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Letters to the President and the Naval Forces of the United States

Posted July 27th, 2013 at 06:56 AM by Aya Katz

When you are president of the United States, you probably receive a lot of junk mail, but on the other hand, someone sorts what to keep and what to throw out, and you only ever have to look at the important mail.

I have been browsing through the archive of President James Madison for late December of 1815. To be honest, I was really just interested in Jean Laffite's letter asking Madison for restitution for the ships and supplies confiscated during the Patterson attack, just prior to Laffite's saving the nation at the Battle of New Orleans.

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

Madison did not pay much attention to Jean Laffite's appeal, partly because the privateer misspelled so many words and used other words with the wrong semantic connotation. If it was just a language problem, why didn't Laffite write to the President in French? After all, the very next letter in the archive was from Dupont de Nemours and it was in French.

Click the image to open in full size.

Dupont de Nemours starts his letter by thanking the President profusely for accepting his grandson into the Corps of Midshipmen.

Probably Jean Laffite's rejection was a class thing. It was not that he was "French" that made his appeal unacceptable. It was that he could not write well in any language and it showed. Dupont de Nemours and Madison were probably equally well educated.

There's also the money problem: the Treasury was empty. We probably could not pay Jean Laffite back if we wanted to. But why just grant a pardon? Why not an offer of employment? Why not a letter of Marque?

If Dupont de Nemours' grandson could join the United States Navy, why not Jean Laffite?

Is it because his education was not enough to make an officer of him?
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