James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 1 September 1796

From James Monroe

Paris September 1st. 1796.

Dear Sir

This government has at last and against my utmost efforts to prevent it sent an order to their minister to withdraw giving for reason our treaty with England and declaring that the customary relations between the two nations shall cease. I have no official communication and can’t be more particular.1 After deliberating about seven months they resolved that the honour of their country would be tarnished in their hands if they acted otherwise. They say I have detained them seven months from doing what they ought to have done at once. It is impossible to foresee the consequences of this measure which I sincerely regret but here no change can be expected and of course if the same councils prevail in America the alliance is at an end not to count the other injuries we shall receive from the loss of this nation so preponderant as it is; with such valuable possessions in our seas. I do not know whether my functions are suspended—in any event I must wait the orders of our government. At this moment I receive a letter from Timothy2 in reply to my first on this subject addressed as from an overseer to the foreman of his gang ascribing (if not absolutely the existence of any complaint to me) yet that it is altogether owing to my misconduct that it broke out since I had acknowledged a3 from him three months before which he says proved they had no right [to] complain—hence he concludes that I suppressed that luminous work. To this I have yet given no answer nor do I at present propose. It will occur to you that I could not defend the treaty till there was a charge brought against it and to prevent which was always the object of my efforts. Delay therefore was always favorable. This letter corresponds so much with the publication in the New York paper4 that it tends to create a suspicion they were written by the same hand but these little Connecticut jockey tricks were too easily seen thro’ now a days to produce any effect. Poor Washington into what hands has he fallen.5

The above is gone by another rout.

I have seen authentic documents to prove that G. Morris is at Berlin negociating to engage that court to take part against France and that he expends much money there in that business which is concluded to be British money as he is concluded to be a British agent—from Berlin he proceeds to Vienna.6 I saw this in a letter from a Dutch agent at Berlin to a Dutch commissary here, respecting wh. however you shall hear from me again.

The French troops gain daily new victori[e]s in the empire, being now within two days march of Ratisbon: & the Austrians retreating. At Ratisbon it is said that the armies of Jourdan & Moreau are to meet, & according to the original plan of the campaign to proceed towards Vienna.7 With Spn. an alliance offensive & defensive is concluded, & wh. embarks her in the war of course agnst. Engld.; & Prussia it is thought inclines to the same scale, being the preponderating one, & with a view of lopping off something from the empire & making it her own: such as Hamburg &ca.8 It is believed to be in contemplation between this govt. & Spn. to unite Portugal to the latter, with a view of rescuing that country from the hands of the British. I do suspect that Louisiana belongs to France by secret articles in her late treaty with Spn.9 Thus you see to what a wonderful height the fortunes of this country have already risen, & promise still to rise, since the new govt. daily gains strength in the affection & confidence of the people, whilst the surrounding govts. are tottering & menac’d with a fall.

Sepr. 6. I just hear that the plan of seizing our vessels having Englh. property will be carried into effect and that Spain are likely to pursue the same policy—in truth if we do not change our councils we shall be in a terrible state.

The army of Jourdan pressing on Ratisbon inducd P. Charles10 to draw 25.000. men from that before Moreau to his, to oppose Jourdan, & wh. occasioned the latter to retreat abt. 30. miles, at wh. moment Moreau made a stroke at the other weakened army & routed it taking 2000. prisoners & killing many. ’Tis said Jourdan is agn. on the offensive. His loss is not known in the retreat, but not deemed considerable. In publishing my correspondence if that is thought adviseable, would you publish my private letter also to Randolph wh. you have seen.

16. Bounaparte has gained another considerable victory near Trent, taking 5000 prisoners11—Moreau has also gained one of some importance. Jourdan it is said wearied out with fatigue asks repose, & that Bournonville12 will replace him.

RC, two copies (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers, and DLC). Unsigned. Italicized words are those encoded by Monroe using the code that Jefferson had sent JM on 11 May 1785. Rives Collection copy marked “dup[licat]e” by Monroe; in a clerk’s hand except for postscripts in Monroe’s hand (see n. 5); decoded interlinearly by JM. DLC copy not decoded; marked “See Duplicate decyphered” by JM.

1The Directory recalled Adet on 23 Aug. Monroe had learned of the decision by 27 Aug. (Bowman, The Struggle for Neutrality, p. 254; Monroe to Pickering, 27 Aug. 1796, Hamilton, Writings of Monroe description begins Stanislaus Murray Hamilton, ed., The Writings of James Monroe … (7 vols.; New York and London, 1898–1903). description ends , 3:51 n. 1).

2Pickering to Monroe, 13 June 1796 (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Foreign Relations, 1:737–38).

3Monroe probably omitted to write “letter” here.

4On the letter in the N.Y. Minerva, alleging that Americans had urged the French government to force the U.S. into the European war, see JM to Jefferson, 22 May 1796, n. 4.

5DLC copy ends here; remainder of Rives Collection copy in Monroe’s hand.

6Gouverneur Morris, who had preceded Monroe as minister to France, remained in Europe between 1794 and 1798. He traveled widely, conversing and corresponding freely with the ministers of various European governments, and he also assisted in securing the release of Lafayette from Austrian captivity (Sparks, Life of Gouverneur Morris, 1:420–74).

7French optimism was premature. Both Jourdan and Moreau were forced to retreat across the Rhine in October 1796 (Lefebvre, The Thermidorians and the Directory, pp. 321–22).

8France and Prussia signed a secret convention on 5 Aug. 1796, arranging to indemnify Prussia in the event that France annexed the east bank of the Rhine (de Clercq, Recueil des traités de la France description begins Alexandre de Clercq, ed., Recueil des traités de la France (23 vols.; Paris, 1880–1917). description ends , 1:281–83).

9The Treaty of San Ildefonso, 19 Aug. 1796, concluded a defensive and offensive alliance between Spain and France, but it contained no provisions on Louisiana. Under secret article 4, however, Spain did agree to try to compel Portugal to close its ports to British vessels (ibid., 1:287–91).

10Charles Louis, fifth son of Leopold II and archduke of Austria (1771–1847). On his 1796 campaigns in Germany, see Gunther E. Rothenberg, Napoleon’s Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792–1814 (Bloomington, Ind., 1982), pp. 42–46.

11In attempting to take Mantua before advancing on Venice, Napoleon fought a number of engagements against Austrian forces between Trent and Mantua. Monroe may have been referring to the battle at Solagna on 8 Sept. 1796 (Elijah Adlow, Napoleon in Italy, 1796–1797 [Boston, 1948], pp. 130–33).

12Pierre Riel de Beurnonville.

Index Entries