James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Lee, 10 June 1803

From William Lee, 10 June 1803

Bordeaux June 10th 1803


I have the honor to enclose you a ⟨le⟩tter which I yesterday recd. from Mr. Monroe and ⟨h⟩ave at the same time to acknowledge the rect. of ⟨y⟩our instructions under date of the 9th April. The ⟨re⟩gulations therein contained will prove beneficial ⟨to⟩ the United States by effectually putting a stop ⟨to⟩ the improper discharge of Seamen in foreign ⟨p⟩orts. Though I have been in possession of those ⟨re⟩gulations but a few days, I have nevertheless been ⟨ob⟩liged in several instances to enforce the Captains ⟨to⟩ a compliance therewith much against their ⟨in⟩clination and I must confess I felt a gratification ⟨in⟩ so doing for in the numerous causes of complaint ⟨a⟩nd dispute which I have every week to decide [. . .] the Captains are almost invariably in fault ⟨an⟩d ever since my residence here I have felt ⟨the⟩ want of such regulations as I am now in possession of, to assist me in alleviating the suffering of a useful class of citizens and I beg Sir you wi⟨ll⟩ have the goodness to assure the President of the Unit⟨ed⟩ States that no attention or exertion on my part shall be wanting to carry into effect these salut⟨ary⟩ Laws.

Having good reason to suppose that many of our Seamen were about to enter on boa⟨rd⟩ the privateers now fitting out at this port I yester⟨day⟩ waited on the Commissary of Marine and request⟨ed⟩ he would aid me in putting a stop to such proceedings which if countenanced must prove highly detrimental to the interests of the UStat⟨es⟩ in answer to which he assured me that he would not permit a single American Seaman to ship on board any french Vessel whatever without a special permission from me which I shall in no case grant.

I have never had occasion until ⟨the⟩ recommencement of hostilities to have recourse ⟨to⟩ that part of your instructions under date of August ⟨1st⟩ 1800 which points out the mode of granting certificates for the protection of such Vessels as may be purchased by our Citizens abroad. I now enclose a form which I have had struck off and which I hope will meet with your approbation. In granting these certificates great caution is necessary and I ⟨a⟩m certain that notwithstanding the last clause wherein the return of the Vessel is limited to ⟨so⟩me one port of the United States that much improper use will be made of them for where there is one real and bona fide transaction of a ⟨n⟩ature to demand this document, there are at least ten covered ones which it is impossible for an ⟨o⟩fficer to detect for although one should feel convinced ⟨i⟩n his own mind that the transaction is fictitious ⟨s⟩till without positive proof of its being so he would hardly be justified by his government in withholding his sanction much less by the Individual.

I have already incurred the displeasure of several americans who are settled here by refusing to grant them papers for their Vessels which though american built have been sailing for near two years past under French Colours. I was guided in my decision in this respect by the Second Section of the act concerning the Registering of Vessels passed the second session of the second Congress which fully justifies my condu⟨ct⟩ in this particular and which I hope you will approve.

The duties of my office are now becomin⟨g⟩ arduous but the Government may rest assured of my best endeavours for the public service. I d⟨o⟩ not expect to escape without censure from som⟨e⟩ of my fellow Citizens and I have only to req⟨uest⟩ of you Sir that if any complaints should be lodged against me in your office, that you will not condemn me without a hearing. During the War I am determined not to own directly or indirectly in whole or in part any ship or Cargo that if the accusation of covering property should be made I may prove it to be false.

I have been prevented from being regular in my correspondence by a pleurisy fever which has reduced me very low. Being now so far on the recovery as to be able to attend to my official duties I shall on the 30th of the month make up all my Accts and forward them by the first Vessel.

The bearer Mr. DeRieux will hand you a file of the Moniteur. With great respect I have the honor to remain your humble Servt.

William Lee

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