James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Harry Toulmin, [6 November] 1810

From Harry Toulmin

[6 November 1810]

… of some troops for this place: but I know not on what foundation. If only two or three hundred men came; I think it highly probable that several from our settlement would join them: but I have no great apprehension that any body of men will go from this place alone, to attack Mobile. Lawyer Kennedy a Major of the militia seems indeed very solicitous to impress the idea, that as the Convention has now become the ruling power in Florida, it will be lawful to leave the territory and serve under their banners against Mobile: but to remove this idea, and to satisfy the people of this district of the impolicy & unlawfulness of joining in any such expedition, I have written a sort of circular letter to the leading men in the different settlements, of which I inclose a copy.1

I also take leave to inclose a copy of a letter to my friend Genl. Thomas:2 for as I know that what little exertions I make, tho’ well intended, will be sadly misrepresented, I deem it a matter of prudence to make you acquainted with the whole.

I have just apprized Govr. Holmes of my apprehensions. I wish after all, that they may prove ill founded: but lest Mobile should shortly fall into other hands, I am aware of the importance of your being prepared for the event. I am dear sir very respectfully your faithful & obedt Sert

H. Toulmin.

RC (DNA: RG 59, TP, Mississippi, vol. 2); enclosures (ibid., vol. 1). RC incomplete; first page or pages missing. Cover (addressed to JM) docketed by John Graham, “Private / Judge Toulmin to Sec. of State—6th Novr 1811.” Date here assigned on the basis of the contents of the fragment and the assumption that Graham inadvertently wrote “1811” instead of “1810” when he received the letter, probably sometime early in 1811. For enclosures, see nn. 1 and 2.

1Toulmin forwarded a copy of a letter addressed “To Captain——/ Washington County,” dated 4 Nov. 1810 at Fort Stoddert (2 pp.; printed in Carter, Territorial Papers, Mississippi, 6:130–31). In it he referred to an enclosed copy of a letter to him from JM indicating the president’s disapproval of filibustering activities against Spanish Florida (see JM to Toulmin, 5 Sept. 1810, PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (3 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984—). description ends , 2:525). The judge emphasized that U.S. law prohibited engaging in military activity against a foreign power and warned that “any imprudent acts of ours” would jeopardize American efforts to obtain the Spanish province peacefully and risk involving the nation in a war. “The constituted authorities of the nation are certainly the best judges, and they are the only legal judges, when and in what manner we should extend the limits of the American territory.”

2Toulmin’s 5 Nov. 1810 letter to Philemon Thomas (2 pp.), written from Fort Stoddert, congratulated Thomas on his success in liberating his district from “the spanish yoke” and commended the West Florida convention for its “moderate” conduct. The thrust of the letter, however, was to warn West Floridians not to act in ways that conflicted with JM’s policies. Should future West Floridian actions compromise U.S. neutrality, Toulmin feared, “it may eventually be the means of altering entirely the relations of the United States with foreign nations, and of putting it out of their power to render … support and protection to the independence and liberty of the Floridas.” Advising Thomas not to countenance the schemes of those “most desperate, unprincipled and abandoned men” who would “in contempt of the national authority, engage in enterprizes against a neighbouring province,” Toulmin instead advised that the West Florida authorities continue to seek the protection of the U.S., since the “good understanding which is now commencing with the emperor of the French, opens a prospect, I think, of an entire change being effected, through the whole of the Floridas, without affording just occasion of umbrage to any European power.”

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