Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 16 June 1786

From James Monroe

N. York June 16. 1786.

Dear Sir

Since my last but little hath been done in Congress. We have had generally no more than 7. States present. The only time that 9. were their time was employd upon the subject of the Connecticut cession, which ultimately was accepted; whereby she cedes all the land lying westward of a line to be drawn westward of the Pena. line parallel with the same. Our State voted against it but were in sentiment for it. It is hop’d it will terminate the variance respecting the Wyoming settlement by enabling Connecticut to give the claimants other land in lieu and thereby establish the government of Pena. in the benefit of the decree of Trenton. Other reasons there are which apply to the geographic position of the land and the influence that consideration may have on the councils of Connecticut. We voted against it under the sentiment upon which our State hath always acted of her right to the northwest line from the northern extremity of her charter limits, which we suppos’d should be regarded, even after the right w[as] given to the U.S. by the delegation.

What shall finally be done with Spain1 respecting the Mississippi becomes an interesting question, and one pres[sed] on us for a decision. Gardoqui has been long labouring it’s occlusion with Jay. For some time I have been perfectly satisfied the latter required no arguments to bring him into the same sentiment; the proposition is that it be shut for thirty years, in consideration for which Spain will admit us into her ports, upon a footing with her own subjects, we reciprocating. This you may recollect was rejected at Annapolis upon its own merits only. It is however magnified here as a great advantage and equivalent to the consideration required. We are also threatened with the project of a treaty between Spain (in case this fails) and Britain. Yet I cannot comprehend upon what principle it can take effect. Jay stated difficulties in the management of this business with the minister and proposd, without bringing any of these circumstances to view that a committee be appointed with power to controul all circumstances respecting the treaty with a view of evading his instructions and concluding the treaty before they were known. But as they were known to some who had mark[ed] the progress of the business each proposition was discuss’d on its own particular merits in the first instance. A committee was appointed to report. Jay attended it. Of this I was a member. To us he could make no communication we did not already know, so that the plan fail’d in not carrying a committee in the first instance for the purpose. This was a fortnight past and as yet we have made no report. I have given circumstantially the state of this business as it has appear’d to me, not on evidence absolutely presum[ptiv]e only. I intended to have wrote you more fully but am just advis’d the packet will sail immediately. With my sincerest wishes for your health and happiness I am dear Sir yr. friend & servant,

Jas: Monroe

Pray apologize for me to Short. Tell him I will write a letter which shall have retrospect to what I should have said in this and shall also [add?] whatever shall intervene.

RC (DLC); several passages are written in code and were decoded by TJ interlineally. Noted in SJL as received 1 Aug. 1786.

Our state voted against it but were in sentiment for it: William Grayson, reporting on the embarrassment of the Virginia delegation, declared: “it was said it was but neighbor’s fare that Connecticut should be treated, as we had been before with respect to our cession; and that cessions of claims conveyed no right by implication to the territory not ceded. We however after some consideration took a hostile position toward her and voted against the acceptance in every stage of it: it appeared to the delegation that the only proper claim was already vested in Congress by the cession of our State and that their cession was nothing but a State juggle contrived by old Roger Sherman to get a side wind confirmation to a thing they had no right to‥ ‥ Some of the States particularly Pensylvany, voted for them on the same principle that the powers of Europe give money to the Algerines” (Grayson to Madison, 20 May 1786; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 407). Monroe’s indignation at the course of Jay’s negotiations with Gardoqui boiled over in a long letter to Gov. Patrick Henry on 12 Aug. 1786, in which he said:

“This is one of the most extraordinary transactions I have ever known, a minister negotiating expressly for the purpose of defeating the object of his instructions, and by a long train of intrigue and management seducing the representatives of the states to concur in it” (same, viii, No. 463). Monroe went on to point out to Henry that Jay had risked his reputation on the issue, had engaged the support of some members, and, most important of all: “Certain it is that committees are held in this town of Eastern men and others of this State upon the subject of a dismemberment of the States east of the Hudson from the Union and the erection of them into a separate government‥ ‥ The plan of the government in all its modifications has even been contemplated by them.” At this time Theodore Sedgwick was remarking to Caleb Strong: “It well becomes the eastern and middle States, who are in interest one, seriously to consider what advantages result to them from their connection with the Southern States. They can give us nothing, as an equivalent for the protection which they derive from us but a participation in their commerce. This they deny to us. Should their conduct continue the same, and I think there is not any prospect of an alteration, an attempt to perpetuate our connection with them, which at last too will be found ineffectual, will sacrafice everything to a meer chimera. Even the appearance of a union cannot in the way we now are long be preserved. It becomes us seriously to contemplate a substitute” (Sedgwick to Strong, 6 Aug. 1786; same, viii, No. 455). At the time Jay encountered the hostility of Monroe and others and Sedgwick uttered these secessionist sentiments, TJ’s important dispatches of 27 and 31 May 1786 had arrived and the injunction against secrecy of their contents and enclosures had just been removed. Sedgwick’s outburst, indeed, was inspired by the failure of the mission of Lamb and Randall to Algiers. In this explosive situation, with American relations to France, England, and Spain being affected by such issues as the Mississippi question and the negotiations with the Barbary states, it is pertinent to raise the question why Jay chose this particular moment to send by circular TJ’s letter of 27 May to all of the states, an almost certain device for getting the letter indiscreetly published in the papers, for embarrassing TJ, and for adversely affecting Franco-American relations. Whether he intended this or not, all of these results were achieved, and his giving such widespread notice to a diplomatic message of the first importance must therefore be viewed in the context of his own embarrassment under the intense feeling directed toward him over the Gardoqui negotiations. Nor must it be forgotten that he was hostile to the French consular convention and that Vergennes, to use Rufus King’s phrasing, “has required a ratification” (King to Gerry, 30 Apr. 1786; same, viii, No. 379).

Madison’s remarkable comment to Monroe a few days after the present letter was written puts the matter in proper perspective: “Again can there be a more short-sighted or dishonorable policy than to concur with Spain in frustrating the benevolent views of nature to sell the affections of our ultramontane brethren, to depreciate the richest fund we possess, to distrust an ally whom we know to be able to be-friend us, and to have an interest in doing it against the only nation whose enmity we can dread, and at the same time to court by the most precious sacrifices the alliance of a nation whose impotency is notorious, who has given no proof of regard for us, and the genius of whose Government, religion and manners unfit them of all the nations in christendom for a coalition with this country” (Madison to Monroe, 21 June 1786; DLC: Madison Papers; italicized words written in code and decoded interlineally by Monroe). It is symbolically proper that Madison should have forgotten to place a question-mark at the end of what was less a question than a dissertation on foreign policy, in which few of the major facets of American relations were left untouched by his perceptive pen.

1This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and have been decoded by the editors, employing Code No. 9.

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