James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Murray Forbes, 8 May 1806

Hamburg 8th. May 1806.


It is only since a few days that I have learned that a certain Captain Peter Turner of Ship Horace ⟨o⟩f Portsmouth (N. H.) has threatened to make some remonstrances to you on the Case of an American Seaman whom I had forced him to receive on board his Ship with the Sum of Ten dollars allowed by law. I must misconceive the Spirit of our Government and Surely Could never have known your liberal mind, if I Could, for a moment, apprehend that any measures would be taken on Such a remonstrance without Previously Giving me an opportunity of Vindicating myself. I forbear, therefor, making ⟨a⟩ny official Communication on the Subject until I am called upon. It will be sufficient to my Present Purpose to State from recollection Some General Circumstances of the Case. The Seaman in question was one Barnes who Came here in the Lewis William, Capt. OBrien, from Philadelphia, where he had left a destitute family. When here, he absented himself without leave from the Ship and, of Course had forfeited his Wages. He went on board the Ship extremely intoxicated a⟨nd⟩ in a quarrel with the rest of the Crew, received a Wound which disabled him from doing any duty. Thus had Capt. O Brien on every ground the right of throwing him on my hands without any Wages. The Lewis William Was going to New Orleans. The Horace was bound to Phila. I had only to Choose between placing this Seaman in the Hospital at the expence of the United States for a month or two an⟨d⟩ then, at a less favorable Season of year, to Compel some other Captain as reluctant as Turner to Carry him home, or, to effect a Compromise with O Brien and send Barnes at once to his family without any expence to Government. I Preferred the last and Prevailed on O Brien to make an equitable allowance of Wages, and out of the balance I Paid B’s Passag⟨e⟩ With Turner. Barnes’ Situation was by no means dangerous and he was able to do enough to have Paid for his Pass⟨age⟩ without the money Given. There was, therefore, no grea⟨t⟩ hardship in the Case as it applied to Turner and the Cla⟨im⟩ raised was from Personal Pique and that Pitiful Spirit ⟨of⟩ Contention which our Captains often mistake for a jus⟨t⟩ Sense of right. They are certainly the most troublesome Class of our Citizens to deal with, and I should very mu⟨ch⟩ doubt the integrity of my Public Conduct if I was not often obnoxious to them. They have no idea that, und⟨er⟩ any Circumstances, a Consul has any latitude of discreti⟨on⟩ beyond the very few Cases embraced in the Provisions ⟨of⟩ the Written law and are always as much disposed to ⟨re⟩sist the exercise of authority when they are its objects as they ⟨a⟩re unreasonable in demanding its intervention to facilitate ⟨or⟩ sanction the injuries they often attempt on their Crews. I have no fear that Government will be disposed to foster the vexatious remonstrances of Such men and feel assured, that, under your influence, my Conduct will never be unfairly judged. I have the honor to be, With Great Respect, Your Excellency’s much obliged Friend and Obedient Servant

J: M: Forbes

DNA: RG 59—CD—Consular Despatches, Hamburg.

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