Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, 31 December 1821

To Thomas Mann Randolph

Monticello Dec. 31. 21.

Dear Sir

The inclosed paper was handed to me by our dear Martha, with a request that I would consider it, and say to you what I think of it. General Taylor has certainly stated the objections to mr Hackley’s claim so fairly, fully and powerfully, that I need not repeat them, observing only that in mentioning the notice which Erving had of the negociation with Alagon, he does not mention mr Hackley’s notice, who on the 29th of May 1819. took a conveyance from Alago[n] with a full knolege that, 3. months before, the US. had by treaty become proprietors of the whole province, and with an express annulment of the very title he was purchasing. this is more than a set off against the implied notice of our government thro Erving. however the circumstance of notice, duly examined, has little weight in the case. the effect of the ratification is the true point, & that on which Genl Taylor very properly rests it, and on which it will turn. on that two questions will arise.

1. did the ratification by the Cortes extend to the 2d & 3d articles only and not to the 8th and it’s subsequent explanations of the extent of these articles? if we are to decide this question for ourselves (doubting the judgment of our government) we should have the act of the Cortes before us, to examine critically it’s precise terms. but that I presume we have not; as Genl Taylor seems to take his information of it from the recital in the preamble of the Spanish ratification, that ‘the consent and authority of the general Cortes with respect to the cession mentioned and stipulated in the 2d and 3d articles, had been first obtained.’ may1 not this mean that they had consented to all the articles which respect the cession mentioned in the 2d & 3d? is it a necessary inference from this that the Cortes had not consented to any other article, and especially the 8th and it’s explanations which respect the cession mentioned in the 2d and 3d and their extent? which is most probable, that the Cortes refused their assent to that article? or that the King omitted to communicate it to them? or that, altho’ the fact of consent might be material, it’s mention in the recital being unnecessary & superfluous, might be neither fully nor critically made?   Again, when we consider that our government (informed that grants had been made to Alagon, Punon Rostro, & de Vargas, subsequent in truth to Jan. 24. 18. but antedated fraudulently to bring them within the treaty, which grants covered nearly the whole country, from the boundary of the US. to the sea) made their nullification a sine quo non of the treaty, that they pertinaciously continued to refuse concluding it until their nullification was agreed to, can we believe they did conclude without knowing that the ratification of this article was as formal and firm as that of the articles it respected and explained? did they mean to decieve their country and palm upon us a fallacious instrument? or were they decieved themselves, that is to say, the President, all the heads of departments, the Atty General, and the whole Senate, as having less knolege than we have of what was a valid ratification? I confess that these considerations have weight with me when opposed to the opinion of Genl Taylor as to the validity of the ratification.

2. but a second question may be made, Whether the ratification of the Cortes was necessary? whether the constitution proposed by them for the colonies had authority in them until accepted in each colony respectively? the inhabitants of the colonies themselves, our government and our nation, certainly deny that it could, on principle, be in force in any colony without it’s consent; and at the date of the ratification, not a single colony had accepted, nor do I know that a single one has done it to this day. I think myself certain that the Floridas have not. the old government continued in them to the day of their surrender; and under the old government, a cession of territory and ratification by the king was conclusive. of this the cession of the same countries by the king to England, that of a degree of latitude of them to the US. and that of Louisiana to France are sufficient proofs.

It is with real reluctance that I feel or express any doubts adverse to the interests of mr Hackley. I do it to yourself, only, and with a wish not to be quoted, as well to avoid injury to him, as the implication of myself in any thing controversial. I am far from having strong confidence in doubts of what two such able jurists have decided: yet for mr Hackley’s sake I anxiously wish that he should not be so far over-confident in the certainty of these opinions as to enter into any warranties of title in the portions he may dispose of. these vast grants of land are entirely against the policy of our government. they have ever set their faces most decidedly against such monopolies. in all their sales of land they have taken every measure they could devise to prevent speculations in them by purchases to sell again, & to provide that sales should be made to settlers alone. on this ground mr Hackley will have to contend against prejudices deeply rooted. these might perhaps be somewhat softened if, instead of taking adverse possession, which the President is bound to remove summarily by the military, he were t[o] make to Congress a full and candid statement of the considerations he has paid, or the sacrifices made, of which these lands are the compensation. they might in that case make him such a grant as would amount to a liberal indemnification.

I shall ever studiously avoid expressing to any person any doubt which might injure mr Hackleys prospects from this source, and sincerely wish him the most can be made of them. I renew to yourself affectionate assurances of attachment and respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); two words faint; endorsed by TJ as a letter to “Randolph Thos M.”

On 17 Dec. 1817 King Ferdinand VII of Spain granted lands in East Florida to the duque de Alagón, who in turn conveyed a tract consisting of roughly twelve million acres of that land to Richard S. Hackley on 29 May 1819. In the Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain, dated 22 Feb. 1819, the second and third articles stipulated, in part, that the king cede to the United States all land in East Florida. The eighth article voided royal land grants in ceded territories made after 24 Jan. 1818. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams belatedly learned from George W. Erving, minister plenipotentiary to Spain, of the transfer of land to Alagón, as well as two other previous grants the king made to the Count of Puñonrostro and Don Pedro de Vargas. These conveyances were disputed by the American government because the 24 Jan. 1818 date had been specified before knowledge of the dates of the massive grants was fully known. In the Spanish instrument of ratification, the king acknowledged on 24 Oct. 1820 that the Cortes consented to the second and third articles, and he explained that the eighth article was to be understood as voiding these three prior Florida land grants (Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts of the United States of America [1931–48], 3:3–59; Doe et al. v. Braden [1854] [16 Howard], U.S. Reports description begins Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, 1790–  (title varies; originally issued in distinct editions of separately numbered volumes with U.S. Reports volume numbers retroactively assigned; original volume numbers here given parenthetically) description ends , 57:636).

A 3 Dec. 1821 written opinion by Robert Taylor defending Hackley’s legal claim to his East Florida lands was almost certainly the inclosed paper to which TJ was responding above. In it Taylor noted that Hackley’s 29 May 1819 deed from Alagón predated the treaty’s ratification, which alone specified that the king’s initial grant to the duke, made prior to the 24 Jan. 1818 date given in the treaty itself, was also to be annulled. Taylor wrote that “I entertain the opinion, that Mr. Hackley’s title, originally good, remains valid, notwithstanding the treaty; and that the United States, though they may dispossess him by an act of power, cannot do so, on any principle of national law or natural justice.” Taylor further explained that the Spanish constitution did not allow the king to take an individual’s private property without the consent of the Cortes, and that the treaty’s ratification appeared to indicate that the Cortes had only agreed to the second and third articles, leaving Hackley’s title valid. The second of the two able jurists to whom TJ alluded was presumably Merit M. Robinson, whose brief opinion dated Richmond, 10 Dec. 1821, and probably also enclosed here, concurred with Taylor on the validity of Hackley’s legal title and additionally stressed the strength of his claim on equitable grounds (Titles, and Legal Opinions Thereon, of Lands, in East Florida, belonging to Richard S. Hackley, Esq. [Brooklyn, N.Y., 1822], 45–54, quote on p. 48). The United States Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Hackley’s heir in 1854 (Doe et al. v. Braden [1854] [16 Howard], U.S. Reports description begins Cases Argued and Decided in the Supreme Court of the United States, 1790–  (title varies; originally issued in distinct editions of separately numbered volumes with U.S. Reports volume numbers retroactively assigned; original volume numbers here given parenthetically) description ends , 57:635–59).

1Word interlined in place of “does.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; as secretary of state search
  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); and land claims search
  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); ratification of search
  • Alagón, Francisco Fernández de Córdova y Glimes de Bravante, duque de; and land grants search
  • Congress, U.S.; and land grants search
  • East Florida; land claims in search
  • Erving, George William; as minister plenipotentiary to Spain search
  • Ferdinand VII, king of Spain; and E. Fla. search
  • Hackley, Richard Shippey; E. Fla. land claims of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; R. Hackley’s land claims search
  • Monroe, James (1758–1831); presidency of search
  • Puñonrostro, Juan José Arias-Dávila y Matheu, conde de; and land grants search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); and R. Hackley’s land claims search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); letters to search
  • Robinson, Merit M.; on R. Hackley’s land claim search
  • Senate, U.S.; and Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • Spain; and Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • Spain; and E. Fla. search
  • Spain; and France search
  • Spain; and La. search
  • Spain; constitution of search
  • Spain; Cortes of search
  • Spain; relations with Great Britain search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; and R. Hackley’s land claims search
  • Taylor, Robert Barraud; and R. Hackley’s land claims search
  • United States; and land grants search
  • Vargas, Don Pedro de; and land grants search
  • Wirt, William; as attorney general search