Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 8 December 1803

From William C. C. Claiborne

Fort-Adams December 8th. 1803.

Dear Sir,

Before my departure from this Post, I cannot deny myself the pleasure of addressing to you a private and inofficial Letter.—Information of the Mission to New-Orleans, with which you honored me, I received on the evening of the 17’th Ultimo, and the measures which I have taken since that period, have been faithfully detailed to you by my Communications to the Department of State.—The incessant rains which fell during the latter part of the last Month, the necessary attention of the Planters to their Cotton Crops, and the general opinion which prevailed thro’ this Country, that no serious resistance would be made to the surrender of Louisiana to the U.S, prevented me from raising as many Volunteers as I at first expected: But this circumstance ceases to be a matter of regret, since force is not now necessary to support our Claims, as Louisiana has been peaceably delivered to the French Prefect, and that officer has already officially communicated to the American Commissioners his solicitude for their arrival, in order that he might resign to them the care of the Province.—Thus Sir, the most anxious wish of my heart, the speedy consummation of the Negociation for Louisiana, is likely to be accomplished without the effusion of Blood, or the further expenditure of public Treasure.—

I reached Fort-Adams on the evening of the 4th. Instant, and met General Wilkinson, who had arrived here on the morning of the same Day: every possible exertion for a speedy embarkation seems to have been made by that officer. But we have been thus long necessarily delayed, the means of transport not being completed.—It is expected however that we shall be enabled to make a movement by Tomorrow evening, or the Morning following at furthest, and I presume that in less than ten Days thereafter, we shall be in Orleans. The Militia Volunteers of the Territory who rende’voused at this Post, were mustered this Afternoon and are about 200 strong;—These, in addition to the Regular Troops at this Garrison, will make a force of between 450 and 500 Men.—The Volunteers from Tennessee have not arrived; But I understand (altho’ not officially) that they will certainly be in Natchez in six or seven Days; the ordering into service, this patriotic Corps, I shall always consider a wise measure, and I am confidently of opinion, that the energetic preparations directed by the Government for the taking possession of Louisiana, tended to hasten the surrender of the Province to the French Commissioner.

General Wilkinson has been so entirely engaged in Military arrangements, that we have had little conversation on the subject of our Mission; But I do sincerely hope, that the utmost harmony in opinion and action will exist between us; I consider it as so essential to the Interest of our Country, that a fervent spirit of accommodation will uniformly be manifested on my part.

From the superior Military pretensions of the General, I was apprehensive that the Rank attach’ing to the station, in which I am now placed, might excite some Jealousy—I have therefore studied to avoid every appearance of command, even of the Militia, since I arrived at Fort-Adams; nor do I contemplate interference of any kind in the Military Arrangements: If therefore I do not succeed in conciliating the Confidence of the General in this particular, I shall only have to regret, that my best efforts towards that object, have been fruitless.—In the Diplomatic proceedings, I shall not hesitate to act in my place with energy; But shall at the same time, pay all due respect to the opinions and advice of my Colleague.

The Mississippi Territory is now perfectly tranquil, and I have the satisfaction to add, that I leave the people much more harmonised in political sentiment than I found them, and better reconciled to the principles of our Government—When therefore my Duties in Louisiana may be closed, I shall return to my Post, with a pleasing expectation, that the attachment of my fellow Citizens to correct principles will continue to encrease.—

I pray you Sir, to accept Assurances of my great Respect and sincere Esteem!

William C. C. Claiborne

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 Dec. and so recorded in SJL.

information of the mission to new-orleans: see Notes on Preparations to Occupy Louisiana at 30 Oct. and Draft of a Proclamation for the Temporary Government of Louisiana at 31 Oct.

In New Orleans on 30 Nov., Spanish commissioners peaceably delivered possession of Louisiana to Pierre Clément Laussat, who issued a proclamation stating that French authority would be very brief—“d’un instant.” A week earlier, replying to a letter from Claiborne of 18 Nov., Laussat pledged his full and friendly cooperation in transferring control to the United States. When he wrote Claiborne on the 23d, the prefect was still waiting for official papers from his government to empower him to make the transfer, but he urged Claiborne to hurry to New Orleans (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934-75, 28 vols. description ends , 9:110-12, 125-32; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 37 vols.: Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 10 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 8 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 6:136-7).

James wilkinson traveled to Fort Adams from Mobile Bay, stopping for a day in New Orleans along the way. He conferred with Laussat, who had received the papers he needed late on the 25th but had not yet taken possession of Louisiana from the Spanish. Wilkinson and Laussat made plans for the transfers of authority, and the general concluded that the United States would not have to wrest control of Louisiana from the Spanish by force (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934-75, 28 vols. description ends , 9:113, 115).

enabled to make a movement: Wilkinson left Fort Adams with the troops on 10 Dec. and arrived in New Orleans on the 16th. The Spanish had already withdrawn their soldiers from the garrison in the city. Claiborne, who encountered a delay coming down the river, arrived in New Orleans on the evening of the 17th. Laussat ceded the province to the U.S. commissioners on 20 Dec. (same, 138-9; Dearborn to Wilkinson, 6 Jan. 1804, in DNA: RG 107, LSMA; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 37 vols.: Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 10 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 8 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 6:181, 188-9).

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