James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Jarvis, 23 December 1808

Lisbon 23rd. Decr. 1808


The last letters I had the honor to write to you were dated the 3rd. & 18th. Ulto:. I sent a duplicate & triplicate of the first, the dupliplicate via Liverpool & the triplicate by the way of Falmouth. The original I intended to send by the Commerce, Captn. Robbins, but he finally took a freight for the Streights.

Since the date of the last, little has occurred of interest in Portugal. It is determined that 30.000 troops shall be sent into Spain; but only seven thousand have yet marched. It is said the rest will leave here so soon as they are equipped, In addition to which twenty thousand more are to be organised for the defence of the frontiers. The Men enter into the Service with Alacrity; and the pay has been increased to double what it formerly was, 80 Reis ie ten Cents pr day. By a late proclamation every person in Person, say male of proper age, is to be armed with guns, or pikes about ten feet long. I imagine that the latter are better calculated for shew than utility against regular troops. ⟨The⟩ City has remained very quiet s⟨ince⟩ the departure of the French, except the hunting down a few Frenchmen by the boys in the Streets.

From all the information we are in possession of, it appears that the French have made v⟨ery⟩ rapid Strides in Spain. In the first instance it is certain ⟨that⟩ the Army of Genl. Blake was doubtless defeated & Scattered; and one ⟨Co⟩lumn of the French immediately proceeded on to Madrid. It is ⟨said⟩ that they there met with a v⟨ery⟩ fierce resistance on the part of Armed Spanish Citizens and that they have not yet ⟨been⟩ able to gain possession of the ⟨city⟩ although they have several times offered favourable terms of capitulation to the Citizens. Certain ⟨it is⟩ that for a fortnight past no ⟨news⟩ has reached here from Madrid ⟨and⟩ equally so, that every thing w⟨hich⟩ relates to that Country is so ⟨confu⟩sed by a cloud of reports, each ⟨con⟩tradictory of the other; that ⟨no⟩ very probable conclusion i⟨s to⟩ be drawn as to the real State of affairs. If it was from this u⟨ncer⟩tainty alone, my conclusio⟨n would⟩ be unfavourable to Spanish ⟨arms⟩ for as the general wish here ⟨is⟩ favourable to their cause, was any thing advantageous it would doubtless be made the most of, the communication between the North West, the western, the South east & Southern parts of Spain being still open. There seems to be little doubt that 12 or 15,000 French were repulsed in their attack on the lines of the Spanish entrenchments near Sara⟨g⟩ossa: the other reports favourable to Spain are, that Generals Baird & Sir John Moore, had at length effected a junction, that General Blake had collected a part of his forces & joined them, that these collected forces were marching toward Madrid, as was a part of the arragonian army & considerable bodies of troops from the Southward. Another report pretended to be Official, is, that Barcelona has Surrendered to the Spanish forces: but this by the most impartial is disbeleived, altogether.

In this high state of interest & excitability, perhaps it may not be uninteresting to Government to know how I have conducted myself. I have remained a quiet spectator of the whole, avoided all political discussions & when introduced have been very cautious in my observations. I considered the United States as politically impartial to all, and as a public Officer, I have adapted my conduct to that line of policy. I made ⟨my⟩ regular Official visit to the members of the Regency & the Secretary ⟨of⟩ State, but beyond that, & the routine business of my Countrymen, I ⟨have⟩ not interfered in public affairs directly or indirectly. I was however lately disposed to make a representation to this Government, relating to the publication of some stri⟨ctures⟩ on the Embargo & the Presidents partiality for that measure, extracted from the London papers but ⟨under⟩ the New York head: but upon an examination of the articles finding that they only expressed the auth⟨or’s⟩ opinion of the injurious tend⟨ency⟩ of that measure, couched in p⟨retty⟩ moderate language for a New York Federal paper, with a few remarks of the Editor of a British ministerial paper, of course on ⟨the⟩ same side, but in the same t⟨one,⟩ I concluded, that as no injury ⟨would⟩ result from them, it was better ⟨to⟩ let them pass unnoticed; alth⟨o⟩ I do not deem it quite so judi⟨cious⟩ in the inspector of the paper ⟨to⟩ admit such things in a pa⟨per so⟩ directly under the control of Government, as to be considered as the organ of their Sentiments. Should the embargo be raised ⟨and⟩ the British orders of Council enforced, little benefit from ⟨that⟩ quarter but much general injury must result to our Country from it. Spain & Portugal have been held up to the American public as Sources from whence immense benifit was to result. I must take the liberty to deny this, and to assert just the contrary, even admitting for arguments sake that the ports of those Countries are likely to remain open. For several years past, we exclusively have supplied Spain with Colonial produce, upon which we have generally gained a very handsome profit: but since the opening of the ports of that Kingdom to the British, the speculators of that Country have so entirely glutted the Spanish markets with the produce of both Indies that it will not command the cost in England & charges, altho West India produce has for several years past been from 15 to 25 Ppr Cent cheaper in England than in the United States. Bread Stuff, Salted provisions & lumber are the only articles beside which we export there. As to wheat it is now as cheap in Spain, as it has, upon an average, been in the United States since the year 1797, about a dollar & a quarter a bushel. As to American flour it will command no price, or not more when ashore than seven or eight dollars pr barrel. Good Carolina Rice has lately be⟨en⟩ sold in Cadiz at $4 1/2 & $5 pr Cwt. ⟨Salt⟩ fish is worth $6 pr Cwt. Pipe Stones $⟨   ⟩ 150 pr 1200 and Tobacco, as high a price as the two or three holders chose ⟨to⟩ demand from Government, the purchasers. In Portugal it is certain that Bread Stuffs are very high ⟨&⟩ much wanted. Flour is now worth $13 ⟨1/2⟩ 13 3/4 a barrel and wheat & other g⟨rains⟩ in proportion: but were advices ⟨to⟩ reach here to morrow that our em⟨bargo⟩ would undoubtedly be levied, shortly after the letters leaving America; ⟨bread⟩ stuffs would not command so ⟨much⟩ by 25 pr Cent as quoted above; w⟨ere⟩ the Embargo actually taken off, & ⟨   ⟩ to the opinion which I have indi⟨cated⟩ has prevailed, that the inhabitants ⟨of⟩ Portugal had been & were likely to be almost ⟨in⟩ a Starving state, should the American ⟨mer⟩chants, with their usual enterp⟨rising⟩ disposition & sanguine temper, ⟨throw⟩ into the markets of this Kingdom very large quantities of Bread, I am persuaded that flour wo⟨uld⟩ not command more than ⟨six⟩ to eight dollars pr barrel, in ⟨propor⟩tion to the quantity arriving, and grain in proportion; so ⟨that⟩ here as well as in Spain a co⟨nsider⟩able loss would be likely to ⟨ensue⟩ w⟨hich w⟩ould not be counterballanced in any other Country in Europe which is left open to us. With entire Respect I have the honor to be Sir Yr. Mo: Ob: Servt.

William Jarvis

DNA: RG 59--CD--Consular Despatches, Lisbon.

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