To William Branch Giles
[6 Apr. 1802]
I inclose you an extract of a letter from mr Brown to mr Lincoln under whom, acting as Secretary of state, and Genl. Smith acting voluntarily for the department of Secretary of the Navy, but without appointment or reward, the latter part of what respected the Berceau was conducted. the other letter of Brown’s which I mentioned relates merely to the details of the repairs.
The question whether the Berceau was to be delivered up under the treaty was of Executive cognisance entirely & without appeal. so was the question as to the condition in which she should be delivered: and it is as much an invasion of it’s independance for a co-ordinate branch to call for the reasons of the decision, as it would be to call on the Supreme court1 for it’s reasons on any judiciary decision. if an appropriation were asked, the legislature would have a right to ask reasons. but in this case they had confided an appropriation (for Naval contingencies) to the discretion of the Executive. under this appropriation our predecessors bought the vessel (for there was no order of Congress authorizing them to buy) and began her repairs; we compleated them. I will not say that a very gross abuse of discretion in a past appropriation2 would not furnish ground to the legislature to take notice of it. in what form is not now necessary to decide. but so far from a gross abuse, the decision in this case was correct, honorable, and advantageous to the nation. I cannot see to what legitimate object any resolution of the house on the subject can lead: and if one is passed on ground not legitimate, our duty will be to resist it. these gentlemen wish to abuse the liberality of the Majority by harrassing the Executive with malicious enquiries, and sowing tares among their enemies. so far they ought not to be indulged. they wish also to create occasions for evacuation of their ill humor. they have no doubt had the evacuation. but after indulging them with that, to give them any sanction by a vote of the house yielding to their demands, is to give colour to all the calumnies they have before uttered against the Executive. be so good as to return me the inclosed paper when you shall have made your uses of it.
RC (NN); date supplied from PrC; addressed: “Mr. Giles”; endorsed by Giles. PrC (DLC); at foot of text in ink: “Apr. 6. 1802.” Recorded in SJL under 6 Apr. Enclosure: Extract from Samuel Brown to Levi Lincoln, [4 Aug. 1801], stating that the Berceau was captured on 12 Oct. 1800, arrived at Boston on 14 Nov., libeled and condemned on 17 Nov., sold by the order of the district court and purchased by the United States on 15 Jan. 1801; stating also that Brown “presumed it was the meaning” of his instructions from the secretary of the navy that the vessel should be restored to the condition it was in immediately prior to the battle in which it was captured; and that the vessel had to be fitted with new masts, spars, cordage, sails, carpentry, and ironwork estimated to be worth “on an average” 30 percent more than the fittings that were on the ship before it was damaged and captured (Tr in DLC, described at Vol. 35:88n, enclosed in Lincoln to TJ, 14 Aug. 1801; enclosed in TJ to the House of Representatives, 15 Apr. 1802, Enclosure No. 29).
For the repair of the corvette BERCEAU and the return of the vessel to the French government in 1801, see Vol. 34:547–9, 596–7, 662–7, 668n; Vol. 35:88, 146, 147n.
OTHER LETTER OF BROWN’S: probably Samuel Brown to the secretary of the navy, 31 Oct. 1801 (TJ to the House of Representatives, 15 Apr., Enclosure No. 31), or perhaps Brown to Lincoln, 16 Oct. 1801 (see Lincoln to TJ, 24 Oct. 1801, Enclosure No. 2).
In January 1802, TJ sent the House of Representatives an estimate of expenses for implementing the Convention of 1800. The estimate, prepared under Madison’s direction, totaled $350,000 and excluded the expense of repairing the Berceau, which cost $32,839.54 according to the statement submitted to the House. On 3 Apr., a bill that appropriated $318,000 for various anticipated claims under the convention became law (TJ to the House of Representatives, 12 Jan. 1802). In the House on 5 Apr., Roger Griswold proposed a resolution directing the secretary of state to report if the repair of the corvette had been for the purpose of readying it for use by the United States or to prepare it to be returned to France. During the course of the ensuing debate, which occupied much of two days, James A. Bayard declared in support of the resolution that if the Berceau “was repaired as an American vessel, the expenditure was legal; if as a French vessel, it was not legal” and the refitting was “wanton and extravagant.” Giles took the lead in opposing the resolution, saying at one point that “it appeared to him the most disorganizing motion that had ever been made in that House.” To Bayard’s claim that the measure was simply “an inquiry into facts,” Giles responded that it was “an inquiry into motive.” However, Giles wanted to show that the administration had nothing to hide. He took the position that he “was not disposed to deny an atom of information that was required to enlighten our minds” and succeeded in getting the measure amended into a request for information only. The resolution passed by unanimous vote on 6 Apr.: “That the President of the United States be requested to direct the proper officer to lay before this House copies of all papers and documents which relate to the sale, purchase, and repairs, of the corvette Berceau; and, also, a statement of the sums paid to the respective officers and men of that vessel, specifying the period for which the payments were made; together with copies of all communications between the Government of the United States and any authorized agents of the French nation relative thereto.” After passing the resolution, the House named Griswold and Giles as a committee to present it to TJ. On 8 Apr., Griswold reported to the House “that the committee had, according to order, performed that service, and that the President signified to them that he would attend to the subject contained in the resolution of the House” (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 11:1133–54; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:180–4).
WHEN YOU SHALL HAVE MADE YOUR USES OF IT: in the debates on 6 Apr., perhaps in reference to the August letter from Brown to Lincoln, Giles said that he “held in his hand a paper” supporting his assertion that the Adams administration made the decision to restore the Berceau to France (Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 11:1142–3).
1. Word interlined.
2. Preceding four words interlined.