James Madison Papers

Mann Butler to James Madison, 21 September 1834

Richmond Va. Sep: 21st 1834


On the credit of the inclosed letter of introduction from an ancient colleague of the early services of your great career, permit me to solicit, at your perfect ease and convenience, some attention to events in our history.

It is not unknown to you, the deep excitement which in 1806 seized the public mind of Ky. in regard to early Spanish intrigues in 1788, to detach the State from the American confederacy. Those intrigues were, it is well known to you but the sequel of Spanish & French views cotemporaneous with our earliest foreign negociations. The branch of them, to which I beg leave to invite your more immediate attention, is the overture of Don Gardoqui in 1788 through Mr. John Brown (then a colleague of yours in the Old Congress at New York) "that if the people of Ky. would erect themselves into an independent State, and appoint a proper person to negotiate with him, he had authority for that purpose and would enter into an arrangement with them for the exportation of their produce to New Orleans." This extract is taken from an avowed letter of Mr Brown’s to Judge McDowell, a past president of a District convention. In regard to this overture, do you recollect, that it was likewise communicated to you by Mr. Brown, shortly after he had told you, he had communicated it to Ky.; and that you expressed your disapprobation of it, and your fear, that it might, in the excitements of the western country, be mischievously employed? This expression led Mr. Brown, as he tells me, to withdraw all farther agency in the affair. Will you favour the public, for whose service you have lived, and at the same time lift your voice, if the facts will justify it, in favour of an old and distinguished fellow labourer in the tasks of public life?

I have written a small volume on the affairs of Ky. and am anxious to procure the highest testimony possible on its topics. Might a statesman of the west, at the time of federal anarchy, which prevailed under the confederacy towards its close, be justifiable (if such were the object) in looking to foreign connection for that protection, which his own government could not give, and which was vitally indispensable to the prosperity of Ky.? This latter point has presented itself, as the hypothetical defence of the transaction. Mr. Brown does not admit it and most solemnly assures me, that he did not meditate a foreign connection at the expense of the Union. He refers to the above conversation with you as confirmation. Will it break in too much upon the otium cum dignitate, to which your illustrious labours have so nobly entitled you, to favour me with your opinions on these points of Ky. history? If you could add the views of General Washington & Mr. Jefferson the gratification would be complete, on this matter.

Has Mr. Madison any reason to believe Gen. Wilkinson was connected improperly with Spain or with Burr; or that Mr. Jefferson was satisfied with the fidelity of Wilkinson in either of these points? Whatever Mr. M. may wish to be considered confidential shall be sacred. With profound respect

Mann Butler

P S. Mr. Madison will please direct his answer, if he can honour me so far, to Louisville Kentucky It would afford me the purest happiness to do myself the happiness of visiting one of my countrys noblest fathers but I fear it will be out of my power. Unaffectedly Yours

Mann Butler

RC (DLC). Once enclosing John Brown to JM, 23 Aug. 1834?

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