James Madison Papers

James Leander Cathcart to James Madison, 11 August 1834

Washington Augt 11th 1834

Esteemed Sir 

We had heard of your indisposition with sympathy & regret, & of your recovery with sincere pleasure. Associations which recall remembrances of passed events for the space of thirty eight years in more happy days, are not easily effaced from the memory, however time rank, & distance, may weaken the impression—

Manners & customs are strangely altered in this disfranchised Metropolis of the western hemisphere, would to God I could conscientiously say for the better, but I think I see a strong resemblance between passing events, & those which preceded the reign of Marat & Robespierre, that the virtue of the Citizens of the United States (for here we are in a state of vassallage) may avert the catastrophe is devoutly to be prayed for, & I hope will ultimately prove, that our necks are not yet ready for the yoke; but believe me Sir that in the present day, a private life is the only post of honor, had I been treated with the justice & equity which I had a right to expect from a magnanimous nation, I should long have been in that situation, but money in a Republick insures influence, & political friends, in the same ratio, that the different grades of nobility doth in a Monarchy, but as I have never worshipped the mammon of unrighteousness, I possess neither, & tied down by the wants of a family of eleven children (nine now living) I have been a fair mark on whom to verify the old adage, that the ingratitude of Republicks has been proverbial from time immemorial—

Impressed with those ideas, four of my sons have settled on a piece of land which they purchased from the State of Indiana in 1831, & have laboured hard to prepare a home for their aged parents, for those in office here, like Diocles, sit with a sword pendant over their heads by a single hair, no thicker than the breath of scandal propagated by an interested partisan Office hunter; I had fondly hoped that when the claims under the 11th Article of the Treaty with Spain were liquidated mine to the amount of $28,558 dols having been admitted as a valid claim that I should have been enabled to settle my family in the West, but only 6900 dols were awarded to me by the Commissioners, & the 1st Comptroller of the Treasury very improperly interfered in my private concerns, and kept back a warrant for the small sum awarded to me for twenty six days until an injunction was taken out by a person with whom I had a private controversy, whose cause was espoused by George Hay, & others who had more powerful friends than I had, whilst I trusted to the justice of my cause alone, which unjustifiable act envolved me in a suit in Chancery of more than seven years duration, but which was ultimately decided in my favor by the Supreme Court of the United States, the cost of it and Lawyers fees amounted to more than 2000 dols and they managed the matter so, that I at least recovered no damages whatever, and the interest on debts contracted for the support of my family, secured on the claim before the Award was made in my favor absorbed the rest; but where is George Hay now? echo, where?

Viewing the absence of delicacy, as well as justice, which has reduced me to the necessity of demanding what I have ever believed is justly due to me, I concieve that I would be doing injustice to my family were I any longer to refrain from petitioning Congress for redress, more especially as many claims have been granted that was not so well established as mine are, amongst these there is a small item which three lines from you, in any form you please would enable me to obtain; a sum although small, yet sufficient to build a Frame house on my sons land in Indiana, to where I intend to remove their mother & Sisters as soon as it can be effected, if the Gulf of all human possession does not yawn in my path before I can carry this resolution into effect, & which your granting my request would greatly facilitate & which I most respectfully solicit—

You may probably recollect that when Siddi Suleiman Mella Menni the Tunisian Ambassador arrived here in December 1805—that I was employed by the Government from his arrival here in December 1805, to his departure from Boston in September 1806, as Interpreter & otherwise, and likewise to purchase presents for the Bey of Tunis, to travel with the Ambassador, & to ship him & the presents from Boston to Tunis, and a troublesome time I had of it, attended with considerable expense, for during his stay in this district, he, and his suit were very much at my house, for in fact there was no family then in this City, but mine, that had been at Tunis, or understood his language, which made our society agreeable to him, independent of public considerations; but I only acted in virtue of a verbal request which operated as an order, until the day before our departure from Washington, when I received an order in writing of which a copy is inclosed; neither had any compensation been assigned me previous to my return from Boston, I left the compensation to be allowed me entirely to the discretion of the government as I have done in many other cases, for I never was interested; on my return to the City Congressmens pay was allowed me, & my expenses, but not knowing that, before my departure, I had not taken regular bills as vouchers for those expenses except in a few cases, the remainder of cource was a total loss, occasioned by my own neglect in not procuring vouchers, and the accompting Officers of the Treasury refused to allow me any compensation whatever for the time that I was employed, from the arrival of the Ambassador to the date of the certificate herewith, respectfully submitted; I never took any measures whatever to have their decision reversed by the Executive, being busily employed in making arrangements in the different commercial ports of the Union, preparatory to my departure as Consul & Navy Agent at the Island of Madeira, nor should I now, had I been treated as most certainly I have endeavoured to merit.

The question to be decided is; am I entitled to the same compensation for services in compliance with a verbal request from the Executive which operates as an Order, from the time that those services commenced in Decr 1805 until the date of the inclosed certificate from the Depart of State? or was it expected that I should perform those services, gratuitously?

During the last Session of Congress, several of the Members said my claim for compensation is a much better claim than many that has been allowed, & promised to get it through at the next Session, provided, that I could procure from an authentic, & respectable source, evidence of my having been so employed, there is no person now in this district that is adequate to give such evidence, and for that reason, I most earnestly & respectfully request it from you, in the lively hope that it will not be denied—

Mrs Cathcart & daughters present their respectful compliments, & desire me to request you to make their respects acceptable to Mrs Madison, in which request I most cordially join, & with our most fervent prayers to the Almighty disposer of all human events, for your temporal, & eternal happiness, I have the honor to continue with the most distinct respect Esteemed Sir Your much Obliged & very Obed Servt

James Leander Cathcart

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

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