Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 15 April 1804

From William C. C. Claiborne

New-Orleans 15th. April 1804.

Dear Sir

A few Days ago, near 300 Spanish Troops were embarked for Pensacula; about 70 Spanish Soldiers are yet in this City & between 12 & 16 officers; the former it is said will be removed in a short time and many of the latter contemplate resigning and settling in Louisiana.

The Liberality of Congress in extending Register to Vessels owned by Citizens of Louisiana, has given great satisfaction, & put down one source of discontent.

I am sorry to inform you, that the prohibiting the Importation of Slaves into Louisiana, will be viewed by the Citizens as a great Grievance; on this subject much irritation is manifested, and the general opinion seems to be, that the Territory cannot prosper without a great encrease of Negro’s.—

I have offered such Reasons against the African Trade, as I thought best calculated to reconcile the Inhabitants to its abolition, and frequently instanced the Horrors of St. Domingo, & reminded them of the just cause for apprehension of similar Horrors in this Province at some future Day:—But the opinion of the Inhabitants remains the same, and nothing will satisfy them on this point, but an uninterrupted Trade to Africa, for three or four years.

If however Congress in its wisdom, should deny to Louisiana a participation in this unjust & inhuman trafic, the people will I trust, in a short time be convinced of the Justice and policy of the measure. With respect to the African Trade, I have greatly to regret the conduct of some Americans who are here; they readily fall into the sentiments of the Louisianians, and are clamorous in favour of the trafic, & inveigh against a prohibition.—

There are many adventurers here from the U. States in search of Wealth & popular favour; among which, there are some, who instead of seeking a permanent good standing by a prudent line of Conduct, aim only at acquiring a temporary eclat, and accommodate their sentiments and actions to the prejudices and whims of those of the people, who are most noisy; there are however many others whose Conduct I highly appreciate, and who must eventually hold high Rank in the estimation of good Men.—Of this Class is Doctor John Watkins formerly of Kentucky; He unites to great integrity of character, a well informed Mind, a correct Judgment, and a benevolent, friendly disposition.—Doctor Watkins is now employed in my office, and I find him of great assistance to me; He is well acquainted with the French and Spanish Langauages, and has by his merit (and a marriage into one of the most respectable & numerous families in Louisiana) acquired great influence among the People.—If a Secretary for Louisiana should not have been appointed, permit me the liberty to name Doctor Watkins as meriting your Confidence and qualified for that Office.

Some secret attempts have recently been made to urge the Louisianians to Acts of Imprudence and virtue;—A Wicked Incendiary has twice encited this present happy people to Insurrection, and represented the U. States as a wicked devouring Nation.—The invitation was given in a hand-Bill, which under cover of the Night was posted up at the Market house; the stile of the Writing is such as was used in France during the Revolutionary War, and evinces that these wicked attempts do not originate with any of the Natives of Louisiana.—One of the hand Bills I enclosed to the Secy of State, but another which was taken down from the Market house, early on this Morning, I have not seen.—I attach to these Incidents no importance; they tend only to create some talk here, and may possibly attract more attention in the U. States; But I do not believe that any mischief will arise therefrom, the great Mass of the Louisianians are an amicable people, and I believe well disposed to the U. States; But it is certainly true that Spain has left behind her some friends in Louisiana, & France or rather Bonapart many warm Admirers.—

It being uncertain how long I might remain here, and in any event, supposing that I should continue until the fall, I have sent for my family, & expect their arrival in three Weeks.—

Accept my best wishes for your health & happiness.

With great respect & Esteem I have the honor to subscribe myself your faithful friend

Wm. C. C. Claiborne

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 15 May and so recorded in SJL.

liberality of congress: a reference to “An Act for laying and collecting duties on imports and tonnage within the territories ceded to the United States,” which among other things extended the privileges of U.S. vessels to anyone who had lived in Louisiana for the previous five years and was willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, and to “An Act relating to the recording, registering and enrolling of ships or vessels in the district of Orleans,” which decreed that ships formerly sailing under a “Spanish or French register” and owned by persons residing in the territory at the time of cession would now be deemed U.S. vessels (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:251-4, 259-60).

john watkins was married to Eulalie, the daughter of Zenon Trudeau, former lieutenant governor of upper Louisiana (Jerah Johnson, “Dr. John Watkins, New Orleans’ Lost Mayor,” Louisiana History, 36 [1995], 191-2).

In a letter of 8 Apr. to Madison, Claiborne enclosed the handbill that had been posted at New Orleans’s marketplace, which consisted of an allegorical poem warning the sheep of Louisiana that the eagle would soon destroy them and promising that those who would strike a preemptive blow against the aggressor would find support (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 39 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 11 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 8 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 3 vols. description ends , 7:19-20).

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