James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 10 January 1811

To Congress


January 10th 1811

I communicate to Congress, in confidence, the translation of a letter from Louis de Onis, to the Captain General of the Province of the Caraccas.1

The tendency of misrepresentations and suggestions, which, it may be inferred from this specimen, enter into more important correspondences of the writer, to promote in foreign Councils, at a critical period, views adverse to the peace and to the best interests of our Country, renders the contents of the letter of sufficient moment, to be made known to the Legislature.

James Madison

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 46, Executive Proceedings, 11B-B1). RC 1 p. In a clerk’s hand, signed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1JM forwarded a translation of a 2 Feb. 1810 letter from Onís to the captain general at Caracas (3 pp.; printed in ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 3:404), which had been sent to Washington by Robert K. Lowry, whom JM had dispatched as an agent to Venezuela in the summer of 1810 (see PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 2:311–12). The Spanish diplomat reported a debate in the House of Representatives on 31 Jan. 1810 over whether to make an appropriation for an American minister to Spain. Although the outcome had been against sending a minister to the court of Joseph Bonaparte, Onís noted that friends and relatives of JM, principally John Wayles Eppes and Richard Cutts, were in favor of the proposal. He concluded from the episode that nothing useful could be obtained from the U.S. “but by Energy, by force and by chastisement.” Onís further complained of American efforts to obtain access to Spanish colonial ports, and he assumed that the administration supported Joseph Bonaparte in order to advance this goal. He also believed that the U.S. was determined to make war on Great Britain and its Spanish ally and that John Quincy Adams had been sent to St. Petersburg for the purpose of forming an alliance with France, Russia, Denmark, and Sweden. Onís therefore suggested that Great Britain and Spain should counter this strategy by sending ships and troops to the Louisiana area in order to divide the U.S. into two or three republics, which would “remain in a state of perfect Nullity. We should soon have from the Republic of the North, which would be our friend, all the supplies which are now drawn from the others—who would perish, from Poverty and quarrels among themselves.”

The letter continued with an assessment of American financial and military weakness: the country “is now without a cent”; the army had no more than “6000 despicable men”; and the navy “is for the most part disarmed.” He concluded with an anecdote suggesting that Gallatin and other members of the administration assumed that any Spaniard who happened to be in the U.S. was a Bonapartist agent fit to be employed for the goal of inducing Mexico and Havana “to unite themselves to this Republic.”

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