James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Caesar A. Rodney, 10 May 1811

From Caesar A. Rodney

Wilmington May 10th. 1811.

My Dear Sir,

The enclosed you will perceive embraces delicate subjects.1 In the present posture of our affairs, it may be a question of some importance to decide whether, if indictments should be found, they should be prosecuted. The motives of those concerned in pressing them, are no doubt pure & laudable, but they may be too zealous. Any answer I can give, will be gratuitous & informal, as there exists no right to ask my opinion on the subject. I shall therefore decline a reply until I know whether your judgment coincides with mine.

A cloud, I would fain hope, momentary again overcasts our prospects of reconciliation with France. The late intelligence ought not to be implicitly credited.2 Very far from it. The news must be taken with many grains of allowance. The sources from which it flows are not of the purest kind. Your sea-faring men are prone to the marvellous, & often circulate unfounded reports. The merchants are interested in spreading such tales to sell a few pipes of brandy at an exorbitant price. The very arrival of a number of vessels with full & valuable cargoes in some measure contradicts the story. I saw, when lately in Philadelphia, an old client Mr. A. ⟨Reisch?⟩ who owns the two last vessels which arrived, & which I beleive he is about to send back to France, tho’ he would not positively say so. I interrogated him closely on the subject of the various rumours afloat. The substance of his reply was that the prospect was rather unfavorable. Tho’ he is attached to the administration, he is still a merchant, & owns more tonnage than even Girard.

After all, this state of doubt & suspence is unpleasant & painful. The Essix will dispel all uncertainty. I really wish Mr. Barlow had sailed the moment he was appointed, but the importance of his immediate departure did not strike me so forcibly at that time.

There seems to be a decided opposition to us, forming, if it be not organised already, in Philada. But it will not affect the general sum of the state, which I now beleive will be more unanimous than on a former occasion. I also indulge hopes that the correct & upright course of the administration will remove the films from the eyes of those who are literally blind, or who see at least every thing inverted.

Amidst all our troubles how rapidly are we progressing as a nation. From the number of vessels passing daily in reveiw before me, on their way up the Delaware to Philada. a person would almost conclude our commerce was as free as the air.

I shall leave this for Washington as soon as I hear of the arrival of the Essix, or sooner if necessary. Yours Truly & Affectionatey.

C. A. Rodney

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1The enclosure has not been found, but it may have related to a dispute between the U.S. marshal and the U.S. attorney for Delaware, on the one hand, and the collector for the port of Wilmington, on the other, over the seizure and sale of the property of John Bird in May 1810. The marshal, in selling the property to recover the value of a bond posted by Bird, had given the purchasers twelve months’ credit in the expectation of obtaining a higher sum than could be then realized in a cash sale, but he later learned that he was likely to face a suit from the collector who was demanding the cash. The Treasury Department subsequently approved the marshal’s conduct in the matter (see copies of James Brobson to Gabriel Duvall, 12 May 1811, and Duvall to Brobson, 24 May 1811 [DLC]).

2Rodney probably referred to a report said to be from Nantes, dated 15 Mar. 1811 and published in the Boston Columbian Centinel and other papers, to the effect that France had reestablished the Berlin and Milan decrees and that American vessels had been prohibited from either entering or leaving French ports until further orders were issued. It was also reported that it was forbidden to speak to Napoleon on the subject of American affairs (National Intelligencer, 9 May 1811).

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