James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Tobias Lear, [January] 1813

From Tobias Lear

[January 1813]

On the 31st. Decr the Regency of this Kingdom presented to the Cortes General and Extraordinary what they termed an exposition of the conduct of the United States toward Spain before the revolution in Spain to the present time.1 This paper enters generally2 into the conduct adopted by the agent of the United States resident here,3 The possession of East Florida, the numerous incendiaries employed by the Executive of the United States in different parts of their American possessions, naming several, particularly a Doctor Robinson,4 The forces collecting near baton rouge, as intended to join the insurgents in mexico: but more particularly the correspondence of the Chavalier Onis, which exhibits many unfounded speculations, and false conclusions upon subjects that he is totally unacquainted with, or which he has viewed thro a false medium. The Regency concludes with saying that they should recommend a declaration of war instantly, if the actual circumstances of this kingdom did not forbid it, and the hope that clinton, the friend of onis and of Spain and her ally, would succeed to the President before, in which case the alternative would be unnecessary. This Paper was, in secret session, committed to a commission to report thereon. It is supposed no report5 will be made for some considerable time say two months. I am led to think that neither the british minister nor Lord Wellington had any thing to do in this affair, which I deem of too much importance not to make an attempt to communicate it.

RC (DLC: Monroe Papers); FC (owned by Stephen Decatur, Garden City, N.Y., 1961). RC undated; date assigned here on the basis of internal evidence and information presented in n. 3. RC unsigned; addressee not indicated, identified as JM by Stephen Decatur; docketed by Monroe, “To be decypherd”; a note on the cover in John Graham’s hand reads: “This Paper came under a Blank Cover. Mr Lears Cypher was used to read it.” FC undated; inserted between pages in Lear’s letterbook at January 1809. Italicized words are those encoded by Lear’s clerk and decoded interlinearly by Graham (key is in the Lear family papers [ibid.]).

1This report was sent to the cortes by Pedro Labrador, minister of state for the regency of Spain. Much of its contents complained of the presence and activities of U.S. agents in various parts of the Spanish-American Empire that had recently experienced revolutionary disturbances, most notably Buenos Aires, Caracas, East and West Florida, and Mexico. Spain accused the U.S. of failing to prevent the activities of seditious and filibustering parties as well as of seizing Spanish territory, including Amelia Island, West Florida to the Perdido, Dauphin Island, and Nacogdoches. It was alleged that the administration had dispatched agents to the other Spanish-American provinces for the purpose of encouraging declarations of independence from Spain. A twenty-five-page copy of this report (dated 31 Dec. 1812; in Spanish) may be found in the Library of Congress (DLC: Spanish Affairs, 1810–16), where it is accompanied by an eleven-page summary and translation in the hand of John Graham (docketed by Graham, “Report of the Regency to the Cortes of Spain—relative to the measures taken by the UStates”). A second copy of this report is filed at 31 Dec. 1812 in the State Department records at the National Archives (DNA: RG 59, ML; 22 pp.). A short summary of the report may be found in León Tello, Documentos relativos a la independencia de Norteamérica, 4:485.

2Encoded “fully.”

3Lear almost certainly referred to the U.S. consul in Cádiz, Richard Hackley. In his 27 Feb. 1813 letter to Monroe, Hackley mentioned that Lear had been with him for some “considerable time.” Hackley continued: “I have deemed it better in the state of things to converse fully with that Gentleman and to give him every information in my power relative to our Affairs here, which by Information you will have received and will Obtain by this opportunity will be found not to stand upon a good footing, on the contrary I have my fears that (and well grounded) that we shall not be long exempt from the most serious difficultys with this power” (DNA: RG 59, CD, Cádiz).

4John Hamilton Robinson (1782–1819), a native of Augusta County, Virginia, received a medical education in Philadelphia, after which he settled in the Louisiana Territory. He accompanied Zebulon Montgomery Pike on his exploration of the Colorado region in 1806–7, during the latter stages of which he was detained by Commandant-General Nemesio Salcedo before being allowed to return to the U.S. Robinson was then employed as an army surgeon’s mate and later as aide-de-camp to the brigadier general of militia in the Illinois Territory. In June 1812 Pike recommended him to Monroe to undertake a special mission to Salcedo to explain administration policy regarding the Neutral Ground. While on this mission Robinson encountered the filibustering party led by Gutiérrez and Magee near Nacogdoches, and he was interrogated by Magee and others before being allowed to proceed. His mission to Salcedo was unsuccessful. Salcedo decided that Robinson lacked the proper credentials to undertake negotiations, and the agent returned home, reporting back to the administration in July 1813. By late 1813 Robinson was developing filibustering schemes against Mexico. None of these schemes came to fruition before the end of the War of 1812, and he received no support from the administration for them. He continued to plot against the Spanish authorities in Mexico after 1815, but ill health forced him to abandon many of his plans, and he retired to Natchez, where he died (Harold A. Bierck Jr., “Dr. John Hamilton Robinson,” La. Historical Quarterly 25 [1942]: 644–69; see also Madison and the Problem of Mexican Independence: The Gutiérrez-Magee Raid of August 1812, 1 Sept. 1812).

5Encoded “reply.”

Index Entries