James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from John Mitchell, 30 June 1803

From John Mitchell, 30 June 1803

Havre 30th. June 1803


Before I had the honor to receive your circular Letter of the 9th. April I have prepared for an other purpose the charges paid on American Vessells at this port. I now ad as you desire those paid by french Vessells and take this early oportunity of transmitting them to you. The charge for a vessell laying in the Bason is only of a short date, (about one Month). It and all the other Charges are paid alike by all forreigners, but that charge will fall more heavy on our vessells than those of any other Nation. Our vessells in general are very sharp built, and are injured by takeing the ground, and all vessells out of the Bason take the ground, as the harbour is left dry at Low water. European Vess⟨ells⟩ being fuller and flatter built do not suffer (o⟨r⟩ at least not so much) espetially when light. Then when discharged they mostly quit the bason and avoid expence. Many discharge at the Qua⟨y⟩ and do not enter the Bason. Prudence requi⟨res⟩ that our Ship be kept constantly afloat. Th⟨e⟩ Bason is very commodious for landing & receiveing goods. It would be reasonable to pay as their own Vessells pay. At present strangers are ove⟨r⟩rated. Where in My opinion our Commer⟨ce⟩ suffers most is in the Duty on Tobacco import⟨ed⟩ in our own Vessells. In a french vessell the D⟨uty⟩ is 20 fr ⟨Cnt.⟩ & an adition of 10 Ct. fr. 22 [. . .] our vessells ’tho its a Staple of our Country We pay fifty perCent. More, say 33.[. . .] all foreign vessells the duty is 33’/ but ought ⟨not⟩ our own produce imported in our own Vessells be on a better footing than if imported by strangers to both Nations. If We average Tobacco at the rate of 1200 net Hhd. the extra duty is fr 132’ Hhd 300 Hhds; is but a moderate Cargo will pay an extra duty of frs. 39.600 equal to 7640 dollars, is more than a freight and in time of Peace is an actual prohibition. Formerly We could sell our Vessells in France. Since the Peace of Amiens no foreign Vessell can be sold here to Navigate under the National flag. It would be of consequence to Us could we recover that permission. I believe We are the only Nation that suffer from the regulation.

Since I am here I have noticed a regulation that to Me appeard singular if not improper, but which is Submitted to by all the foreign Vessells. Before a Vessell can clear at the Custom house a Certificate must be obtaind from the Bureau des Classes where the Captain & all his Crew must Appear and Where a Cop⟨y⟩ of his role of equipage is recorded, containing a⟨n⟩ exact description of any individual: Birth, residence, age, hight, Complection &c. &c. I mentiond this to Mr. Skipwith, and at His desire applyed to the Prefet of Marine her⟨e⟩ hopeing he would remove this greviance fo⟨r⟩ such I concieve it. The Chief of the Bureau o⟨f⟩ class was present at our Conversation, an⟨d⟩ they assured Me it was an old Usage and general through France. The order originate⟨d⟩ at Bureau de la Marine at Paris, and ⟨they⟩ could not desist, but by an order from thence. This I have informed Mr. Skipwith, that He might make such Application as he thou⟨ght⟩ proper, but the Minister of Marine being n⟨ow⟩ absent with the first Consul, nothing can ⟨be⟩ done for the present: and as Danes, Sweeds &c. submitt to it, I fear they will not willingly give it up to Us. Should any New regulation take place while I have the honor for to officiate, shall be Attentive to inform You, and do hope that my application for being Confirmed in the Agency for this Place, and Mr. Barnet for Antwerp, will be granted. I have the honor to be with perfect respect Sir, Your very Obd. Servt.,

John Mitchell

I had the honor to forward triplicate of Dispatches from our Minister at Paris on the 25. Instant the Charleston Packet Captn. Silliman for Philadelphia.

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