James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 19 October 1810

To Thomas Jefferson

Washington Ocr. 19. 1810

Dear Sir

I have recd. your favor of the 15th. All we know of the step taken by France towards a reconciliation with us, is thro’ the English papers sent by Mr. Pinkney, who had not himself recd. any information on the subject from Genl. A. nor held any conversation with the B. Ministry on it, at the date of his last letters. We hope from the step, the advantage at least of having but one contest on our hands at a time. If G. B. repeals her orders, without discontinuing her Mock-blockades, we shall be at issue with her on ground strong in law, in the opinion of the world, and even in her own concessions.1 And I do not believe that Congs. will be disposed, or permitted by the Nation, to a tame submission; the less so as it would be not only perfidious to the other belligerent, but irreconciliable with an honorable neutrality. The Crisis in W. Florida, as you will see, has come home to our feelings and our interests.2 It presents at the same time serious questions, as to the Authority of the Executive, and the adequacy of the existing laws, of the U. S. for territorial administration. And the near approach of Congs. might subject any intermediate interposition of the Ex. to the charge of being premature & disrespectful, if not of being illegal. Still, there is great weight in the considerations, that the Country to the Perdido, being our own, may be fairly, taken possession of, if it can be done without violence, above all if there be danger of its passing into the hands of a third & dangerous party. The successful party at Baton Rouge have not yet made any communication or invitation to this Govt. They certainly will call in, either our Aid or that of G. B, whose conduct at the Caraccas3 gives notice of her propensity to fish in troubled waters. From present appearances, our occupancy of W. F. would be resented by Spain, by England, & by France, and bring on, not a triangular, but quadrangular contest. The Vacancy in the Judiciary, is not without a puzzle in supplying it. Lincoln, obviously, is the first presented to our choice; but I believe he will be inflexible in declining it. Granger is working hard for it. His talents are as you state, a strong recommendation; but it is unfortunate, that the only legal evidence of them known to the public, displays his Yazooism; and on this as well as some other accts the more particularly offensive to the Southern half of the Nation. His bodily infirmity, with its effect on his mental stability is an unfavorable circumstance also.4 On the other hand, it may be difficult to find a successor free from objections, of equal force. Neither Morton, nor Bacon, nor Story have yet been brought forward. And I believe Blake will not be a candidate. I have never lost sight of Mr. Jefferson of Richmond. Lee I presume returns to Bourdeaux. Jarvis is making a visit to the U. S. but apparently with an intention to return to Lisbon.5 All the other consulships worthy of him are held by persons who manifest no disposition to part with their births. My overseer G. Gooch is just setting out with the Algerine Rams. Two of them, I have directed him to forward to Monticello; I beg you to accept whichever of them you may prefer; and let Capt: Isaac Coles have the other. Of the 8 sent from Algiers, one was slaughtered on the passage, and a Wether substituted. Another was not of the large tail family: but a very large handsome sheep with 4 horns. His fleece is heavy, but like the others coarse. I send him to Virga. with the others, tho’ at a loss what to have done with him there. Two of the large tails I have disposed of here, one of them to Claiborne, for the benefit of the Orleans meat Market. I send home also, by this oppy. six Merino Ewes, two of them recd. from Jarvis, & the rest purchased here out of his late shipments. I have purchased also, the Ewe lamb, which had been destined for Hooe of Alexanda. Finding that the arrangements necessary for the original pair, would provide for a small flock, I have been tempted to make this addition to them; as a fund of pure Merino blood, worth attending to. The Ewes will stand me in abt. $175 a piece. Accept my affectionate respects

James Madison

RC (DLC). Docketed by Jefferson, “recd. Oct. 21.”

1Shortly after JM returned to Washington, the National Intelligencer, on 15 Oct. 1810, editorialized on this theme, predicting that “questions may hereafter arise, between the American and British governments, on the subject of blockades.” The newspaper then reprinted admiralty orders of 5 Jan. 1804 withdrawing the Royal Navy blockade of Guadeloupe and Martinique “unless in respect to particular ports which may be ACTUALLY INVESTED, and then not to capture vessels bound to such ports unless they shall previously have been warned not to enter them.” The editorial concluded that this British position embraced “the principles cordially admitted by the United States, beyond which they have never advanced any pretensions, and contrary to which, it is hoped, Great Britain will set up no new rule.”

2In a postscript to its 19 Oct. edition the National Intelligencer printed a report that an armed force, acting in the name of the West Florida convention, had attacked the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge on the night of 22–23 Sept. 1810 and seized its commander, Don Carlos Dehault Delassus. Two days earlier, on 17 Oct., the new editor of the National Intelligencer, Joseph Gales, Jr., had called on JM and mentioned during the course of conversation the possibility of American involvement in West Florida. According to the diary Gales kept at the time, JM responded that “he imagined measures had been adopted which would prevent our being involved by the ardor of our citizens.” As to the independence of the Floridas, the president continued, “if Bonaparte was sincere in the declarations he was said to have made, he would not object to it: if he was opposed to their independence, policy should induce him to leave them alone, for his interference would immediately throw them into the arms of Britain. He thought the British party, together with the refugees from justice, deserters from the United States Army, and land-jobbers, would constitute a majority who would be unwilling that West Florida should come under the jurisdiction of the United States” (“Recollections of the Civil History of the War of 1812,” Historical Magazine, 3d ser., 3 [1874–75]: 157).

3On 15 Oct. the National Intelligencer had printed a decree issued by the junta at Caracas on 3 Sept. 1810 reducing by one-quarter for British subjects the duties charged on foreign exports and imports made through Venezuelan customhouses. The decree mentioned that these terms had been negotiated for the British by Colonel Robertson. The editorial comment observed that while Great Britain supported the authority of Ferdinand VII and the Supreme Junta in Europe, it was not above undermining legitimist principles for commercial advantage in Spain’s American colonies. In his conversation with Gales two days later JM remarked that “the steps taken by the British, in South America, were the strangest he had seen lately; for this Colonel Robertson would not dare to act as he had done, unless authorized by the British Ministry.” The president further stated that while it was “a politic course of the independent party, to give this eclat to the British commercial favors” and thus “strengthen their party,” it would also cause the “adherents of old Spain” to look upon the British “with a very jealous eye.” In response to Gales’s opinion that the Spanish colonies would be unable to sustain a republican system and would, like France, “recur to a despotic Government,” JM said “it was very probable; but still they would have their choice of the form of government, and, so far, be independent” (ibid.).

4Gideon Granger had long suffered from depression and other health problems, which on one occasion he described as “severe shocks on the brains and bowels” (Arthur S. Hamlin, Gideon Granger [Canandaigua, N.Y., 1982], pp. 13–14, 34).

5William Jarvis was still in Lisbon at the time, but JM had probably heard of a report from New York two days earlier that Jarvis was about to depart for the U.S. He arrived in Boston in late November (National Intelligencer, 22 Oct. 1810; Jarvis to Robert Smith, 30 Nov. 1810 [DNA: RG 59, CD, Lisbon]).

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