James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Lee (Abstract), 1 May 1805

§ From William Lee

1 May 1805, Bordeaux. “I have frequently taken the liberty to mention to you that it appeared to me the indulgence accorded by our Government to its citizens in permitting them to purchase abroad foreign vessels operated greatly to the prejudice of the owners of regular Ships.1 At no one period since my residence here has there been so many of these vessels fitting out at this port as at the present moment which is owing to their being allowed to introduce Tobacco here at the short duties, to the confidence the merchants have in the Consular Certificate arising from one or two ships only having been taken out of forty sailing under it and to the high course of freights from this to the neighbouring ports of Spain.

“The enclosed copy of my correspondence with General Armstrong on the subject of these Certificate Vessels I have thought prudent to transmit to you,2 that you may be well acquainted with every thing relating to our Commerce with this City and I beg leave to observe that agreeably to the advice of the Minister I have made it a rule of my office to demand of the owners of every certificate Vessel that loads here, security in a bond of Two thousand dollars to be signed by the Captain and owner or their merchant that the Vessel is bound directly to the United States as mentioned in the Certificate. I trust Sir you will see the necessity of this measure and approv<e> of my adopting it.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, CD, Bordeaux, vol. 2). RC 2 pp.; docketed by Wagner. For enclosures, see n. 2.

1See Lee to JM, 11 Oct. and 29 Nov. 1804, PJM-SS, description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (9 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986–). description ends 8:158, 337–38.

2Lee enclosed copies of: (1) his 15 Apr. 1805 letter to John Armstrong (5 pp.; docketed by Wagner as received in Lee’s 1 May dispatch), expressing his concern about American citizens who bought French ships and used the consular certificates issued on those occasions to carry cargoes to Spanish and Portuguese ports rather than directly to the United States, as Lee believed the State Department required, and asking Armstrong if he should refuse certificates that he suspected would be misused; (2) a 16 Apr. 1805 “Memorandum of Vessels now fitting out at Bordeaux under the Consular Certificate including several that have been expedited within these few days” (3 pp.; with Lee’s note: “This memorandum is rather more particular than one referred to in the enclosed letter to Genl. Armstrong.”), listing eleven ships bought by Americans, the names of their captains and owners, the history of the transactions, and any suspicions Lee had about them; (3) Lee to Armstrong, 26 Apr. 1805 (3 pp.), listing five purchasers of eight more vessels which made “(together with thirty two already expedited) fifty one vessels that have been fitted out here under American colours since the commencement of the present war,” forty-two of which appeared to be on French accounts, adding that such vessels “entice away” U.S. sailors and lower freight rates for legitimate American vessels. Lee also stated that in Bordeaux and nearby ports in France and Spain there were 120 to 150 ships under U.S. colors “of which two thirds are owned by foreigners,” suggesting that U.S. consuls, like other consuls, be allowed to charge from two and one half to five percent of the value of the vessel for issuing papers, with the funds to be used for distressed seamen, and again asking Armstrong’s advice; and (4) Armstrong to Lee, 20 Apr. 1805 (1 p.), suggesting that when Lee had suspicions about the destination of a vessel he might demand security from the owner that the ship would go to a U.S. port as the State Department required, and adding that should the owner refuse, Lee would have “a new ground of suspicion” on which to refuse or recall his consular certificate. For the requirement that such ships proceed directly to the United States, see JM’s 1 Aug. 1801 Circular Letter to American Consuls and Commercial Agents, PJM-SS, description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (9 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986–). description ends 2:1–4.

Index Entries