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Lear, Tobias (1762-1816) to James Madison re: report of his activities from 7 July to 1 September 1805

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02794.101 Author/Creator: Lear, Tobias (1762-1816) Place Written: Tunis Bay Type: Manuscript document signed Date: 1805/09/02 Pagination: 17 p. + docket 24.7 x 19.7 cm

Summary of Content: Written in a clerk's hand with Lear's signature. Lear briefs Secretary of State Madison on the course of negotiations with the Bey of Tunis. Describes threatening war and negotiations to ease the tension. Docketed on verso.

Full Transcript: On board the US. Ship Constitution
Tunis Bay Setpr. 2, 1805. -
Sir. -
On the 7th of July I had the honor to receive your respected Letter of the 20th of ...April, by the U.S. Frigate John Adams; by which I find that the instructions given to me dated June 6th 1804; was to be still followed, as nothing in the state or prospect of things subsequent thereto, made a change necessary. I have accordingly pursued the same agreeably to the circumstance under which they were brought into operation; and I hope my Conduct will meet approbation of the President. -
I claim for myself no superior merit for the highly favourable [sic], and indeed unexpected manner, in which our affairs have been settle with this Regency. - The moment was peculiarly happy for us, and the judicious and decided measures taken by Commodore Rodgers made so powerful an impression on the mind of the Bashaw that the Negotiation afterwards became easy and unembarassed [sic]. -
I had the honor of addressing you on the 5th of July by the U.S. Ship President, and now forward duplicates of that dispatch with it enclosures. -
On the 13th of July we left Syracuse and proceeded to Malta, with all the Vessels of war and Gun Boats, where we arrived on the [2] 15th. - After taking in the necessary supplies for the Squadron, the Commodore sailed, on the 22nd, for Tunis, as I mentioned in my last was his intention. - We had a tedious passage of 9 days to this place, owing to Galons [sic] and head winds, in which the Gun Boats (altho' the most excellent vessels of their kind in the world) could make but little progress. -
On the 1st of August Mr. Davis came off on board the Constitution, & shewed [sic] to the Commodore and myself the Copy of a letter which he had written to the Honorable the Secretary of State, detailing the interviews he had had with the Bey on the 12th, 13th, 14th, &14th of July, in which the Bey had repeatedly threatened our Country with immediate war, as you will see by Mr. Davis' letter, or the Copy enclosed. He also informed us of his determination to have gone to Malta or Syracuse, to have had a conference with the Commodore and myself. - After some conversation with Mr. D. on the Subject of our Affairs here, I asked him what he considered would be the best means of securing the peace of this Regency on solid ground; he answered that he conceived it would be best to give them an annuity of & or 40,000 dollars to keep them two or three years in arrears, the fear of losing which would prevent their making war upon us. Upon my expressing some surprize [sic] at such a proposal, saying that if we intended doing this it would have been sufficient to have sent a single vessel for the purpose, he added, that in his opinion, we should either do this; or keeping always a force in this Sea sufficient to prevent any evil from any sudden attack. I assured him I was certain our Government would never leave this Sea without a proper force to guard our Commerce while we should have any in it; and that we should never again agree to pay a tribute for peace with any nation.
In consequence of these declarations, [3] and hostile dispositions of the Bey, as communicated by Mr. Davis, the Commodore assured him, that he should feel it his duty to take measures to prevent his carrying them into effect, by preventing his Cruisers, now in port, from going to sea, and those which were out, from committing any depredations on our commerce; and even blockade his port, if necessary, to reduce him to reason. Mr. Davis declared, that if the Commodore made such communication of his determination to the Bey, he would pledge himself that the Bey would put down the Flagg [sic] staff and declare war in twelve hours. The Commodore assured him he should write to that effect, as he conceived that the present state of things made it necessary for him to come to a decision without delay. Accordingly, he wrote to the Bey, recapitulating the threats he had made, and the hostile disposition he had discovered towards the U.S. as stated by Mr. Davis, and while he expressed an earnest desire to preserve peace and restore a good understanding between the two nations; yet, if he did not receive from the Bey within 36 hours assurances of his pacific and friendly dispositions he should feel it his duty to commence defensive & offensive measures against his Regency.
At the same time I wrote a letter to the Bey &c. and enclosed a Copy of the President's letter to him in my hands. -
On the 3rd of August Mr. Davis wrote to the Commodore stating that it would not be practicable to obtain an answer from the Bey within the 36 hours, and probably not until the 5th or 6th inst.
A Council of War was called on board the Constitution, when it was determined to extend the time for receiving an answer to the noon of the 6th and Mr. Davis was accordingly informed thereof. - [4]
At 10. a.m. on the 4th Mr. Davis came off, and delivered to the Commodore two letters which he [illegible] had written to him (he had not received the Commodore's last letter) stating that he had an interview yesterday with the Bey, and delivered the Commodore's letter of the 2nd to him. The Bey said that as the time did not admit of his writing an answer to the Commodore, Mr. Davis might tell him, by word of mouth, that it was his determination to adhere to the letter and Spirit of our Treaty with him, and that he would not make war upon the U. States, untill [sic] he should have heard from the President on the Subject of his Vessels which have been captured and detained; and added, in a threatening and insulting manner, that if the Commodore should stop one vessel of his; or fire a single shot; or do any other act which could be considered hostile, he would immediately declare war on the U. States.-
A Council of war was again called, and it was the opinion of the Commanders, as well as of myself, who was present at this and the preceding consultation, that the Commodore should demand, in writing form the Bey, a declaration that he would not make war; nor commit any act of hostility against the U. States, so long as we should adhere to the Treaty now existing; nor until he should be denied explanation or indemnification for injuries or losses he may have sustained from us, after he should have made his reclamation agreeable to the treaty existing between us; and, as the Bey had, according to Mr. Davis' statement, called before him two Consuls to hear his protest against the United States and the Commodore, that this declaration should be made, in like manner, in presence of two Consuls. Should the Bey refuse to give such a declaration in writing, it would be concluded that he did not intend to adhere to his verbal declaration, [5] and that the Commodore would be justified in taking measures to prevent his Cruisers from going to Sea, and secure our commerce effectually against any depredation.-
Mr. Davis had always positively declared that the Bey would never receive me as a person authorized to do business with him, and his letters both before and after my arrival in this Bay were pointed to that effect. I had, however, (as I had the honor to inform you in my last) very little doubts of his receiving me in a proper manner, when he should be justly informed of the Character in which the President had ordered me to present myself to him.-
On the 5th of August the Commodore sent Captn. Decatur up to Tunis, with the form of a declaration to be signed by the Bey; or the substance thereof in other words.-
I also wrote to the Bey by Captn. Decatur stating that as I could not be permitted to meet him on business agreeable to the President's letter, I should impute all evils which may arise from this circumstance to their proper cause. -
On the 7th Captn. Decatur returned from Tunis in Company with Mr. Davis. Capt. D. had not seen the Bey, as he was informed by Mr. Davis, that the Bey refused to have any communication with him, on the subject for which he was sent. Just before they came on board, a boat reached the Ship from the Goletta, bringing two letters from the Bey to me, which will be found in the packet marked, saying that he had not before understood the nature of my mission, that he was willing to see me on the subject of our affairs, and inviting me strongly to come to Bardo. Mr. Davis brought a Copy of one of these letters, and [6] also a letter from the Bey to the Commodore. Mr. Davis said that he yesterday presented to the Bey Commodore Rodger's demand of a guarantee to be give for the preservation of the Peace, which irritated the Bey exceedingly; and he told Mr. D. that he would take out his eyes if he persisted in offering it &c. &c. &c. &c.. The Bey says nothing on that Subject in his letters either to the Commodore or myself. Mr. David reports that great disorder and consternation prevails at Tunis - no business done. - the Bey appearing like a madman &c.
On the 8th of August Mr. Davis returned to Tunis with a letter from me to the Bey (copy in Packet) and one from the Commodore to himself, directing him to present to the Bey, without delay, the form of the assurance which was required from him for preserving the peace &c. and saying that no longer time than tomorrow noon w[oul]d be allowed for the Bey to decide on it; and if not then done that he (Mr. D.) would come off to the Constitution by 4 P.M. prepared to leave the Regency as he was determined if the Bey should persist in refusing to give the assurance required, to carry into execution his promise of preventing the departure of his Cruisers, and of examining every vessel going in or out of his Ports, to guard against any clandestine attempts to annoy our Commerce; and Mr. Davis having declared in the most solemn manner, that these measures would produce an immediate declaration of war on the part of the Bey, the Commodore did not think it would be prudent for him to remain in the power of the Bey; notwithstanding Mr. Davis had told the Commodore, & myself, that let the issue of the present differences be what it might, war or peace, he would continue in Tunis.
In the afternoon of the 9th, Mr. Davis came on Board [7] the Constitution with his Baggage Secretary & the Drogerman. He reported that the Bey would not give the guarantee required by the Commodore before two Consuls; but that he would give the same thing under his seal and in the most formal manner, without the witnesses, if Mr. Davis would wait till tomorrow morning, which from the Commodore's orders he did not think himself warranted in doing. Soon after Mr. Davis came on board, a Merchant Vessel got under way at Goletta to go out, when she came within Gun Shot, the Commodore ordered a shot to be fired at her to bring her in for examination, the first shot not being regarded, a second was fired, upon which she immediately put about & went up to the Goletta again to Anchor.-
On the 10th I received a very long letter from the Bey (in Packet marked) disavowing his threats, giving the most solemn assurance of his determination to keep the peace and promising to send an Ambassador to the U. States to arrange and settle all differences, and give evidences of his friendly disposition, at the same time urging me in the most earnest manner; to come on shore, and settle all points of immediate difference. -
In consequence of this letter, which was deemed by the Commodore & myself sufficiently expressive of his earnest wish and sincere desire to maintain the peace, I wrote to the Bey that I would go on shore the day after tomorrow to confer with him. -
On the 11th Mr. Davis came on Board the Constitution, from the Constellation, where he had taken up his quarters, when I shewed [sic] him the letter I had received from the Bey, informed him that I was to go on short to-morrow, and invited him to accompany me. [8] He expressed some surprize [sic] and resentment against the Bey, on reading the letters, and said he should not go on shore again, and never wished to put his foot in the Regency from this time.-
On the 12th I went on shore, accompanied by Mr. Cruize, Chaplain of the Constellation, who understood & spoke the Italian language perfectly and whom I afterwards found very useful in the course of our Negotiations. At the Goletta met the Sapatapa whom I requested to send a Messenger to inform the Bey of my being on shore, and ready to confer with him, at any time he might appoint. - Proceeded to Tunis from whence I sent the Drogerman to Bardo with the like message. On his return he informed me that the Bey had appointed tomorrow morning at 7 o'clock to give me an audience.
In the Evening I received visits from all the Consuls residing at Tunis. -
At 7 Oclk am of the 13th I went to Bardo where I was immediately introduced to the Bey in his private Audience room - my reception was cordiall [sic] & flattering. I delivered him the President's letter which he received with great respect and said that the Copy that I had sent to him had been translated, and he knew its contents. After taking coffee, he ordered all persons to retire except his first Secretary, Hadge Unis Ben Unis, one old man, and his Christian Secretary. - He wished to know on what points I desired first to enter. - I recapitulated to him his threats of making war upon us at different times, as communicated by Mr. Davis, and that, in consequence thereof, the Commodore had come here and taken the measures which he knew of, to avert, or guard against that evil. Having a Copy of Mr. Davis's [9] Letter to the Secretary of State of the 18th of July detailing his several interviews with the Bey in which he had threatened war; I recapitulated them in order. - First, that he had said he would make war upon us, in consequence of his Cruizers [sic] and his two prizes having been taken, without asking a question about restitution, had not the situation of his country forbid it. - To this he replied by asking me if I though him a wise man, or a fool? I told him the world gave him the Character of a wise prince. Well, says he, if I am not a fool, as you think I would have made such a declaration of the distressed Situation of my Country, to the representative of a Nation with whom I expect to be at war? I told him he knew best what he had said; and asked him if the words mentioned by Mr. Davis, as his, were true, in effect or not. - He replied, that it was not true. - he had never expressed himself in that manner, or to that effect.
Secondly - that he (The Bey) had declared to Mr. Davis that if the Commodore came into this Bay, with his Squadron, he would declare War against the U. States. - He answered that he had told our Charge d'affairs that if the Commodore came here with his Squadron he should consider it as a declaration of War on our part, as he could not conceive why we should come here with such a force, if our intentions were pacific; but that he had never said that he would declare war in that event. -
Thirdly: That he had called the Spanish and Dutch Consuls to hear him protest, that if the Government of the U. States did not pay him for his Cruizers [sic] & his two prizes, and make indemnification for taking and detaining the same, and give him satisfaction for the insults offer'd him by the Commodore, he would declare war against the U. States. [10] The Bey answered - On that occasion there was only the Dutch Consul present - He was at Bardo and was called into the Hall, to hear him say that if he was forced into a war with the U. States he would never make peace with them as long as he lived. He desired me (as this was a point on which there might be witnesses) to ask the Dutch Consul, if this was not the case, and the Spanish Consul, if he was there.
On the Subject of blockaded ports, we had much conversation. The Bey saying that altho England was at War with France and Spain; yet his Vessels were permitted to enter the ports of these nations, & also, by them, permitted to enter the English Ports. - I explained to him the nature of a Blockade, such as ours of Tripoli. He either did not; or pretended not to understand it. - However, after some conversation with Hadge Unis, in Turkish, he appeared to have it explained.
He acknowledged that after the Commodore had received information from Mr. Davis, as before stated, he was perfectly right to take the measures he had done; but that the information was groundless.
On the Subject of sending an Ambassador to the U. States, he said he should rather wish to have all matters settled now, which would render that measure unnecessary. But I told him that the Commodore could not undertake to restore his Vessels, even were he inclined so to do without becoming personally responsible for them. -
We had some conversation respecting the changing certain articles in our Treaty. We observed that he conceived our treaty placed us upon the same group as other Christian nations stood with him; and that the alteration of a Treaty must be by the mutual consent of the parties. - This I granted; but assured him we did not stand on the same footing with [11] other nations. - He said he would consider the Subject; but gave no assurance that he would make any change.
With respect to demands upon the U. States, for presents, or payments in any shape, he declared he had none. He acknowledged that he had asked for a Frigate; but he had only made the request as from one friend to another, which, if not convenient or agreeable to grant, should never produce any difficulties; and as we did not think proper to give him one, he had never made war, or been disgusted in consequence thereof. - We had made him an offer of 8 or 10,000 dollars annually in Cash; but he had not thought proper to accept it, which ought not to be a subject of difference between our Nations. -
After a conversation of more than five hours, which was supported on his part with much good sense and shrewdness & great pleasantness I took my leave, promising to wait upon him again tomorrow morning at 7 O'clock to finish our business. -
On the 11th I went to Bardo at 7 O'clock, agreeably to appointment. - After taking Coffee, the Bey observed that we had yesterday conversed fully on all points between us, and had time to reflect on the Subject; which was the mode in which he liked to do business. After some general conversation, he asked what I had determined upon; or what I expected him to do. I told him I expected he would write a letter to the Commodore, giving him the fullest assurance of his determination to preserve the peace according to the treaty between our nations; and informing him of his intention to send an Ambassador to the U. States to lay before the President his requisition [12] for a restoration of his Cruizers [sic] and his two prizes; and to make other arrangements which might prove mutually beneficial to the Parties. -
This he promised to do this Evening or tomorrow morning. - I assured him his Ambassadors would be accommodated in the Frigate according to his ranks, and would be received in the U. States with all the respect and attention due to his Character. - He said the Ambassador would be ready to Embark in 15 or 20 days. -
He then entered into the Subject of the Treaty. I told him that as it now stood we could have no commercial intercourse with his Regency, as the duties we should have to pay/ being the same as were paid in the U. States) were 3 or 4 times more than were paid here by the English or French, and unless we were put upon the same footing with those nations, we could never come in competition with them. I pointed out the advantage which w[oul]d accrue to him from a commercial intercourse with us; besides it fixing our friendship on a more secure basis. - He listened with great attention and conversed on the Subject with His Ministers and Hadge Unis who both appeared to advocate my proposition. -
The Bey then observed that he had thought we were, by our Treaty, placed upon the same footing, as it respects commerce, as the French & English. I assured him he was mistaken. He sent for his Treaty with G.B. and the U.S. - and upon examination found I was right, as the English only pay 3 per Cent duty. - We then observed that it was his intention that we should be placed upon the footing of the most favored nation, in this point. - I told him I would put in writing the alteration or additions, which we wished in our Treaty, and submit it to him; that it must be a matter of mutual [13] consent, and both parties must find their interest in it. -
The Bey asked me is a Charge d'affairs would not be placed here. I told him undoubtedly, and observed that if Mr. Davis wished to return again, he would certainly be sent. - The Bey replied that he had rather have some other person; for altho's he would not accuse Mr. Davis of wilful [sic] or intentional misrepresentation, he might have mistaken his expressions; - or he might have forgotten some part of the conversation between the time of its taking place and committing it to writing; yet, after what had happened, he could not suppose there would be that cordiality existing between them which was so desirable for both parties, and he should prefer some other person. -
After leaving the Bey, the Prime Minister sent for me with whom I found Hadge Unis. We had a long conversation on the several points which had been discussed by the Bey and myself this & the preceeding [sic] day, and they appeared cordially disposed to promote the object of altering the Treaty. On their assurances however I place but little dependence. -
On the 15th I returned on board the Constitution; and on the 16th I communicated to Mr. Davis, who came on board the same ship, all that had passed in my two interviews with the Bey. - The Commodore asked Mr. Davis if it was his wish to return again to Tunis as Charge d'affairs, because, if it was, he would send him back again, in a proper manner, notwithstanding what the Bey had said, unless the Bey should give some very strong and substantial reason for not receiving him. - Mr. Davis answered, that it was not his wish to go back to Tunis; but to return to the U. States, as he conceived that the respect due to himself, after what had passed, made it proper for him to return home; [14] and lay his case before the Government, when he expected to be sent back again with marks of approbation. - He urged very strongly the propriety and necessity there was of acting immediately upon the information he had given of the Bey's threats; notwithstanding the Bey had denied them, and given the most pointed and unequivocal assurance of the reverse. - I assured him that I did not doubt but the Bey had told him either the very words which he had written, or to the amount of them, and I was also confident that the Government would not disbelieve him, yet when it came to the point of acting, the written & solemn assurances of the Bey, and his revoking; or disavowing such language must have its weight. -
As Mr. Davis had declined returning to Tunis under any circumstance, the Commodore appointed Dr. James Dodge, Surgeon of the ship, to take charge of our affairs here, untill [sic] the pleasure of the President should be made know thereon. -
On the 18th I went to Tunis with Dr. Dodge, to present him to the Bey as Charge d'affairs. - On the 21st went to Bardo and introduced Dr. Dodge, who was received, in form, as the representative of our Nation. The Bey informed me that he had instructed, his prime Minister to confer with me on the Subject of making alterations in our Treaty. -
After our Audience we waited upon the Sapatapa, and immediately entered upon the discussion of the several points which we wished to have altered. He at once recapitulated them, and said they had long known that they were unfavorable to us, and expected that we should have long before endeavour'd to get them changed. I told him I knew application had been made for that purpose but not affected. After a full conversation [15] on the business, I promised to write him this day or tomorrow, state our wishes, and leave it for him to answer me in the same way. -
On the 22nd I returned on Board the Constitution, where I remained till the 24th, when I went again to Tunis with Dr. Dodge, and a number of the Officers of the Squadron to partake of an entertainment provided for us, at the Gardens of the Bey, a little beyond Bardo. -
We met with every mark of respect and attention and found our entertainment prepared in an elegant style. After dinner we met with the Bey on a plain near Bardo, where I introduced the officers to him &c.
On the 31st of August had my Audience of leave of the Bey when I presented him with an Elegant watch set with brilliants. I gave also a watch similar, but inferior to the Sapatapa and to the First Turkish, and first Christian Secretarys [sic] each, an emerald snuff box ornamented with brilliants. - The custom of the Country makes it unavoidable to give presents on such an occasion; and I reserved them to the last day of my being here, that they might not be considered as given with a view of making favorable impressions for our obtaining my points with them which we wished to carry. -
I this day received a letter from the prime Minister on the subject of certain articles in our Treaty, which you will find in the Packet marked A. - The two most important points are granted and the other two left to be discussed and settled by the Ambassador sent to the U. States. -
On the 1st of September I came on board this Ship with Sidi Soliman Mellamella, the Ambassador, accompanied by several of the first officers of the Regency. The Wind blowing very fresh obliged the Ambassadors and the persons accompanying him, to remain on board [16] all Night. - The next morning the Ambassador went on board the U.S. Ship Congress, Captn. Decatur prepared to carry him to the U. States, and the rest returned to Tunis. -
Thus, Sir, have I given you a faithful detail of events & facts; as they have occurred since our Arrival in this Bay, not from memory; but from notes taken at the time that each circumstance occurred. The documents which accompany this letter will give a more minute account in some points than are stated here. - I shall make no Comments on what I have written, as I feel an honest pride in placing only plain facts before those who I know will receive them with Candour [sic] and draw from them the proper inferrences [sic]. - I will just observe, that the impression made here by the judicious display of our force, and the prompt and decided Conduct of our Commodore, is such as has never before been Felt and has utterly astonished the foreign representatives at this Court. - My path, as I have before observed, was plain & easy. I had rather to guard against asking too much, lest it sh[oul]d be computed to an improper advantage of the moment; and I avoided pressing, with impetuosity, these points which were demanded, that they might see we were just as well as powerful. -
The recent situation of Algiers has been such as to to [sic] divert the attention of the Dey from Foreign Nations. A formidable and threatening insurrection in the heart of his dominion, a lawless & ingovernable [sic] Soldiery, who have lately committed the most horrid massacres in the City, and kept him in awe, have obliged him to attend to his personal safety only. - His Cruizers [sic] are disarmed & dismantled, from a fear that their Crews might seize his treasures, and carry it off. So that we can have nothing to apprehend from that quarter. - As our biennial [17] present becomes due this month, I shall proceed to Lighorn in this Ship to make arrangements for it, before I return to Algiers, and indeed the pressure of business which has been upon me during our Negotiation at Tripoli, and since, at this place, has very much injured my health that I feel it necessary to have a few weeks of relaxation, before I enter again into the scenes of anxious business which always occurs in these Regencies. -
You will pardon my remarking that the Salary of two Thousand dollars, will not allow a public Character to live in Tunis in a situation by any means equal to his Standing. - 5 or 6 years ago it would answer. - Now every article has increased more than threefold.
It is not possible for me to prepare my accounts for this Opportunity. The month past has been occupied very closely - and at this moment the Congress is detained solely for my dispatches. I shall not fail to have them prepared, & forwarded before I return to Algiers.
To the President I pray you will be pleased to present my grateful respects, and say, that in all my conduct, both here, and in Tripoli, I have been actuated with a Confident belief that I was conforming to his wishes and determination to support the honor and dignity of the United States, while we convinced nations of our Justice and Generosity. And I also pray you will receive the warm testimony of the highest respect and purest attachment, with which,
I have the honor to be
Your most faithful & Obliged Servt.
Tobias Lear
The Honorable
James Maddison [sic]
Secy of State -

[address leaf]
The Hon. James Madison
Secretary of State
2 Sept. 1805

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People: Lear, Tobias, 1762-1816
Madison, James, 1751-1836

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

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Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

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