James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William C. C. Claiborne, 10 November 1804 (Abstract)

§ From William C. C. Claiborne

10 November 1804, New Orleans. “I now forward you the answers of the Marquis of Casa Calvo,1 to my communications of the 30th and 31st. Ultimo,2 together with a Copy of my reply to them.3

“I fear the Royal Decree4 alluded to is calculated to do injury. If the Marquis should send me a Copy it shall be forwarded to you. I never was an Advocate for a Standing Army; I wish to God it could be dispensed with in this Territory; But the present state of things will not justify a reduction. Our Troops here are few in number; greatly reduced by sickness, and by the different Detachments which are necessarily made to the Frontier Posts. If it be possible I pray that a Reinforcement may immediately come on. The Civil Authorities are not sufficiently Organized to preserve of themselves good order, and the appearance of a superior Spanish force in our Vicinity is calculated to lessen greatly the confidence of the people in the power of the United States.”

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, TP, Orleans, vol. 5); letterbook copy of one enclosure (LU: Claiborne Letterbook). RC 2 pp.; docketed by Wagner as received 12 Dec. For enclosures, see nn. 1 and 3.

1The enclosed letters from Casa Calvo to Claiborne are dated 6 Nov. 1804 (3 pp.; in Spanish; docketed by Wagner; printed with translation in Carter, Territorial Papers, Orleans, 9:321–24) and 7 Nov. 1804 (1 p.; in Spanish; docketed by Wagner; printed with translation ibid., 9:324–25). In the first letter, Casa Calvo declared that the residents of Natchitoches had misunderstood what Joaquin Ugarte, commandant of Nacodoches, had told them about the royal decree, that the slaves may have been inspired to act because of the Americans’ own indiscreet discussion of the situation, and that Spanish authorities would not encourage such escapes. He further stated that in order to maintain the tranquillity of the territories, he had written to Ugarte and the commandant general of the interior provinces urging them to return any escaped slaves, subject to a pledge on the part of the owners that the fugitives would not be punished. In his second letter to Claiborne, Casa Calvo said that he believed rumors that some inhabitants of Texas were inciting the Indians to attack Louisiana had originated only in the zeal of Indian traders, but that, nevertheless, he would tell the governor to compel Texans to preserve peace and harmony.

3The enclosure is a copy of Claiborne to Casa Calvo, 9 Nov. 1804 (printed in Bradley, Interim Appointment, 74–75), acknowledging receipt of Casa Calvo’s letters of 6 and 7 Nov., suggesting that the imprudence of the commandant at Nacogdoches rather than the imprudence of the residents of Natchitoches caused the problem, stating that although Claiborne believed the king would promptly correct the situation, he was still going to lay the affair before the president, and rejecting any conditions on the return of the escaped slaves, adding that although he was “not an advocate for the punishment of those fugitives,” he believed any “lenient treatment should depend upon the clemency of their Masters, or the humane interposition of the Territorial Government.”

4For the 14 Apr. 1789 decree, see Claiborne to JM, 1 Sept. 1804, n. 3. In a 10 Nov. 1804 letter to Nemesio Salcedo, Casa Calvo suggested that Salcedo refrain from enforcing the royal decree and order the return of escaped blacks to Natchitoches (León Tello, Documentos relativos a la independencia de Norteamérica, 7:220).

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