquaintance more than five weeks before. In this letter he ⟨is⟩ pleased to State that "because there was no divisi⟨on⟩ of opinion in the Council of Liquidation, the Arr⟨ete⟩ against me was like other business so circumsta⟨nced⟩ carried directly to his Majesty & approved witho⟨ut⟩ the intervention of his Council of State; but he had written to his Excellency the Minister of Exterior Relations, requesting my claim to be Sent to that Council, & that it only remained for him to ⟨urge⟩ a decision on that request &ca."

Having replied to this letter from the General, I beg leave to refer you to the Copy No. 7 of my reply, and to remark, respecting the passage from the General⟨’s⟩ Letter just quoted, that except in my own Solitary Case I defy him to Cite a Single instance of the final Settlement of a claim in France, or elsewhere, under ⟨   ⟩ by two Conventional Commissions, & Specially Sanctioned by the Supreme Executive Authority of the Country in which those Concurrent Commissions acted, having been Sent back for revision to one Commmission alone, and anulled without any form of process (& without ⟨   ⟩ the party Complaining being heard) by the Confirmative act of the Executive Authority alone.

Reason, practice, the objects for which a Council of State has been instituted, the principles of its organization, all open the Doors in affairs of money to an investigation of matters of Collision between the Individual & the Government. The printed organization here forwarded will Shew that each individual complainant can have recourse to his Majesty’s Council of State, with the aid of a defender & expounder of the law, but in vain do I attempt to bring my affair there.

The design therefore, manifested by the Minister, of ranging the Direction of my affair among the regular and ordinary proceedings of the Council of Liquidation, is not Calculated to increase respect for either his Candour or love of justice.

Previous to my departure, last year, for the U: States, the General assured me that he Should preserve & maintain my rights under the Convention, & that he had a plan in Contemplation, by which he Should rescue my liquidation from the chicane & malevolent persecution of Mr. Dubuisson, who he added, did as he pleased with the Minister, Mr. Marbois. In fact, he assured me that I Should be paid. I left ⟨him⟩ with those words of comfort, & in the persuasion tha⟨t⟩ in the last extremity of the case he would not fail ⟨to⟩ issue my Bills.

My claim, with every paper connected with it ⟨had⟩ been weeks in his possession; among them were t⟨he⟩ Certificate of admission by the American Board o⟨f⟩ Commissioners, the Decree of the Council of Liquidat⟨ion⟩ in my favor (see Copy No. 13) & on the General List of liquidations received by him from the Minister of t⟨he⟩ Public Treasury, and approved by his Majesty, wi⟨th⟩ his Council of State, was the final Settlement in ⟨my⟩ favor inserted in its precise amount. Thus had my ⟨claim⟩ been regularly, definitively & fully Settled and recogn⟨ized⟩ under every formality, & by every authority. It was among the first Settled by the Council of Liquidati⟨on⟩ & did not for Some month’s labour under any other embarrassment at the French Treasury, than ⟨   ⟩ the Small Sum in which I am indebted to the gove⟨rnment⟩ & which I was ever offering, willing, & ready to ⟨   ⟩ The Convention does not authorize the Minister of ⟨the⟩ Public Treasury any more than it does the American Minister to interpose in cases, except where a differen⟨ce⟩ of opinion Shall exist between the agent of the Un⟨ited⟩ States & the french Bureaux (Conv. Art. 10.) In my ⟨   ⟩ Case there had been an union of opinion between the concurrent authorities. Under those various Circumstances Combined Genl. Armstrong migh⟨t⟩ had he been disposed, have rendered me justice wi⟨th⟩ Safety & propriety, by issuing my Bills.

But 18 months after the Date of the Decree in ⟨my⟩ favor, when by artifice & intrigue, during my abse⟨nce⟩ & under the General’s eyes, this Government is Surp⟨rised⟩ into the Commission of an act of extreme injustice towards me, I am to learn in the language of t⟨he⟩ letter to me of the 4th. of June that "he will not pay the amount of my claim on a general Li⟨st⟩ to which there is no Signature".

That indeed was the language which I urged ⟨the⟩ Minister to address to Mr. Marbois, with respect to Settled claims generally, & to insist upon formal & authentic general Lists, as an indispensible preliminary condition of drawing a Single Bill. By not having done So, & by leaveing to Mr. Marbois, or rather to his chief Mr. Dubuisson the option of parcelling out this or that Single claim on which he Should be furnished with what he calls a voucher to enable him to draw, every fair and bona fide Amern. claimant, as well as myself, has been left to pass the ordeal of that chief’s ⟨sentiments⟩, partialities, & prejudices, to Say nothing of the power which it left with him of favouring or participating in jobs of injustice & Corruption; In fact, in looking at my case, for the example, I may with reason Say that it placed the Convention itself with each man’s rights emanating from it under that Agent’s fist.

The French Government could have had no desire or interest in withholding from our Minister an official return of the claims, regularly and definitively Settled There existed in the french Bureaux but two or three trifling demands against individual claimants, who were ready to acquit them; the throwing the whole mass of claims, Settled according to the Principles of the Convention, into Mr. Dubuisson’s office of Attachm⟨ent⟩ under the plausible appearance of Securing the interests of Government, While in fact the real object could not be mistaken by any person in the least acquainted with facts & Circumstances here at that time, was therefore an improper measure, productive of infinite injustice & partiality, & an act to which our Minister ought never to have Conceded.

It would not, I apprehend, be easy for the General to explain Satisfactorily why he yielded to this System of attachments in any form. The Convention, which ought to have been his guide, Certainly does not offer him a ground of justification: more difficult Still must it be for him to demonstrate either the propriety or expediency of his having received ⟨   ⟩ a List without a signature

I will not deny but what there were many ⟨   ⟩ & excellent purposes for which an informal list mig⟨ht⟩ have been desired by a Minister regardful of his ⟨own⟩ responsibility, of the principles of the Convention of 1803, or of common justice & consistency. But unfortun⟨ately⟩ I can find no correspondent application upon those ⟨   ⟩ of a list without a Signature, in the hands of Gen⟨l.⟩ Armstrong.

With an informal List he might have establi⟨shed⟩ at least an apriori-principle in his order of issuing payments, but he did not, for I find among the first claims paid were those of S. W. Livingston, Captn. Sin⟨clair⟩ Mr. Townsend, and Mr. Jas. R. Livingston, all of NewY⟨ork.⟩ The names of these Gentlemen do not Stand high ⟨in⟩ our alphabet, among the claimants, nor is the orig⟨in⟩ of their claims among the first according to date.

With an informal List, the Genl. might have distinguished & opposed the payment of a great num⟨ber⟩ of claims, which had been rejected by the Americ⟨an⟩ Commission, & were obviously excluded by the plain⟨est⟩ provision of the Convention. But this he did not do, ⟨& I⟩ find that in the Cases of Mr. Swan, & in every other as evidently excluded by the principles of that Instrum⟨ent⟩ which could be got through the french offices, tho rejected by the American Board, he has issued the B⟨ill.⟩

Two of Mr. Swan’s claims, the Maria-Carolin⟨a⟩⟨ &⟩ Thomas Rawsden had been formerly Settled, paid, ⟨&⟩ receipted in full. See Copies of the Documents Nos. 15 & ⟨   ⟩ with my letters, one No. 9 to the Director General, & ⟨the⟩ other No. 11 to our Minister. Most of Mr. Swan’s oth⟨er⟩ Claims were exaggerated, & questionable in their nat⟨ure⟩ & principles; he has nevertheless received about t⟨he⟩ Sum of 1,800,000.l. in our Ministers Bills.

General Armstrong might and ought to have applied to his Majesty the Emperor for an enquiry before the Council of State, into the justice & meri⟨t⟩ of Mr. Swan’s Claims. With the proofs & facts which⟨h⟩ were before him, he could not have failed in procur⟨ing⟩ Such an investigation.

I come to the letter quoted from the General No. 17 in which I am to learn that because "nothing in the Convention, nor in the uniform usage under it forbids, my claim has been Sent back to the Council of Liquidation for revision, on a Suggestion of Error."

Sir, General Armstrong is perfectly Consistent in his practice of what he calls usage under the Convention. Nay, nothing in what Treaty, nor in the uniform usage under it, forbids him to offer the Same defence, in Support of other acts of his partiality & injustice; he is welcome to Such means of vindication or better if he can find them, but I cannot Consent that he Shall Seek an apology for his acquiescence to the revision of my claim, upon the pretence of error. He has debarred himself from that Subterfuge in my opinion, by his own Letter No. 8 which my Representative obtained from him, in my absence. He never Suspected or found an error in either the principles or manner originally adopted in the Settlement of my claim, & has therefore, by not remonstrating to this Government against the infraction & violation of my rights, under the Convention, acted in dereliction of one of the essentia⟨l⟩ Duties belonging to his official character, which is to maintain the execution of existing Treaties & protect the rights of his Fellow Citizens, & not to become the apologist & Supporter of an unauthoriz⟨ed⟩ act of injustice.

In the reverse of my Case, can it be Supposed that the French Minister at Washington would have exercised the Same Complaisance towards any of our offices in Setting aside the rights of a Frenchman, after they had been defined & established under Treaty by two Conventional Commissions, & lastly in placing the rights of that Individual thus regularly vested in him by every requisite form, out of the protection of the laws of his own Country? I presume not.

I wish that General Armstrong may have it in his power to Satisfy the President & the Parties interested of having discharged his duty towar⟨ds⟩ more than one hundred other Citizens of this Gov⟨t⟩ whose rights under the Convention have been Sacrif⟨iced⟩ to the System and principles of Mr. Swan & his C⟨o⟩-adjutors. In his letter to you, Sir, which was publi⟨shed⟩ last winter, are to be found high professions of Solicitude & Support in favor of a portion of those claims, which according to his own view of them were unexceptionable & intitled to a repartition of the marginal found. But I deny that he has don⟨e⟩ any thing for them on just, uniform & Consistent principles. Two or three Individuals Claimants among them have been aided by him in obtaining their payments, while the mass lay buried & unnoticed.

I find that in the affair of the ⟨Tigere⟩ Settled & paid last year, in the Sum of about 700,000 l. the Ge⟨nl.⟩ has aided Mr. Waddell in obtaining a Supplementary Liquidation of 200,000 l. indemnification, for a loss su⟨sta⟩ined by him on a paper called Bons-de Syndicat, ⟨which⟩ had been received by him here, many years ago. Th⟨e⟩ Principle of Indemnification was partially applie⟨d &⟩ therefore becomes unjust, & how the General Could ⟨pay⟩ Mr. Waddell that Sum out of the Marginal Fund⟨, &⟩ forget the equitable principle (professed by him in h⟨is⟩) letter of repartition, remains for him to explain.

Another example is before me, in which a Regard ⟨to⟩ justice and a proper sense of the attributes belong⟨ing⟩ to his ministerial character, would have called fr⟨om⟩ him an effort to Secure to the Creditors of a Bank⟨rupt⟩ lately deceased in this City, the Sum of about 150,0⟨00⟩ Dollars.

I speak of a claim liquidated in the name of Jos. Miller & paid to a Mr. Torris as his Transferee⟨.⟩

Mr. Miller, lost by a dissolute line of Conduct a numerous and amiable family, the author of ru⟨in⟩ to Mr. Whelen, his partner, & father in law, & Cont⟨rary⟩ to the earnest intreaties of that respectable Citiz⟨en⟩ Transferred, for the purpose of depriving the Credi⟨tors⟩ of their rights, his claim in the name of the person just mentioned.

I remonstrated but in vain, with our minister & with Mr. Marbois (See Document No. 10) against both the legality & principle of that Transfer; but because I was not possessed of the judicial proofs of Miller’s Bankruptcy, the amount of his claim was immediately paid to Mr. Torryss, from whom the Creditors of Whelen & Miller have not received a farthing.

Nothing was more Simple & easy than, for the American Minister, to demand & obtain a suspension of payment untill the facts urged by me were proven or found incorrect. He owed this to Miller’s family & to his Creditors.

But So far from adopting this equitable & regular line of Conduct, on the 31st. of July last, when Mr. Barnet was assisting (in the absence of Mr. Biddle) in preparing Bills, Mr. Torris applied to have a Bil⟨l⟩ which he had received in right of Mr. Miller’s claim (for 192,000 fr.) drawn over & divided into Six. Mr. Barnet prepared one Set for 56,000 fr. to the order of P. Torris, Transferee of Jh. J. Miller, but the latter qualification not meeting with the views of Mr. Torris, the Transferee, he carried them to Genl. Armstrong, who Complaciantly Consented to Strike out the words Transferee of Jh. J. Miller, & Mr. Barnet wrote the Set over. This was done in opposition to a rule the General himself, had laid down, in conformity to what he calls his voucher, A rule he has been So tenacious of holding in regard to the third Sett of Bills issued in the Case of John Andrews, when he made them to the order of Mr. Omealy, Transferee of Js. Swan. In my own Case, & in numberless others, Suspensions have taken place at the bare requisitions of Individuals, or at the instance of Mr. Dubuisson, or either Genl. Armstrong or Mr. Marbois.

My letters, both to the general & to his predeces⟨sor⟩ already furnished your Department, with the Copy of the one No. 11 now forwarded, will Shew that neither of them wanted timely & correct in forward⟨ing⟩ of the ⟨   ⟩ & nothing of the manifold & in⟨   ⟩ abuses, which have been practiced in relation to t⟨he⟩ transactions of the Convention, whereby my own rig⟨hts,⟩ the rights of others, & the plain principles of ⟨   ⟩ justice & policy have been defeated, & for disgrace⟨ful⟩ purposes. Had his Majesty the Emperor, or his Excel⟨lency⟩ the Minister of Exterior Relations, received tha⟨t⟩ information from our Minister, I am & always Shall be of opinion that uniform principles wo⟨uld⟩ have been adopted, as well in the Settlement of American claims, as in the repartition of the money provided by the Convention.

I endeavoured, while exercising the duties assig⟨ned⟩ to me by that Instrument (Conv. art. 10.) to act w⟨ith⟩ fidelity & disinterestedness: I may have Committed errors; if I have, when made sensible of them, ⟨I⟩ Shall make any atonement in my power, but ⟨I⟩ ought not to expect that my past efforts to defea⟨t⟩ the objects of Mr. Swan’s intrigues, or any other persons attempts to divert justice, & to degrade ou⟨r⟩ National character, in maintaining the right⟨s of⟩ our Citizens, are to be numbered among my fau⟨lts.⟩ If principles correspondent with these duties ar⟨e⟩ not implanted in my breast, the responsibility ⟨with⟩ which I acted towards a virtuous administration would have left no other alternative.

It is a Subject of deep regret to me to hav⟨e⟩ as little choice in judging of the Conduct & proceed⟨ings⟩ of our own Minister, with respect to the ill-trea⟨tment⟩ I receive in the business of my claim, by which⟨h⟩ my little fortune has been Sacrificed, & my Famil⟨y⟩ reduced to indigence. That he has favored others whose rights were not So legitimately established ⟨as⟩ mine, while he has Silently Suffered mine to be annihilated, I think I have fairly demonstrated.

He may possibly be able to offer Some justificat⟨ion⟩ of himself, but I cannot Consent that he Sha⟨ll⟩ hereafter repeat what he has asserted here, that I had acted with hostility towards him, while in the U. States. For the reverse of that fact I might appeal to every person who conversed with me respecting him, during my residence at Washington. I might appeal to Messrs. Anderson, Logan, Stone, Gilman, Smith, & the President of the Senate, while his late nomination was depending before that Body. Indeed, I may appeal to the President of the United States himself.

Under these extraordinary & peculiar Circumstances of my Case, I have thought proper to Caution the General against disposing of the Amount originally decreed & Settled in my favor. Unwilling as I am to Carry my Complaint to Congress, untill all other means Shall fail, I have Considered it my duty to lay before you the particular Circumstances of my case, under a persuasion that you will Submit this Letter & the Documents in Company with it to the President, & that he will in Support of my rights under the Convention, instruct his Minister to pursue Such other measures as he, in his wisdom, Shall judge expedient & necessary.

I had carried last year to Washington the original Documents referred to in my letters No. ⟨   ⟩ to the Minister, with a view of Communicating them to you, but that not having appeared to me necessary, I left them with my friend Colo. Mercer, who I Shall instruct to lay them before you, if required. Altho the Copies furnished Genl. Armstrong have not, I presume, been made use of by him, I Shall request him to return them to me, having no Copies in my possession; & Should he think proper to withold them, I Shall desire Mr. Mercer to deposit the originals in your Department, & to Send me authentic Copies, which may be requisite here, Should the French Government, as is possible, be induced to investigate the transactions rela⟨ting⟩ to claims. With great respect, I have the ho⟨nor⟩ to be, Dear Sir, your Mo. ob. Serv

Fulwar Skipwith

DNA: RG 59-NFL-Notes from Foreign Legations, France.

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