James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 26 December 1785

From James Monroe

New York Decr. 26 — 1785.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 9th. reach’d me a few days since. Mine by the last post advis’d you of my arrival here; still I am with out a colleague and the representation of the States, the same. I am perfectly satisfied that the more fully the subject is investigated, and the better the interests of the States severally are understood, the more obvious will appear the necessity of commiting to the U S. permanently the power of regulating their trade. Whether it will be expedient to accept it for a limited time only it is difficult to determine. If it is expedient for a day, while the States bear the relation they now do to each other & to other powers, or rather while they adjoin each other & are bounded by the ocean, it will still be so. Whether then will it be expedient to avail ourselves of the present disposition so far only as to try an experiment, the success of wh., as such, must depend upon a variety of circumstances, or to delay any remedy untill under the pressure of the present difficulties it may be made complete? As an experiment in what light will it be conceiv’d & how treated by foreign powers. Will they not all wish to defeat it and of course avoid those stipulations in our favor wh. may hereafter furnish arguments for its renewal. We may with propriety also take into the consideration the diversity of interest wh. will arise in the admission of western States into the confideracy. In a govt. also so fluctuating there will never be energy, or calculation on it either at home or abroad, everything will be in a state of incertainty. The states severally will be at a loss how to act under it (in thier respective delegations); they will fear to take those decisive measures with respect to other powers, wh. might be necessary, least their vigorous operation, may prevent its renewal — but whether these or any other considerations, may be of sufficient weight to induce us to seek only a permanent change, is what I have not absolutely determin’d on. I beg of you to give me your sentiments thereon as well as of the course you think I may with propriety take here, provided the State shod. confide it only for a limited time.

Some dispatches have lately been recd. from Adams. They are as we expected they wd. be. Pit[t] admits that the removal of the negroes is a violation of the [treaty.] Th[at] when the number is ascertaind they must pay for them. That they will take up the subject of the posts with that of the debts. Yet he says that the whol[e] nation are host[ile] to us — that they will give us no commercial treaty, that they have sent out Sir J Johnson1 for Canada with entrentching to[o]ls &ca. This is the amt. of what we have, nor can I well determine how you shod. act under it. If it be practicable to carry into effect, a complete co[m]plyance on our part, let their conduct be as it may, I shod. not hesit[ate] to adopt it. But if this is not the case, I cannot well conceive the [ad]vantage of a partial complyance, or the paymt. by instalment, [as] hath been heretofore propos’d. If they mean to quarrell, their grou[nd] for it will be equally justifiable, in that instance, as in an absolu[te] failure. And if the end we seek, is to be obtain’d by further neg[o]tiation, or by bargain of one for the other, by this measure we lose the consideration we shod. have to give for it. In all the measures of this country toward us we perceive not only the utmost vigilance & attention to their own interest in opposition to ours, but a disposition to seek opportunities to injure us. They restrict us most severely in commerce, give land, & provision to our fishermen to settle within their bounds, and we have too much reason to suspect that they encourage the Algerines to attack us. In this situation to whom may we look for assistance even agnst these pirates. The monopoly of the trade of the medeteranean is in the hands of France, Britain & the Netherlands; will they or either of them, give up this advantage, for our convenience for nothing. Is it not strange in this situation that we shod. be disputing whether we shall act together or cement & strengthen the Union.

There hath been a newspaper controversy here between Mr. Jay & Mr. Littlepage of our State, upon some subject of a private nature between them. As I have not read their publications I am unacquainted with the merit of either party.2 It is however to be lamented that Mr. Jay enter’d into a controversy of this kind, since his character is too well establish’d to be call’d in question upon any unimportant or trivial occasion. Be so kind as [to] give no intimation to anyone except, Mr. Jones, of the contents of what I have wrote you in cypher. I am Dear Sir your friend & servant

Jas. Monroe.

P S. Is the revenue law in any respect chang’d — are the facilities of other States admissible in payment of taxes — or rather is it accomodated to all the purposes of the requisition? Our ministers are taking measures with the regencies of Algiers &ca. It is sd. that Mr. Consul Barclay, a Mr. Lambe & Majr. Franks are sent to these different powers for this purpose, but the latter I think is not confirm’d by an official communication.3

RC (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed. Italicized words, unless otherwise noted, were encoded by Monroe using the code JM sent him on 14 Apr. 1785.

1Sir John Johnson (1742–1830), son of Sir William Johnson, was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel in Canada and during the Revolution led mixed forces of Indians and British in raids on the Mohawk Valley. By a commission of 14 Mar. 1782 he became “Superintendent General and Inspector General of the Six Nations Indians and those in the Province of Quebec.” He exercised an important influence in Indian affairs and was active in relief measures on behalf of Loyalists. On 18 Nov. 1785 he made a speech to the Six Nations encouraging them to assert their territorial rights against American encroachments (DAB, X, 103–4; Mohr, Federal Indian Relations, 1774–1788, pp. 114–15).

2Lewis Littlepage came to Jay in Madrid in 1780, placed by his uncle Benjamin Lewis under Jay’s guidance while the young man remained in Europe. He soon fell into dissolute company of which Jay disapproved and yet Jay continued to give him financial support. Littlepage demonstrated his disdain by challenging Jay to a duel in Paris in 1783. When back in New York, Jay attempted to collect the sizable amount owed him by his protégé. Thereupon, Littlepage launched a series of defamatory letters against Jay in the local newspapers to which Jay replied in kind (Frank Monaghan, John Jay: Defender of Liberty against Kings & Peoples … [New York and Indianapolis, 1935], pp. 159–61).

3Barclay and John Lamb were commissioned in early Oct. 1785 and given instructions by Adams and Jefferson. Barclay, accompanied by Maj. Franks as his secretary, went to Morocco in 1786 and successfully negotiated a treaty, especially concerning neutral rights and the exchange of prisoners. Lamb’s assignment to Algiers turned out a more difficult one and he a less able negotiator. The dey Mohammed demanded exorbitant ransoms for American prisoners, and Lamb, instead of returning to the U. S. to confer with Congress, retreated to Spain, pleaded ill-health, and finally resigned his commission in mid-1786 (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , VIII, 473–74, 526, 610–24; X, 149; Gardner W. Allen, Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs [Hamden, Conn., 1965], pp. 28–30). For Barclay’s and Franks’s careers see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (8 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 291 n. 20, 450 n. 14.

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