James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Eaton, 4 May 1802 (Abstract)

§ From William Eaton

4 May 1802, Tunis. Reports that on 2 May “it was announced to the Bey that an American frigate had captured four Coasting Vessels belonging to his Subjects, bound to Tripoli.… Immediate restitution of Vessels and cargoes were demanded by the Bey. Yesterday and to day have been consumed in discussion on the subject.” To the bey’s argument of “the principle of free bottoms free goods,” Eaton replied that this “was never construed to extend to a blockaded port.” The bey inferred from the president’s letter of 9 Sept. 18011 “an implied order to respect his flag, Vessels and Subjects in all Situations,” but Eaton insisted that “a fair construction could only imply that respect so long as he or his Subjects respected the laws of neutrality.” The bey threatened reprisals; Eaton offered retaliation. “Thus we stand here.” While convinced that “this Regency dare not attempt a System of reprisals,” Eaton believes “indemnity will be hereafter reclaimed.” Still, “this is not the moment to yield in the smallest matter.… It will be Seasonable enough to be generous when they shall be taught to appreciate duly our generosity.” Has heard nothing from the pasha of Tripoli’s brother since 31 Mar. when he sailed for Malta.

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