Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Jefferson’s Outline of Policy Contingent on War between England and Spain, 12 July 1790

Jefferson’s Outline of Policy Contingent on War
between England and Spain

  • Heads of consideration on the conduct we are to observe in the war between Spain and Gr. Britain and particularly should the latter attempt the conquest of Louisiana and the Floridas.
  • The dangers to us should Great Britain possess herself of those countries.
    • She will1 possess a territory equal to half ours, beyond the Missisipi2
    • She will seduce that half of ours which is on this side the Missisipi3
      • by her language, laws, religion, manners, government, commerce, capital.
      • by the possession of N. Orleans, which draws to it the dependance of all the waters of Misspi
      • by the markets she can offer them in the gulph of Mexico and elsewhere.
    • She will take from the remaining part of our States the markets they now have for their produce by furnishing those markets cheaper with the same articles. Tobacco, rice, indigo, bread, lumber, naval stores, furs.
    • She will have then possessions double the size of ours, as good in soil and climate.
    • She will encircle us compleatly, by these possessions on our landboard, and her fleets on our sea-board.
    • Instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we shall have one, with more than the strength of both.
  • Would the prevention of this be worth a war?
    • Consider our abilities to take part in a war.
      • Our operations would be by land only.
      • How many men should we need to employ?—Their cost?
      • Our resources of taxation and credit equal to this.
    • Weigh the evil of this new accumulation of debt
      • Against the loss of markets, and eternal expence and danger from so overgrown a neighbor.
    • But this is on supposition that France as well as Spain shall be engaged in the war. For with Spain alone, the war would be unsuccessful, and our situation rendered worse.4
  • No need to take a part in the war as yet. We may chuse our own time.
    • Delay gives us many chances to avoid it altogether.
      • In such a choice of objects, Gr. Britain may not single out Louisiana and the Floridas.
      • She may fail in her attempt on them.
      • France and Spain may recover them.
    • If all these chances fail, we should have to re-take them.4
      • The difference between retaking, and preventing, overbalanced by the benefits of delay.
    • Delay enables us to be better prepared:
      • To obtain from the allies a price for our assistance.5
  • Suppose these our ultimate views. What is to be done at this time?
    • 1. As to Spain?
      • If she be as sensible as we are that she cannot save Louisiana and the Floridas,
        • Might she not prefer their Independance to their Subjection to Grt. Britain?
        • Does not the proposition of the Ct. d’Estaing furnish us an opening to communicate our ideas on this subject to the court of France, and thro them to that of Madrid? And our readiness to join them in guaranteeing the independance of those countries?
      • This might save us from a war, if Gr. Britain respects our weight in a war.
        • And if she does not, the object would place the war on popular ground with us.6
    • 2. As to England? Say to Beckwith
      • ‘that as to a Treaty of commerce, we would prefer amicable, to adversary arrangements, tho the latter would be infallible, and in our own power:7
      • That our ideas are that such a treaty should be founded in perfect reciprocity; and would therefore be it’s own price:
      • That as to an Alliance, we can say nothing till it’s object be shewn, and that it is not to be inconsistent with existing engagements:8
      • That in the event of war between Gr. Brit. and Spain we are disposed to be strictly neutral:9
      • That however, we should view with extreme uneasiness any attempts of either power to seize the possessions of the other on our frontier, as we consider our own safety interested in a due balance between our neighbors.’ [It might be advantageous to express this latter sentiment, because if there be any difference of opinion in their councils, whether to bend their force against North or South America, or the islands, (and certainly there is room for difference) and if these opinions be nearly balanced, that balance might be determined by the prospect of having an enemy the more or less, according to the object they should select.]

Th: Jefferson
July. 12. 1790.

MS (DNA: RG 59, MLR); in TJ’s hand; endorsed by Washington: “The Secretary of State 12th July 1790”; brackets in MS. Dft (DLC); in TJ’s hand; text varies from that above, principally in phraseology, but some of more important differences are noted below (full text printed, though not with complete accuracy, in Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Letterpress Edition, N.Y., 1892–1899, 10 vols. description ends v, 199–203; e.g. “reduce” instead of “seduce”). FC (DNA: RG 59, SDC).

1In this and the succeeding four heads, Dft reads: “She would.”

2This head in Dft reads: “Beyond the Missi. a territory equal to half ours.”

3This head in Dft reads: “She would seduce <draw to it> our Cis-Missi. possessions.”

4This head not in Dft.

5This head in Dft reads: “To stipulate with Spain and France advantages for our assistance.”

6Preceding two words not in Dft.

7This head takes on a more expanded form in Dft: “That as to a treaty of commerce, we had never desired it but on terms of perfect reciprocity.—That therefore we never thought to give any price for it but itself.—That we had wished for it to avoid giving mutual wounds to the commerce of both nations.—But that we have the measures in our own power which may save us from loss.”

8In Dft this head reads: “<That no considerations> <France as well as Spain will be involved> That as to the Alliance they propose, it would involve us against France and Spain and considered even in a moral view, no price could repay such an abandonment of character.”

9In Dft this head reads: “That we are truly disposed to remain neutral.”

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