James Madison Papers

William Lee to James Monroe, ca. 30 August 1813 (Abstract)

§ William Lee to James Monroe

Ca. 30 August 1813, Bordeaux. “Being at this moment very unwell and almost blind I have it not in my power to transmit to you copies of my correspondence with Mr. Crawford & Mr. Warden touching my controversy with the latter and the motives of my writing a certain letter to the Duke of Bassano on which the President has demanded explanations of me through the Minister. That explanation has been made & I am convinced will be found satisfactory.1 On the affair between Mr. Warden and myself Mr. Crawford has decided much to my satisfaction by doing me the honor to declare that he found my conduct legal & correct—he however censures me for being too severe in my correspondence with Mr. Warden & seems to suppose I had been so inconsiderate as to have refered my dispute with Mr. Warden to the municipal authorities of this Country.2 In both which charges I feel myself innocent & I have therefore thought it my duty to go farther into explanations on these points with Mr. Crawford from whose unbiased mind I have every reason to expect a favorable report to you.

“As the correspondence arising out of these affairs and of the two prize cases of the Criterion3 & Maria are very voluminous, shall I be permitted to sollicit your indulgence until I shall be able to transmit them to you feeling perfectly convinced that when you shall examine into the same your decision will be such as will prove honorable to me.

“Every public man has his enemies, I Know I have more than my share from the ardour of my character and the firmness with which I support my own rights and the warmth with which I espouse the cause of my friends. All I ask is a hearing for I feel as if I was armed so strong in integrity that with the administration I have nothing to fear when the truth is Known.

“May I intreat you therefore to do me honor to suspend your judgment on these concerns until I can have an opportunity to lay the whole subject before you that the happiness of my family and my reputation may not suffer by the censure of an Administration it has been my greatest pride to serve faithfully and in support of whose cause my feeble talents have always been employed to advantage.”

RC (DLC); RC (DNA: RG 59, CD, Bordeaux). First RC 2 pp. Marked “Copy”; in a clerk’s hand, except for Lee’s complimentary close, signature, and direction to Monroe. Docketed by JM, “Lee Wm Decr. 20. 1813.” Second RC 2 pp. In a clerk’s hand. Each RC dated 20 Aug. 1813; date corrected here on the basis of internal evidence and information presented in nn. 1 and 2.

1Lee referred to his letter to the duc de Bassano of 21 Jan. 1813, written immediately after he learned of Joel Barlow’s death, in which he offered to take charge of the American legation in Paris. He was qualified for the position, he wrote, by virtue of being the longest-commissioned U.S. consul in France, by having been presented to the court as secretary of the Paris legation under Barlow and serving in that position for eight months, and by his “personnal friendship” with JM and Monroe (DNA: RG 59, CD, Paris; filed with William Harris Crawford to Lee, 27 July 1813). On 10 June 1813, Monroe instructed Crawford, the newly appointed minister to France, to inform Lee, David Bailie Warden, and Isaac Cox Barnet that JM disapproved of their attempts to take charge of the Paris legation after Barlow’s death. Crawford was to “receive their explanations respectively” and forward them to the State Department (DNA: RG 59, IM). Accordingly, Crawford wrote Lee on 27 July 1813 requesting such an explanation. Replying on 26 Aug., Lee stated that his application to Bassano had been made as a result of letters he had received from Joseph Marcadier, Barlow’s private secretary, encouraging Lee to come to Paris and act as secretary of legation, reminding him that he had been presented to Napoleon and acknowledged in that capacity, and informing him that his commission for that position was at the legation, of which Ruth Barlow had notified Bassano (DNA: RG 59, CD, Paris).

2On 20 Aug. 1813, Crawford sent Lee a copy of his opinion of the same date on a dispute between Lee and Warden regarding jurisdiction over the Maria, a prize ship captured by Capt. John Rodgers and sent to France consigned to Warden as consul general at Paris. Despite this consignment, Lee took possession of the Maria upon its arrival at Bordeaux and arranged for it to be sold, while Warden attempted to gain control of the ship and cargo on the basis of their consignment to him and his positions as consul general and agent for prize causes. Crawford concluded that Lee was authorized to adjudicate and sell the prize, and that Warden’s claims were unfounded, in part because the U.S. government recognized him only as consul at Paris rather than consul general. In conclusion, however, Crawford expressed his displeasure that the French government had been solicited to intervene in the case, and in his covering letter he chided Lee for the “acrimony” displayed in his correspondence with Warden (DNA: RG 59, CD, Bordeaux).

Lee acknowledged receipt of the opinion on 30 Aug., and on 31 Aug. wrote Crawford again to exonerate himself for the tone of his communications with Warden by asserting that Warden had goaded him into it and that he had not intended the most egregious of the letters to be seen by anyone else. He added that he had written the French minister of commerce “merely to obtain the admission” of the Maria, and that under Warden’s influence the minister had mistakenly construed the letter as a request to adjudicate the dispute between the two consuls. Lee apparently did not consider it necessary to explain the letter he had written to Bassano on 26 July 1813 giving a detailed account of the dispute, asking Bassano to order that it be resolved by American authorities rather than the French officials to whom Warden had applied, and assuring the duke that Lee had submitted the case to him only because there was no U.S. minister in Paris (ibid.).

3The brig Criterion of New York was captured by the British on its passage to France, recaptured by the American privateer Volant, and sent into Bayonne. It there fell to Lee to pass judgment on the case, which was complicated, among other issues, by the inability of the Criterion’s and Volant’s agents to agree on the proportion of proceeds due to the latter for salvaging the ship from its British captors (Lee to Monroe, 7 Apr. and 5 May 1813, DNA: RG 59, CD, Bordeaux).

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