James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Carlos Martínez de Yrujo (Abstract), 12 March 1805

§ From Carlos Martínez de Yrujo

12 March 1805, Washington. Has received JM’s letter of 28 Feb. informing him that Spanish officers have lately fortified and increased their military posts relative to the limits of Louisiana and that they intend to carry into effect other measures of the same kind.1 Although he is not informed officially of the said military movements (which undoubtedly occurred within the possessions of the king) he states frankly that it seems to be very probable. Asks JM to bear in mind Pinckney’s conduct in Madrid at the beginning of July 18042 and to recollect his hostile and menacing language when a civil discussion was merely attempted. Suggests JM has also forgotten the abrupt manner in which Pinckney requested his passports in order to depart. If JM compares times and distances, he will realize that the said military movements must have been instigated by the actions of an American government official without which on Spain’s part there would have been only measures of precaution, made indispensable by circumstances. It also pleases JM to mention Pinckney’s 26 Sept. proposition to the Spanish government that no new positions should be taken or military forces increased in the disputed territories east of the Mississippi.3 JM adds that the propriety of such a course ought to have been felt immediately and produced countermanding orders. Without entering into the observations this comment of JM inspires and without taking into consideration any reasons the Spanish court might have had for not accepting the proposition, he will tell JM that Pinckney’s communications after his conduct in July were, without apparent motive, so different from those that had preceded his demand for the passports, as to have demonstrated a fickleness little calculated to inspire confidence, especially when almost at the same time the court received the news, perhaps with some exaggeration of circumstances, of Nathaniel Kemper’s attempts to excite an insurrection in West Florida whose extent and effects are even now not easily calculated.4

JM’s declaration in the same letter that the American government has considered it expedient to adopt provisional measures opposing those military innovations causes him neither surprise nor uneasiness because he has too good an opinion of the members of the administration to suppose that such measures would be of a nature to contradict those principles of moderation and justice by which the administration always seems to be animated. As for that which touches on the disposition of the Spanish government, he knows that the king holds the same friendly sentiments toward the United States and he judges himself authorized to declare that the said Spanish military movements, if they truly exist, do not have as object any hostility towards the United States and that they are probably, if not the consequences of the causes mentioned above, the results of some change in the military system of the Spanish colonies that the well-known change in circumstances may have made necessary.5 This is a right all nations unquestionably have and one he hopes JM would not wish to dispute with Spain.

Regrets being obliged to make another observation as he would be glad to be able to eliminate all appearance of recrimination. While JM has shown himself so scrupulous in the conservation of a statu quo with which Spain seems not yet to have agreed, it seems that JM loses sight of certain acts of the American government that violate this statu quo in the most obvious way, and that Yrujo has not wanted to bring out until now in order not to augment already existing causes of difference. He means the commission and charge that the American government, without even knowing the true limits of Louisiana, has given to Meriwether Lewis6 and to Dunbar and Hunter7 to explore a country in the possession and under the sovereignty of the Spanish king. This violation of territory is also apparent in the travels and astronomical observations that Isaac Briggs, with the approbation of the president and at the expense of the United States, has made through a part of West Florida in order to mark out a road from Washington to New Orleans.8 JM will say in vain that the U.S. government, considering those territories in dispute, believed itself authorized to sanction these commissions. It is well known that mere pretension does not confer a right and that the rights which actual possession and the true exercise of sovereignty give have been violated in the cases he mentions. It does not then seem correspondent with the rules of justice to exhibit so much sensibility for some military movements, dictated by necessity, and inspired by the conduct of a representative of the United States, when at the same time the rights of Spain have been treated with so little circumspection by sending out those explorers, in large part without Spain’s knowledge and all without its consent.

JM concludes by asking Yrujo to take the most efficacious measures to reestablish things in the statu quo that existed when the United States acquired Louisiana. Although his desire to remove any obstacle whatsoever to good understanding and harmony between the respective governments is the same as he has shown on other occasions, he is obliged to tell JM that it is not accompanied with the authority necessary to accede to JM’s request. The Marquis of Casa Calvo and even the Viceroy of Mexico probably lack the faculties necessary for the same effect, and it is necessary to appeal for any alteration or modification whatsoever to the king, by whose direct orders the supposed military movements must have been executed. Will inform the king promptly of JM’s note and does not doubt that the United States will find in his decision the justice that characterizes him and that he has proven so many times with this country. Will also send a copy of JM’s note again to the Viceroy of Mexico accompanied with explanations and observations that he flatters himself will contribute to the Viceroy’s measures not giving any basis for complaint or offense to the United States.

RC (DNA: RG 59, NFL, Spain, vol. 2). 6 pp.; in Spanish; docketed by Wagner as received 14 Mar., with his note: “Military innovations in Louisiana.”

1For Spanish troop movements along the border between Louisiana and Texas, see JM to Armstrong, 5 Mar. 1805, and n. 7.

2For Charles Pinckney’s actions in July of 1804, see Pinckney to JM, 20 and 30 July 1804, PJM-SS description begins Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (9 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1986–). description ends , 7:486–96, 497 n. 5, 538–41.

3See Pinckney to JM, 26 Sept. 1804, ibid., 8:89–90.

4For the Kemper brothers’ invasion of West Florida, see Joseph Briggs to JM, 25 Aug. 1804, and William C. C. Claiborne to JM, 30 Aug. 1804 (first letter), ibid., 7:637, 638 n. 2, 657 and n. 1.

5Yrujo probably referred to the outbreak of war between Spain and Great Britain (see Pinckney to JM, 12 Dec. 1804, ibid., 8:372–74).

6Meriwether Lewis had departed Washington on 4 July 1803 to begin his journey of exploration with William Clark (ibid., 5:315 n. 3).

7Chemist George Hunter of Philadelphia (1755–1823) accompanied wealthy scientist William Dunbar (1749–1810) on a voyage of exploration from October 1804 to January 1805 up the Red, Black, and Ouachita rivers. Dunbar emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1771, moving to West Florida in 1773, where a string of unfortunate events cost him much of his estate. In 1792 he moved to the District of Natchez and represented the Spanish government in surveying the boundary between that country and the United States in 1798. He also served in the Mississippi territorial legislature. Hunter arrived in America from Scotland in 1774, served in the Revolutionary War, and worked as a coachmaker before opening a thriving drug business in Philadelphia (William Dunbar, “Journal of a Voyage Commencing at St. Catherines landing, on the East bank of the Missisippi, proceeding downwards to the mouth of the Red river, and from thence ascending that river, the black river and the Washita river as high as the Hot Springs,” in Documents Relating to the Purchase & Exploration of Louisiana [Boston, 1904], 3, [5], 6–7, 188–89; John Francis McDermott, ed., “The Western Journals of Dr. George Hunter, 1796–1805,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new ser., 53, no. 4 [1963]: 5 and nn. 2–3, 6, 8, 10).

8For Isaac Briggs’s survey of a possible route for a post road from Washington to New Orleans via West Florida, see Jefferson’s 1 and 23 Feb. 1805 reports to Congress and the enclosures (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1832–61). description ends , Post Office, 1:35–38).

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