James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Leander Cathcart, 22 June 1803

From James Leander Cathcart, 22 June 1803

No. 7

Leghorn June 22nd. 1803


By the last post from Naples, I have heard nothing relative to the capture of Mr. Smith. My correspondent merely mentions the departure of the Prudent Captn. Croningshield. From an almost uninterrupted series of misfortunes which literally commenced before I was born & seems to be assiduous in persecuting me through life I have become naturally credulous in believing reports which excite sensibility & the more acute the greater impression they leave behind them. Nevertheless I have condemn’d the account given in the Florence gazette to a full quarantine which will not expire before I hear from Barbary. My writing to our Consuls can be of no detriment to us and my advice will anticipate any similar event.

The enclosed communication from my correspondent Mr. William Higgins an English merchant at Malta gave me inexpressible satisfaction I will give it you verbatim.

Malta May 24th. 1803

We have no news here. The Adams arrived yesterday, but the Comodore with the John Adams are cruizing off Tripoli. The last vessel has brought in the Tripoline Lord high Admirals ship, which she took going into Tripoli in direct violation of the pass given her. She is certainly a good prize ’tho I imagine the Comodore will not condemn her before he hears from home. I most sincerely hope that the last part of this gentlemans communication may be only presumption, for surely common sense would dictate to Comodore Morris the line of conduct he ought to pursue on the capture of the above vessel which has been so long an incumbrance to us & which the Bashaw values so highly that he seems determined to repossess her cost what it will.

If Comodore Morris proceeds immediately before Tripoli with his prize how humiliating it will be to the Bashaw to see his Admirals ship with the Tripolitan flag flying beneath the American his vice Admiral who commands her caught in a palpable falshood his views frustrated & a number of his subjects prisoners. You may recollect how much the Bashaws pride was wounded when the Portuguese Comodore Campbell captured this said ship in May 1799. The result you know was, that the Bashaw of Tripoli in consequence of having this ship & crew deliver’d up to him concluded a Peace with Portugal & paid Comodore Campbell the sum of 11,250 dollars in cash. This event has already been detail’d to government & I gave Comodore Morris the perusal of the whole negotiation; pray why ought we not to anticipate as happy a conclusion. I would not hesitate a moment was I in the Comodore’s place, to have the Ship appraized & to then deliver her to the Bashaw as a premium for signing the Treaty & would confide in the equity of government for the prize money due the officers & seamen who captured her, not doubting but they would take a pleasure in giving them encouragement in order to excite a spirit of enterprize. Her intrinsic value is a mere trifle for she is old & wont be fit for service for more than an other year & bears so small a proportion to the value of the object it is meant to secure, that it is certainly worthy a trial. When we consider that said Vessel is navigated under the sanction of being the Emperor of Morocco’s property have we not reason to fear that if the above plan is not pursued & she is detain’d at Malta until advise is sent home & government decide upon the merit of the cause & sends instructions how to dispose of that bundle of boards, that the Bashaw of Tripoli will in the mean time influence the Emperor of Morocco to declare war against us in consequence of said vessel being furnish’d with the Emperors passport ever since last September. They both undoubtedly will deny her being captured entering Tripoli & if the Emperors cruizers are ready for sea the⟨y⟩ may capture a number of our vessels before the Comodore is inform’d of the declaration of war; I am in hopes he will foresee the possibility of this event & act with such address & decision as will effectually counteract the views of the Bashaw of Tripoli. We have now the peace of our Country within our grasp and can force that Regency to terms congenial to our feelings. We ought to embrace the favorable moment & not trifle to⟨o⟩ much with our good fortune lest that capricious lady should reverse the scene by permitting the Cruisers either of Morocco or Tripoli to capture our vessels & enslave our fellow Citizens, & how they have escaped so long is to me the greatest miracle in nature, for this sea is full of unarm’d Americans & in one instance when I was coming down in the Chesapeake in company with all our force in the mediterranean off Cape de Gatt on the 22nd: of March we fell in with six sail of American merchantmen which would all have been captured had the⟨y⟩ fallen in with one small cruiser of Tripoli.

Facts speak for themselves, & this serves as well to prove that the risque of navigating this sea is much greater than is generally imagined at home, as it does that the want of enterprize of our enemy has been our greatest protection. Should any thing transpire worthy your attention it shall be the subject of an other communication. I am with the most perfect respect & esteem SirYour most Obnt. Servt.

James Lear. Cathcart

Index Entries