Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Enclosure Jefferson’s Outline of Policy on the Mississippi Question, 2 August 1790

Enclosure Jefferson’s Outline of Policy on the Mississippi Question

Jefferson’s Outline of Policy on the Mississippi Question

Heads of consideration on the Navigation of the
Missisipi for Mr. Carmichael.

  • We have a right to the navigation of the Missisipi
  • 1. by Nature:
  • 2. by Treaty.
  • It is necessary to us.
  • More than half the territory of the U.S. is on the waters of that river. 200,000 of our citizens are settled on them, of whom 40,000 bear arms.1
    • These have no other Out-let for their tobacco, rice, corn, hemp, lumber, house timber, ship timber.
  • We have hitherto respected2 the indecision of Spain, because we wish peace: because our Western citizens have had vent at home for their productions.
  • A surplus of production begins now to demand foreign markets.
  • Whenever they shall say ‘We cannot, we will not, be longer shut up’
    • The U.S. will be reduced to the following dilemma:
    • 1. To force them to acquiescence:
    • 2. To separate from them, rather than take part in a war against Spain:
    • 3. Or to preserve them in our union, by joining them in the war.
    • The 1st. is neither in our principles, nor in our power:
    • 2. A multitude of reasons decide against the 2d.
      • It may suffice to speak out one: were we to give up half our territory rather than engage in a just war to preserve it, we should not keep the other half long.3
    • 3. The 3d. is the4 alternative we must necessarily adopt.
  • How are we to obtain that navigation?5
  • (A) By Force
    • 1. Acting separately.
      • That we can effect this with certainty and promptitude, circumstances decide.
      • Objection. We cannot retain New Orleans, for instance, were we to take it.
      • Answer. A moderate force may be so secured, as to hold out till succoured.
      • Our succours can be prompt and effectual
      • Suppose, after taking it, we withdraw our force.
        • If Spain retakes it by an expedition, we can recover it by a counter-expedition and so as often as the case shall happen. Their expeditions will be slow, expensive, and lead to catastrophes: Ours sudden, economical, and a check have no consequences.6
        • We should associate the country to our union.
          • The inhabitants wish this.
          • They are not disposed to be of the Spanish government.
      • It is idle in Spain to suppose our Western inhabitants will unite with them.7
        • They could be quiet but a short time under a government so repugnant to their feelings.
        • Were they to come under it for present purposes, it would be with a view to throw it off soon.8
        • Should they remain, they would communicate a spirit of Independence to those with whom they should be mixed.
    • II. Acting in conjunction with Great Britain, and with a view to partition.
    • The Floridas and island of New Orleans9 would be assigned to us.
    • Louisiana (or all the Western waters of the Missisipi) to them.
    • We confess that such an Alliance is not what we would wish.
      • Because it may eventually lead us into embarrassing situations with our best friend.
      • And put the power of two neighbors into the hands of one.
    • Ld. Lansdowne has declared he gave the Floridas to Spain rather than the U. S. as a bone of discord with the House of Bourbon, and of reunion10 with Gr. Britain.
    • Connolly’s attempt (as well as other facts) proves they keep it in view.
  • (B.) By Negociation.
  • 1. What must Spain do15 of Necessity?11
    • The conduct of Spain has proved that the occlusion of the Missisipi is system with her.
    • If she opens it now, it will be because forced by imperious circumstances.
    • She will consequently shut it again when these circumstances cease.
    • Treaty will be no obstacle.
      • Irregularities, real or pretended, in our navigators, will furnish colour enough.
      • Perpetual broils, and finally war will ensue.
    • Prudence, and even necessity, imposes on us the law of settling the matter now finally, and not by halves.
    • With experience of the past, and prospect of the future, it would be imbecility in us to accept the naked navigation.
    • With that, we must have what is necessary 1. to it’s use, and without which it would be useless: 2. to secure it’s continuance.12
    • That is, a port near the mouth to recieve our vessels, and protect the navigation. So well separated in jurisdiction and fact as to avoid the danger of broils.13
    • But even this will not secure the Floridas, and Louisiana against Great Britain.
      • If we are neutral, she will wrest those possessions from Spain.
      • The inhabitants (French, English, Scotch, American)14 would prefer England to Spain.
    • II. What then had Spain better do15 of choice?
    • Cede to us all territory on our side of the Missisipi:16
      • On condition that we guarantee all her possessions on the Western waters of that river:
      • She agreeing further, to subsidize us, if the guarantee brings us into the war.
    • Should Gr. Britain possess herself of the Floridas and Louisiana,
      • Her governing principles are Conquest, Colonization, Commerce, Monopoly.
      • She will establish powerful colonies in them.
      • These can be poured into the gulph of Mexico, for any sudden enterprize there.
      • Or invade Mexico, their next neighbor, by land.
        • Whilst a fleet co-operates along shore, and cuts off relief.
      • And proceed successively from colony to colony.
    • With respect to us, if Gr. Britain establishes herself on our whole land-board
      • Our lot will be bloody and eternal war; or indissoluble confederacy.
      • Which ought we to chuse?
      • what will be the lot of the Spanish colonies, in the jaws of such a confederacy?
      • What will secure the Ocean against Monopoly?
    • Safer for Spain that we should be her neighbor, than England.
      • Conquest not in our principles: inconsistent with our government.
      • Not our interest to cross the Missisipi for ages.
      • And will never be our interest to remain united with those who do.
      • Intermediate chances save the trouble of calculating so far forward.
    • Consequences of this Cession, and Guarantee.17
      • 1. Every subject of difference will be removed from between Spain and the U. S.
      • 2. Our interest will be strongly engaged in her retaining her American possessions.
      • 3. Spain will be quieted as to Louisiana, and her territories West of that.
      • 4. She may employ her whole force in defence of her islands and Southern possessions.
      • 5. If we preserve our neutrality, it will be a very partial one to her.
      • 6. If we are forced into the war, it will be, as we wish, on the side of the H. of Bourbon.
      • 7. Our privateers will commit formidable depredations on the Brit. trade, and occupy much of their force.
      • 8. By withholding supplies of provision, as well as by concurring in expeditions, the British islands will be in imminent danger.
      • 9. Their expences of precaution, both for their continental and insular possessions will be so augmented as to give a hope of running their credit down.
    • In fine, for a narrow slip of barren, detached, and expensive country, Spain secures the rest of her territory, and makes an Ally, where she might have a dangerous enemy.

Th: Jefferson
Aug. 2. 1790

PrC (CLU); in TJ’s hand, being a fair copy of texts indicated below as Dft and MS, but having important variations which are indicated in the textual notes. Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD); filed with Humphreys’ letter to TJ, 17 Aug. 1791; in clerk’s hand. Dft (DLC); with numerous alterations, some of which are indicated in notes below; at head of text: “Aug. 2. 1790.” MS (MHi); in TJ’s hand. FC (DNA: RG 59, SDC). Internal evidence in Dft shows that TJ copied it from some previous text, but with alterations being made in the course of transcription, and it is plain that he utilized the draft of the statement of policy transmitted to Washington on 12 July 1790 in preparing this outline for Carmichael. In his letter to Washington of 8 Aug. 1790 TJ stated that the text drawn up earlier that had been left with the president contained “two or three small differences” from that then enclosed. A collation of the various texts shows clearly that Dft, MS, and FC represent the earlier state and that PrC and Tr represent the state enclosed in the letter to Washington on 8 Aug. 1790. The missing RC from which PrC was executed was evidently the text sent to Carmichael.

1The words “… of whom 40,000 bear arms” are not in Dft, MS, or FC.

2Instead of “respected,” Dft, MS, and FC read “borne.”

3Dft reads: “One only shall be spoken out. The Nation that gives up half it’s territory, rather than engage in a just war to preserve it, will not keep the other half long.” All other texts read as above.

4In Dft TJ first wrote, and then deleted, “only.”

5In Dft TJ first wrote “… obtain the enjoyment of our right of navigation,” and then altered the passage to read as above.

6Dft and MS both read originally: “… a check of little consequences,” and in the course of transcribing the latter from the former TJ altered the text in both to read as above.

7This passage in Dft reads: “<unite with them> submit to their government.” TJ thus restored the earlier reading in PrC.

8Dft originally read: “… with a view soon to set up for themse[lves],” and TJ altered the text to read as above.

9All texts save PrC read: “The Floridas (including N. Orleans),” &c.

10This word interlined in Dft in substitution for “coalition,” deleted.

11Dft originally read: “What are the lowest terms we could admit?” TJ then altered the query to read as above.

12Dft, MS, and FC read: “We must have what will secure it’s continuance: That is a port near the mouth, to recieve our vessels, and protect the navigation.”

13This sentence not in Dft, MS, or FC.

14Tr alone of all texts reads “German” for “American,” clearly a clerk’s error.

15This word interlined in Dft in substitution for “yield,” deleted.

16Dft originally read: “cede to us the Floridas, i.e. all her possessions East of the Missisipi,” and then TJ altered the passage to read as above.

17Dft originally read: “Consequences of this cession of the Floridas to us, and guarantee of Louisiana to Spain,” and then TJ altered the passage to read as above.

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