James Madison Papers

From James Madison to the Senate, 14 January 1813

To the Senate

January 14th 1813

I transmit to the Senate a Report of the Secretary of State complying with their Resolution of the 22d December.1

James Madison

[First Enclosure]

Department of State January 14. 1813

The Secretary of State to whom was referred the Resolution of the Senate of the 22d ult. has the honor to report to the President, that no precise information has been communicated to this Department, of any movement of British troops, for the purpose of taking possession of East Florida. The Secretary presumes that if that measure should be adopted, the intention and the act will become known at the same time. As Great Britain is at War with the United States and under the necessity of sending troops to Halifax, the West Indies and other parts of America, it will be easy for her to disguise the destination of any particular embarkation, until it reaches our coast. It will therefore be easy for her to land such force in East Florida, and to take possession of St Augustine, or of any other post which she may wish to hold, without opposition from the United States.

Of the disposition of the inhabitants of East Florida to be received under the protection of the United States, satisfactory evidence was afforded, by the revolutionary movements in that province, and by the cession made of it by the inhabitants, to Genl. Matthews. Other evidence of that disposition is contained in the paper marked A.2

The paper marked B contains a return of the force at Point Petre and other stations on the southern frontier of Georgia, and also of such other force as has been ordered there under the command of Major Genl Pinckney.3

The paper mark’d C contains a return of the force under the command of Major Genl Wilkinson.4

The papers D give the best information in possession of this Department, of the Spanish force in St Augustine, Pensecola and Mobille.5

E is a copy of the instructions to the Governor of Georgia to whom the powers before given to Genl Matthews were transferred and of the correspondence of the Govr of Georgia with this Department. It contains also a copy of Govr Mitchells correspondence with the Govr. of East Florida, of the instructions since given to Major Genl Pinckney, and of the correspondence of this Department with him.6

The Secretary of State presumes that it was not the intention of the Senate, in requiring information of any negotiation which may have taken place, for the settlement of differences and claims between the United States and Spain not heretofore communicated, to bring into view any negotiations with the Spanish Government prior to the act of Congress of the 15th January 1811 which authorized the Executive to take possession, on certain contingencies, of East Florida. He understands it to be the object of the Senate, to obtain information of such communications only as may have passed between the Executive and the Agents of the persons exercising the Government of Spain for the adjustment of those differences, and cession of East Florida to the United States, since the last Session of Congress.

On this subject the Secretary of State has the honor to report, that on the suggest[i]on of Mr. Chacon the former Consul of Spain, residing at Alexandria, who has continued to exercise the functions of that office since the deposition of Charles IV., that the Chevr Onis had power to accommodate the differences between the United States and Spain, and to cede E. Florida to the United States, in satisfaction of their claims on Spain, an attempt was made to ascertain the powers of the chevr Onis, with a view to take the same into consideration.7

The President was willing to obtain peaceable possession of East Florida, at a fair equivalent from those who held that possession, without making the United States in any degree, a party to the controversy relative to the Spanish Monarchy. It appeared however, that the Chevr Onis had no power to make the proposed Cession, or to enter into the desired arrangement, and from a provision in the new Constitution of Spain, it is to be inferred that none could be contemplated by the Spanish Regency.8

It was the policy of the former irresolute and tottering Govt of Spain, to protract a decision on the just claims of the United States for spoliations and other wrongs. The same policy animates the Regency. There does not appear to be the slightest cause to hope that any fair adjustment will be made by the United States with the Regency, to indemnify them for losses, either by the payment of money or by the cession of territory, at its just value. The paper marked F is a statement of losses sustained by Citizens of the United States by spoliations and otherwise, which was presented to the Govt. of Spain in 1805, no part of which has since been paid.9

Whether the British Govt. has it in contemplation to take possession of E. Florida, and in that case, at what time it may carry the intention into effect, it is impossible by any evidence in the possession of this Department to ascertain. It is to be presumed that the policy of the British Govt. will be regulated by its interest. That Great Britain has long entertained a desire of acquiring possessions in Spanish America, has been distinctly seen. Without detailing other enterprizes that were in contemplation, it is known that an expedition was actually set on foot in 1807 against Buenos Ayres,10 for that purpose. If it is not considered the interest of Great Britain that Spain should take part with her in the war against the United States, it cannot be doubted that she will decline any measure tending by inevitable necessity to produce that result. And while her operations in the peninsula are essentially dependent on supplies from the United States, it is equally probable that she will not be disposed to involve Spain in the controversy. But should a change of circumstances occur either by her gaining the complete dominion of the peninsula or by her expulsion from it, it is believed that her views with respect to this Country will become more decisive and hostile. Commanding the peninsula her means of aggrandizing herself in this hemisphere would be considerably augmented. Expelled from it, the same result would follow, as she might apply on this side of the Atlantic, the force now employed there, aided as she then would be by all the forces of the Regency; for there is cause to believe, that it is contemplated, in that event, to transfer the Regency to Mexico.11

The Spanish Regency may now be considered as essentially under the controul of the British Govt. It is not probable that future events will make it less so. It is more probable that they will produce the opposite effect. At this time it is evident that the possession of East Florida, by Spanish troops is, in effect, a possession by those of Great Britain. If Great Britain held the province with the same influence over the neighbouring indians, as is enjoyed by the means thereof by the Spanish authorities there, the force remaining the same, a more unfriendly direction towards the United States could not be given to it.

It seems to be the inevitable destiny of Spain to become a temporary appendage at least, either of Great Britain or France. It can hardly be doubted by any impartial person who has observed with attention the course of events, that Spain must receive her ruler from the will of one or other of those powers. France has openly grasped at the Sovereignty of that Country, and now holds its monarch in captivity. England approaches the same object in a different way. Professing to acknowledge the Sovereignty of Ferdinand a captive in France, a nominal character only, she profits of the national prejudice in his favor, and thus by a refined policy, gradually, extends her own authority, over every portion of the state, in opposition to France. The British force in the peninsula has the ascendency there; British Generals command their combined armies; Spanish officers are advanced to power or expelled from it, by British influence. In fact, Spain cannot be said to exist as an independent nation. England and France are the only efficient parties to the controversy, and the triumph of either over the other, fixes the destiny of that Country. Whether it be England or France which succeeds the United States can have no reliance on either as to indemnity for past spoliations. If the United States suffer East Florida to pass into the hands of either of those powers that resource for justice perhaps the only one, may be lost. All which is respectfully submitted

Jas Monroe

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 46, TP, Florida). RC in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. First enclosure in a clerk’s hand, signed by Monroe. The record of JM’s transmission of this message has been deleted in the manuscript copy of the Senate journal (DNA: RG 46, Journals, 12A-A3), and it did not subsequently appear in the printed version (see Journal of the Senate …, Being the Second Session of the Twelfth Congress … [Washington, 1812; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 30191], 115). Enclosures printed in State Papers and Publick Documents (Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 36007), 9:155–98. For remaining enclosures, see nn. 2–6 and 9.

1This confidential resolution of the Senate, dated 22 Dec. 1812 and first submitted by Michael Leib of Pennsylvania on 16 Dec., requested that the president lay before the Senate “any information which he may have of the intention of the enemy to take possession of East Florida, and of the disposition of the people of that Territory to be received under the protection of the Government of the United States; the amount of the American force in that neighborhood, and under the command of General Wilkinson; and the quantum of the Spanish or other force in St. Augustine, Pensacola, and Mobile; and respecting any negotiation that may have been had for the settlement of differences and claims existing between the United States and Spain, not heretofore laid before the Senate; respecting any proposal or negotiation that may have been made, or had, by or with any person or persons exercising the powers of the Government of Spain, or claiming to exercise the powers of said Government, or with their respective agents, for the cession of East Florida to the United States; respecting any proposal to or from the local authorities of East Florida, (not heretofore communicated,) for the cession, surrender, or occupancy thereof, to or by the United States; and also, any information respecting the relations of the United States with Spain or said Territory of East Florida, which the President may deem proper to communicate” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 2d sess., 124–25). A confidential 14 Jan. 1813 letter from the clerk of the House of Representatives to JM also resolved that “the Committee on Foreign Relations be instructed to enquire into the expediency of authorizing the President to occupy East and West Florida, without delay, and that they have leave to report by bill or otherwise” (DNA: RG 59, ML).

2Enclosure “A” is a copy of an undated letter from John Houstoun McIntosh to Monroe (6 pp.), summarizing McIntosh’s activities as “Director of the Territory of East Florida” following JM’s disavowal of George Mathews’s efforts to deliver the province to the U.S. in April 1812 (see Mathews to JM, 16 Apr. 1812, and JM to Jefferson, 24 Apr. 1812, PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (5 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 4:326–29 and n. 5, 345–46). McIntosh lamented the president’s failure to accept the offer of the American settlers to cede East Florida to the U.S., and he described their fear of the dangers of slave unrest and attacks by the Creek Indians. He implored JM to maintain a sufficient number of troops and gunboats in the region “until a cession of the country shall be accepted by the United States.”

3Enclosure “B” is a copy (1 p.) of John Williams to JM, 3 Dec. 1812, accompanied by a copy (4 pp.) of Willie Blount to Eustis, 12 Dec. 1812, describing the hostile disposition of the Creek Indians and the measures taken in response by volunteer militia from East Tennessee. Filed with these documents is an extract from a letter from Thomas Flournoy to Thomas Pinckney (1 p.; forwarded to Eustis on 12 Dec. 1812), stating that there were “between eight hundred and a thousand troops in Augustine, consisting of about four hundred blacks, the rest men & boys—They have lately been well provided with provisions & ammunition to last them several months, and upwards of 20000 Dollars in money to pay the troops.”

4No enclosure “C” has been found, but there is an enclosure marked “D” (1 p.) consisting of two extracts from letters from Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson to Eustis, dated 22 July and 22 Sept. 1812, to the effect that a new governor and 130 men (“blacks”) had been sent from Havana to Pensacola and that two armed Spanish schooners had been sent from Havana to Mobile with 160 troops.

5A second enclosure marked “D” is a 13 Jan. 1813 letter from Thomas H. Cushing to the secretary of war, estimating that the Spanish force at St. Augustine was 900 men, at Pensacola 500 men, and at Mobile 250 men (1 p.).

6Enclosure “E” includes (1) a copy of Monroe to David B. Mitchell, 6 July 1812 (4 pp.), stating that he had transmitted “some time since” documents relating to the declaration of war against Great Britain and informing Mitchell that the Senate had rejected the bill authorizing the president to take possession of East Florida. In light of the Senate’s action, Monroe advised Mitchell to withdraw American troops from East Florida, partly for health reasons, provided British troops had not recently landed in the province in numbers superior to those of the American forces. Monroe also directed Mitchell to negotiate with the Spanish authorities “the best Conditions in your power in favor of the Revolutionary Party.” He further stated that the U.S. claim to the Floridas was “not to be considered as abandoned” and anticipated circumstances that would “induce Congress, at the next session, to authorise the President to take possession of the Country.” In a postscript Monroe added that if British troops had landed in East Florida, Mitchell should maintain his ground, provided that could be “done consistently with a due Regard to the safety of our Troops.” Also included are (2) extracts (2 pp.) from Mitchell’s 17 July 1812 letter to Monroe, expressing disappointment at the Senate rejection of the bill to take possession of East Florida, forwarding copies of his correspondence with the new Spanish governor, and adding his opinion that circumstances did not permit the withdrawal of American troops from St. Augustine; (3) a translation (2 pp.) of Sebastián Kindelán’s 11 June 1812 letter to Mitchell, advising Mitchell of his arrival at St. Augustine and demanding the withdrawal of American troops from the town within eleven days of the date of this letter; (4) a copy of Mitchell’s 16 June 1812 reply to Kindelán (2 pp.), refusing to withdraw the troops until the governor provided an explanation for a Spanish attack on these forces made after the president had disavowed their unauthorized use in the effort to seize East Florida; (5) extracts (6 pp.) from Mitchell to Monroe, 19 Sept. 1812, describing the dangers to the southern frontier in the event of American troops being withdrawn from East Florida, including threats from the Indians, the British, and “restless” blacks, to which Mitchell added, “I trust the President will not send any peremptory Order to recall the Troops, but that he will let us gain a little time, and probably some Circumstances may arise out of our present situation that will bring us Relief”; and (6) a copy of Monroe’s 12 Oct. 1812 reply to Mitchell (3 pp.), noting the president’s “regret” and surprise at the conduct of the governor of East Florida, reiterating American claims that wrongs committed by Spain fully justified the U.S. in taking possession of the province, and expressing JM’s approbation of Mitchell’s conduct to date. Monroe also notified Mitchell of JM’s intention to transfer his duties on the East Florida frontier to Maj. Gen. Thomas Pinckney in order to allow the governor to resume his executive tasks in Georgia. Further included are (7) a copy of Mitchell’s 13 Oct. 1812 letter to Monroe (3 pp.), reporting renewed Indian attacks on American settlers, as described in an enclosed 22 Sept. 1812 letter he had received from Lt. Col. Thomas A. Smith (5 pp.), and including Smith’s recommendation that he be given reinforcements to permit him to reduce St. Augustine and destroy Indian settlements in East Florida; (8) a copy of Mitchell’s 19 Oct. 1812 letter to Monroe (4 pp.), conveying news of the hostile disposition of the Seminole Indians and the likely movements of British forces toward St. Augustine and Pensacola, as described in an enclosed 20 Sept. 1812 letter and reports Mitchell had received from Benjamin Hawkins (10 pp.), and concluding with Mitchell’s statement of his intention to raise a force to assist Smith; (9) a copy of Monroe to Thomas Pinckney, 3 Nov. 1812 (2 pp.), transmitting instructions, “The President having committed to you … the management of our concerns in East Florida, confided in the first instance to the late General Matthews, and afterwards to Governor Mitchell, of Georgia”; (10) a copy of Pinckney to Monroe, 14 Nov. 1812 (4 pp.), acknowledging receipt of Monroe’s 3 Nov. letter and seeking further clarification of his assignment, especially with respect to the reinforcement of Smith and his troops at St. Augustine; and (11) a copy of Monroe to Pinckney, 8 Dec. 1812 (4 pp.), forwarding copies of Mitchell’s correspondence with the State Department and defining Pinckney’s duties as “partly of the Civil and partly of the military Character,” to the extent that they permitted him either to accept a surrender of East Florida from the local authorities or to take possession of it in the event of its occupation “by a foreign power.” Force could be used only in the latter contingency, but on the assumption that Great Britain had “a complete ascendancy over the Spanish Councils” and that “East Florida has become essentially a British province, for British purposes,” Monroe directed Pinckney “to maintain the ground on which you now stand” and to take “such ulterior measures, as may be found to be proper and necessary.” Filed with these enclosures is a copy of Pinckney to Monroe, 29 Dec. 1812 (5 pp.), forwarding copies of communications he had received from Mitchell in a 17 Dec. 1812 letter relating to his negotiations with the governor of East Florida (16 pp.) and including Pinckney’s statement of his reasons for deciding against further negotiations with the Spanish authorities for the present. To these reasons Pinckney added a description of forces at his disposal and observed that the U.S. would not be ready to attempt military operations against the Spanish before the middle of March 1813.

7See Monroe to JM, 5 Sept. 1812, and n. 1.

8Article 172 of chapter 1 in caption 4 of the Spanish Constitution of 19 Mar. 1812 prohibited the king from alienating, ceding, renouncing, or transferring any place in, or any parts of, the Spanish territories, no matter how small. The said territories, including “las dos Floridas,” were defined in the Constitution as consisting of all Spanish possessions in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres (see Juan E. Hernández y Dávalos, Coléccion de documentos para la historia de la guerra de independencia de Mexico de 1808 a 1821 [6 vols.; 1877–82; reprint, Liechtenstein, 1968], 4:87–88, 100).

9Enclosure “F” includes two statements (2 pp. each) of French seizures of 168 American vessels in Spanish ports since 1 Oct. 1796 and the judicial proceedings against them. The statements had been presented to the Spanish government on 12 May 1805.

10Following the spectacular but short-lived occupation of Buenos Aires in 1806 by forces led by Brig. Gen. William Carr Beresford and Royal Navy captain Sir Home Riggs Popham, the British ministry in 1807 committed forces totaling about 11,000 troops under the command of Lt. Gen. John Whitelocke to the task of taking possession of Spain’s province on the Río de la Plata. Due to supply problems and bad weather, the expedition failed to accomplish its goals, and it surrendered to the defending local forces on 7 July 1807 (Peter Pyne, The Invasions of Buenos Aires, 1806–1807: The Irish Dimension, University of Liverpool, Institute of Latin American Studies, Research Paper 20 [Liverpool, 1996], 5–56).

11In his letters to the State Department in the spring and summer of 1812, executive agent William Shaler had referred to the possibility that Great Britain would transfer the Spanish regency to Mexico (see Madison and the Problem of Mexican Independence: The Gutiérrez-Magee Raid of August 1812, 1 Sept. 1812).

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