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To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 22 September 1814

From William C. C. Claiborne

New Orleans September 22nd. 1814.

Dear Sir,

We have the afflicting intelligence of the fall of the City of Washington, but are not yet furnished the particulars; The public Buildings it is reported are all destroyed, but we are left to hope that private property has been respected. This event will excite thro’out the Union, the deepest Regret; But it may be an evil for a Good; It Surely will revive the Spirit of Seventy Six, and call forth the most immediate, Zealous and united efforts to expel the Invader. We consider ourselves here Sir, as much exposed, And are making every exertion to place the Country in a State of defence. In this city, there is certainly Some disaffection to the Government, and it is to be found also in other parts of the State; But it is at the present moment, by no means as considerable, as I had (very lately) Supposed; the natives of Louisiana are begining to manifest the most patriotic disposition; I shall not only be enabled to complete the requisition, but to call into the field an additional auxiliary force when the occasion demands;1 If however the Enemy should contemplate a Serious Invasion of this State, (And this Seems to be the General opinion), the country must fall, if it be left to her own Resources. I have in consequence, deemed it my duty in Letters to the Governors of Kentucky & Tennessee, to urge them to hasten on reinforcements. General Jackson Continues at Mobille, And is making the best disposition of his forces on that Quarter; very lately, a Combined attack by land & Water, of the English, Indians, & Some volunteer Spaniards on Fort Boyer at the point of Mobille, was galantly repelled by our little Garrison, the particulars of which you will doubtless receive from General Jackson.2 The Enemy is intriguing with our negroes in this State and to his Stil greater disgrace, has even made overtures of friendship, to the Pirates and Smugglers of Barataria;3 But the evil he meditates will I hope be averted. We have from Mexico, reports which at the Present Crisis, I consider, as highly interesting to the United States. It is said the vice Roy has delivered the City of Mexico to the Revolutionists, and that all parties had declared for Independence.4 If this news be true, it will add to the Security of Louisiana; it will at least, make our present neighbours the most Sincere friends if it should Comport with the Policy of the United States (as I hope it may) to Acknowledge the Independence of Mexico. There is now in this city, a field Marshal in the Service of the Revolutionists; he is an intelligent man, and Seems very much disposed to favour the interests of his country.5 I have told him, that he could not calculate upon the Support of the United States until the people of mexico, had Agreed to a formal Declaration of Independence, and established for themselves a Constitution or form of Government. That this being done, a Minister duly appointed by the Mexican Government, near the Government of the United States would probably be received, and a minister Sent to Mexico in return. Such a State of things would unquestionably at the present Crisis, add much to the Security of this Section of the Union and therefore it is, that I earnestly wish it. But the very partial attempts at Revolution, which have lately been made in the Province of Texas and for the most part by unprincipled Adventurers promise no other effects, than to draw to the Fronteers of Louisiana many Persons of Desperate Character and fortune, & to encrease the Wretchedness of the people, whose interest they profess to Support;6 That these Attempts, So far as they have been Set on foot, or promoted Within the limits of this State, have not long Since been put down, Cannot be attributed to a want of exertion on my part; But the fact is, I have not been able, to cause my orders on this Subject to be executed without the aid of Force, and a Competent force has not been at my disposition. The Militia were at first resorted to; but I Soon found, they were not of the description of Troops to be used on Such Service. I have the honor to be Sir, With great respect your faithful friend

William C. C. Claiborne

RC (DLC). In a clerk’s hand, except for Claiborne’s complimentary close, signature, and address. Docketed by JM.

1For the requisition, JM to John Armstrong, 2 July 1814, and n. 2.

2On 15 Sept. 1814 a British force commanded by Capt. Henry Percy of the Royal Navy and Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines attacked Fort Bowyer on Mobile Point. The British sloop-of-war Hermes and brig Sophia bombarded the fort for almost three hours but did little damage, and the land attack was equally unsuccessful. The American guns in the fort, by contrast, under the command of Maj. William Lawrence, replied so effectively that the Hermes grounded, forcing Percy to abandon the ship after setting it on fire. He transferred the remainder of his crew to the Sophia, also badly damaged, and sailed back to Pensacola with a loss of thirty-two men killed and thirty-seven wounded. The U.S. forces lost four killed and five wounded (Quimby, U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 2:771, 779–80). Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson reported the battle in letters of 16 and 17 Sept. 1814 addressed to John Armstrong (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, J-135:8).

3For the Barataria Bay freebooters led by Jean and Pierre Laffite, see PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (8 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 7:67–68 n. 2. On 3 Sept. 1814 Percy had sent emissaries to Jean Laffite (Pierre was in jail in New Orleans at the time) to attempt to establish an alliance. Jean Laffite, however, decided to cast his lot with the United States, and on 4 Sept. he sent the written communications he had received from Percy’s agents to Jean Blanque of New Orleans, who showed them to Claiborne. On 10 Sept., Jean Laffite wrote directly to Claiborne, offering to help defend Louisiana against the British. The governor nevertheless allowed a planned attack on the establishment at Barataria to go forward, and a combined U.S. Navy and Army force successfully carried it out on 16 Sept. (William C. Davis, The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf [Orlando, Fla., 2005], 158, 165–80, 182–91, 556 n. 91).

4The report was not true. Félix María Calleja del Rey, viceroy of New Spain, was in power in Mexico City from 1813 to 1816, when he was replaced by Juan Ruiz de Apodaca. During the summer of 1814, Calleja actually succeeded in reducing the ranks of the insurgents by threatening those who joined them with death and offering pardons to those who surrendered (Marvin Alisky, Historical Dictionary of Mexico, 2d ed. [Lanham, Md., 2008], 541–43; Wilbert H. Timmons, Morelos: Priest Soldier Statesman of Mexico [El Paso, Tex., 1963], 133–34).

5Claiborne evidently referred to Juan Pablo Anaya, who arrived in New Orleans on 6 Sept. 1814 and began to recruit the Baratarian freebooters to aid the insurgents in Mexico. The U.S. destruction of the freebooters’ establishment actually worked to Anaya’s benefit, as many of the displaced pirates gravitated to New Orleans (Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport [1972 reprint], 112–13).

6For the filibustering expeditions to which Claiborne referred, see Madison and the Problem of Mexican Independence: The Gutiérrez-Magee Raid of August 1812, PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (8 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 5:235–44. In November 1814 in New Orleans, Anaya and José Álvarez de Toledo agreed to carry out another raid into Texas, aided by American adventurers, but their scheme was disrupted by the British attack on New Orleans (Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport [1972 reprint], 113–14).

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