Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 31 July 1803

To James Madison

Monticello July 31. 03.

Dear Sir

I return you the petition of Samuel Miller with the pardon signed. mr Kelty had spoke to me on this subject and told me that he and mr Craunch should join in a recommendation. I wish mr Wagner would obtain this before he delivers the pardon. I return also mr King’s letter which has really important matter, especially what respects the Mare clausum, the abandonment of the colonial system, & emancipation of S. America. on the subject of our seamen as both parties were agreed against impresments at sea, and concealments in port, I suppose we may practise on those two articles as things understood, altho’ no convention was signed. I see that the principle of free bottoms free goods must be left to make it’s way by treaty with particular nations. Gr. Britain will never yield to it willingly and she cannot be forced.

I think I have recollected a Governor for Louisiana, as perfect in all points as we can expect. sound judgment, standing in society, knolege of the world, wealth, liberality, familiarity with the French language, & having a French wife. you will percieve I am describing Sumpter. I do not know a more proper character for the place. I wish we could find a diplomatist or two, equally eligible, for Europe. Accept my affectionate salutations.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); at foot of text: “The Secretary of State.” PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as a letter to the State Department with notation “S Miller. pardon. King’s lre. T. Sumpter.” Enclosures: see first three enclosures listed at Madison, 26 July.

join in a recommendation: see Petition of Samuel Miller, with Recommendation of William Kilty and William Cranch to TJ, 28 July 1803.

Written at New York and received by Madison on 26 July, Rufus king’s letter discussed “a few miscellaneous articles by way of supplement” to his final dispatch as minister to Great Britain. He reported that before his departure from England, knowing that war between Britain and France was imminent, he attempted to negotiate a convention to protect American sailors from impressment. With effort, King framed an agreement with the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord St. Vincent. It prohibited armed vessels of either nation from seizing persons from any ship belonging to the other country on the high seas. It also required each country to prevent its citizens or subjects “from clandestinely concealing, or carrying away” seamen from the territories or possessions of the other nation. The convention was intended to be in effect for five years. The night before King left London, however, St. Vincent decided that the terms must be altered to allow Britain full jurisdiction over seas “immemorially considered to be within the Dominion of Great Britain.” Faced with this assertion of the principle of a closed sea—mare clausum—King “concluded to abandon the negotiation rather than to acquiesce in the Doctrine it proposed to establish” (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 5:203-4).

The prime minister, Henry Addington, hinted to King that if the disruptions of the new war should result in independence for South America, the colonial system “must every where be abandoned.” emancipation of s. america: King reported that a British expedition to support rebellion in northern South America, “in readiness to set sail,” had been forestalled by the signing of the Amiens peace and would be put back in motion if Spain entered the war. It was “the Opinion of the first men of the nation,” King noted, “that the secondary Object of the present war, and one that must give England Courage as well as Resources to go on with the Struggle is the entire independence of South America” (same, 205).

free bottoms free goods: King passed along an “annecdote” that the Prussian government had offered to protect Hanover and northern Germany from the French in exchange for British agreement to the maxim “That free ships should make free Goods.” According to the British response, “no advantage nor Service, which could be named, would be sufficient” to make England agree to that assertion of neutrals’ rights. Finally, King informed Madison that he had declined to accept presents that the crown customarily gave to departing ministers and to plenipotentiaries who had signed treaties or conventions (same, 204-6). The State Department, perhaps in the autumn after it was known in Washington that James Monroe had gone to London as King’s successor, sent Monroe copies of much of the text of King’s letter (same, 206n, 471, 504-5).

sumpter: that is, Thomas Sumter, Jr., who recently resigned his position as secretary of the U.S. legation in France (Vol. 33:624-5; Vol. 37:410-16).

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