James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James Monroe, 5 September 1812

From James Monroe

Washington 5 Sepr. 1812

Dear Sir

I send by the mail a communication from the chr de onis, which was presented to me by mr Chacon.1 He professes a willingness to make a treaty, but I suspect his powers do not extend to the cession of E. Florida, especially under the new constitution of Spain. Mr Chacon says that the chr. is extremely anxious to prevent hostilities being commenc’d under genl. Wilkn.—that the letter of the Govr. was written to Govr. Claiborne, in consequence of possession having been taken by Genl Wilkinson, of an Island in the possession of the Spn. force, (some ½ dozen soldiers) called dolphin or Dauphin, contiguous to the fort of Mobile.2 Having just parted with him, & hurrying to take advantage of the post I cannot examine the map, to describe it more accurately. He intimated a sincere desire in Mr onis, to promote on reasonable, but honorable conditions the cession of E. Florida to the UStates, & expressed a hope that no act of hostility on our part, would put an end to the good understanding & commerce of the two countries. He will be here on tuesday or wednesday to confer further on the subject, after I shall have heard from you. He observed that Mr. Onis was desirous of a more formal invitation to come here, than thro Mr Chacon, tho’ did not press the idea, on my remarking that the mode adopted ought to have been satisfactory.

I omitted to send you yesterday Mr Duane’s letter—it is now enclosed.3

My wish is to leave this about the middle of next week. Should you think it adviseable to send me to the Westward, perhaps a volunteers comn. would answer the purpose. It would I am satisfied have equal effect, with Winchester & Harrison, & might look more directly to the object of an early return. A Brevet I believe is only given, where there is an existing rank. I feel, as I have before said, no personal wish about it. I have a letter from Pike which gives a gloomy view of our affairs at Albany;4 I intended to send it to you, but left it at home. It shall go tomorrow. Affecy yours

Jas Monroe

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers). For probable enclosures, see nn. 1 and 3.

1Monroe probably forwarded a translation of Onís’s 29 Aug. 1812 letter (DNA: RG 59, NFL, Spain; 5 pp.), which gave assurances that the Spanish minister was empowered to “regulate and amicably settle by means of one or more Treaties or Conventions not only the Indemnities which the Executive claimed, for the injuries which the Spanish Govt should have caused to the citizens of the U States but also to terminate & conclude a Treaty of limits mutually advantageous to the two nations as well to the East as the west of the Dominions of the both Powers.” Onís stated that as soon as he had informed the new Spanish government of the willingness of the U.S. to enter into such negotiations, he would officially receive the “most ample Powers to terminate amicably all affairs in controversy between the two Countries.”

2On 12 July 1812 the Spanish governor of Pensacola, Mauricio de Zúñiga, wrote to William C. C. Claiborne to complain that armed boats had arrived at Dauphin Island, in the mouth of Mobile Bay, to discharge a landing party. After hoisting an American flag, the invaders told a Spanish detachment that they had four days to leave or they would be taken prisoner. Zúñiga viewed these acts as encroachments upon the rights of the Spanish king. He reported that he was “astonished,” as he had “no information” that the U.S. had declared war on Spain and that Claiborne was continuing “the aggressions committed in this part of the possessions of the King.” He claimed that since the U.S. had occupied Louisiana, Spain’s rights to free navigation upon the Mississippi River had been compromised, while the U.S. had illegally navigated upon the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers and Mobile Bay. Zúñiga warned Claiborne that if he did not give orders to withdraw U.S. troops “from the invaded Countries,” Spanish officers would “fulfil their duty.” Claiborne forwarded a copy of the letter to Monroe on 26 July along with his response (DNA: RG 59, ML). The landing party at Dauphin Island may not have violated Spanish rights, since Dauphin Island was purchased by the Scottish trading house of Forbes and Company in 1806 and given to James Wilkinson for his “use and benefit.” The transaction was later legally challenged on the basis of the congressional act of 3 Mar. 1827 regarding land claims adjustments in Alabama (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends , Public Lands, 5:498, 499).

3No letter from William Duane to Monroe from this period has been found, but there survives a 4 Sept. 1812 draft of a letter from Monroe to Duane, acknowledging the receipt of Duane’s “late favor,” which evidently expressed great concern about the fall of Detroit and the mismanagement of affairs in the War Department (DLC: Monroe Papers).

4In a 28 Aug. 1812 letter, Lt. Col. Zebulon Montgomery Pike informed Monroe that preparations in Greenbush did not meet his expectations. He reported that with 5,000 troops on hand, “It is calculated we can take St Johns and possibly Chamble before We make much of a halt,” but he questioned whether they should continue to Montreal (NN: Monroe Papers).

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