James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Richard O’Brien, 25 November 1801 (Abstract)

§ From Richard O’Brien

25 November 1801, Algiers. Reports that the George Washington and the Peace and Plenty left Algiers for Tunis on 22 Nov. Bad weather and the Algerine navy’s use of the port facilities explain the delay. Discusses state of U.S. accounts with Algiers, including the dey’s latest requests on his private account, the comparative advantages of gifts in cash and kind, and the benefits of bribing the dey’s aides. Notes that the George Washington returns goods that the purveyor had sent by mistake. Suggests that the U.S. could adapt Mediterranean galleys, along with a fleet of gunboats, for use in its coastal defense. These could be employed to convoy troops to offshore islands in the event of war or to the South in cases of slave insurrection. Further advises keeping three or four frigates in the Mediterranean at all times. “It is force on one tack that will give us Security: and keep the Evil Minded in awe,” otherwise “it will be in Vain for us to know we are a great nation.” States that the extent of U.S. population and commerce “avails nothing to foreign nations and particularly to Barbary. They will say Where is your navy.” Sends by the George Washington a Koran, assuming its contents will give JM “some singular information.” Believes that provided the regencies do not “exceed The boundary of reason,” it will be in the interest of the U.S. to remain at peace with them. Discusses at length the problems of trade in the Mediterranean and its protection, rivalry with other nations, and internal Algerine politics. States that Mediterranean passports issued to American ships are defective; Algerines condemn cargoes in such cases. Refers to proposals for revision he sent to the previous administration.1 Recounts negotiations with local bankers and expresses his gratitude to JM for sending overdue stores and annuities to him at a time when “our affairs with Barbary was Verging to destruction.” Declares that had U.S. frigates arrived earlier with payments for the pasha of Tripoli the present war might have been avoided.

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