James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 10 September 1805

From John Armstrong

Paris 10th. Sept. 1805.


The note of which the annexed paper (Number 1)1 is a copy was put into2 by direction of Mr. Talleyrand who was then on the point of setting out for the camp at Bologne. The person charged with the delivery of it having no official relation to the minister and but little personal acquaintance with me tho’ sufficiently known as a political agent of the Govt. supposed that some introductory credential might be necessary and accordingly submited the official manuscript. It was the handwriting of Mr. T—d. Informed3 of communication he said had been prefered on account of greater security; it was a proof of the minister’s habitual circumspection and of nothing else. The communication itself wanted no explanation. It obviously grew out of the interest taken by France in the adjustment of differences which ought not to become wider. This interview ended with an assurance on my part that I was equally persuaded of the correctness of the motives which in this Step had influenced both the minister and the government and that I should transmit the note to the president as early as possible. A second conversation took place between this person and myself on the 4 which you will find detailed in Number 2 annexed.4 The note as illustrated presents a full development of French policy on this subject. The moment of their putting it into motion may have been somewhat hastened by the expected war. All possible means of raising money are tried and this may be regarded as one of the expedients.

Mr. Skipwith will give you the current news of the day. A fact not publicly known & somewhat interesting is the plan of the projected Campaign. The grand army of 160,000 men in seven divisions, each commanded by a Marshal, & the whole by the Emperor, crosses the Rhine on the 30th. and takes the road to Vienna. Their movements will be, like those of their Leader, rapid & vigorous. Messina in upper and Jordan in lower Italy, will persue a defensive system. With the greatest possible respect, I am, Sir, Your most obed. hum. Servt

John Armstrong

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, DD, France, vol. 10). RC in code; decoded interlinearly by Wagner. For enclosures, see nn. 1 and 4.

1The enclosure (1 p.; docketed by Wagner) is a copy of a note suggesting that the United States indicate to Spain that if that government would not negotiate the question of limits, the United States would be forced to take “such measures as shall appear to them the most efficacious.” The note added that should Spain not agree to this, a copy of the communication from the United States to Spain should be sent to the French government mentioning “the evil consequences” that would follow and asking Napoleon to mediate, in which event Spain would no doubt agree to the U.S. proposal. The note listed the following conditions as acceptable to France: (1) Spain and France to have the same trading privileges in the Floridas as they had in Louisiana; (2) the boundary between U.S. and Spanish territory to be the Colorado River beginning “in the Bay of St. Bernard & a line northwardly including the head waters of all those rivers which fall into the Misisippi”; (3) thirty leagues on either side of the Mississippi to remain perpetually unoccupied; (4) debts due from Spain to U.S. citizens, except those for French spoliations, to be paid by bills on Spanish colonies; and (5) the United States to give ten million dollars to Spain.

2“My hands” was probably omitted here.

3Encoded “informed”; decoded “This form.”

4The enclosure (4 pp.; docketed by Wagner) is a copy of a transcription of the conversation between Armstrong and Talleyrand’s emissary, “M,” in which M stated that the submitted propositions had been tendered in confidence, that they could be sent to Jefferson but it was expected that the latter would not make them public; M then asked if Armstrong had had time to consider them, to which Armstrong replied that no consideration was necessary as a glance sufficed to show that they were totally lacking a reciprocity that could be the basis for a permanent and honorable agreement with Spain. Armstrong listed his objections, stating that the United States would yield three of the four points in controversy and settle the fourth in a way only advantageous to Spain. M responded that by the terms of the proposal, the United States would round out its territory to the south and the west, obtain clear unmistakable boundary limits, obtain command of the mouths of the rivers watering its interior territories, gain one of the finest harbors in that part of the world, add nearly twenty million acres in territory, and settle all this amicably and honorably and without disturbing the tranquility of its citizens. M warned that although the United States might have the power to start a war, the ability to end it might not be so certain. Armstrong replied that the United States could solve matters by taking possession of the territory between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande and seizing the Floridas as indemnity for Spanish debts, to which France could not object, having just acknowledged the legitimacy of U.S. claims. M then stated that it appeared the true sticking point was the sum of ten million dollars and suggested that seven million would do, to which Armstrong replied that he could “say nothing on the subject of money,” and the discussion apparently ended.

Index Entries