James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Charles Pinckney, 12 April 1803

From Charles Pinckney

Madrid 12th. April 1803.

Dear Sir,

Mr. Wells, an American Gentleman, who has been here some time on claims from South America, informs me he will return to the United States in a few days—by him I have the further opportunity of informing you, that finding Mr. Cevallos considered himself as obliged to wait until he received Dispatches from the Colonial Officers of New Orleans before he could give a decisive answer to the repeated applications made to him on the subject of indemnifications, or a promise to indemnify for the damages which have occurred in consequence of the Intendant of that place’s irregular conduct, and your instructions being positive as to my requiring a prompt & direct answer, I have considered it my duty to apply again to the Prince of Peace, who is in fact, the Prime Minister & Director of every thing here, for his interference to procure for us from the Department of State such an answer as will enable the President to say to our Western Citizens that compensation will be made to them.

You will recollect in your instructions you connect the two subjects, the restoration of the Deposit, & the indemnification for damages, and altho’ you may consider the one as more important than the other, yet as your directions go to both, they have both been urged, as far as “amicable decision” will permit me to go. One has been obtained, and on the other Mr. Cevallos wishes time—this has been granted to the present day, & receiving no answer from him, I have written him the inclosed letter,1 and sent a copy of it to the Prince of Peace, & will transmit the result of the conference I expect with him in consequence of it, by this opportunity.

By Mr. Wells, you will also receive copies of the confidential communications I made to the Prince of Peace, on the subject of the purchase of Louisiana, or a part of it & the Floridas.2 They were delivered to him in French, & on his solemn promise of inviolable secrecy. They were intended to shew him the danger of breaking with us, & the consequences to Spain of our being driven to join England. No time could have been more fortunate for the use of these arguments, than the present, and although we arrived by nearly two years too late to prevent the Cession of Louisiana, yet I still hope, our exertions have in some degree contributed to save the Floridas from going the same way. We shall soon be able to discover after the arrival of Mr. Munroe, how far those and the other objects of the Extraordinary Mission, are attainable. Should there be war between France & England, it is probable we shall obtain a great part of what we wish, if not, our success will be doubtful.

20th. April.

In my conference with the Prince of Peace on the subject of His Majesty’s authorizing me to assure our Government, that for all damages occasioned by the illegal conduct of the Intendant, compensation would be made, I went into a detail of the consequences attending any further delay, & of the delicate & dangerous situation of things, until such assurances could arrive, as were satisfactory to our Executive—that the House of Representatives having resolved, our rights of limits, navigation, Deposit, &ca, should be inviolably maintained,3 he might be certain, no assurances short of a promise to indemnify, would be satisfactory—that, although the moderation of our Government was great, it still had its limits—that I could repeat to him in confidence,4 they had been very nearly at war with us—that motions to this effect had been made in Congress, some of them going to the length of authorizing the immediate seizure of the Country, & by such a force, as it would not easily be in the power of any European Nation to contend with—that our Government, however, having the most perfect confidence in the honor and justice of His Majesty, and wishing always to be on the most cordial terms with him, had preferred negotiation—that I had waited until the present moment for an answer from Mr. Cevallos to my repeated demands both verbally & in writing, for a promise to indemnify, and having received no precise one in writing, I now again applied to him (the Prince) as the Minister who formed the Treaty, & as the friend of the Peace of the two Countries, to interpose his influence to obtain from the Secretary of State in writing, such assurances as I knew would be satisfactory to our Government. He replied in the most polite & friendly terms, assuring me of the great respect he had for us, and of his most earnest wishes to be always on the most cordial & friendly footing with the United States—That he hoped all the inconveniences which had lately occurred, (some of which, he assured me, had originated in mistake, & others had been unauthorized by the Government here) would be removed, and that in future the intercourse of the two Nations would be less interrupted either by the fear of introducing contagious disorders, or by the irregular & unauthorized conduct of distant Officers, & concluded with assuring me, that the Secretary of State should write me a satisfactory letter on the subject of the indemnifications for damages occasioned by the conduct of the Intendant of New Orleans.

It is now six days since I received these assurances from the Prince, & still no letter to this effect has been sent me from the Secretary of State, which makes me begin to suppose, there is some hesitation on the part of this Government to send such a letter. I have therefore thought it my duty, as I informed the Prince I would, to transmit you this intelligence, that the President may be enabled to determine what is best to be done; in the interim, should such assurances, or indeed, any in writing be sent, I will immediately forward them. I must request my best respects to the President & remain with regard & Esteem dear sir Yours Truly

Charles Pinckney5

P. S. I have waited some days longer to see if an answer would be sent, such as I expected, and not receiving any, I have now reason to suppose, that although this Government have consented to restore the Deposit, yet that they are unwilling officially to acknowledge a Breach of the Treaty—or at this time to say that compensation will be made for the damages. This being my present impression, I have thought proper to transmit it for your information.

I shall by every means in my power continue to press the Question of the Indemnification & to urge the Prince of Peace, who is undoubtedly our best friend here to use his influence to this effect & as he has once promised me such an assurance should be given, it has given me a hold upon him I will not easily quit.

I have also this day repeated my application to the Secretary of State6 for an answer in writing.7

[May 2:

Since the above I have had another Audience With the Prince of Peace in which he said there was a difference of Opinion about the Treaty but again assured me the Question of indemnification should be satisfactorily arranged,8 but still I cannot recieve this assurance in Writing, although I have pressed it in every proper manner both verbally & by letter, believing the present unsettled state of things between France & England to be the best opportunity that may offer for so doing. I must request my most affectionate respects to The President & our friends in & near Washington & I remain with the sincerest respect & Esteem dear sir Yours Truly

Charles Pinckney.

I have the pleasure to inform you I have got the Quarantine taken off at Cadiz & Malaga & the Ports of Spain for American Vessels & now I inclose you a copy of a letter this moment recieved from Algiers9 & which it is important you should recieve immediately. By the last dispatch I sent you my contingent account for six months from the time of the former sent by Mr: Codman & which I am hopeful you found right.]

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