James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Frederick Jacob Wichelhausen, 25 January 1802

From Frederick Jacob Wichelhausen, 25 January 1802

Bremen the 25th. Janr 1802.


Since my respects to you under date the 13th: July last, by which I had the Honor of handing you the semiannual List of american vessels, arrived at and departed again from this port, nothing material that might interest your attention has occurred. In compliance with my duty, I do not fail of herewith waiting on you again with the List of the last six Months, and find nothing further to be added on this subject. On the 20th: Novemb: last I received through the care of Mr. J Pitcairn at Hamburg the Circulair issued on the 1st: August last, by the Department of State, and now do myself the Honor to return you an answer thereto.

We have hitherto very much wanted a regulation respecting the mode of providing vessels purchased for american account at foreign ports, with proper papers, to prove and secure the property of american Citizens; as I could not presume upon my own accord to grant Consular Registers or Sea Letters, I have in those cases in general certifyed the Bill of Sale by my consular signature, but in so doing always used the greatest precaution, to prevent any fraud that might happen. I am therefore happy in having a direction in future, how to act on such occasion, which in every Instance I shall be careful to comply with, and no sooner grant the prescribed Certificate untill all those Evidences, therein exibited as necessary for the conviction, of the vessel being realy and solely american property, are produced.

I have taken due notice of the expedient arrangements made by Government at the various ports of the United States, to prevent our vessels being in future submitted to both troublesome and injurious Quarantines, which it is true in consequence of false reports and mistaken places, have been frequently unjustly imposed abroad, nor have I failed immediately, to make a proper notification of it, to the Duke of Oldenburg, who has the Disposal of the Quarantine regulations on the River Weser, and already returned me a very satisfactory answer on the subject. The Duke assures in his Letter, that it is by no means his Intention to cause any impediment to trade and navigation, but that it was a natural consequence, that whole countries and nations, are not to be exposed to any danger, if realy such existed, in order to be subservient to the convenience of commerce, that by all means he should regard the Certificate of Health issued by the american municipal Officers, and dispose his future alteration accordingly.

Concerning the semiannual returns, I hope to have acquitted myself to satisfaction, as hitherto I have succeeded to transmit them, without any material deficiency. However as no Law exists to oblige the Masters of vessels to state the Nature of th⟨eir⟩ Cargoes, frequent difficulties naturally arise, which will most undoubtedly increase, should said Captains get positive know⟨led⟩ge, that they are under no obligation, to make those Statements.

I further remark, my being no longer authorised, without a special direction from a Minister of the United States of America, to disburse any monies for the account of the public, unless it be for the relief of distressed Seamen. When Seamen are discharged at foreign ports it can only be, either with their own consent, or on account of their being merely engaged for the passage. In the first case, they cannot claim our assistance, as they have to attribute it to themselves if afterwards they are reduced to a distressed situation, and the latter they may easily provide against, by engaging themselves no otherwise than for the whole voyage; nevertheless it is true, that Captains frequently deceive these poor people by all manner of tricks, or by inhuman treatments, compell them to demand their discharge, in which case they truly deserve assistance; I make it however my rule in such Instances to act with the greatest precaution, in order not to incumber the public Treasure; and should Instances occur, which I may presume to be worth your notice, I shall not omit to communicate them to you. Whenever I have to settle accounts with Government, I shall according to your direction apply to our Minister at Paris.

I realy believe it to be the case, that our Sea Letters have been counterfeited and used by foreign vessels, but this abuse is in no other manner to be counteracted, then by a Law directing Masters of vessels immediately upon their arrival at a foreign port, to exibite their papers to the Consul established there; and supposing it should in some Instances be against the Interest of the owners of the cargoes, to have them notifyed to the Consul (which in my opinion can but very seldom be the case) it cannot however prove a disadvantage to any person, if the Captains are obliged, to produce their papers, relative to the vessel. On the contrary it would tend to the benefit of every true american vessel; as the delivery of said papers, would give occasion to detect any foreign vessel, that might pass for an american abroad. I therefore indulge the hope, that should it be thought proper to expose the subject before Congress, it will meet no objection to pass that Law, without the existence of which the strictest vigilance will prove ineffectual to provide against the said abuse; for as I have already observed before as soon as the Idea begins to prevail among the Captains, that they are not obliged to deliver their papers, there wi⟨ll⟩ but be few, that do not refuse, and then it will almo⟨st⟩ be impossible to transmit the semiannual List; beside⟨s,⟩ it belongs in my humble opinion to the proper business of Consuls, to have the Inspection of vessels, appertaining to t⟨he⟩ respective Nations, they represent at foreign ports; and this they cannot attend to, unless they are in possession of the Shipspapers. Finally I trust your goodness will not mist⟨ake⟩ my well meant Intention in thus freely delivering you my sentiments on a subject, which I consider as essential towards enabling the Consuls, to be correct in the transmiss⟨ion⟩ of the semiannual returns. Having nothing further ⟨to⟩ add, I have the Honor to remain, with the highest Consideration and Esteem Sir! Your most humble and obedient Servan⟨t⟩

Fredk. Jacob Wichelhausen

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