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Davis, George (fl. 1803-1811) Extract of letter to James Madison re: Cathcart's allegations

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02794.056 Author/Creator: Davis, George (fl. 1803-1811) Place Written: [s.l.] Type: Letter Date: 1803/09/13 Pagination: 7 p. 25.2 x 19 cm

Summary of Content: Davis provides Madison with an account of his conversation with the Bey Sapatapa regarding Cathcart's allegations that Davis was no longer the recognized American Consul. With a copy of a letter from James Leander Cathcart, Consul at Tunis, to the Bey of Tunis. Davis defends himself to Sapatapa, attempting to maintain his position in the Consulate. Regarding Cathcart, Sapatapa says, "he was but four days in my Regency, and has already brought us to the Brink of war." [Per Madison Papers, 6/28/96, letter is by George Davis, acting Consul at Tunis.]

Full Transcript: Extract of a letter to the Honble. Secy. Of State, dated Tunis
Sept. 13th 1803.1.
12th Sept. Was at Bardo. The Bey observed, he had called me to Shew [sic] a ...letter, written to him by Mr. Cathcart, before he took any decisive measures, and asked if I was acquainted with its contents- I informed His Excellency, I was on- (Bey) Why did not Mr. Cath[car]t., wait for an answer? Or why did he not send it before he repaired on board the frigate.
Ansr.} I cannot say. "well the Sapatapa will shew [sic] you the letter, and the wishes of your Govt. shall be fully answered."
I made no reply to this remark, as I observed his temper was too much raised to admit of a free discussion- (altho I was perfectly acquainted with Mr. Cathcart's communication, having been early apprised of it by the Dutch Consul, as well as of the Bey's resolution to order me from his Kingdom) The Sapatapa immediately on my entering his apartment presented me with Mr. Cathcart's letter, requirig me to read it well & with attention.
"James Leander Cathcart Consul for the United States of America, in the Regency of Tunis, unto His Excellency Mamunda Bashaw Bey of Tunis" [2]
"Health, Peace and Prosperity"
"Whereas Doctor George Davis, the Person who now is appointed by your Excellency to remain in the American Consular house at Tunis, was merely appointed by Commodore Morris to sign Passports of the Regency of Tunis, and to perform the functions of the Consulate untill [sic] the will of the President of the U States was known relative to the appointment of a Consul; And whereas said Commodore Morris has suspended the functions of said George Davis, I have the honor to inform Your Excy. that the United States of America their Agents & Officers consider themselves by no means bound to fulfill any contract publick [sic] or private made by Said George David, and conceive themselves exonerated from the payment of all debts that he has or may contract, untill [sic] the will of the President of the United States of America is known-"
"In Testimony of which, I have hereunto Subscribed my Name and Affixed the Consular Seal of the U.S. of Amer[ic]a. Done on board the U.S. frigate Adams, Tunis bay, this 8th day of Septr. in the year of our Lord 1803./
(L.S.) (sigd) James Lear. Cathcart
[3] Sap'a} Would your master write such a letter to a Prince?
Ans'r.} No- nor is it becoming in any of his Servants.
Sap'a} But you see he has- for the Drogoman brought with him this message from Mr. Cath't- "tell his Exc'y. the Bey, what I write is that same, as if the President himself had written." Therefore your Gov.t must have empowered him to take such a procedure, or he would not have dared to make the Declaration- Why did you not leave the Regency with Mr. Cath't?
Ans'r} Because his Exc'y the Bey required some person to represent the Nation.
Sap'a} But a Protest is here entered against you; and in the name and with the Seal of the Gov.t of the U.S., which disqualifies you from exercising any functions- Why did you not Declare war openly?
Ans'r} The wishes and intentions of my Gov't, are of the most friendly kind - we are desirous to conserve the peace, and harmony which exists between us- The Protest of Mr. Cath't, by no means disqualifies me from the exercise of the ordinary Consular functions and the same respect will be shewn [sic] to my Signature and Passports as to those of any other Consul, for the time I may remain in your Regency. [4]
Sap'a } My master considers the undignity [sic] offered him together with the Protest, a Declaration of war - it is under this impression he orders you to leave his Kingdom.
I then endeavoured to shew [sic], that the Protest by no means admitted of such a deduction, that altho' my orders fro Commodr. Morris did not permit me to enter into a negotiation; or make any obligations on the part of my Gov't, which could be binding; Mr. Cath't, had by no means the right, or authority to offer a Declaration of this kind, and which neither affected my limited Powers here, or my Respectability with my Government- That therefore his Exc'y would be doing much injustice to take any hostile measures, at a moment where we had evinced by overtures for a negotiation, the highest friendship and esteem- that to Declare a war, would be to oppose an individual, and not the Gov't of the U.S. adding that I was satisfied the moderation of His Exc'y the Bey, would do him more honor, and my My [sic] Master (the President} more Justice by Suspending his decision untill [sic] he could receive information from higher authority than myself- (Sap'a) There is much reason, in all you say, I will repeat your words to my Master, perhaps he will talk with you again- [5]
I then requested Mr. Nyssen, the Dutch Consul, (who translated the letter and went to Bardo with me) to go into the Bey's apartment, and explain to him in Arabic what I had said, as neither the Bey, or myself have sufficient knowledge of the Italian, to shew [sic] the full force of my remarks- They were with the Bey nearly an hour - When I was again called.
Bey} Is this a letter for a Consul, or even the Chief of a Gov't, to address to a Sovereign? Am I considered as a Prince? Or is it imagined I am to be treated as a Porter (facchino) You talk of your friendship one hour, and the next you offer indignities, which force me into a war. What do I gain by my Peace with you - It was purchased for your own accommodation, and the Security of your commerce, from which I reap no advantages - As you have no longer any Powers, you may leave my Regency unmolested.
Near the same remarks were made to the Bey, as to the Sapatapa, and explained to him in Arabic by Mr. Nyssen, who endeavoured to impress the opinion, that the indignity was intended for me, and not His Exc'y. (Bey) He writes, you are appointed by me - I have not the right, nor do I ever exercise it, to demand any particular individual, as a Consul; but I exercise the right of all Sovereigns, that of objecting to a Minister, whose Character or deportment does not please me- To this, no Nation has ever objected. [6] You were placed here by the Admiral, I received, and have ever treated you as the Representative of a Nation- Your conduct and manners are agreeable to me, if to your Gov't.- however, had your Master have sent such a Consul, as I wish, and expect, no objection would have been made- If however you feel yourself possessed with the same authority, as placed in you by the Admiral, and imagine, that your Gov't will recognize you as such, in order to preserve the Peace, a Vessel must be immediately expedited for the Admiral, who placed you here- and who can explain to me, mouth to mouth (Bocca a Bocca) how far this procedure was authorized by your Gov't.-
I informed His Exc'y, that the nature of the Service, would not permit the immediate return of Commodore Morris, that however, I would write him; and His Exc'y should be perfectly satisfied on this score. (Bey) My wish is to preserve the Peace, but Peace or war, I must not only be considered a Sovereign, but treated as one. My moderation towards you and your Gov't shall be made know to every Christian Consul in this Regency - I will write the Admiral a letter, which you must immediately forward, with a request that he sends me a full and satisfactory answer- I will also write your Master the President of the U.S. another- and give him a Certified Copy of that Man's letter to me. The President will then see how far I Judge him right - it may be considered as his Certificate for a common Disturber (imbroglione) [7] he was but four days in my Regency, and has already brought us to the Brink of a war. Took my leave."

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People: Madison, James, 1751-1836
Davis, George, 1820-1896

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: DiplomacyGovernment and CivicsAfricaBarbary CoastBarbary PiratesBarbary WarsPiratesGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyGlobal History and US Foreign PolicyPresident

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

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