James Madison Papers

Report Approving John Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, [22 April] 1782

Report Approving
John Jay’s Negotiations with Spain

MS (NA: PCC, No. 19, III, 263). Written by JM. Docketed: “No 6. Report of the Committee on the Letter of the 3d. of October 1781—from Mr Jay at Madrid—April 22. 1782[.] Referred to the Secy for foreign Affairs to report.”

[22 April 1782]

The Committee to whom was referred the letter from Mr Jay of the 3d. of Octr. 1781, recommend the following answer thereto, to be subscribed by the Secy. of F. A.1


Your Letter of the 3d. of Octr. last was recd. by Congress on the   day of  2 and I am authorized to acquaint you, that your conduct as therein detailed has met with their entire approbation.

The limitation which you have affixed to the proposed surrender of the navigation of the Mississippi in particular corresponds with the views of Congress.3 They observe with much surprize & concern that a proposition so liberal in itself, which removed the only avowed obstacle to a connection between his C. M. & the U. S. & from which the latter had formed the most sanguine expectation,4 should have produced so little effect on the councils of his C. M. [The perseverance of his Ministers, notwithstanding this relaxation on the part of Congress, in perplexing your negociation by multiplied & dilitory pretexts, no less inconsistent with their own professions than disrespectful to the U. S. but too well justifies your surmise as to their latent purposes.]5 The surrender of the navigation of the Mississippi was meant as the price of the advantages promised by an early & intimate alliance with the Spanish Monarchy. If this Alliance is to be procrastinated till the conclusion of the war, during a continuance of which only, it can be necessary, the reason of the Sacrifice will no longer exist. Nay, every day which the expected Treaty is delayed by the Spanish Court, detracts from the obligation & inducement of Congress to adhere to their overture, and will consequently justify you in representing in strong terms the obligation it imposes on Spain to make the Treaty the more liberal on her part.6 This may easily be done, either by enlarging her pecuniary aids, by facilitating to the Citizens of the U. S. the use of the Mississippi, or by indulgences in the commerce of her American Colonies, particularly by following the example of his M. C. M. in establishing a free port or ports in some of them.7 In the mean time however you will employ your utmost address in ascertaining the real views of the Spanish Cabinet with regard to a Treaty with the U. S. & communicate the result from time to time to Congress.8

1The committee consisted of JM as chairman, John Morin Scott, and Daniel Carroll. In this paragraph the word “answer” was JM’s substitute for his original “letter to be sent.” Although he closed the paragraph with the word “President,” someone else deleted it and wrote “Secy. of F. A.” Whether this change was made before or after the committee reported to Congress is unknown, but Robert R. Livingston expressed regret at the outset of his letter of 27 April 1782 to Jay transmitting the gist of the committee’s recommendation, because the dispatch was not being signed by President Hanson in the name of Congress, so as to “express their approbation of your conduct, and afford you that intimate knowledge of their sentiments which the delicacy of your situation renders particularly important” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 332). See also Motion Approving Jay’s Negotiations, 30 April 1782, editorial note.

2The letter had been read on 18 March (Report on Foreign Dispatches, 20 March 1782, and nn. 1 and 2).

3In his letter of 3 October Jay included a copy of his proposals of 22 September 1781 to José Moniño y Redondo, Conde de Floridablanca, which plainly but tactfully reminded the Spanish minister that the United States would not surrender its claims to the navigation of the Mississippi River if Spain withheld its consent to an alliance until the “vicissitudes, dangers, and difficulties of a distressing war” were at an end (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , IV, 761–62).

4See Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (4 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , II, 133; III, 101–4.

5The brackets enclosing this sentence do not appear in the printed journal and may have been inserted by Charles Thomson during the debate on the report, or by Livingston after its adoption by Congress, to call attention to an indictment of King Charles III’s ministers which should be conveyed by Livingston to Jay in more diplomatic language. Unlike the committee’s report, Livingston included in his dispatch, possibly for the eyes of Spanish agents who very likely would open it before it reached Jay, flattering references to Charles III and expressed “the grateful sense that Congress entertain of the disinterested conduct of Spain in rejecting the proffers [of peace] of Great Britain” (Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends , V, 332–35).

In his letter of 3 October 1781 to Congress, Jay had commented that, in his opinion, “the king is honestly disposed to do us good,” and that a posture by Congress of “prudent self-respect” would “prosper more here than that of humility and compliance.” The devious policy of the Spanish ministers, continued Jay, reflected their “wish to see our independence established, and yet not be among the first to subscribe a precedent that may one day be turned against them. They wish not to exclude themselves by any present engagements from taking advantage of the chances and events of the war, not choosing, on the one hand, that in case we sink, that we should be fastened to them by any political ties; nor, on the other hand, in case we survive the storm, to be so circumstanced as not to make the most of us. I think it is their design, therefore, to draw from us all such concessions as our present distress and the hopes of aid may extort, and by protracting negociations about the treaty endeavor to avail themselves of these concessions at a future day, when our inducements to offer them shall have ceased” (ibid., IV, 744, 762–63). Jay was writing, of course, before the surrender of Cornwallis.

6See n. 3, above.

7In Article XXXII of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded in 1778, the French government promised Americans, “in Europe one or more free Ports, where they may bring and dispose of all the Produce and Merchandize of the thirteen United States; and his Majesty will also continue to the Subjects of the Said States, the free Ports which have been and are open in the french Islands of America” (Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America [8 vols.; Washington, 1931–48], II, 27).

8For further action on the subject of this report, see JM’s Motion Approving Jay’s Negotiations with Spain, 30 April 1782.

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