James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 22 February 1813

To Congress

February 22d 1813

I lay before Congress a letter with accompanying documents from Captain Bainbridge, now commanding the United States Frigate “The Constitution,” reporting his capture and destruction of the British Frigate “The Java.”1 The circumstances and the issue of this combat, afford another example of the professional skill and heroic spirit, which prevail in our naval service. The signal display of both, by Captain Bainbridge, his officers and crew, command the highest praise.

This being a second instance in which the condition of the captured ship, by rendering it impossible to get her into port, has barred a contemplated reward of successful valor, I recommend to the consideration of Congress, the equity and propriety of a general provision allowing, in such cases both past and future, a fair proportion of the value which would accrue to the captors, on the safe arrival and sale of the prize.2

James Madison

RC and enclosures, two copies (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1; DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, President’s Messages, 12A-E2). Both RCs in Edward Coles’s hand, signed by JM. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1JM forwarded a copy of William Bainbridge’s 3 Jan. 1813 letter to Paul Hamilton (3 pp.; printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Naval Affairs, 1:290–91) reporting the capture of the Java (for the capture, see William Jones to JM, 19 Feb. 1813, and n. 1). The British frigate, Bainbridge wrote, was so heavily damaged in the battle that he had decided to burn it rather than bring it to a U.S. port. Praising the conduct of his officers and crew, he recommended “the officers particularly to the notice of Government,” along with the wounded seamen and the families of those who were killed. Bainbridge enclosed a list of U.S. casualties (1 p.) and an enumeration of the paroled British prisoners, totaling 38 officers and 323 “Petty officers, Seamen Marines & Boys” (1 p.).

2On 5 and 25 Nov. 1812, the House of Representatives had considered and tabled a resolution appropriating $100,000 as prize money to be divided among Isaac Hull and the officers and crew of the Constitution for the capture of the Guerrière. Congress responded to the above message from JM by passing not the general measure for compensation in such cases that the president recommended, but an act, approved 3 Mar. 1813, specifically awarding $50,000 to Hull and crew, $50,000 to Bainbridge and crew, and also $25,000 to Jacob Jones and the crew of the Wasp for the capture of the Frolic (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 2d sess., 139–41, 197–200, 1113–14, 1349).

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