Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Baldwin, 10 February 1802

To Abraham Baldwin

Feb. 10. 1802.

Th:J. to mr Baldwin

I recieved a message from you the other day on the subject of Cathcart. he is the person who was appointed by mr Adams & confirmed by the Senate as Consul at Tripoli. he is personally known to me, & pretty well known. he is the honestest & ablest consul we have with the Barbary powers: a man of very sound judgment & fearless. he married the daughter of some respectable family in Phi[ladel]phia. his public correspondence is published & shews his understanding. [a vessel being] on her departure for the Mediterranean (the Enterprize, Sterrett) it presses on [us] to send his commission by her: and makes it desireable the Senate should act on it immediately.

RC (DNA: RG 45, MLR); blotted; addressed: “The honble Mr. Baldwin.”

Baldwin’s message to TJ has not been found and is not recorded in SJL. James Leander Cathcart received the appointment as consul at Tripoli in July 1797, although he did not take up his duties there until 1799. By late August 1801, TJ determined to appoint Cathcart in place of Richard O’Brien, the consul at Algiers, who had requested permission to resign. Probably to avoid any step that could be construed as provocation, TJ waited to make the change until some act of “hostility” by Tripoli should allow him to remove Cathcart as consul there. TJ’s notes of the cabinet meeting on 18 Jan. 1802 show that by that time he and his advisers considered the United States to be at war with Tripoli, and an act of Congress approved on 6 Feb. authorized naval action and privateering against the North African state (see Circular to Naval Commanders, 18 Feb.). The same day the statute became law, Madison had a copy of it prepared for Cathcart. Later, in April 1802, Madison informed Cathcart that the United States intended to make a show of force by sending its full Mediterranean squadron to Tripoli. Madison instructed the consul to accompany the ships and negotiate a new treaty with the Tripolitans if that display of American strength had the desired effect (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 2:448; 3:135–8, 432, 540; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends , 3:572; TJ to Madison, 28 Aug. 1801).

Of very sound judgment & fearless: writing to Madison on 28 Aug. 1801, TJ said that he knew both Cathcart and O’Brien from “a pretty full acquaintance” in Philadelphia. In 1798, Cathcart had married Jane Bancker Woodside of that city. She was the daughter of John Woodside, a longtime Treasury clerk (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Vol. 34:272; Vol. 35:477n).

Act on it immediately: the Senate approved Cathcart’s nomination on 10 Feb. TJ signed a commission of that date, naming Cathcart consul general “for the City and Kingdom of Algiers” (Lb in DNA: RG 59, PTCC; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:407).

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