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James Madison

Mediterranean Ship’s Passport
Issued February 6, 1813

This passport was issued in Charleston, South Carolina to the vessel Athens, which was under the command of William Ringel. There is no information on destination or cargo.

This Mediterranean passport was signed by President James Madison who served two terms from March 4, 1809 until March 4, 1817. Madison was a native Virginian who was educated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton), graduating in 1771. During his distinguished career he was a member of the Second Continental Congress and sponsored the Bill of Rights while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson. Early in his Presidency he responded to the impressment of American seamen and the seizure of their cargoes by the British by asking for and receiving from Congress a declaration of war in 1812. It was also signed by Secretary of State James Monroe, who would succeed Madison as President. Monroe served in the Revolution, was wounded at the Battle of Trenton and eventually reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served as a U.S. Senator and as Governor of Virginia. He succeeded Robert Smith as Secretary of State on April 2, 1811 when Smith was forced the resign. As a Senator he had tried to address the “sailors rights” issue, but his Monroe-Pinkney Treaty did not succeed. As Secretary of State he became convinced that a declaration of war against Great Britain was the only option. He served as acting Secretary of War during the War of 1812 while also carrying the burden of Secretary of State. Also signing the passport was Simeon Theus, the Collector of Customs in Charleston, who was involved in a test case over the legality of President Jefferson’s Embargo. Acting pursuant to Jefferson’s orders, Theus refused permission for an American vessel loaded with rice to sail due to the possibility the ship would sail to Europe in contravention of the Embargo. On May 24, 1808, his decision was challenged and the circuit court found against the President, bringing Theus into the national spotlight.

The document is printed on vellum and as is typical of Mediterranean passports, the top is scalloped where the top portion was cut off and sent to United States consuls in the Mediterranean for later matching with the passport held by the ship. It bears the Great Seal of the United States on the lower left.

[Description provided by J. Revell Carr, former President and Director, Mystic Seaport: The Museum of American and the Sea]