James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John M. Forbes, 28 August 1802

From John M. Forbes, 28 August 1802

Hamburgh. 28th. Augt. 1802


I have now the honor to inform you of my arrival here and Recognition by the Magistracy of this City as Consul from the United States of America.

Having written you from London, requesting to be appointed to the Agency at Marseilles, but having Since announced my establishment here to a very extensive Circle of mercantile friends, I beg leave to relinquish my application, to be removed to Marseilles, preferring to encounter the inclemency of this Climate, to all the inconveniences which would result from a Change of residence.

Permit me, Sir, to press upon your attention a Subject which has been frequently urged upon the former Administration, without effect, by my Predecessor Mr. Pitcairn. From the great variety of petty Sovereignties which divide the Circumjacent Country and particularly the Shores of the Elbe, a general imbecility in the execution of the Consular functions and, in many instances, Serious inconveniences to our Commerce result from our Consular District being limited to the Hamburgh Territory. A late instance occurred in the Case of the Ship Hercules, Capt. Story, of New York, wrecked in this River, her valuable Cargo was Saved by Danish subjects and the Captain was obliged to resort to Copenhagen and demand the interference of our Consul there. Had the Cargo fallen into the hands of Hanoverians, no Consular protection or interference Could ha⟨ve⟩ been extended to it. The fact is, that the District of every foreig⟨n⟩ Consul here except the American, extends “to the Circle of Lower Saxony” which is the only political division of Country, which embraces all the Sovereignties bordering on the navigable Elbe. The same reasons which render it necessary & expedient in the Cases of other Powers apply, in a stronger degree, to America, who has no Minist⟨er⟩ in this vicinity, whereas all the other foreign powers have Minis⟨ters⟩ residing in this City. The Port of Altona (a place of Considera⟨ble⟩ trade, to which Several American Vessels Come every year) touches this Port and it is impossible to maintain any thing lik⟨e⟩ an efficient police over our Seamen or enforce the Laws of our Country without the Extension of this Consular District. At Staade or Staden in the Hanoverian territory, where every Vessel Comin⟨g⟩ here is obliged to stop & secure a Duty, both Captains & Seamen may bid defiance to Consular authority and are equally out of our protection. These difficulties have been suggested by several years experience of my Predecessor and I have no doubt, they will have the deser⟨ved⟩ weight with their Executive and influence to the Change I propose.

There is a Case in which it has been hitherto necessary for the Consul here to exercise a discretion not warranted by Law. It is the Case of destitute Seamen, the provision for whom is limi⟨ted⟩ to twelve Cents per diem per man. It is well known to every on⟨e⟩ who has visited this place, that this Sum will not procure a She⟨lter⟩ from the storm. My Predecessor has never been able to provide for the⟨m⟩ at a Cheaper rate than Nine marks per Week equal to three dollars, and in some Cases which have recently occurred I have been obliged to pay at that rate. Although I cannot apprehend a⟨ny⟩ difficulty in Settling my accounts, yet as I wish to Conform Strictly ⟨to⟩ the Law, & many others must be in the same situation, it would be well either to extend the restriction to a greater Sum or Confide a discretionary power to the Consuls.

I shall take the liberty of Suggesting freely to you, Sir, any abuses or inconveniences of our Law which may Come under my observation, Convinced that you Wish nothing more Sincerely than their Correction and the protection & happiness of the American people as well abroad as at home. I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Sir, Your obedient Servant.

John M. Forbes

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