James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Fairbanks Jr., 26 April 1813

From John Fairbanks Jr.

Newbern, State of N. Carolina 26 April 1813


Your Excellency will doubtlessly be pleased to receive such communications, as may tend to evince the progress of the grand cause of Liberty in South America—I have therefore taken this freedom of addressing your Excellency upon this subject. As I have lately arrived from Carthagena, I am enabled to inform Your Excellency what has fallend under my notice respecting the affairs of this part of South America.

The patriotic armies have acquired considerable encouragement in their noble cause, the emancipation of their Country—they have beaten the Royalists in every combat, are following up their victories, daily gaining ground, are now preparing to advance towards the provinces that have again become under the Government of Old Spain to effect a reconquest—this measure they are firmly resolved upon.

The people are every day getting more in favor of the cause of their glorious and laudable contest. The country is rapidly increasing in population, inconsequence of the arrival of strangers from various parts of the West Indies particularly Frenchmen. The Americans are held in high esteem, in fact, more so, than any other foreigners. The communication with Santa Fee is perfectly open to the trade of Carthagena.1 The inhabitants in general show strong attachment to our manners and form of Government—they wish to imitate our happy constitution and laws. Torrices the President of Carthagena2 requested me to present your Excellency with their constitution in which they have endeavoured follow ours, as nearly as possible.3

I have brought your Excellency some of their late gazettes &c.

From the revolutionary state of the country they are greatly deprived of military and Naval Stores and many kinds of provisions, for the acquirement of which, the President expressed a great desire to treat with our Government. I there thro’ the solicitation of the President request Your Excellency’s permission to the entrance into the ports of the U. States, the vessels sailing under Carthaginian colors. If a free commercial intercourse take place between this government and ours, the importance of which your Excellency must well know. My knowledge of Mercantile concerns and the languges, embolden me to solicit your Excellency’s approbation of the measure, in appointing me as agent or Consul to this Country, If our Country sanction a trade with it.

Such recommendations as may be necessary shall be immediately procured. Your Excellency will be pleased to cause me to be honored with an answer either in the Negative or affirmative, as soon as may suit Your Excellency’s convenience. I have the honor to be with great respect Your Excellency’s Hble. and obt. Servt.

John Fairbanks Jr

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17, filed under “Fairbanks”).

1Fairbanks referred to Santa Fe de Bogotá (now Bogotá, Colombia), the capital of New Granada. Cartagena, a province of New Granada, had set up a revolutionary junta on 10 May 1810, refused to subordinate itself to a similar junta in Bogotá, declared its independence from Spain on 11 Nov. 1811, and established itself as a republic. Other provinces followed Cartagena’s example, which led to political chaos and civil war in New Granada. Cartagena maintained its independence until December 1815, when it surrendered to royalist forces (David Bushnell, The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself [Berkeley, 1993], 36–38; Rebecca A. Earle, Spain and the Independence of Colombia, 1810–1825 [Exeter, England, 2000], 24, 63).

2Manuel Rodríguez Torices (1788–1816), a native of Cartagena, earned a law degree in Bogotá but did not practice, since he was wealthy and preferred literary pursuits. He joined the independence movement in Cartagena, won renown as a co-editor of the influential newspaper El Argos Americano, and was a signer of Cartagena’s 1811 declaration of independence. In 1812 he became president of Cartagena, and in 1814 was named one of three heads of state for the United Provinces of New Granada. Attempting to escape the advancing Spanish forces in 1816, he was captured, taken to Bogotá, and executed (Gustavo Otero Muñoz, Hombres y Ciudades: Antologia del paisaje, de las letras y de los hombres de Colombia [Bogotá, 1948], 292–94).

3The 1812 constitution of Cartagena established executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and instituted suffrage for male heads of households and property owners. It recognized Roman Catholicism as the state religion and forbade adherence to other creeds but stipulated that foreigners would not be persecuted for their religious beliefs and claimed the right to protect its citizens from the Inquisition (Manuel Antonio Pombo and José Joaquín Guerra, eds., Constituciones de Colombia [4 vols.; Bogotá, 1986], 2:95–169).

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