James Madison Papers

Memorandum to Albert Gallatin, [ca. 21 February] 1810

Memorandum to Albert Gallatin

[ca. 21 February 1810]

The sea-letter, as its name & its address, import are meant to verify the ship on the High seas. As Belligerents alone have a right to such a verification, is not the Document unnecessary when there is no belligerent. If the verifying papers, intended for the Jurisdiction at the port of destination be not at present suitable or sufficient, should not some other more appropriate than the sea letter, be provided?1

J. M.

Ms (PPRF). In JM’s hand. Undated. Conjectural date assigned on the basis of the evidence in n. 1.

1In his annual message on 29 Nov. 1809, JM had recommended that Congress consider measures to protect the American flag from fraudulent use, and the House of Representatives responded on 1 Dec. by instructing the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures to consider the expediency of “registering anew” all American-owned or American-built vessels and also of prohibiting the use of sea letters by any vessels “not registered or licensed according to law, or not owned by citizens of the United States.” The committee chairman, Thomas Newton, duly reported a bill on 19 Jan. 1810 to restrict the future use of sea letters as a means of identifying American-owned vessels, unless such vessels were registered. The bill passed the House on 8 Feb. and was sent to the Senate where James A. Bayard, on 19 Feb., referred it to the treasury for comment. Gallatin endorsed the bill, as did many congressmen, on the grounds that it would help prevent abuse of the American flag. JM, apparently, had some reservations about the measure, but an amended version of the bill passed both houses of Congress by 21 Mar. and was signed into law five days later (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States ... (42 vols.; Washington, 1834-56). description ends , 11th Cong., 2d sess., 556, 584, 588, 594, 595, 596, 600, 611, 686–87, 1225, 1378, 1379–81, 1385, 1533, 1535, 1584, 1605–6, 2529; Gallatin to Bayard, 20 Feb. 1810, Papers of Gallatin [microfilm ed.], reel 20).

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