George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Madison, 26 September 1788

From James Madison

New York Sepr 26 1788

Dear Sir

I subjoin two resolutions lately taken by Congress in relation the Mississippi which I hope may have a critical and salutary effect on the temper of our western Brethren.

In Congress Sepr 16

On report of the Committee &c. to whom was referred the Report of the Secy for For. Affairs on a motion of the Delegates of North Carolina, stating the uneasiness produced by a report “that Congress are disposed to treat with Spain for the surrender of their claim to the navigation of the River Mississippi” and proposing a resolution intended to remove such apprehensions.

Resolvd that the said Report not being founded in fact, the Delegates be at liberty to communicate all such circumstances as may be necessary to contradict the same and to remove misconceptions.

Resolvd that the free navigation of the River Mississippi is a clear and essential right of the United States, and that the same ought to be considered and supported as such.1

In addition to their resolutions which are not of a secret nature, another has passed arresting all negociations with Spain, and handing over the subject thus freed of bias from any former proceedings, to the Ensuing Government. This last Resolution is entered on the secret journal, but a tacit permission is given to the Members to make a confidential use of it.2 With the Sincerest attachment and affection, I remain Dear Sir, Your Obliged & Obedt servt

Js Madison Jr

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Madison Papers.

James Madison (1751–1836) attended the Virginia Ratifying Convention in June 1788 and then returned to New York to resume his seat in the Continental Congress.

1These resolutions were a result of suspicions held by those southern states with extensive western lands regarding the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations between the United States and Spain. Diego de Gardoqui arrived in the United States in July 1785, bearing the title of encargado de negocios, to open negotiations with United States secretary for foreign affairs John Jay for the settlement of differences between the two countries. His instructions from the Spanish king permitted him to make certain boundary and trade concessions but enjoined him from recognizing any American claims to free navigation of the Mississippi. Jay’s instructions stipulated that he should make no concessions on American rights to free navigation of the river. In the course of the negotiations it became evident, to the dismay of states with large western populations, that Jay was disposed to relinquish navigation rights in exchange for substantial Spanish trading concessions. It was further suspected that Jay, in violation of his instructions, was not reporting the full course of his negotiations to Congress. Although the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations were virtually suspended after the early summer of 1787, rumors of James Wilkinson’s so-called Spanish conspiracy and the formation of the State of Franklin enhanced the fears of many southern states that a treaty abrogating navigation rights would lead to secession of their western territories. On 14 July the delegates to the Continental Congress from North Carolina submitted a motion expressing the apprehensions of their constituents and requesting a congressional statement that “the United States have a clear absolute and unalienable Claim to the free Navigation of the River Mississippi” (DNA:PCC, item 36, vol. 3). On 15 July the motion was referred to the secretary for foreign affairs. Jay’s report, dated 2 Sept. and read in Congress on 3 Sept., stated that “the Report mentioned in the said Motion, is not warranted by any part of the Negociations between the United States and Spain; and therefore that in his Opinion, it would be expedient so far to rescind the Orders of Secrecy relative to those Negociations, as that the Delegates of North Carolina & others be at Liberty to contradict the said Report in the most explicit and positive Terms.” No treaty had been arranged, Jay continued, and moreover all negotiations had been suspended until the new government was established. Jay admitted in the report that some of the concessions contemplated in his earlier discussions with Gardoqui “appeared to him at that Time adviseable,” confessed “that Circumstances and Discontents have since interposed to render it more questionable than it then appeared to be” (DNA:PCC, item 81, vol. 3). See also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 34:530.

2The resolution and a copy of Jay’s report of 2 Sept. are entered into the Secret Foreign Journal, 1775–88, in DNA:PCC, item 5, vol. 3.

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