James Madison Papers

To James Madison from George W. Erving, 17 May 1808

Madrid May 17h 1808.

Dear Sir

My last unofficial letter was dated on the ⟨   ⟩9 April: You will doubtless observe that what I ⟨th⟩erein mentioned respecting the abdication of Charles, ⟨h⟩is indisposition to Reign, & his character in general, ⟨d⟩oes not comport with the facts stated in the accompanying official letter, & the documents which are ⟨th⟩erewith inclosed. I can only say that I know ⟨no⟩thing now which alters my first opinion respecting ⟨his⟩ abdication, & have learnt many things which ⟨con⟩firm it; not to cite anecdotes which in such ⟨a c⟩ase may not be considered of sufficient weight, ⟨th⟩ere is a fact of importance in point which deserves ⟨to⟩ be noted; On the 19h. March the day of his ⟨ab⟩dication, & on the 20th. also, he saw the foreign ⟨mi⟩nisters; & he confessed to them that he was too ⟨ol⟩d & infirm to Reign, that it was time for his Son to take on himself the cares of government &c &c.

It is also certain that some days previous to the insurrection at Aranjuez, the prince of peace havi⟨ng⟩ determined to fly, the king on that account thought of abdicating & directed Cevallos to draw out an instrument to that effect; this was done, but the king did not then execute it, because the prince of peace’s intention to depart was suspended, and there was then question of taking the royal family with him. On the 19 as before stated with a View to save the princes life he again resolved to abdicate, & then ordered Cevallos to give him the instrument which he had previously prepared: it was that same instrument which he signed. The simple fact is that Charles so long used to the prince of peace coud not do without him; & he saw that he coud not longer retain him: he loved him as a friend & he desired by any means whatever to save his life; these were the motives to his abdication: he was not exposed to personal danger, ⟨&⟩ coud not have had any apprehension of personal dange⟨r a⟩s every body then at Aranjuez was fully convinced; He might have been persuaded by Cavallero (the Minister ⟨o⟩f grace & justice), but he was neither forced nor menaced by any body; on the contrary to the last ⟨m⟩oment was treated with the utmost Respect & submissio⟨n⟩ by his son as well as by Every body else: Even the licentious tongue of the assembled people did ⟨n⟩ot assail the character of the Queen so much Exposed to remark at such a moment. Now the "reiter⟨a⟩tion" of the protest inclosed in my public letter, ⟨w⟩as published before the protest itself; & that ⟨re⟩iteration states the protest to have been made ⟨on⟩ the 19th., the day of Abdication; but when the protest ⟨ap⟩peared it was found to be dated on the 21st.; why?; the 19 would not do, the foreign ministers had seen ⟨hi⟩m on the 20th.; it is only further to be observed ⟨tha⟩t on the 21st. he had communication with an ⟨en⟩voy from the grand-duke. But it is difficult to Say what degree of inconsistency & absurdity Charles has bee⟨n⟩ intentionally guilty of in his subsequent proceedings; what he has signed, or not signed: weak in the Extrem⟨e⟩ he must be, but the greatest of his misfortunes, and which totally nullifies whatever good qualities he may possess, is his wife: hinc illæ lachrymæ.

In the accompanying official letter I have endeavoured to present to you these late transa⟨c⟩tions in such a shape as to supersede the necessity of troubling you here with long commentaries by way of elucidation; I think no point Remains to be insisted upon with a view to avoiding Error, in judgin⟨g⟩ as to the submission by Charles of his cause to the tribunal of the Emperor, as to the confidence placed by Ferdinand in his brotherly friendship, or as to the march of the french government; gradually extending its plan of arrangement, as it observed by an acquaintance with those most concerne⟨d⟩ in it, with what facility it might be Extended. The curious pamphlet adverted to in my public letter (of which no copy can now be obtained) gives us to understand that the final decision of Napoleon as to the fate of Spain, has been founded on a conviction that with all his power, he cannot make habil monarchs, out of such inept materials as the house of Bourbon furnishes: and certainly ⟨it⟩ is not to be beleived that he woud have placed ⟨h⟩is brother on the throne, if Ferdinand had been ⟨an⟩other Napoleon: That pamphlet also, (it was ⟨pu⟩blished after the royal family were completely ⟨se⟩ttled at Bayonne) asks the Spaniards (rather tauntingly) what good they can Expect to derive ⟨fro⟩m the administration of a family who have had ⟨the⟩ weakness to go to Bayonne, & submit their ⟨dis⟩putes to the arbitration of the Emperor!!

⟨The⟩ Spaniards reply

captique dolis lachrymisque coactis

Quos neque Tydides nec Larissœus Achilles

Non anni domuere decem;

But tho Charles’s abdication is treated as if it had been forced; yet the restoration of Charles is not considered complete without the renunciation of Ferdinand: but the renunciation of Ferdinand, is it not made under duress?. Charles has been brought to consider his Son & his family unworthy of the sceptre & therefore he transfers it to one well Enabled to weild it: but this transfer is it made under more favorable circumstances than his first abdication? and if Ferdinand has been guilty, how have his other children merited to lose their inheritance? Neither can the transfer of Charles be sufficient to pass the throne, without a renunciation on the part of Ferdinand of his rights as prince of Asturias & of the other children as to their remainders. But it is said that this is actually done; at least that Ferdinand has renounced his birthright. These tw⟨o⟩ instruments the transfer by Charles and the renunc⟨ia⟩tion of Ferdinand as prince of Asturias are yet to appear: In the mean time the State of things ⟨is⟩ that between Trinculo & Caliban "You shall be king I will be Vice-roy over you".

The Lieutenant has conducted his department ⟨wi⟩th the utmost address, and appears to be as great ⟨a p⟩olitician as unquestionably he is an able general: he is assisted however by Mr. La foret; an old ⟨di⟩plomat, & it must be allowed that he has ⟨hap⟩pily the very best materials to operate with. ⟨That⟩ is to say all in one word, that on his holding ⟨   ⟩ great levees in the first days of his lieutenancy ⟨th⟩ese people woud have kissed his hand, as they ⟨ha⟩ve been used to do the kings; but the grand-duke ⟨wa⟩s ashamed to Submit to the ceremony; and for ⟨the⟩ rest, keeps his attention fixed upon essentials ⟨ra⟩ther than Exteriors.

It is not yet certain that every thing will ⟨   ⟩ so, if the provinces shoud revolt it will be ⟨the w⟩ork of time to reduce them: Cataluña, Arragon ⟨An⟩dalusia, Galicia, & Asturias, the most mountainous ⟨cou⟩ntries may become so many Vendées. We have alarming reports from those quarters, but I don’t know what may be stated as fact. Mr. Young will pass thro’ La Mancha and Andalusia & be ab⟨le⟩ to give you the best account of the state of things there. Whatever the insurrections may be it is not probable that any force will be brought against the french in the Castiles Navarre Estremadura & Bis⟨cay⟩ the provinces principally occupied by them; unless Ferdinand shoud escape, an accident not to be counte⟨d⟩ on; or they shoud adopt some other object (as for Exam⟨ple⟩ the infant Dn. Pedro now in Brasil) which might create division & confusion.

Lieutt. Lewis who came in the Osage mention⟨ed⟩ to Mr. Skipwith & Mr. Barnet that he had brought a dispatch from you for me, which he delivered to Gen⟨l⟩ Armstrong; that dispatch has not reached me; I wrote to Genl A. about it on ye. 22. April but as yet have no answer from him. Dear Sir with sincere Respect & Esteem Your very obliged & obt. St.

George W Erving

⟨P.⟩S. I send by Mr. Young a genealogy of the ⟨Ma⟩rquis St. Simon, which he desires may be ⟨acc⟩epted for the use of the national library. ⟨He⟩ is a brave meritorious old soldier who served very ⟨hon⟩orably in America; this is probably the only ⟨   ⟩ which he ever composed; it has certainly the ⟨mer⟩it of being unique in its kind; and as the present ⟨is w⟩ell intended, he himself not being aware of how ⟨litt⟩le importance it is for us to know that he is ⟨des⟩cended from King Pepin; I have received it with ⟨   ⟩ expressions.

⟨   ⟩ It is said that a great deputation of this Kingdom ⟨is to⟩ present itself at Bayonne: The inclosed piece ⟨(whi⟩ch I have just received from Lisbon) being the ⟨   ⟩ of the Portuguese deputation at Bayonne, ⟨will⟩ serve to give an idea of what ye. Spanish ⟨dep⟩utation will do there.

Postscript May 23d.

The dispatches of the Grand-duke to the french ambassador at Washington I have thought it be⟨st⟩ to put under cover to you; I beleive that they conta⟨in⟩ dispatches for South America. In giving you an account in my public letter of the conversation of yesterday with the grand-duke, it has seemed improper to add what he said upon subjects other than those in point; he talks a great deal, apparen⟨tly⟩ without reserve, & en militaire, tho his manner is afable & conciliating: this to all; but to myse⟨lf⟩ (I know not how I have merited his good opinion) he has paid particular attention, and has said to my friend the dutchman who is most intimate with him things highly flattering & obliging: for the Re⟨st⟩ he is in affairs astonishingly habil considering th⟨at⟩ his education has been entirely military, and is not without a considerable share of diplomatiqu⟨e⟩ dexterity: in this department he is assisted by Mr. La foret who is perfectly versed. ⟨M⟩r. L. F. was long in the U.S. during the revolution ⟨&⟩ must be known to the president & to yourself; ⟨sca⟩rcely any foreigner whom I have met with Either ⟨Eng⟩lish or french is so well acquainted with our ⟨aff⟩airs. He even knows particularly the characters ⟨of⟩ all those individuals who took the lead in the ⟨revo⟩lution.

The prince said to me yesterday as ⟨he⟩ has done twice before, that the U. S. he hoped ⟨wou⟩d make common cause with France: I replied ⟨that⟩ the system actually observed appeared to be a ⟨ver⟩y wise one, and it was such as France coud not ⟨obje⟩ct to: But he said that since the Emperor ⟨had⟩ determined to give liberty to the Seas and the ⟨Un⟩ited States were more interested in his object ⟨tha⟩n any other nation, they ought to assist him ⟨in i⟩t: I told him that as far as an opposition to unjust pretensions of the English went, he ⟨mig⟩ht consider that France was assisted, by the United States having refused to admit the doctrine set up by the English, & their having taken a course which woud compel the English to abandon that ground; or else, that the continuance of the present measures woud do as much, & probably grea⟨ter⟩ injury to the English than a war: But it was a⟨lso⟩ to be observed that France, probably misinformed as to the real state of America, had adopted a System towards her, as it appeared to me not the wisest; instead of leaving the English burthened with all the odium which her proceedings were calculated to Excite, she had Endeavoured as ⟨it⟩ were, to participate it with her by acts of a similar nature; in which the very principles contended for were offended, to say nothing of treaty stipulations: he seemed to consider th⟨is⟩ observation to be just, but Said that the Empero⟨r⟩ coud not Suffer any nation to navigate freely ⟨which sub⟩mitted to the restraints imposed by the English; I replied ⟨tha⟩t it was evident that we did not mean to submit ⟨to⟩ Such restraints: he expressed himself very ⟨de⟩sirous of smoothing all difficulties, and begged ⟨me⟩ to give him such thoughts as I had upon the ⟨su⟩bject by way of memorandum, on paper. I ⟨tol⟩d him that I coud not Enter into the matter Seriously; I had only meant to Express an ⟨opi⟩nion as to the past, the future must depend ⟨o⟩n arrangements between the two governments ⟨wit⟩h which I had nothing to do. I then spoke ⟨at⟩ large of the offensive System which had been ⟨pur⟩sued here, & mentioned that in all my conversations ⟨wi⟩th the Prince of Peace he had thrown the blame on France: Of that he was fully aware & ⟨sa⟩id that he knew that every thing had been ⟨wro⟩ng, but an Entire change woud take place.

The Prince’s accounts from the provinces ought to be received cum grano Salis; because the Effect which may be produced by the tranfer made by Charles of his dominions to Napoleon cann⟨ot⟩ yet be ascertained, and even now the appearance⟨s⟩ in Cataluna & Asturias are far from being Entirely Satisfactory. With perfect respect & Esteem Dear Sir Your Most obliged & ot. St.

George W Erving


By a proper use of the order for the release of a Vessel according to a memorandum, which I have given to Mr. Young I calculate that he will obtain his passage to the U. States free of Expence.

DNA: RG 59--DD-Diplomatic Despatches, Spain.

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