Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 19 August 1786

From James Monroe

New York Augt. 19. 1786.

Dear Sir

My last advis’d you of the progress1 of Spanish negotiation. Until that time the reference of Jay’s letter to a committee was, I believe, the point at which it rested; but to enable you to form a satisfactory opinion of the object of that letter I transcribe you only operative paragraph in it. “I take the liberty therefore of submitting to the consideration of Congress whether it might not be adviseable to appoint a committee with power to instruct and direct me on every point and subject relative to the proposed treaty with Spain.” You are to observe his only ultimata were respecting the Mississippi and the boundaries; the committee, consisting of a member from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and myself, kept it about two months and at length two of them reported that they be discharged, the letter referred to2 a committee of the whole and himself ordered to2 attend. It was agreed to with this alteration that he attend Congress to explain the difficulties stated in his letter and to lay before them a state of the negotiation. He accordingly came and being aware objections would be made to2 his entering into debate, produced a long written speech which he read by3 virtue of his office and which was in substance as follows. France against our right of the navigation of the Mississippi and, in case of a variance with Spain upon that point, against us. Well to be on good terms with Spain therefore on that account as well as to avail ourselves of her influence in the councils of Portugal, the Italian States and the Barbary Powers, as also in those of France herself. That Great Britain would rejoice to see us at variance with Spain, and therefore would foment dissentions between us that in case this treaty failed, Spain, mortified and disappointed in the eyes of all Europe would enter into engagements with Britain (or in resentment) so as to exclude us from her ports. For these reasons and fully to obtain the confidence and good wishes of that power, as also her good services in the lines abovesaid, he thought it wise to forebear the use of the navigation of Mississippi for twenty-five years or thirty, if necessary, as a condition to obtain at the same time the following liberal articles as the basis of a commercial treaty.—1. All commercial regulations shall be reciprocal, Spanish merchants in the ports of [America]4 and American merchants in those of Spain and the Canaries to have the rights of native merchants of the two countries. 2. To establish consuls in their respective countries. 3. The bona fide manufactures and productions of both parties, tobacco excepted, to be admitted in the ports aforesaid in the vessels of both parties upon the same footing as if they were their own manufactures and productions; and further that all such duties and imposts as may mutually be thought necessary to lay on them by either party shall be regulated on principles of exact reciprocity by a tariff to be form’d within one year after the ratification of this treaty, and in the mean time they shall severally pay in the ports of each other those of natives only. 4. Masts and timber for the navy to be bought, provided they be as cheap as in other countries. This was the amount of his communications as to the project which he urged our adopting by all the arguments he could think of, such as, we cant obtain the use, and therefore of no consequence; we must now decide; must terminate in accomodation, war, or disgrace, the last the worst, the second unprepar’d for, the first5 the preferable course; that we should avail ourselves of the moment or Britain would; therefore no time to lose with others of the same kind. This subject hath, since the above communication, engaged the attention of Congress for ten days past. The delegates of Massachusetts who are his instruments on the floor moved in committee to repeal his ultimata with a view of suffring him to proceed at pleasure, and upon this point hath the debate turn’d. It hath been manifest they have had throughout seven states and we five. They, to Pennsylvania inclusive, and Delaware being absent, the rest against him. We deny the right in seven states to alter an instruction so as to make it a new one but they will proceed, be that as it may, the treaty in that event be form’d and soon presented for ratification. To prevent this we have told them we would give notice to the secretary of the incompetency of his powers as also to the resident of Spain to justify Congress in refusing to ratify, if they should chuse it. In this state it remain’d without any new proposition untill yesterday, being friday. We stated however in the close of the day that we would agree that a treaty be form’d upon the following conditions. That exports be admitted thro the Mississippi, paying at New Orleans a duty of two and half per cent ad valorem to Spain, to be carried thence in Spanish American and French bottoms. That imports be prohibited in that line. If this should be adopted we propose to change the scene of negotiation and to carry it to Madrid, to take it out of the present and put it into yours and Adams’s hands. We fear however and with too much reason that this will fail. Nothing could have been more unfortunate than even the agitation of this subject. It hath lessen’d the ground on which we stood and given Spain hopes she had no reason to calculate on. What prospects to the general interest might be calculated on as resulting from the deliberations of the convention at Annapolis must be diminished. In short the measure strikes me as every way highly injurious. I am sorry to inform you that our affairs are daily falling into a worse situation, arising more from the intrigues of designing men than any real defect in our system or distress of our affairs. The same party who advocate this business have certainly held in this city committees for dismembering the confederacy and throwing the states eastward the Hudson into one government. As yet this business hath not gone far but that there should be a party in its favor, and a man, heretofore so well respected but in my opinion so little known, engag’d in it is to me very alarming. Congress have again requir’d money for the insuing year, including that part of the principal of the foreign loans that becomes due in that time. All the States except New York and Pena. have acceded to the impost to the acceptation of Congress, the former hath granted the revenues accruing from it but hath not made the collectors so amenable to Congress as the system requires and the other states have done; and Pena. hath granted the impost but suspended its operation untill all the states shall have granted the supplemental funds. A committee is appointed to attend the legislature of Pena. on this subject, and recommendation pass’d to the Executive of New York to convene the legislature to take the said system again into consideration. They meet in the usual term in the fall or commencment of the winter. They have pass’d an ordinance regulating the coin. I have been appriz’d of the arrival of the Encyclopedie at Baltimore upon the cover of a letter address’d from Mr. Mazzai, forwarded thence here, but have not heard in whose ship or under whose care it is except from your letter. I have since my last received yours of the 10. of May. Your late communications on the commercial subject have given great satisfaction to Congress. We hope the monopoly of our tobacco in hands of the farmers general will ultimately be abolish’d. The services of Monsr. La Fayette are acknowledg’d with gratitude by Congress. I shall leave this after the first of Octr. for Virginia, Fredricksburg. Believe me I have not relinquish’d the prospect of being your neighbour. The house for which I have requested a plan may possibly be erected near Monticello. To fix there and to have yourself in particular with what friends we may collect around for society is my chief object, or rather the only one which promises to me with the connection I have form’d real and substantial pleasure, if indeed by the name of pleasure it may be call’d. I inclose you some letters for yourself and Miss Patsy to whom be so kind as make my best respects. I am Dear [Sir] very affectionately yr. friend & servant,

Jas. Monroe

RC (DLC); written in part in code and decoded interlineally by Short. Noted in SJL as received 22 Sep. 1786.

The full extent of Monroe’s alarm over the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations and the nature of his maneuvers in Congress to change the scene of negotiation can best be appreciated in the light of two other letters written about this time, both perhaps the product of Monroe’s urging—Madison to TJ, 12 Aug. 1786 and Otto to Vergennes, 23 Aug. 1786. Madison was in New York consulting Monroe about their land speculation in the Mohawk valley when Jay, on 3 Aug., so violently aroused the feelings of the Virginia and other delegates from the south with his long written speech proposing that the navigation of the Mississippi be yielded for a period of years. Monroe at once put him in possession of the facts and began to develop “the plan in conformity with the Idea” that he then suggested to Madison (Monroe to Madison, 30 Aug. 1786; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 492). Madison departed from New York before the week was out, stopped in Princeton to discuss the alarming situation with President Witherspoon, and, undoubtedly as agreed upon with Monroe, set forth his own views in the letter to TJ. Monroe had for months entertained a fierce resentment toward Jay because of his conduct of the Spanish negotiations, and he genuinely feared that, having been captured by the northern interest, Jay was knowingly engaged in a course that would result in a dismembering [of] the confederacy. Madison was less violent, but he believed, with others, that Jay’s proposal would be “fatal … to an augmentation of the federal authority”; it was also “particularly mortifying” to him as leader of the Virginia Assembly because he had endeavored to gain support of western members for federal measures by assuring them that Congress would deal effectively with their claim to a right to free navigation of the Mississippi (Madison to TJ, 12 Aug. 1786). Monroe, writing without benefit of code but so alarmed that he was willing to risk it, gave Gov. Henry a secret but full account of the critical situation, assuring him that the Virginia delegation had and would continue to “throw every possible obstacle in the way of the measure” since the opposition controlled the votes of seven states and would “go on under 7 states and risque the preservation of the confederacy on it.” He did not, however, inform Henry of the nature of the obstacle he had in mind, and in his letters to Monroe he referred only guardedly to “the Idea I suggested to you” Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, Nos. 463–492). That idea was developed in speeches by Monroe, Carrington, and Grayson in the two weeks after Madison left New York, but it was disclosed fully only in the long letter to Vergennes that Otto finished hurriedly in the last few hours before the August packet sailed (same, Nos. 467, 472, 474, 480). A few of the southern leaders, Monroe doubtless at their head, called upon Otto, declared that the delegates of the five southern states had formed a league to break off the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations entirely, and confidentially informed him of their desire to obtain the good offices of Vergennes in promoting other proposals at Madrid. They laid stress upon the danger that an occlusion of the Mississippi by Spain might drive the western inhabitants into the arms of Great Britain, in which case it would be easy for that nation to trade Gibraltar for West Florida and thus bring the whole interior of North America under her dominance; they also claimed to have the support of seven states on their side and held forth the possibility of gaining two others. They declared: “‘Il n’y a que M. le Comte de Vergennes qui puisse nous procurer les avantages que nous desirons; nous en avons ecrit à M. Jefferson en lui recommandant le secret et nous voulons que notre traité se fasse par Votre cour ou qu’il ne se fasse pas du tout.’” Outlining to Otto the terms they proposed for the negotiation—including payment of 2½% ad valorem duty at New Orleans; re-exportation in French, American, and Spanish bottoms; prohibition of all importations; residence of French and American merchants at New Orleans; and participation by France in this commerce in compensation for her mediation—the Southern leaders asked him to communicate immediately with Vergennes. At the same time they urged him to maintain absolute secrecy vis-à-vis Gardoqui or anyone else. Remembering Vergennes’ orders about the need for discretion in intervening in Spanish-American affairs, Otto assured the delegates that they could rely upon him to be discreet and promised to give Vergennes an account of their “conversation confidentielle.” The delegates then informed Otto of their plans for the conduct of the negotiations: “Ils desirent de faire donner des pouvoirs à M. Jefferson de negocier le traité à Madrid, mais de lui prescrire de la manière la plus positive de se diriger entierement d’après Vos Conseils et de ne pas faire un pas sans Votre agrement. Ils ont deja sept Etats de leur coté et s’ils peuvent en gagner encore deux ce qui est très vraisemblable M. Jefferson recevra sur le champ ses instructions” (Otto to Vergennes, 23 Aug. 1786; Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxxii; Tr in DLC; translation in Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 475, note 3). On Friday, 18 Aug., the Virginia delegates In the close of the day introduced a motion that “the Chargé des Affaires at the court of Spain” be directed to state the desire of the United States to negotiate a treaty “upon the subject of the Mississippi” in accordance with certain terms, which were substantially the same as those set forth in Otto’s report to Vergennes (same, No. 475). Over the weekend Monroe wrote the present letter and another to Washington asking his opinion about putting the negotiations for the treaty “in the hands of Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams” and sending “the former … to Madrid under the mediation of France for that purpose in the character of Envoy Extraordinary” (same, No. 479). On Monday the 21st the Virginia delegates moved that a minister or envoy be sent to Spain to propose that New Orleans be a free port for the produce of the upper Mississippi. On the 22d their motion was amended—perhaps by returning to the motion that the subject be opened in Madrid by Carmichael and that “2 Com’rs be added to him” to negotiate a commercial treaty—and Monroe, supported by Carrington, made “a long sp[eech]” in support of it (same, Nos. 475, 479, 481; see Monroe to TJ, 12 Oct. 1786). From the foregoing it is probable that the secret meeting with Otto took place as late as the 22d—he wrote only a few hours before the packet departed—when the Southern leaders, fearing defeat, threw a last desperate obstacle in Jay’s path. The packet made a quick voyage, and Vergennes received Otto’s letter on 22 Sep. 1786, the very day that TJ, confined to his quarters with a painful wrist, received the present letter and also Madison’s of 12 Aug. Long before then, as Monroe reported to Madison, the Virginia motion was lost: “it now remains,” he asked, “will Mr. Jay proceed? … I apprehend he will not” (30 Aug. 1786; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 492). The complicated issue remained, but Jay had been given such a blow by the vigor and resourcefulness of Monroe’s attack that, for the moment, the danger of disunion subsided, and attention became focussed upon the more hopeful discussions of the Annapolis Convention.

1This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and were decoded interlineally by Short, whose decoding has been corrected and verified by the Editors, employing Code No. 9. A number of errors made in encoding and decoding have been silently corrected; others are indicated below.

2Here and elsewhere Monroe wrote 707, the symbol for “d,” instead of 770, the symbol for “to.”

3Monroe erred in writing 461, the symbol for “nine,” and Short so decoded it; what Monroe intended to write was 1461, the symbol for “by.”

4The symbol for “America” was omitted, but obviously intended.

5Monroe wrote the symbol for “third” and Short so decoded it, a reading followed by Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 477, and others. This is an error, for Monroe, in accordance with Jay’s statement, intended to write the symbol for “first.” Jay’s speech is printed in Secret Journals of Congress, iv, 44–57.

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