James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Joseph Cabrera, 3 October 1804 (Abstract)

§ From Joseph Cabrera

3 October 1804, Philadelphia. Finding himself in the most critical circumstances through Yrujo’s having conveyed his person over to the laws and government of the United States, he is compelled to address himself to the president by means of the enclosed remonstrance,1 trusting JM will see that the president reads it. No one knows his diplomatic character better than JM, to whom he was presented by Yrujo in the character of appointee to the secretariat of the Spanish legation on his arrival at Philadelphia during the last session of Congress. Urges JM to use whatever influence he has in favor of Cabrera’s demand for the sake of a stranger in the country who has here only enemies and who can rely on nothing but the generosity and uprightness of some Americans. Requests the honor of a reply, be it only to assure him of the receipt of this and of the direction given to the enclosure for the president.

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 59, NFL, Spain, vol. 2). RC 1 p.; in Spanish; docketed by Wagner as received 4 Oct., with his notation: “Acknowd. receipt 4 Octr.” In his 4 Oct. acknowledgment (DNA: RG 59, DL, vol. 14), Wagner referred to Cabrera’s letter as having been dated 3 Oct. “by mistake.” For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The enclosure (3 pp.; in Spanish) is a copy of Cabrera to Jefferson, 3 Oct. 1804, stating that he had been jailed for a month but was entitled to diplomatic immunity because he had been appointed directly by the king and asking Jefferson to intercede on his behalf with Yrujo and persuade him to allow Cabrera to return to Madrid to be judged by the king. Cabrera enclosed to Jefferson a history of his case, dated 2 Oct. 1804 (3 pp.; in French), stating that on 23 Aug. a Frenchman named Bergerac had persuaded him to accept a $300 check signed by Yrujo as security for an advance of 100 gourdes; that Cabrera had sent his servant Alfonse L’Allemand to Governor Thomas McKean’s house to try to arrange a meeting with Yrujo, who was not available; that Cabrera then sent his black servant and interpreter Charley Lange to cash the check; that Lange was then arrested, after which Cabrera explained matters to Yrujo; that on 27 Aug. Cabrera also was arrested on McKean’s orders and taken to jail, where he remained in spite of his claim of diplomatic immunity. Cabrera added that Bergerac was discovered in Wilmington, Delaware, and was arrested and jailed in New Castle for the crime.

The detention of Cabrera, whose diplomatic immunity was recognized by bank and state authorities, was apparently ordered by the governor to please Yrujo, who was married to McKean’s daughter Sarah (Sally). Cabrera was convicted of forgery in Mayor’s Court in June 1805 after Pedro Cevallos withdrew his privilege of diplomatic immunity. For a detailed discussion of the Cabrera case and of the role it played in newspaper editor William Duane’s campaign against Governor McKean, see Gail S. Rowe, “Prologue to Impeachment: The Case of Don Joseph Cabrera,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. description ends 102 (1978): 224–42.

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