James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Robert Fulton, 18 March 1813

From Robert Fulton

New York March 18th 1813

Dear Sir

Governor Ogden of New Jersey, now Major General Ogden has unjustly and ungenerously entered into a conspiracy to track down my patent right to Steam boats, he has built a steam-boat on my plan—copied me, and Wishing, to run her in opposition to me between this city and Jersey.1 He is anxious to have the command of New York that thereby he may gain the more influence to carry hi[s] plans into pract[i]ce. So scandalous an attack on mental property, and the sacred right of an inventor, from a Governor a general A man who Should from the high Station he fills be the guardian, the patron of science; and protector of the laws, will Sir I am certain never find Sanction or aid from your honest and upright heart, henc[e] Sir I beg for so much of your protection as liees within your power from injustic[e] and vexatious lawsuits, and that he may not have the command of this port; Such command will be better placed in Governor now Major General Morgan Lewis, he is an active man with much energy and ambition to distinguish himself he is my friend the friend to of torpedoes and will give me every aid in attacks with them for which I am making preperations. I am Sir most Sincerely yours with every good Wish

Robt Fulton.

The law of Congress in favour of Torpedoes and Submarine instrumts will I believe be productive of happy consequences.2

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Aaron Ogden (1756–1839) graduated from the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1773. After serving in the Revolutionary War, he established a law practice in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He was clerk of Essex County from 1785 to 1803, and a member of the U.S. Senate from 1801 to 1803. In 1810 he commissioned Daniel Dod of New Jersey to build a steam engine for a boat he intended to run as a ferry between Elizabethtown and New York, which challenged the New York patent statutes granting Fulton and Robert R. Livingston exclusive rights to steam-powered navigation on the waters of the state. In 1813, soon after Ogden finished his one-year term as Federalist governor of New Jersey, the legislature of that state passed a similar act granting him and Dod exclusive rights to the navigation of steamboats in New Jersey. Ogden’s 1814 petition to the New York legislature requesting limitation of Fulton’s monopoly rights was followed by years of legal wrangling, during which Ogden invested heavily in his steamboat business only to lose his fortune when the federal courts finally decided against him. From 1830 to 1839, he was collector of customs for Jersey City (Sobel and Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors, 3:1011–12; Rudolph J. Pasler and Margaret C. Pasler, The New Jersey Federalists [Rutherford, N.J., 1975], 211–12; Report of the Committee, to Whom was Referred the Memorial and Petition of Aaron Ogden [8 Mar. 1814; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 32326], 5–13).

2Fulton referred to the Torpedo Act of 3 Mar. 1813, which authorized private citizens to destroy British ships of war using “torpedoes, submarine instruments, or any other destructive machine whatever,” and offered a bounty of half the value of any ship so destroyed and its cargo, arms, and equipment (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:816).

Index Entries