James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Sylvanus Bourne, 23 May 1805

To Sylvanus Bourne

Department of State, May 23d. 1805.


I have received your letter of the 13th. March last, enclosing a printed Circular, recommending as Ship Brokers, the partnership of Haines and Company at Amsterdam, as the means of counteracting “a system of Swindling, such as scarcely ever disgraced any other Country, and which has operated as a tax of 25 percent on our commerce over and above what it ought to pay in the way of charges, had things been conducted fairly,” which abuses it would appear from your letter had their source in the monopoly of the business of ship Brokers in the hands of another house.

On the day of receieving [sic] your letter the following publication by Messrs. Damen1 & Van Oliver, who it seems constitute the monopolizing house attracted my attention.2 You will therefore doubtless see the propriety of the request which I make to know whether the extracts therein quoted from Letters said to be written by you to them be genuine. I am with respect Sir, Your Hble: Servt:

James Madison

RC (NUtM); letterbook copy (DNA: RG 59, IC, vol. 1). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by JM. Enclosure not found, but see n. 2.

1Herman Hendrik Damen, a German merchant at Amsterdam, had acted as consul twice in Bourne’s absence. He told Jefferson that Bourne was not a good choice for consul as he was “to much Angloise & not Republican enough; has to little diplomatig [sic] wit, and to much proud” (Damen to Jefferson, 11 Apr. 1804 [DLC: Jefferson Papers]).

2The 16 May 1805 Relfs Philadelphia Gazette carried a 10 Dec. 1804 letter from Damen & Van Oliver in reply to Bourne’s 1 Nov. 1804 circular. They quoted from letters Bourne had written to Damen on 28 Jan., 8 and 27 Feb., and 22 Mar. 1803, offering in the first “to make some arrangement with you to combine and connect my office with you in the Brokerage business, giving you an appointment in the Consulate, and we will continue to agree on some principle of dividing Consular fees, Brokerage, Commissions, &c. between us. Such a thing I believe can be arranged to mutual convenience and interest, and seems to keep the greater part of American shipping business in our hands.” In the other letters Bourne restated his desire to unite his business with Damen’s. Damen & Van Oliver cited them as proof that Bourne was “perfectly convinced of our good conduct” and attributed Bourne’s circular to “his regret at seeing his proposals refused.”

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