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To James Madison from James Monroe, 13 February 1818

From James Monroe

Washington Feby 13. 1818.

Dear Sir

In the proceedings of Congress there is little interesting as yet. Some question will probably be brought forward respecting the affrs. of the Spanish colonies, in some form, with intention to bring into discussion, the conduct of the government towards them, thro’ the whole of their contest with Spain, & more particularly within the last year. The recognition of Buenos Ayres, as an indept power, will be one of the points, & the suppression of amelia Island perhaps another, that will by [sic] discussed. In the latter question, I am taught to believe, by a late intimation, that Dr Thornton1 will figure, somewhat, in the way, he did, at the time Miranda interferd in our concerns.2 It appears, that he professes, to have had a conversation with Mr Rush, while Mcgregor3 was here, in which he stated, that Mcgregor intended to take East Florida & sell it to the UStates for 1500.000. dolrs, which being 500.000. less than we had offerd to Spain was a good bargain, & that Mr Rush had agreed; to wait the result of McGregor’s enterprise, & to buy Florida of him, if he succeeded in obtaining possession of it. Of the absurdity of such a statment, and the impossibility, that Mr Rush, should have warranted it, by any thing on his part, both his character & that of Dr Thornton seem to afford full proof. This intimation, may assume, in the sequel, all the force that Dr Thornton can give it, & perhaps do some harm, in the absence of Mr Rush. I need hardly add, that I never heard a word on the subject from Mr Rush, or if I did, that it was of a kind to make no impression on me, and that Mr Rush, attended all the discussions relating to the measure of suppressing the establishment at amelia Island, & not only never glancd at any understanding of the kind suggested, but fully approvd the measure.

Spain has applied to the principal powers in Europe to mediate between the UStates & her, & G Britain, has intimated, her willingness, to interpose, in that way, if we ask it as she says that Spain has done. The overture has been declind in a friendly manner. Other matters have undergone no change. Mr Gallatin & Mr Eustis did nothing with the Netherlands, & the danger of restraints on our commerce with that country, & others, will induce a recommendation to Congress to extend by law, the principle of the convention with Engld., to Holland, Hamburg & Bremen.4 Another motive for it, is found, in certain accomodations to our navigation & commerce by those governments.

You must wait a month or two longer for the money I owe you for the wine, when I shall be able to pay it with convenience. Your friend

James Monroe


1It appears that Monroe received this story from John Quincy Adams, whose conversation with William Thornton is described in Adams’s diary entry for 7 Feb. 1818 (MHi: Adams Papers [microfilm ed.], reel 6). Francisco de Miranda’s unsuccessful expedition to liberate Venezuela in 1806 was launched from the United States with the help of sympathetic Americans, among them Thornton. Miranda had claimed that he acted with the silent consent of the Jefferson administration, an assertion that JM denied (William Spence Robertson, The Life of Miranda [2 vols.; Chapel Hill, N.C., 1929], 1:287–327).

2Francisco de Miranda (1750–1816) was a Venezuelan-born soldier who fought in the French revolutionary army as a brigadier general, 1792–93. In the years following he repeatedly tried to raise expeditions in Great Britain and the United States to free his native land from Spanish control. Returning to Venezuela in 1810, he led the revolt against Spain until his capture in 1812. He died in prison (ibid., 1:2; PJM-SS description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (8 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986—). description ends , 5:507–9 and nn. 1–4; PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 3:141 n. 2).

3Gregor MacGregor (1786–1845), a British army veteran, fought under Miranda and Simón Bolívar in the revolutionary wars in Venezuela and Colombia, 1811–16. In March 1817 he came to the United States with the object of raising money and troops to take possession of Amelia Island off the coast of Florida in the name of the Venezuelan revolution. This he accomplished in June only to sail for the Bahamas in September, leaving the island in the hands of pirates, freebooters, and banditti. United States troops occupied Amelia Island in December 1817 (David Sinclair, The Land That Never Was: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History [Cambridge, Mass., 2003], 25–26, 109, 125, 172–84, 328).

4Monroe’s message to Congress, dated 19 Mar. 1818, recommended the exemption of discriminating tonnage duties for ships from the Netherlands, Prussia, Hamburg, and Bremen. Congress passed a law on 20 Apr. 1818 exempting Dutch shipping alone. Monroe reiterated his recommendation in a message to Congress on 6 Feb. 1819, and Congress extended the law to the other three governments on 3 Mar. 1819 (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States.… (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 4:172–73, 419–22; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America.… (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 3:464, 510).

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