James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 29 September 1786

From James Monroe

New York Sepr. 29. 1786

Dear Sir

Since my last it has been propos’d that each delegation be at liberty to communicate to the legislature of the State to wh. they belong the project of Mr. Jay & the proceedings of Congress thereon & negativ’d.1 The Journal has been handed to Mr. Jay. As yet he has said nothing nor have we information what course he means to take except from those here in his party, who affirm he will proceed. I wrote some weeks since to Colo. Mason upon this subject, at the time I wrote Govr. Henry, but have recd. no answer from him; from wh. circumstance as well as that of R. H. Lee’s being in the opposite sentiment, there is room to conjecture he is not with us.2 R. H. L. I conclude has been influenc’d by Arthur who has been intrigng. on the other side to serve his own purposes,3 & leaving the business of the treasury bd. to Billy Duer.4 Bland is also in the assembly so that possibly the party in favor of this project may have advocates with us.5 I hope Colo. Grayson hath recover’d. Be so kind as make my best respects to himself & lady & believe me yr. friend & servt

Jas. Monroe


1Monroe and King returned to Congress on 25 Sept. 1786. On 28 Sept. Pinckney and Carrington sought to rescind the injunction of secrecy in order that the delegates could confer with their legislatures and executives concerning the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations. The motion was defeated 3 to 6 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXXI, 697).

2Monroe wrote Patrick Henry on 12 Aug. 1786 (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VIII, 421). Monroe’s letter to Mason has not been found but is calendared ca. 19 Aug. 1786 in Rutland, Papers of George Mason, II, 851–52. Perhaps Mason never received the letter. At any rate, Monroe’s inference from Mason’s silence appears to have been wrong. Washington wrote Henry Lee that he was inclined to believe that Mason would advocate the navigation of the Mississippi (31 Oct. 1786, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXIX, 35).

3Both the Lees were on the easterners’ side over the question of the treaty with Spain. But Richard Henry Lee, at least up until the autumn of 1785, had hoped that the negotiations “may secure to the U.S. and those Individual States concerned, the great advantages that will be derived from a free navigation of that river” (Richard Henry Lee to Washington, 14 Feb. 1785, Ballagh, Letters of Richard Henry Lee, II, 330; see also Lee to Henry Laurens, 6 June 1779, Lee to George Mason, 9 June 1779, ibid., II, 61–62, 69; Lee to JM, 11 Aug. 1785, Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (9 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , VIII, 339–40). By 1787 Lee was adamantly opposed to the southern viewpoint. He found southern arguments against the Spanish Treaty, “some of them plausible, but generally weak and indecent.” He contended that the navigation of the river would be unobtainable for years, would probably precipitate war with Spain, would lose a profitable share of their commerce, and would sacrifice the settlement and guarantee of U.S. boundaries. “And after all, if this navigation could be opened and the benefits be such as are chimerically supposed, it must in its consequences depopulate & ruin the Old States” (Lee to Washington, 15 July 1787, Ballagh, Letters of Richard Henry Lee, II, 426). Thus by 1787 Lee had reversed his position and wholly accepted Jay’s defense of the proposed treaty. Lee’s intimacy with Gardoqui would account for this reversal of opinion (Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty, p. 108). Having carried on secret negotiations and obtained aid from Gardoqui in 1777 in Spain, Arthur Lee also was familiar with the Spanish agent (Paul H. Giddens, “Arthur Lee, First United States Envoy to Spain,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , XL [1932], 8–9, 13). A letter from Theodorick Bland to Arthur Lee clearly indicates that Lee had communicated his pro-eastern sentiments on the treaty to Bland (20 Nov. 1786, Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, II, 334–36).

4William Duer (1747–1799) was a member of Congress from New York, 1777–1779. He was appointed secretary to the Board of Treasury in March 1786. Appointed assistant secretary of the treasury in 1789 under his friend Alexander Hamilton, he resigned six months later in order to pursue private speculative ventures (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography. description ends , V, 486–87).

5Monroe’s implication that Bland was one in sentiment with the Lees was erroneous. Bland’s letter to Arthur Lee was an emphatic rebuttal of the pro-treaty argument and an exposition of the southern position (Theodorick Bland to Arthur Lee, 20 Nov. 1786, Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, II, 334–36).

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