James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Duncan, 8 October 1812

From William Duncan

Superintendants Office
U.S. Arsenal
Octr. 8th. 1812


I am induced from a sense of duty to our much injured Country, to communicate to your excellency the following information received as matter of fact, from Mr. Tolado1 a Spanish Gentleman resident in Philadelphia, of whose Character I understand you possess some knowledge.

“In pursuance of a communication of an official nature, by Dn. Lewis De Onis, to the Council of Regency in Spain, respecting the occupation of East Florida by the troops of the United States, and of their conduct towards Spain;2 The Council of Regency sent a copy of the communication of Onis to the Cortes, accompanied by their opinion that it was necessary to declare War immediately against the United States, but that the circumstances in which Spain now existed would prevent so speedy a declaration as would be requisite. The Cortes after mature deliberation, resolved to remit the documents to the Regency, to be communicated to the English Government, requesting at the same time the sentiments of that Government on that particular. The Court of London replied by stating their concurrence in the opinion expressed by the Regency; adding that it was necessary to attend a more favorable opportunity.”3

How the foregoing information was obtained by Mr. Tolado I have not been informed, but whether it is authentic or not, I rest satisfied that it will be received in the spirit in which I take the liberty of communicating it. With sentiments of the highest esteem & regard I have the honor to be Your excellency’s Obedt. Very huml. Servt.

Wm. Duncan


RC (DNA: RG 59, ML).

1José Álvarez de Toledo y Dubois (1779–1858), a Cuban who had been an elected representative from Santo Domingo to the cortes in 1810–11, arrived in September 1811 in Philadelphia, where he began circulating schemes favoring the independence of Spain’s colonies in the Antilles and their subsequent union with Mexico and possibly with the U.S. as well. In December 1811 he traveled to Washington, where he met not only with Monroe but also with José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara. Just as Monroe had encouraged Gutiérrez to return to Mexico to continue working for Mexican independence, so too did he urge Toledo to return to Cuba, presumably for a similar purpose, and he gave Toledo a letter of introduction to JM’s agent to Cuba and Mexico, William Shaler. Fearing entrapment, however, Toledo decided against returning to Cuba, and he remained in Philadelphia for most of 1812. Eventually Toledo opted to go to Texas, apparently determined to wrest control of the Republican Army of the North from Gutiérrez and Augustus W. Magee. He arrived in Natchitoches in the first week of April 1813, where he found that both Shaler and the Americans in the Texan republican army, horrified by the execution of royalist officials after the capture of San Antonio, were willing to support his bid to displace Gutiérrez. Toledo took command of the Texan republican army in early August 1813, but the royalists rallied from their earlier setbacks and defeated Toledo’s forces at the Battle of Medina on 18 Aug. 1813.

Following this failure, Toledo returned to the U.S. Thereafter, he was to remain intermittently involved in schemes promoting the independence of Spain’s American colonies until 1816, but at the same time he never wholly severed his connections with representatives of the Bourbon cause in Spanish America, most notably Luis de Onís, whom he kept informed from time to time of developments in the various rebel causes with which he was associated. In December 1816 Toledo petitioned Ferdinand VII for a pardon. Returning to his former allegiance to the Spanish monarchy, he ended his career as Spanish ambassador in Naples (Cox, “Monroe and the Early Mexican Revolutionary Agents,” Annual Report of the AHA for 1911, 1:202–5; Joseph B. Lockey, “The Florida Intrigues of José Alvarez de Toledo,” Fla. Historical Quarterly 12 [1934]: 145–78; Harris Gaylord Warren, “José Alvarez de Toledo’s Initiation as a Filibuster, 1811–1813,” Hispanic American Historical Review 20 [1940]: 56–82; Harris Gaylord Warren, trans. and ed., “José Álvarez de Toledo’s Reconciliation with Spain and Projects for Suppressing Rebellion in the Spanish Colonies,” La. Historical Quarterly 23 [1940]: 827–33).

2This could have been either Onís’s 23 June 1812 dispatch to Spanish secretary of state José Pizarro or his 19 July 1812 dispatch to Pizarro’s successor, Ignacio de Pezuela. Both letters dealt with American efforts to seize East Florida earlier in the year (see Pilar León Tello, Documentos relativos a la independencia de Norteamérica existentes en archivos españoles [11 vols. in 14; Madrid, 1976–85], 3:458, 465).

3Ignacio de Pezuela’s 10 Sept. 1812 letter to Onís explained some of these transactions. After learning of the American declaration of war against Great Britain, the regency government in Cádiz informed the British minister there of its desire to continue the friendship and the alliance of the two nations. As far as relations with the U.S. were concerned, the regency informed Onís that although Spain had long had cause for war with the U.S., the dependence of the Iberian peninsula on American supplies of flour and wheat required the adoption of “a policy of temporizing with the American government.” This policy was to be conducted in ways that did not harm the interests of Great Britain, while care was also taken “not to give pretext to the American government to carry the excess of its complacency toward France to the point of making a war which could suit neither Spain nor England” (Brooks, Diplomacy and the Borderlands, 21).

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