James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Leander Cathcart, 29 November 1802 (Abstract)

§ From James Leander Cathcart

29 November 1802, Malta. No. 16. Acknowledges JM’s 18 Apr. and 10 May letters,1 received from Commodore Morris on 12 Oct. Enclosures nos. 1 and 2 will give JM the latest intelligence from Tripoli;2 no. 3 contains Cathcart’s opinions on the proper steps to take in the present crisis;3 and no. 4 shows the terms of a separate peace Sweden concluded and Danish and Dutch arrangements with Tripoli.4 “We are now according to my prediction left to ourselves, And must trust to the strength of our own resources, which will render our negotiating with that Regency much more difficult than it Otherwise would have been”; the pasha, having forced the northern nations to such great concessions, will expect the U.S. to concede as well. “I can see no reason why he should think otherwise, until we prove to him by demonstration that he is mistaken.”

Has received $24,000 from Morris for the purchase of the consular present for Algiers and has commissioned watches and jewels, which will not be ready until April 1803. Has paid $5,000 in advance and deposited $12,000 with Degen and Purviance at Leghorn; the remainder is on board the Chesapeake. Notes that whenever a nation at peace with Algiers changes its consul, the consular present is always watches, jewels, and cloth, and “it would be only throwing away time, and placing difficulties in the Way of obtaining alterations in things of more importance to even mention it.” The biennial present must be paid in the same articles, since “the Dey and grandees of the Regency—in their turn, makes them presents to Governors of Provinces, and Chiefs of the Arab tribes, and their other dependents and adherents.” Will try to pay part of the biennial present in cash but will use his greatest exertions to substitute a cash payment for the annual tribute of stores. Wishes to know the amount of cash he may propose as a substitute and asks if he may offer “a vessel of War, every two or three years” equal to the value of the stores. “Viewing it in one light it would be giving them the means of committing depredations upon our Commerce, but in another, would not the desire inspired to obtain such fine vessels, insure us a Continuance of their friendship, much better than stores, of which their Magazines are full; or cash, of which they have an useless overplus in their treasury.” Should war break out, the capture of such ships would be more consequential to the U.S. and more lamented by Algiers than the capture of “those they now possess.” Since the U.S. must pay “one way or another” while the present policy prevails in Europe, “it behoves us to find out the Method less expensive, and most Conducive to our interests, or at once to shake off the yoke and station a sufficient force in the Mediterranean to confine them to their Ports.”

Has already informed JM that when Koefoed settled Danish affairs with Tripoli he agreed that Nissen should no longer handle U.S. affairs “in direct violation of his Masters Orders, as specified in a letter which Mr. Eaton received from the Chamber of Commerce of Copenhagen last year.”5 “Consequently it is beneath our dignity to solicit his good Offices longer than is absolutely necessary; but I must do him the justice to assert, that he has behaved towards us with unequivocal integrity, and merits the sentiments the President has pleased to cherish for him.”6

Should affairs between the U.S. and Tripoli be amicably arranged, “which we have no great reason to expect, until we display more force before that Regency,” he will ask Morris to leave an officer as charge until a consul is appointed. None but a respectable U.S. citizen should be permitted to interfere in U.S. affairs if it can be avoided.

Regrets that letters patent similar to those given for altering the treaty with Tunis were not sent with his commission and instructions. Fears his letter from JM “will hardly be deemed sufficient” should he be asked to exchange his full powers with anyone authorized by the pasha to negotiate a treaty with him. Notes that a letter of credence is always sent by all countries to the dey of Algiers when a new consul is appointed.

Enclosures nos. 5, 6, and 7 are his letters to O’Brien,7 Eaton,8 and Nissen9 and are self-explanatory.

“I now come to that part of your dispatch which distresses me beyond measure, to be obliged to answer. I mean that part which reduces the Salary of the Consulate General of Algiers, one half, upon a pretext, that the duty of that Consulate is decreased when in fact it is Increased, owing to the present situation of our affairs, with Barbary in General, and our having a Squadron in the Mediterranean.” The superintendence of the Algiers consulate over the others was “only nominal, and by no means the reason, why the Salary at Algiers was greater than that of the other Regency’s.” There is no doubt that a correspondence between the consulates should be “constantly carried on,” and it will be more necessary than ever when Eaton goes home and Cathcart is left as the only consul in the region “any way acquainted, with the affairs of Barbary”; his opinion will be frequently sought by other consuls, and it would not be in the interest of the U.S. if he refused to give it. Such advice was all O’Brien ever gave, and “in that alone consisted his superintendance over other Consulates.” The reasons the consul at Algiers had a more liberal salary than those at Tunis and Tripoli are, first, the consuls of all nations draw a higher salary at Algiers since it is regarded as more important than the other regencies, it draws a greater number of warships, requiring consuls to incur the expense of giving dinners for “every Commander and public Agent that arrives there,” and it is held up as a place of preferment and reward for consuls who have served faithfully at other regencies; second, a biennial present and annual tribute are paid at Algiers, giving the consul there “an infinite deal of trouble, anxiety and Expence in their delivery,” which is not the case at Tunis or Tripoli. “Many other reasons of less magnitude might be assigned, but I presume the above will be sufficient to induce the President to continue my Salary, the same as was given to my predecessor—especially when he is informed that I have sunk five thousand dollars of my own private property, since my arrival upon this Station, And that I should at this instant be envolved in debt was it not that I received some consignments from my friends, while I remained at Leghorn.”

“No person possesses more patriotism, or a greater ambition to serve my country than I do, but the sacrifice is too great, I cannot … remain an unconcerned spectator, when my innocent family, is verging daily upon indigence, when it is my duty to provide for them, while I am of an age capable of Exerting myself.” Will forward his accounts up to the date of his commission to Algiers as soon as possible and give his father-in-law in Washington 10 full power to settle them. “From the date of my Commission, until the pleasure of the President is known, I shall draw for the Same Salary that my predecessor had, which if continued, I pledge myself to remain Eight Years longer on the Station, which is by no means, a Small sacrifice, Provided, however that when half that time is elapsed, I may have permission to return to the United States, to place my Children in a Seminary for their Education, if our affairs will permit my leaving my Station for a few months.” Adds that he accepted his commission under the supposition that the salary would be the same. “Our Gentlemen in Command” believed the post was given to him as a reward for his former service. No one had “the most distant Idea” that the U.S. would place its representative on a salary little more than half that of other consuls at Algiers. When a consul is unable to make the same appearance as other consuls, both consul and country “must Ultimately sink into Contempt.” Had imagined a different policy would be advisable when the U.S. is “just commencing to establish a National character.” Asks JM to present his request to the president “in as favorable a light as possible” so that the president will continue the salary at its former level or else “will give me leave to resign my Commission in such a manner, as not to injure my reputation in the Eyes of my fellow Citizens.”

Reports that he learned on arrival at Malta that Hamet Pasha had accepted the governorship of Derna and had arrived there “some time ago.” Hamet had then sent to Tripoli for his wife and family, but the pasha would not give them up, “keeping them as hostages for his fidelity.” Cannot find that any agreement exists between Hamet and American or Swedish agents or officers. Hamet’s agent at Malta made some proposals to Commodore Morris, “which [Morris] intends to Negative.” Although there was a time when Hamet might have been of service to the U.S., “that period is past.” The Swedish-Tripolitan peace and Hamet’s acceptance of the government of Derna render the position so different that “I do not think it advisable to have any thing to do with him.” The $2,000 Eaton ordered Pulis to advance to Hamet has not been paid, as the order arrived after Hamet had left for Derna.11 “The rest of my instructions, not here mentioned shall be Obeyed, with the greatest punctuality and as soon as circumstances will admit.”

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