Cabinet Opinion on Expeditions Against Spanish Territory
[Philadelphia, 10 March 1794]
At a meeting of the heads of departments, and the attorney general at the President’s on the 10th day of March 1794. The intelligence from Kentucky, and the territory no. west of the Ohio, was laid before them;1 whereupon it was advised
1. that a proclamation issue against the expeditions, understood to be prepared in Kentucky, for the invasion of the Spanish dominions.2
2. that a representation be made to the governor of Kentucky, upon the subject of his conduct, and giving information under proper guards of the steps, which have been taken by government as to the Mississippi:3
3. that a representation be also made to congress:4 and
4. that General Wayne be instructed to post if compatible with his other operations a body of troops at Massac, in order to intercept by force, if necessary, any body of men, which may descend the river for the purpose of the invasion aforesaid.5 From this fourth opinion the secretary of state dissents.6
DS (in Edmund Randolph’s handwriting), DLC:GW. GW’s docket reads, “Opinions 10th March 1794 respecting the threatned Invasion of the Spanish Dominions on the Mississippi by the People of Kentucky.”
1. The intelligence presented about a proposed expedition by Kentucky residents against the Spanish colony of Louisiana probably included Edmund Randolph’s fourth letter to GW of 27 Feb. and its enclosed extract.
4. Although the Kentucky expedition was mentioned in an enclosure that accompanied GW’s letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of 12 March, the Kentucky expedition was addressed more fully in some of the enclosures that accompanied GW’s letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives of 20 May (ASP, Foreign Relations description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends , 1:454–60).
5. Henry Knox wrote Anthony Wayne on 31 March: “The idea of a post to be established at Fort Massac was held forth in the seventeenth of May last, and left optional with you—But certain circumstances at that time prevented your adopting the idea. The late intention of some restless people of the frontier settlements to make hostile inroads into the dominions of Spain, renders it indispensible that you should immediately order as respectable a detachment as you can take post of Fort Massac and to erect a strong redoubt and block house with some suitable cannon from Fort Washington. The officer who should command ought to be a man of approved integrity, firmness and prudence.
“Besides the directions for errecting the works, the supplies, discipline and police of his Garrison, he ought to be instructed somewhat in the following manner ‘Secret and Confidential’ It has not be unknown to you that a number of lawless people residing on the waters of the Ohio in defiance of the national authority have entertained the daring design of invading the territories of Spain. The atrocity of this measure and its probable effects are pointed out in the Proclamation of the President of the United States herewith delivered to you.
“If this design should be persisted in or hereafter revived and any such parties should make their appearance in the neighbourhood of your garrison and you should be well informed that they are armed and equiped for war and entertain the criminal intention described in the Presidents proclamation you are to send to them some person in whose veracity you could confide, and if such person should be a peace officer he should be the most proper Messenger and warn them of their evil proceedings and forbid their attempting to pass the Fort at their peril. But if notwithstanding every peacable effort to persuade them to abandon their criminal design they should still persist in their attempts to pass down the Ohio, you are to use every military means in your power for preventing them—and for which this shall be your sufficient justification provided you have taken all the pacific steps before directed” (MiU-C: Wayne Letterbooks).