James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John M. Forbes, 4 December 1804 (Abstract)

§ From John M. Forbes

4 December 1804, Hamburg. Forwards copies of his 26 Nov. dispatch and his letter to David Gelston regarding Thomas Clifton. “It is with pain that I have to announce that, notwithstanding all the pains I took to get this man to Tonningen in time for The Eliza, Capt. Wood, this Ship had Sailed when he arrived there and the only two American Ships now in the Eyder, The Lydia of New York and The Belvidere of Philadelphia are likely to be detained there during the whole Winter by the Ice which already wholly impedes that navigation. Inclosed you will also find Copies of my Correspondence with the Government of this City,1 with the French Minister, the British Vice Consul2 and with our Ministers at Paris & London3 on the Subject of a right assumed by the Chancery of this City to grant Passports and Certificates of property to Foreigners as American. I have thought it most prudent to discontinue a Correspondence which might tend rather to irritate than to Convince and to wait the advice of our respective Ministers whom I have addressed. I should Consider myself much honored, to receive your orders and, while on this Subject, I must take the liberty to ask for instructions (which if given might be made the subject of a Circular to all Consuls) on the following General Case. A. born a foreigner goes to the United States, obtains naturalization and afterwards quits the U. S⟨.⟩ and resumes his residence in his native or some other foreign Country where he establishes himself in business. How fa⟨r⟩ is A. considered a Citizen of the U. S. and entitled to protection as Such? Can he have a Passport? I have addressed Mr. Monroe on this Subject, who replied that he had often formerly in Paris and during his presen⟨t⟩ Mission, witnessed abuses of Citizenship by people of th⟨is⟩ description and had asked the instructions of Government, but not receiving them, had continued to grant them Passports. Mr. Monroe recommended to me to Suggest my difficulties on this head, to you. There are two Cases in this City, one of which is my Predecessor Mr. Pitcair⟨n;⟩ of course it would be a case of great delicacy if any thing occurred. The British Courts of Admiralty, in cases coming within their jurisdiction, have settled the point by refusing the rights of neutrality even to our native Citizens and those cloath⟨ed⟩ with a public Commercial Character, residing in the Country of an Enemy.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, CD, Hamburg, vol. 1). RC 2 pp.; postmarked 1⟨9⟩ May at Philadelphia; docketed by Wagner. For enclosures, see nn.

1Forbes enclosed a copy of his 15 Nov. 1804 letter to Hamburg syndic van Sienen together with a protest (2 pp.), and van Sienen’s 27 Nov. 1804 reply (2 pp.; in French). Forbes said he had been informed that the Hamburg chancery had been issuing certificates identifying property and persons as American and that the French commissary general at Hamburg had protested to him that Englishmen were traveling through Hanover on these American passports. The 15 Nov. protest, which he said he intended to send to the newspapers, stated that Forbes had seen “a passport or Certificate” issued to Joshua Jepson Oddy by the chancery and had “reason to believe” that they had issued others of the same type; he formally protested the issuance of such documents and informed all civil and military officers that they had no validity and were “entitled to [no] faith or Credit.” Van Sienen replied that he had asked the chancery for an explanation and was informed that Oddy, who planned to travel to Russia through Prussia, had been granted, on the word of George Smith, a known resident of Hamburg, a certificate identifying him as a native of Philadelphia, not as a U.S. citizen. Van Sienen added that the chancery would continue issuing such certificates and that the senate was surprised at Forbes’s protest and his resort to the public prints to question the validity of its acts.

Before British merchant and shipowner Oddy published his 1805 book, European Commerce, Shewing New and Secure Channels of Trade with the Continent of Europe, describing the economies of northern Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia, with an eye toward encouraging British trade with those countries, he traveled through the region gathering information (Donald Rutherford et al., eds., The Biographical Dictionary of British Economists [2 vols.; Bristol, England, 2004], 2:876–77).

2The enclosures are copies of Forbes to Edward Nicholas, 30 Nov. 1804 (2 pp.), informing him of the situation and of the senate’s support of the chancery’s right to continue issuing the certificates and requesting Nicholas to “take such measures as he may deem necessary” while Forbes awaited instructions from the U.S. government, and Forbes to Karl Friedrich Reinhard, 30 Nov. 1804 (2 pp.; in French), asking that French authorities do the same.

3The enclosure is a copy of Forbes to John Armstrong, 30 Nov. 1804 (3 pp.), in which Forbes described the situation, said he was enclosing copies of his public protest, which the local censor had not allowed the papers to publish, his letter to the French and English representatives, and the Senate’s reply to his complaint, and requested Armstrong’s advice. An added note indicates that the same letter on the same date was sent to Monroe at London.

Index Entries