Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on a Conversation with Andrew Ellicott, 23 June 1801

Notes on a Conversation with Andrew Ellicott


June 23. Andrew Ellicot tells me that in a conversn last summer with Majr. William1 Jackson of Philadelphia, on the subject of our intercourse with Spain, Jackson said we had managed our affairs badly, that he himself was the author of the papers against the Spanish minister signed Americanus, that his object was irritation, that he was anxious, if it could have been brought about to have plunged us into a war with Spain, that the people might have been occupied with that, & not with the conduct of the admn & other things they had no business to meddle with.

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 113:19521); in TJ’s hand; followed on the same page by notes on various conversations, 13 Dec. 1803–26 Jan. 1804.

The papers signed americanus appeared in the Gazette of the United States in July 1797. On the 14th of that month the newspaper printed a letter of 11 July from Carlos Martínez de Irujo to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering. The Aurora, on 14–15 July, also printed the letter and issued it as a pamphlet. In the long communication, Irujo complained that Pickering had dismissed Spanish concerns about a possible British expedition against upper Louisiana, had not brought that matter promptly to the attention of the president, and had misrepresented the actions and motives of the Spanish in North America. “If your discussion of facts had been as correct and impartial as there was reason to expect,” Irujo wrote, “I should not have been under the necessity of undertaking this task.” On 15 July, the Gazette printed a piece signed “Americanus” that characterized Irujo’s letter as “a gross abuse of official situation” with the intention of “disseminating the poison of foreign politics.” The writer suggested that an amendment to the Constitution should forbid the publication of such letters from foreign diplomats attempting to influence public opinion. “Americanus” then addressed Irujo directly in a series of letters in the Gazette, declaring in one of them that if the United States and Spain went to war the United States would certainly win. Pseudonymous writers kept the subject in the newspapers for weeks, especially in the form of attacks on Irujo by “A Native American” in the Gazette of the United States and Irujo’s replies as “Verus” in the Aurora. Pickering’s lengthy official response to Irujo’s letter, dated 8 Aug., appeared in the Gazette in October 1797 (Gazette of the United States, 17, 19, 22, 27 July, 8 14, 15, 18, 24, 26 Aug., 1, 5, 27 Sep., 13 Oct. 1797; Aurora, 14–15, 18, 19, 24–27, 29 July, 3, 7, 16, 28 Aug., 13, 18, 22 Sep. 1797; New York Minerva, & Mercantile Evening Advertiser, 22 July 1797). The appearance of the first “Americanus” piece one day after the newspapers’ publication of Irujo’s letter to Pickering implies that “Americanus” was in Philadelphia, where William Jackson was surveyor and inspector of the revenue. A series of articles signed “Americanus,” which the Gazette of the United States reprinted from Virginia newspapers in August and September 1797, was unrelated to the attacks on Irujo that used that pseudonym. “Americanus” was not an uncommon pen name, appearing as the signature to pieces in the Gazette in 1796 and 1798, a published letter criticizing TJ in 1798, and a piece promoting his election in 1800 (Gazette of the United States, 25 Nov. 1796, 23 Feb. 1798; Vol. 29:76; Vol. 30:255–62, 302–4; Vol. 31:241n; Vol. 32:125n).

1Word interlined in place of “David.”

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