Thomas Jefferson Papers

Report on Negotiations with Spain, 22 December 1791

Report on Negotiations with Spain



  to the President of the United States that one of the Commissioners of Spain, in the name of both, has lately communicated to him verbally, by order of his court, that his Catholic majesty, apprised of our sollicitude to have some arrangements made respecting our free navigation of the river Missisipi, and the use of a port thereon, is ready to enter into treaty thereon at Madrid.

The Secretary of state is of opinion that this overture should be attended to without delay, and that the proposal of treating at Madrid, tho’ not what might have been desired, should yet be accepted; and a commission plenipotentiary made out for the purpose.

That Mr. Carmichael, the present Chargé des affaires of the United States at Madrid, from the local acquaintance which he must have acquired with persons and circumstances, would be an useful and proper member of the commission: but that it would be useful also to join with him some person more particularly acquainted with the circumstances of the navigation to be treated of.

That the fund appropriated by the act providing the means of intercourse between the United States and foreign nations will insufficiently furnish the ordinary and regular demands on it, and is consequently inadequate to the mission of an additional Commissioner express from hence:

That therefore it will be adviseable on this account, as well as for the sake of dispatch, to constitute some one of the Ministers of the United States in Europe, jointly with Mr. Carmichael, Commissioners plenipotentiary for the special purpose of negotiating and concluding, with any person or persons duly authorised by his Catholic majesty, a convention or treaty for the free navigation of the river Missisipi by the citizens of the United States, under such accomodations with respect to a port and other circumstances, as may render the sd. navigation practicable, useful, and free from dispute; saving to the President and Senate their respective rights as to the ratification of the same; and that the said negociation be at Madrid or such other place in Spain as shall be desired by his Catholic majesty.

Th: Jefferson
Dec. 22. 1791.

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by Lear. PrC (DLC). FC (DNA: RG 59, SDC). Entry in SJPL: “[Repor]t Th:J. proposing to open negociation with Spain.”

The overture communicated verbally is printed above as Memorandum of Conversation with Jaudenes, 6 Dec. 1791. Washington concurred with the recommendations TJ made in this report and on 11 Jan. 1792 submitted a copy of this document to the Senate with an accompanying message nominating William Carmichael and William Short “Commissioners Plenipotentiary” to negotiate with Spain on the navigation of the Mississippi. In his letter to the Senate, Washington incorporated TJ’s draft nomination (PrC in DLC: TJ Papers, 80: 13881; entry in SJPL after 3 Jan. and before 10 Jan. reads: “Nominations of Carmichael and Short to treat with Spain”; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United Statesto the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, 1828 description ends , i, 95–6). Two days earlier the Spanish agents in Philadelphia had written TJ a brief note requesting “some reply (if possible) to the official Communication” of Spain’s willingness to resume diplomatic negotiations with the U.S. (Jaudenes and Viar to TJ, 9 Jan. 1792, RC in DNA: RG 59, NL; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Jan. 1792 and so recorded in SJL). On 24 Jan. 1792, the Senate approved both nominations, eight days after it had narrowly voted in favor of Washington’s nomination of Short as minister resident to The Hague (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United Statesto the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, 1828 description ends , I, 97, 98, 99; see also Lear to TJ, 24 Jan. 1792, RC and Lear’s retained draft in DNA: RG 59, MLR; Tr in DNA: RG 59, SDC). TJ recommended Carmichael for this appointment despite a warning from one of the Spanish agents that he was unacceptable to the Spanish minister for foreign affairs, Floridablanca (Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty description begins Samuel Flagg Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty: America’s Advantage from Europe’s Distress, 1783–1800, rev. edn., New Haven, 1960 description ends , p. 160–1). Short had been involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the Mississippi question since the time of the Nootka Sound crisis (TJ to Short, 10 Aug. 1790, Document vi in group of documents on the war crisis of 1790, at 12 July 1790; TJ to Short, 12, 19 Mch. 1791, Documents vii and x in group of documents on threat of disunion in the West, at 10 Mch. 1791). For the subsequent expansion of the objectives of the Carmichael and Short mission to Spain, see TJ to Jaudenes and Viar, 26 Jan. 1792.

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