The Jay Papers I: Mission To Spain

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Be so kind as to present our Regards and best Wishes to your Mama, Mrs. Livingston and the Rest of the Family.

I am Dear Robert Your Friend J OHN J AY

Since Jay was uncertain whether or not the court at Madrid was prepared to give him accreditation as a minister plenipotentiary from the thirteen rebellious American states, he prudently stayed at Cadiz and dispatched the secretary of the mission, William Carmichael, to proceed to the capital and report back. Unlike Jay, Carmichael had a passable command of Spanish. He was also a clever and ambitious intriguer —Jay did not, in fact, entirely trust him—with some background in the handling of Congress’s business in Europe. In the long run, however, he was to prove a good deal more affable and resilient in dealing with the Spaniards than his unbending and righteous superior; when Jay was called to Paris at the end of his mission in Spain, Carmichael succeeded him as American representative at Madrid.

Unfortunately for Jay, he followed Gérard’s advice and instructed Carmichael to make his overtures to Don José de Gálvez ( spelled “Galvaise” by Jay ), Minister of the Indies, the Spanish equivalent of Colonial Secretary; in fact, the Conde de Floridablanca, the excitable foreign minister and principal adviser of Charles III, regarded the American negotiations as his private preserve. Thus, ineptly, the mission got off on the wrong foot. It was not helped by an overoptimistic scouting report from Carmichael, who told Jay that all was well between Spain and America’s ally, France, and implied that Jay himself would be well received at court. Thus encouraged, Jay set out with his family in a mule-drawn carriage on the dusty, four-hundred-mile journey from Cadiz to Madrid, passing through country immortalized in Don Quixote de la Mancha, suffering the discomforts of Spanish inns, and observing the rural life captured by Goya in his immortal canvases of the Spanish countryside ( see pages 12 through 15 ).

They reached the handsomely laid out capital on April 4, 1780. Jay quickly learned that neither the frugal and pious Charles III nor the Conde de Floridablanca had any intention of recognizing the independence of the United States until England was defeated. Not only that, but the Spanish king and his foreign minister even had regrets about France’s precipitate action in making an alliance with America, and had begun to reappraise the military value of their own alliance with their Bourbon partner. The Spanish government, with its own vast colonial empire in the New World, did not approve of revolutions, certainly not of successful ones. Instead of independence, Floridablanca preferred to see the American revolutionaries forced to accept the status of feudal dependencies of George III, a status comparable to the relation between the central European states and the Empire of Maria Theresa.

Jay set up an establishment in San Mateo Street, but was soon to be engaged in following the court from country seat to country seat, for Charles III, to pursue the pleasures of the hunt, would move from his winter capital of El Pardo, just nine miles from Madrid, to Aranjuez, some twenty-six miles from Madrid, and then to the north at the two sites of El Escorial and San lldefonso. Sally Jay, who was then pregnant, stayed in Madrid. Her husband, cooped up in Aranjuez in a single room in a dingy boarding house, gives us a shocking picture of the straits to which America’s unaccredited minister plenipotentiary was reduced. He confided his feelings to Livingston.

Madrid 23 May 1780

Dear Robert.