James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Cocke, 28 November 1811

From William Cocke

Knoxville 28th November 1811


Colo Bernardo is recommended as a true American and I have no doubt his embassy will Contain an interesting account of the Cituation of his own Country,1 therefore introduce him to you most respectfully Your Obdt. Servt &c

Wm. Cocke

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara (1774–1841), a supporter of the Hidalgo revolt in Mexico, had set out for the U.S. in September 1811 to seek arms, money, and support for his cause. While traveling through the Neutral Ground, he lost his credentials and his papers but continued on to Washington, where he arrived on 11 Dec. 1811. Shortly after his arrival Gutiérrez de Lara presented his case to the secretaries of state and war in an eleven-page memorandum (in Spanish), in which he offered to open trade relations with the U.S. in return for the supply of arms, munitions, and some troops to the Mexican cause, mentioning as he did so that such assistance would strengthen both the U.S. and Mexico against the nations of Europe. Monroe and Eustis were not unsympathetic, but they informed Gutiérrez de Lara that before his coming “they had thought about taking possession of the limits of Louisiana. They said that these limits should extend to the Rio Grande, because they had bought all the lands which belonged to this province from France.” In that context Eustis declared that “it would be easy to send an army to the banks of the Rio Grande.” The Mexican rejected this method of incorporating Texas into the U.S. and proposed instead that there should be “a certain portion of land as a neutral [tract], to separate the two nations, or Americas, for thereby would be obviated many discords.” As Monroe continued to press the matter, the agent deflected his demands by asking that he be allowed to refer them back to Mexico, noting in his diary as he did so: “Maria Santísima, help me and rescue me from these men!” (“Narrative by Don José Bernardo Gutiérrez relative to the Affairs of Mexico” [DNA: RG 59, Correspondence relative to the Filibustering Expedition against the Spanish Government of Mexico, 1811–1816]; Gutiérrez de Lara to the Mexican Congress, 1 Aug. 1815, Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar [6 vols.; Austin, Tex., 1921], 1:11; Elizabeth Howard West, ed., “Diary of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, 1811–1812,” American Historical Review, 34 [1928–29]: 55–73; Julia K. Garrett, Green Flag over Texas: A Story of the Last Years of Spain in Texas [New York, 1939], pp. 93–94).

On 16 Dec. 1811 Gutiérrez de Lara met with JM. The president, he wrote, “received me with great courtesy,” but he added, “I was with him very little, because he does not understand Spanish.” In subsequent meetings with members of JM’s cabinet, Gutiérrez de Lara further discussed the matter of American assistance to the Mexican rebels, and he recorded a promise by Monroe that in the event of war with Great Britain, the U.S. would “immediately place an army of 50,000 men in our country to aid our independence and make common cause with us.” The agent left Washington on 4 Jan. 1812 and eventually departed for New Orleans, where he arrived on 23 Mar. 1812, bearing a letter of introduction from State Department clerk John Graham to Orleans territorial governor William C. C. Claiborne. The administration wished to expedite Gutiérrez de Lara’s return to Mexico to enable him “to fetch documents necessary to undertake the purchase of arms” and, perhaps, to obtain Mexican consideration of its proposals respecting the Rio Grande. Upon receiving Graham’s letter introducing the agent, Claiborne declared himself to be “some what at a loss, as to the degree of countenance proper to show him,” but the governor decided “to recommend him to the friendly attention” of William Shaler, the U.S. agent whom JM had attempted to send to Mexico via Cuba in 1810 (West, “Diary of José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, 1811–1812,” pp. 73–77, 281–94; Claiborne to Graham, 31 Mar. 1812, Rowland, Claiborne Letter Books description begins Dunbar Rowland, ed., Official Letter Books of W. C. C. Claiborne, 1801–1816 (6 vols.; Jackson, Miss., 1917) description ends , 6:68–69).

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