Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Leander Cathcart, 13 March 1824

Washington March 13th 1824

Venerable and respected Sir

Were it possible to increase the respect, veneration, & esteem which I have cherish’d for you, ever since I have had the honor of your acquaintance in 1796, your very kind and affectionate letter in my behalf would have that effect; it serves to prove that the truely great do not think that they deviate from their dignity by espousing the just cause of an injured officer who has served his country faithfully, nearly all his life without reproach, & who will endeavor to merit a continuation of your esteem

My case could not be placed in better hands than Mr Barbour’s, he has done everything in his power for me, and more than I had any reason to expect, for which, both to you, and to him, I will ever feel grateful; but alas! without any effect; both Mr Barbour & Genl Jackson waited on the President & solicited in my behalf, but extorted nothing but a general wish that I should be provided for, which is only a repitition of what he has constantly said for the last seven years, which is the cause of my present penury, for had he told me in 1817 that I had nothing to expect during his administration, I would have sought employment elsewhere, while I had the means, which are now entirely exhausted, & in truth I have no reason to expect anything at present, & must have patience, & it seems useless, and indeed humiliating and improper, for me to torment Mr Barbour with further importunity with so little hope of success: the Ides of March 25 are not far distant, after which the influence of my friends I hope will be more respected

This delicacy which I observed in the settlement of my accounts at different times, has indeed bordered on folly, had I obtained any situation which would have enabled me to maintain my numerous family, I would never have requested a revision of them, although many precedents are on record, where accounts of many years standing have been revised, a case in point happened last month, and the heirs of Mr Barlow were allowed 2600 dollars on the adjustment of his accounts, which had not been finally settled; I have had mine before Congress, & have received some compensation in 1820 for services rendered before the date of my commission in 1797, but since that period, my accounts are still open for revision, and I have asked to be paid with the same liberality that my predecessor in office OBrien, & my successor Lear were paid. During my residence in the Mediterranean I had sent home my accounts annually for settlement, & on my return in 1805—They were the first of the Barbary Consuls accounts which were settled, a precedent was attempted to be form’d for the settlement of the accounts of all the Barbary Consuls, which when the government became better acquainted with the nature of the business, which at that time was entirely new to them, they found impracticable & abandon’d the project, consequently the accounts of OBrien & Lear, and indeed of all the Barbary Consuls since, have been settled on a more liberal scale, & allowances were made to them that had been refused to me, & my absence abroad nine years nearly at Madeira, & two at Cadiz prevented me from seeking redress in time; had that not been the case I would not have any claim on the government; but as I am ready to prove by original document (although already acknowledged by every successive administration of the government which would seem to imply that no other proof would be necessary) that owing to the events of the period when I was employed, that my services were of more importance, attended with greater risk & private expense, & more personal exertion than any other Consul that was employed on that station. I concieve that I ought to receive compensation on the same scale as was paid to my predecessor & successor in office besides my commission as Consul general for Algiers was dated Feby 10th 1802 and was sent out immediately, in the Enterprize Captn Sterreth, but on his arrival at Gibraltar, he sent it on board the commodores ship with other despatches, and owing to his inertions (the Commodores) for which he was afterwards dismissed the service, it was not delivered to me until the October following, in the mean time, I received your note to the Senate, and information of my appointment, and acted on it by preparing the Consular present, & other duties of the office, which saved the nation a very considerable sum; but on my return to the US, on the settlement of my accounts, this circumstance, over which neither the Executive nor myself, had any control, occasioned the accompting officers of the treasury to deduct eight months pay from my salary, & only to allow it to commence from the day I received my commission; this I am persuaded was not your intention at the time, which is better explained in the inclosed rough statement of facts, which I respectfully intreat you to look over; & if there is nothing improper in the request; for far be it from me to wish to intrude opinions which are not strictly just, and corresponding with your own, which I believe to be the case; that you will have the goodness to give me a certificate specifying that when you nominated me to the Senate when my appointment took place, that you intended that my salary should commence from the date of my commission, in like manner as the salaries of our Ministry, Charge des affaires, and Consuls in Barbary generally have done, probably without any exception, especially as the war with Tripoli had exposed me & my family to imminent danger, great exertion, loss and expence, for which no remuneration was allowed by government, and that my services were esteemed as valuable and important & certainly much less expensive than those performed by Consuls OBrien and Lear; and that it is your opinion that I ought to be allowed the same outfit and allowance to pay my expences home, and for clerk hire & stationary (translations I made myself) & for extra service &c that they were, all which is more fully explained in the inclosed sketch, which will enable me to obtain what I conscientiously believe I ought in reason to expect, and which I think may be inferred from the following extract of the Report of the committee on claims of the house of representatives.

“The petitioner asks of Congress to receive as evidence of the value of his services the favorable opinion expressed of them by every successive administration. If this be done, there is no rule of propriety, which would not also admit, that the payment already received, is the best criterion by which to estimate the amount of compensation to which he is entitled, for it cannot be supposed that the officers of government who were eye witnesses of the value of that service would be indisposed to make suitable compensation”—But the committee of claims were not acquainted with all the circumstances, and has neither time nor inclination to investigate the documents presented to them; that conclusion therefore was natural enough, as it was attended with less trouble & expense. hence the utility of the certificate which I respectfully intreat you to grant me, if you think that I am entitled to it, which I have no doubt will procure me that relief which I believe to be just, and which my unfortunate family are in so much want of who will not fail to offer up their prayers to the searcher of hearts for your felicity, in time, and in eternity.—

Respectfully requesting you esteem’d Sir, to pardon this my second intrusion, and to attribute it to the anxiety which I feel for my destitute family. I have the honor to be with respect veneration & sincere esteem

Your attached grateful and Obnt Servant,

James Leander Cathcart
le mal hereux

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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