James Madison Papers

To James Madison from William Taylor, 19 July 1822

From William Taylor

City of Megico 19th. July 1822

My Dear sir

You may have heard of the Consular Appointt. I recd. from the President of the United States to the Port of Vera Cruz.1 I reached my Port of destination 17th April, remained there 2 days only, and then came on to this place, the Capitol of the Empire of Megico, where I have continued ever since, partly on account of the black vomit having made its appearance in Vera Cruz, and the Castle of San Juan de Ulua being still in possession of the Spaniards. As from a strong and almost irresistable desire to make myself some what acquainted with the situation of this Gouvernment, or more properly speaking—with those who are attempting to establish a Gouvernement &c.

I have now been in this City since the first day of May, have mixed a good-deal in society, and from information obtained, and my own Observations, have drawn the following Conclusions. That Iturbidie2 had an oppy. to transmit his name to posterity as the Washington of his Country, by the establishment of a Republican form of Gouvernment, and the free exercise of Religious Opinions. This line of Conduct wch. was marked out to him by the voice of the People would, not only have secured to him their blessings, and benedictions, but have saved his Country from the worst of all evils—the Scourge of Civil War. But of the millions who have gone before us—who have appeared, flourish’d, and disappeared, how few, how very few have had their names recorded in History as the benefactors of mankind.

Self aggrandisement seems to have been [the] sole object of Iturbidie, and he has pursued, and obtained it, tho’ at the expense of the dearest, and best interests of his Country. Yet his Course will have been that of a passing meteor. Already discontent and murmurings are heard in his very household. Two Regiments without their Officers, save one S 3 named Pio Marcha, made him Emperor. Two Other Regiments in the same tumultuous manner threaten to pull him down. The inteligent and wealthy, are opposed to him. The honorable part of the Army are opposed to him. The City Rabble support him. The Clergy, generally speaking, support him—’tis a common saying, that the Bishop of Peubla, made him. The plan of the Usurpation, is admitted to have Originated with the Bishop. There are however many of the Clergy Opposed to him. The Arch Bishop, would neither Crown him, nor sanction his being Crowned, & on this subject, it is said, wrote a Circular to the Bishops threatening them with the Popes displeasure, if they attempted to Crown Iturbidie. Nevertheless the day after to morrow, Sunday the 21st. inst, is fixed upon for the Coronation to take place. Many look forward to that day as the commencement of a strife that will again deluge this country with Blood. I could scarcely Credit the fact, did I not have it from the best authority, that upwards of 200,000 Mexicans have already lost their lives in the recent civil wares, in this Country, the Commencement of wch. they date as far back as 1810. I have recd. a written invitation to the Coronation, wch. I shall certainly accept, as I would not miss the Shew on any account whatever. At the same time, I trust in God, to see not only the base bauble itself, but the still baser wretch who dares to grasp it, dashed to the ground, and trampled under foot. And yet this man has his flatterers, his vile flatterers, and with shame be it spoken, that the foremost, should be a Citizen of the U.S. one who fought hard through the Revolutionary War, in defense of the liberties of his own Country, and has since been Conspicuous as the leader of her Armies, but he is now old, diseased, and infirm, and for his past services, reputed great, I forbear to name his name.4

Our latest advices are down to the 28 April only. Consequently we have yet to learn the decision of Congress respecting the Recognition Of the Independe. of this Country—as a Gouvernment separate & distinct from that of Spain.

Mr Ilysolda5 the Gentleman first appointed as the minister from this Gouvernt. to the UStates, declined the Appointt. 7th June last. Mr Sosaya6 has very recently been appointed in his Stead, and will probably leave here early in August for the U States. This Gentleman is said to be a Lawyer of some Talents but speaks neither English, nor French, has never been out of his Country, much through it, in her Counsels, or held any office of honor, or trust, under preceding Gouvernments. He has been further represented to me as possessing more intrigue than Talent, more cunning than principle.

Mr. Azcarate7 the Minister to the Court of Saint James—is likewise a Lawyer, & said to be at the head of his profession here. He is a great Gambler, and firm friend to Despotism—speaks neither English, nor French.

This Country, this Kingdom of New Spain, which the good Citizens of the United States are prone to believe one solid mass of Gold, and silver, intersperced here, and there with beds of Jewels, and Other precious Stones—is miserably poor, and in a most deplorable Situation. The more respectable Citizens seldom walk the Streets, except to some neighbouring church to hear Mass. The multitude who usually throng & Croud the side walks, are so filthy and numerous withal, that not to come in contact with them occasionally, is morally impossible. On these occasions the Stranger, as a mere matter of course, puts his hand to that part of his dress touched, or rubbed against to, brush away the Vermin. In the whole course of my life I never saw so many beggars—witnessed so much real misery as since my arrival in this celebrated City of the Montezumas.

The people are idle, and averse to labour. The Army, and Officers of Gouvernment, are numerous as locusts; hungry as starved Wolves. The Treasury is void. The Key to the Empire on the Atlantic Side, (V.C.) in the hands of their enemies. The sources of commerce dried up. The mines not worked (enclosed is a statement of the money coined here since 1802).8 No revenue, no regular System of Taxation. Forced loans resorted to, & the proceeds appropriated to the sole use of the Emperor & his satellites. Agents have been sent hence to Europe for the purpose of borrowing in France Ten millions of Dollars, in England Ten millions of Dollars. And they would fain borrow the sum of Ten millions of Dolls more in the UStates. The Secretary of State, Mr José Manuel Herrera9 (A Priest who resided some time in Louisiana fitting out Expeditions against the then Gouvernmt. of Texas, and drawing on the Patriot Chief Genl. Gaudaloupe Victoria10 for the expences attending the same, but which Bills were never paid. Such of our Citizens as were induced to embark in these expeditions, have been generally destroyed. The few who survive, are Shunned, neglected, and frowned upon. Genl. Long11 their leader, formerly a Lieut. in the U.S.A. in attempting to visit some friends who dwelt in a House, at the Door of wch. a Sentinel was placed, (officers lodging within) and not Speaking the Language, was first Struck by the Sentinel and then pursued 15 a 20 steps & shot dead. The Sentinel has undergone no trial, no examination. I mention these facts, not to excite your Sympathy for these unfortunate men, but to shew the determination of this Gouvernment to destroy, or drive out of the Country men who, whatever vices they may possess, are nevertheless firm friends, warm advocates for a Republican form of Gouvernt.

The Individuals of N.O. who took Herrera’s Bills—or in other words who advanced him money &c. have been nearly ruined by the total disregard of this Gouvernment to his Contracts. Among the Sufferers A. L. Duncan12 Esqe with whose name you may be some what familiar, is most conspicuous—being a Creditor to the Amount of 200,000 Dollars.

The Advanc[e]s made to Mina13 in Balto. And N.O. will nett a total loss, unless indeed, those concerned should consent to liquidate their Claims by Concessions or Grants of Land in the Province of Tegas—has already spoken to me on the proba[bi]lity of obtaining a Loan in the U. States. I replied that provided our merchants could have the necessary Confidence in the Stability of this Gouvernment, I did not believe there would be any difficulty in getting the Sum required—but gave him no encouragement to make the experiment.

Monday morning the 22nd.

The Coronation of their Majesties is over—it took place yesterday in the Cathedral, all threats, menaces, and evil forebodings to the contrary, notwithstanding. The Cathedral is a very Spacious building, capable of holding 8 a 9000 persons, nevertheless, on this occasion there were not more than 3,000 present, a pretty strong proof that the coronation was not much relished. The greatest order, however, prevailed during the whole ceremony, which commenced at 10. oClock in the morning, and lasted until 3 oClock in the afternoon. The President of Congress, if indeed, may so call a Body of cold blooded, miserable wretches, whose Servile, and Submissive Conduct cannot prevent their being soon Kicked out of Doors, & sent to their respective provinces in less than 6 weeks—Crowned the Emperor, who received the precious gift Kneeling—& Who then with his Own hands, placed another Crown on the head of his wife. It was to me a most tiresome pantomime, for altho’ I was well situated to see yet I could not hear one word that was said; except the conclusion of the Bishop of Peubla’s Sermon, wch. closed the Ceremony. Long live the Emperor—words that were repeated by 2 or 3 voices only—and these in so faint a tone of voice, as could not have been heard, but for the death like Silence that reigned throughout the Cathedral. I remarked that those who sat near me, after the first hour had gone by, seemed more intent with their own big thoughts, than the Coronation. Many fell into the Arms of old Morpheus, and our own General James Wilkinson who had accompanied me there in the full uniform Dress of a Major General of the United Army—enjoyed two very good naps. Notwithstanding this, I expect you will see published in Duane’s paper, or some paper of N.O. a most pompous descriptions [sic] of the Coronation. I had permission to take with me such of my countrymen as were then in this City & mustered in all 16—add to these the Ministers Azcáraté, and Sosaya, with their Secretaries of Legation called for me at my Lodgings.

I scarce need inform you, my dear sir, that these pointed attentions were neither offered to, nor received by me as my right. As they were offered, I thought it my duty to accept them and did so, under the full beleif that I could not thereby in the smallest degree whatever, Commit the Gouvernment of the United States.

A Gouvernt. like this founded upon violence, will Catch at any thing that can give the least Countenance to its Usurpation, &c.

The coins of this country have undergone a total change. The head of Iturbidie has Supplanted that of Ferdinand the 7th. I regret this Change, as the hard dollars of old Spain, constituted the only solid part of her System. Medals to the Amount of 12000 Dollars were thrown to the Crowd in front of the Cathedral. I enclose you one.

I understand that General Davila14 commanding the Castle of San Juan de Ulua has recd from his master the King of Spain the Commission of Captain General of Mexico—& the famous Callava,15 of Pensacola memory, is to take command of the Castle—there is no Jackson here to frighten him away.

Friday August 2nd.

All here has been confusion & alarm for the last several days. Genl Gaudeloupe has certainly raised the Republican Standard in the neighbourhood of Halapa, with what force, can’t well be ascertained—3,000 horse left this City 4 days ago in pursuit of him—from what I can learn he is not in a situation to meet this force—& will therefore have to retreat to his inaccessable mountains. There is reports of risings in other Provinces. Certain it is that ere long this Country will be the Scene of a dreadful Civil War. On the night of the 31. ulto. Sérgeant—now Captain Marcha of Regiment No 1, of wch. Iturbidie always has been, & still is the Colonel—made an attempt to Close the Doors of Congress—and Disperse that Body—but was foiled—that it will take place ere long, and the Inquisition be reestablished, seems to be the general beleif, unless the present order of things be destroyed.

I have this day given a Letter of Introduction to you, to Mr Vt. Rocofuerte,16 a Gentleman from Guyaquil near Lyma a great enthusiast in the Cause of Liberty, of liberal Education & great wealth, and able to give you much useful information respecting this Country.

I by no means wish any part of this Communication made publick—it would injure me not a little were it Known here that I had written such truths. If however, you should consider any of the facts worth communicating, you may make them Known to your neighbours Gouvernor—& P. P. Barbours Esquire. It is by no means a highly wrought picture of the State of this Country, but a fair statement of facts.

I beg you will make my respectful remembrance to Mrs Madison—to my much respected relative yr mother, & if not too troublesome, to my Other relatives in yr neighbourhood. I am Dr sir, with every wish for yr health & happiness Yr friend & obt. h. St.

William Taylor

RC and enclosure (DLC). RC docketed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 8.

1Taylor was given a recess appointment as consul. He was nominated by the president in his message of 2 Jan. 1823 and was confirmed by the Senate on 28 Jan. 1823 (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 3:318, 319, 325, 328).

2Agustín de Iturbide (1783–1824), born in Morelia, Mexico, was a leader of Spanish royalist forces in the War of Independence. But political events in Spain in 1820 led him to propose a plan for Mexican independence that united disparate elements of the populace, and he entered Mexico City on 27 Sept. 1821. Crowned emperor in 1822, he abdicated in March 1823 and was forced into exile in Europe. Returning to Mexico in 1824, he was executed for treason (Marvin Alisky, Historical Dictionary of Mexico, 2d ed. [Lanham, Md., 2008], 282; Michael C. Meyer and William H. Beezley, eds., The Oxford History of Mexico [New York, 2000], 301–5, 316).

3Left blank in text; Taylor referred to the rank, “sergeant.”

4James Wilkinson.

5The minister, Juan Manuel de Elizalda, had been appointed by October 1821 but resigned because of bad health (Joseph Carl McElhannon, “Relations between Imperial Mexico and the United States, 1821–1823,” in Thomas E. Cotner, ed., Essays in Mexican History [Austin, Tex., 1958], 131–32, 134).

6José Manuel Bermúdez Zozaya was chosen Mexican minister to the United States in early 1822, but his nomination was not confirmed until September. He was officially received by President Monroe on 12 Dec. 1822. Zozaya left the United States in May 1823, after being informed of the fall of the Mexican imperial government (ibid., 134–39).

7Juan Francisco Azcárate y Lezama (1767–1831) was a Mexico City lawyer and a leader in the movement for Mexican independence. He was named Mexican minister to Great Britain, but the emperor Iturbide was deposed before Azcárate could take up his duties (María del Carmen Rovira, comp., Pensamiento filosófico mexicano del siglo XIX y primeros años del XX [3 vols.; Mexico City, 1998–2001], 1:123).

8The enclosure (1 p.) is an “Account of the coinage of the Mint of Mexico from the Year 1802 to the Year 1821 inclusive, furnished by Dn. José Mariana Pavia, July 1822.” The coinage is broken down into gold, silver, and copper.

9José Manuel Herrera (1776–1831), an early leader of the independence movement, was chosen to represent the Congress movement in Washington but seems never to have presented his credentials. He arrived in New Orleans in October 1815 and planned filibustering expeditions in association with José Álvarez de Toledo y Dubois. In 1816 he occupied Galveston Island, declaring it part of independent Mexico. He served as foreign minister in the reign of Iturbide and in other offices under President Vicente Guerrero in 1829 (José Rogelio Álvarez, ed., Enciclopedia de México [12 vols.; Mexico City, 1966–77], 6:833; Herrera to JM, 1 Mar. 1816, Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States Concerning the Independence of the Latin-American Nations, 3:1598–99; J. C. A. Stagg, Borderlines in Borderlands: James Madison and the Spanish-American Frontier, 1776–1821 [New Haven, Conn., 2009], 179–80; Donald E. Chipman and Harriett Denise Joseph, Spanish Texas, 1519–1821, 2d ed. [Austin, Tex., 2010], 252).

10Guadalupe Victoria (1786–1843), christened Juan Manuel Félix Fernández, was a general of insurgent forces, who fought for Mexican independence. He was president of Mexico, 1824–28 (Alisky, Historical Dictionary of Mexico, 2d ed., 543).

11James Long (ca. 1793–1822), a veteran of the War of 1812, and a onetime merchant in Natchez, launched a filibustering expedition into Mexico from Nacogdoches, where he had declared an independent Texas republic with himself as president on 23 June 1819. In 1820 he joined forces with José Trespalacios, a Mexican revolutionary, and in March 1822 found himself in Mexico City, where he was killed by a sentry on 8 Apr. 1822.

12Abner L. Duncan (d. 1823) was a prominent New Orleans lawyer. He had been a volunteer aide at the Battle of New Orleans (Smith et al., Papers of Andrew Jackson, 4:24 n.).

13Francisco Javier Mina (1789–1817) was a Spanish guerilla leader during the Peninsular War in Spain. In 1816 he sailed from England to Baltimore, where he raised money, enlisted soldiers, and purchased supplies and ships for an expedition against the royalists in Mexico. He also visited Galveston, Texas, and New Orleans on his way. Mina landed in Mexico in April 1817 and soon thereafter launched his offensive. Taken captive in late October of that year, Mina was executed on 11 Nov. 1817 (The History of Mexico, vol. 4, [1885], in The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, [39 vols.; San Francisco, Calif., 1882–90], 659, 660 n. 2, 661 and n. 5, 662–82).

14José Davila was the commander of the royalist fortress of San Juan de Ulúa in Veracruz, Mexico, which did not capitulate until 1825 (Meyer and Beezley, Oxford History of Mexico, 318–19).

15José Maria Callava was the last governor of West Florida, 1819–21, and as such, presided over its transfer to the United States in 1821 (Smith et al., Papers of Andrew Jackson, 6:250 n. 8). For Callava’s dispute with Andrew Jackson, which led to his imprisonment for one night, see Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821, 410–17.

16Vicente Rocafuerte (1783–1847), an advocate of South American independence, was president of Ecuador, 1835–39. Rocafuerte spent several months in New York City in 1823 (Albert William Bork and Georg Maier, Historical Dictionary of Ecuador [Metuchen, N.J., 1973], 128; Middletown, Conn., Middlesex Gazette and General Advertiser, 30 Oct. 1823).

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