Press enter after choosing selection

The Bassett Claim

The Bassett Claim image
Parent Issue
Public Domain
OCR Text

[Copyright by American Press Association.] CHAÍTEB I. TBE HFIBLOOM. In the year 1794 Capt. Caleb Bassett, a navigator of the old sort, was gazing one morning through his trusty glass at a very snspicdons object on the horizon. The Yankee skipper was gray with service, but his eyes were keen and true, and the fiist mate, at hia side, was waiting with unooncealed anxiety f or their verdict. "Yes," said the skipper, "it's one of those cursed Frenchmen." The mato frowned and mnttered a few biblical phrases much in nse among sailors then and now. "Crowd sïdl," said Bassett, "and I'll go below and get my papers ready." What followed is a matter of record. The American bark Snnbeam, Capt. Bassett, was overhauledand eaptnredby a Frenen erniser, and its cargo of provisions confiscated. The prize wastaken to France, condemned and sold, and the food distributed among the starving poor. And Capt. Bassett, who was a very careful and methodical man, duly wrote out a protest and an itemized claim for damages, amounting, for snip and cargo, to $28,317.80. This, in brief, was "The Bassett Claim"- an heirloom which is still preserved in the family. It3 name may not be familiar to the reader; and yet there have been no less than forty-three reports made to different congresses on this claim, as one of a number of similar cases, and withont much doubt there will be many more; for we all know the power of habit, and congress can bo fairly said to have contracted the habit of a favorable report on the French spoliation claims. It has been urged, as one of the objections in the way of settling these claims, that they "slept," bnt no Vawyer could retreat behind such a technical def ense as this with regard to the Bassett claim. On the contrary, it had been affücted with insomnia f rom birth. The inethodical Capt. Bassett, being very loth to lose at one stroke the bulk of his hard" earned competence, took proper legal advice, made out his case, and duly laid it before Mr. Morris, then our minister at Paris. Mr. Morris, writing home to the state department at this time, used the following plain language: '-These captures créate great confusión, must produce inuch damage to mercantile men aud are a source of endless and well fonnded complaint. Every post brings me piles of letters abont it from all quarters." One fat paekage in these piles carne from Capt. Caleb Bassett, and it was perhaps after reading its contents that the minister added: "If I wen; to give way to the clamors of the in jured parties I ought to mako demands very like a declaration of war." But Mr. Morris was able to get very little satisfaction for Capt. Bassett, nor was Col. James Hunroe, who soon afterward succeeded him, able to do more. And, in fact, matters yearly gTew worse instead of better, in spite of the efforts of such men as Pinckney, Marshall and Gerry, until, after five years of letter writing - in a shaky, crabbed hand, much at variance with hisfirm and even disposition - the slapper was hot for war, and as the original lobbyist for the BasBett claim, went to Philadelphia in 1798, and was one of many who urged the government to demand justiceof France at the cannon's mouth. But calmer and wiser counsels prevailed. The cannoc af ter all is a poor debater. No one was ever convinced by having his leg shot off or his only son blown to pieces by a shel!. And in this particular case we should have been obliged to cope with a niaster in that stoliil, brutal line of argument - a young Corsican adventurer, then at the head of the Frenen government, who shortly after became very famous for his skill in üsputations of this chanwter. Now, as a matter of fact, laying asida national pride for the moment, we diil have our match game of empire with Napoleon, and, like everybody else, got worsted; only he checkmated us with a bishop instead of a castle. For just as Caleb Bassett and others were shouting their loudest for redress, that shrewd priest Talleyrand moved sidelong out with a counter charge of national claims on us, springing from our neglect to perform the duties of friendship, as stipulated in the all important treaty under which France became our ally in the war for independence. Talleyrand admitted that we had some plausible claims on tnem- tney cenaimy nau uu as; but both nations were "hard up" and in tronble- suppose we "cali it square." And finally wo did; by a vote of twenty-two to four in the senate - each of the obdnrate four receiving a spitefnl letter of thanks f rom Captain Bassett f or his finn though uuavailing opposition. Bnt though angry and disturbed, the akipper was not disconraged, for he was given to understand that our government had merely bought off France wiih chese claims, and would now setöe them promptly and on etpntabie tenns. So Mr. Timothy Pickering, the seeretary of state who drew tho instractrons. told tho captain, and so the same psrson wrote many years later, telling the storj' succinctly as follows: "Thus the government bartered the just claim of our merchante on France to obtain a relinquishrnent of the French claim. On' tuis view of the case it would seem that the merchants have an equitable olaim for indemnity from the United States." Bul, not to go into au argument, Capt. Bassett took "this view of the case" at any rate, and spent a part of several winters in Philadelphia and Washington trying to get bis money; and at flve years' difference in time he was instrumental in securing two favorable statements of fact- one by Mr. Giles in 1802, and the other by Mr. Marión in 1807. But by this time he was growing old and attached to bis arborial stoop at home, so that in that year he f ormally gave the claim to hisonly son, WindwardBassett, born aboard the unfortunate Sonbeam on a cruise to the Windward Isles in 1189. Windward Basaett was the shopkeeper of the family, and was too busy and proBperous to make a good claimant. Moreover, for a number of reasons, the French claims feil mto disfavor at this time, and between 1818 and 1824 met the only three unfavorable reporta they ever encountered. Windward Baasett did not neglect the claim, however, by any means, but shortly after the old skipper's death, which occurred in 1815, he yut the bill, shopkeeper fashion, into tho hands of an attorney f or collection, and went prosperonsly on selling kegs of naüs, big shoes and rum to bis neighbors. Windward Bassett, second, bis oldest son, wouM naturally have mherital the heirlooni on his father" s death in 1837, but he had little more reverence for it than his father had entertadned, and so had willingly assigned it to his younger brother, Thomas Jefferson Bassett, who loved politics and adventnre, and wished for nothing so much as a good excuse for a sojourn in Washington. Thomas Jefferson Bassett, or old Torn Bassett, as he was universally called for the last forty years of his Ufe, deserves more than a passing notiee. For the gTeater part of two generaüons he was an object of veneration and mystery to the Baesett family and to the townspeople geoerally. He was a man of great decisión of character and fortitade of mind, but of a sunny disposition and.the kindest manners in the world. In his leisnre, and ono of ms pecuüanties was that he never seemed to have any business, he was fond of telling stories, and was in fact f amous throughout the-connty for his anecdotes and reniiniscencee. He had mixed with men, had traveled widely, he observed keenly, had a ready and rëtentive memory, and, withal, the gift of story telling. And, what was rather strange in a story teller, old Torn Bassett was not a liar; all of his reminiscences were genuine and honest, as indeed his life in all respecta was simple, sincere and blaineless. Toni Bassett went to Washington for the first time in 1827, thehopes of claimants ha ving been revi ved in that year by a favorable report made to the senate by Mr. Holmes, bnttresscd by new evidence and cogent argument. From that time on he took an active interest in the claim and in the claims, and was coricerned in the legislation upon them tuitil shortly beforo his death at a good old age in 1879. Would that he had written his memoirs of "Fifty Years a Lobbyist at Washington!" As it was, he merely talked in the easy chair to eagerly in" friends, insteatl of to the worlu throngba stenographer; but that talk was nevertheless an epitome of our political history, for he had known pnblic ïnen, not conventionally through books or by reputation, but from personal and familiar intercourse. During this half century, forty favorable reports had been made on the claims and they had passed both houses of congress twice, only to enconnter a presidential veto. It was reported that Torn Bassett, like George Washington on great occasions, broke over his habit of kind and températe language when the second veto, that of Pierce, was transmitted to the house of representatives. It certainly chilled his enthusiasm, for from that time forth his visits to WasJngton were less. frequent and his assóciation with public men less intímate. Then the civil war came on, and thoughts were turned aside from petty grievances, thongh in the thickest of the strife Charles Sumner found time to write his masterly report on the subject, v classic among our state papera, and an argument upon winch the claimants can, and probably will, rest their case for all time to come. Meanwhile death had not been idle, and at, the appointed hcrar both Windward Bassett, Tom's eider brother, and Charles Caleb Bassett, Windward Bas6ett's son, went to their account. How well Sumner's irony applied to this family! "The great speculator," he wrote, 'has been death; for there are few of these claims that have not passed through his hands." Charles Caleb Bassett, born in 1823, never took much interest in the heirloom, save as he was amused at his Uncle Torn' s Washington nnecdotes. He was the scholar of the family, the pride and hope of all; but he died at 35, leaving a widow and ono child of 5 years, bearing the family name of Windward Bassett. Four months later ii posthumous öaughter, Florence, was born. CHAPTER II. X FLOWEK A'D A BOUQUET. Childhood grew to boyhood, and that was ripening into youth when, at 19, Windward Bassett entered Yale College. He was then perhaps 5 feet 8 iu height, with an honest, modest face and a alight but erect and gnioefnl fignre. His eyes were large and a romantic blue; hia complexion was fair and clear; in short, good health, good habits, good nature and good breeding shone in his blushing tara and easy, vigorons carriage. He dressol neatly withal, and coming evento had cast their shadows before on his upper lin l TO BS COSTTNOFD. j


Old News
Ann Arbor Register