James Madison Papers

From James Madison to John Graham, 28 August 1813

To John Graham

Montpelier Aug. 28. 1813

Dear Sir

I have recd. your favor of the 26th. I can not recollect off-hand, very much about the letter from Turreau to R. Smith, of which a Translation is printed in Georgetow⟨n⟩. My general impression is that it was1 considered at the time as highly exceptionable in several passages; that it was noticed that T. by a ruse diplomatique, which distinguished between the existing & preceding Administrations, and assumed the air of a private instead of an official paper, had attempted to cover & pass off here a rudeness which might be recd. as a proof of his energetic zeal, by his own Govt: and that unless T. preferred taking back the paper, a proper notice of its offensiveness ought to be taken; it being of course left to R.S. to manage the business with T. A further appeal to my memory, may give more precision to these circumstances, and may recover others from the oblivion into which they have fallen. The case will probably be the same with you. If you can pronounce with certainty from your own knowledge, or the information of Mr Smith that the letter was taken back by T. (a thing not very unusual in such cases, and of which there have been examples with other foreign Ministers,* British if I mistake not, as well as French) it may be well perhaps, that the fact shd. be noticed in the newspaper.2 An antidote in some form, to the mischievous intent of the publication, seems due to the crisis chosen for it.3 If no answer were given to the letter, which the records will test, that alone would be an animadversion in one of its modes, of no inconsiderable force. It is unfortunate that the individual possessing the fullest knowledge of all circumstances, can not be resorted to. If he has himself conveyed the paper to the printer, as you conjecture, it is another evidence of the folly which has marked his career, since the position which he occupied, and the address of the paper to him as “une lettre simple” wd. assign to him more particularly any reproach of a want of sensibility to its offensive contents: For he will hardly pretend that he was controuled in the expression of it. The time for doing that, was the time when he mustered the whole of that and every other species of denunciation against the object of his tormenting passions.4 If the original of the French letter was returned to T. without a copy having been taken, as may be inferred from the sending of a translation to the printer and your translation is not found in the office, the translation sent must have been yours and the public will decide between the Clerks in the Departt. and the then head of it. It is sufficiently known that he carryd with him out of it, copies of other papers which he wished to possess with a view to eventual publicity.

If the date of the translated letter be correctly published, the letter must have been recd before the rejection of Erskine’s arrangement was known, and at a period when a reconciliation with England was considered as certain. This consideration might properly have had weight, in disposing the Cabinet to bear with less impatience an exceptionable tone from a French Minister, whose feelings on such an event, wd. naturally mingle themselves with his complaints on other subjects, some of which, particularly the apathy of the Amn. Govt. with respect to the French ship burnt near the shore of N.C, it was not very easy to meet in a satisfactory manner.5

I am very sorry to hear of the indisposition of Col. Monroe. I hope it will be found to Justify the term slight which you apply to it. My own health has greatly improved since my arrival here, but I have not been without several slight returns of fever which are chargeable rather on the remnant of the influenza, than the cause from which I suffered at Washington. I am now pretty well recovered from the last return which took place a few days ago. Accept with my respects my best wishes for your health & welfare.

Draft and Tr (DLC). Tr emended by JM to match the draft and docketed by him probably at a later date, “Graham Jno. Chief Clerk. Dept. of State August 28. 1813.”

1JM interlined “recd” here on the draft; omitted on Tr.

2In response to an editorial in the Daily National Intelligencer of 28 Aug. 1813 which hinted that the letter from Louis-Marie Turreau to Robert Smith of 14 June 1809 might be a counterfeit, the Georgetown Federal Republican attempted to establish the authenticity of the document by announcing on 30 Aug. that its staff was in possession of “the official translation in the hand writing of Mr Graham, the chief clerk of the department of state.” On 31 Aug., Graham wrote to the Federal Republican stating that he had indeed translated the letter, after which Turreau had withdrawn it rather than “subject himself to consequences more unpleasant.”

Graham’s letter was published in the Daily National Intelligencer on 3 Sept., and on 6 Sept. it appeared in the Federal Republican with an explanation by editor Jacob Wagner that its publication had been delayed in order to give Smith a chance to respond. No statement on the subject directly attributed to the former secretary of state appeared in that or any subsequent edition of the Federal Republican, but on 27 Sept. 1813 the paper published a “statement of facts,” the main points of which correspond with those made in two undated documents on the Turreau affair—a memorandum and a draft of a letter to an unidentified recipient—written in Smith’s hand (MdHi). The Federal Republican stated that at JM’s instance both an unnamed intermediary in Baltimore and Albert Gallatin had attempted to persuade Turreau to take back the letter and failed; that Turreau had declined a request to come to Washington to discuss the document and instead sent his secretary of legation, De Cabre, who reiterated Turreau’s refusal to retract it; and that it had “remained in the office of state until after mr. jackson’s dismissal, when the same De Cabre called and took away the letter, without any observations.” Smith’s memorandum and draft convey somewhat more nuanced accounts of these events. The draft contains, in addition, Smith’s refutation of the idea that Turreau’s letter was a private rather than a public one, and his statement to his unidentified correspondent that he was providing this account “for the information of yourself & of such of your acquaintance as personally take an interest in my behalf, or as will … look dispassionately at the political character of the whole affair.” Regarding the means by which the editors of the Federal Republican came into possession of Graham’s translation, Smith asserted in his draft that he “did not send the letter in question to the press” and “had no communication directly or indirectly upon this subject with the Editors of the Fedl Repn.” He admitted, however, that he had “some time ago put this letter into the hands of a gentleman distinguished for his good sense & for his honorable principles.”

3The editors of the Federal Republican apparently published Turreau’s letter with the intent of increasing the Federalist vote in Maryland’s upcoming election (Brant, Madison description begins Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols.; Indianapolis and New York, 1941–61). description ends , 6:212).

4JM referred to Smith’s publication of his Address to the People of the United States in June 1811, soon after his dismissal from his post as secretary of state. For the Address, see PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 3:xxxii–xxxiii.

5The editors have been unable to identify the incident to which JM referred here.

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* Mr. Erskine e.g. & Pichon.

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