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The Jay Papers I: Mission To Spain
Februrary 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 2
John Jay was only thirty-three when Congress picked him for the delicate assignment to Madrid. A tall, spare figure with aristocratic bearing (left), he never forgot for a moment that he was a lawyer, and lie had a lawyer’s capacity for close analysis and a lawyer’s caution both in action and language. Lacking neither self-assurance nor self-esteem, he had his own peculiar streak of obstinacy and was the kind of man who is not easily intimidated. These were some of the reasons behind his selection. But Congress also felt that court circles at Madrid would be impressed by Jay’s rank among the patriots and believed that he would favor France’s war aims and thereby prove a less obnoxious choice than some of the volubly anti-Gallican members of the isolationist wing of Congress.
France’s good will was important. She had come into the war as an ally of America in early 1778. Spain had secretly agreed to intervene on France’s side in the spring of 1779 and was openly at war with England a few months later. Sympathetic to one Bourbon house, Jay might be counted upon to persuade the frugal, devout, and highly intelligent Charles III (right), the hawk-visaged Bourbon ruler of Spain, of the merits of America’s cause.
America had great expectations of Spain, including large-scale aid and even an alliance. She also assumed that Spain, once she was in the war, would be willing to allow Americans to ship goods down the Mississippi, which, as a result of a transfer of territory from France to Spain in 1763, was now Spain’s exclusive preserve. There was little point in talking about a trans-Appalachian nation while navigation of the Mississippi was barred to its people. The furtherance of all these expectations, then, was John Jay’s mission when he and his wife of five years, Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, stepped aboard the Continental frigate Confederacy at Chester, Pennsylvania, on Delaware Bay on October 20, 1779.
Sarah was the beautiful and gracious daughter of William Livingston, governor of New Jersey and a leading patriot intellectual. She worshipped her “Mr. Jay,” senior to her by ten years, and he in turn was deeply in love with his “Sally.” Their marriage proved a tender and affectionate, as well as a durable, partnership. The Jays left their three-and-a-half-year-old son Peter Augustus in the care of Sally’s parents, but took in his place a twelve-year-old nephew, Peter Jay Mtinro. In addition, Jay, doubtless by persuasion of his wife, chose as his personal secretary Sally’s illnatured and somewhat overbearing brother, Colonel Henry Brockholst Livingston, a twenty-two-year-old veteran of the Revolutionary War. Also accompanying the Jays was William Carmichael of Maryland, whom Congress had designated as secretary to the Jay mission. Among their fellow passengers was jay’s friend Conrad Alexandre Gérard, the retiring French minister plenipotentiary to the United States, and Mme. Gérard.
Before departure, Sally received a touching farewell message from her father as well as a greeting from General Washington. To his boyhood friend and former law partner Robert R. Livingston (a second cousin of Sally’s), soon to be Secretary for Foreign Affairs, John Jay sent a homemade private cipher.
Trenton, 7 October 1779
It is with great pain that I am obliged to part with you across a wide Ocean, and to a foreign Land. … may God Almighty keep you in his holy Protection, and if it should please him to take you out of this World, receive you into a better. And pray my dear Child, suffer not the Gaities and Amusements of the World, and the particular Avocations of what is called high Life , to banish from your Mind an habitual sense of an all-present Deity, or to interrupt you in paying him the homage you owe Him. With my most ardent Wishes for your good Voyage and safe Return I am
your affectionate Father W IL. L IVINGSTON
West-point, October 7th, 1779
General Washington presents his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay. Honoured in her request by General St. Glair he takes pleasure in presenting the inclosed [a lock of Washington’s hair], with thanks lor so polite a testimony of her approbation and esteem. He wishes most fervently, that prosperous gales —and unruffled Sea—and every thing pleasing and desirable, may smooth the path she is about to walk in.
On Board the Confederacy near Reedy Island, 25 October, 1779
Accept my Thanks for your very friendly Letter. It recalled to my Mind many Circumstances on which it always dwells with Pleasure. I should have been happy in a personal Interview before my Departure, but since that has become impossible, let us endeavour to supply it by a regular and constant correspondence. To render this the more useful and satisfactory a Cypher will be necessary. There are twenty six Letters in our alphabet. Take twenty six Numbers in Lieu of them thus. [Jay then listed the letters of the alphabet and arbitrarily assigned a numerical equivalent to each. Thus, a was 5, d was 11, h was to, etc.]
Remember in writing in this Way to place a , after each number, and a ; or : or a - after each Word. This will prevent Confusion. It will be unnecessary to write a whole Letter in Cypher. So many Words in Cypher as will blind the Sense will be sufficient, and more safe, as a Discovery will thereby be rendered more difficult. God bless you.
I am your affectionate Friend J OHN J AY
The stormy voyage of the Confederacy is depicted in the letters of Sally Jay to her mother, Susannah French Livingston. Jay himself appears to have been much too seasick to attend to formal correspondence. Sally’s first letter is dated December 12.
My dear mama,
… We embarked at Chester on the aoth of October, but did not lose sight of land ’till the 26th, when we launched out to sea with a brisk gale. The very first evening we were all seized with that most disagreeable sickness peculiar to our situation; my brother, Peter, and myself soon recovered, but my dear Mr. Jay suffered exceedingly at least five weeks and was surprisingly reduced; I imagine his health would have been much sooner restored had not our passage been so very unpleasant.
About 4 o’Clock in the morning of the 7th of November, we were alarmed by an unusual noise upon deck, and what particularly surprised me, was the lamentations of persons in distress: I called upon the Captain to inform me the cause of this confusion that I imagined to prevail; but my brother desired me to re’main perfectly composed, for that he had been upon deck but an half an hour before and left every thing in perfect security.
Perfect security! Vain words! don’t you think so mamma? And so indeed they proved. For in that small space of time we had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-sprit, fore-mast, main-mast, and missenmast; so that we were in an awkward situation rendered still more so by a pretty high southeast wind and a very rough sea that prevailed then; however our misfortunes were only began, the injury received by our rudder, the next morning, served to compleat them. … let my benevolent mamma imagine the dangerous situation of more than 300 souls tossed about in the midst of the ocean, in a vessel dismasted and under no command [ i.e. , rudderless] at a season too that threatned approaching inclemency of weather. … I … assure you that in no period of our distress, though ever so alarming did 1 once repine, but incited by his [Jay’s] amiable example, I gave fear to the winds and chearfully resigned myself to the dispensations of the Almighty.
Your whole family love Mr. Jay, hut you arc not acquainted with half his worth, nor indeed are any of his friends, for his modesty is equal to his merit. It is the property of a diamond (I’ve been told) to appear most brilliant in the dark; and surely a good man never shines to greater advantage than in the gloomy hour of adversity; in scenes of that kind 1 have lately beheld with pleasure, and even admiration, the firmness and serenity of mind that evidently shone out in the countenance of our invaluable friend. May he long, very long, be preserved a blessing to his connections and a useful as well as disinterested friend to his Country.… After our misfortunes on the 7th and 8th of November … a council of the officers was held to consider where it was most expedient to bend our course and it was unanimously concluded by them that it would be impossible to reach Europe at this season, with a ship in the condition that ours was. They were likewise united in opinion that the southern direction was the only one that offered a prospect of safety, and of the Islands, Martinico [Martinique] was the most eligible, for it’s commodious harbour and the probability of being supplied with materials to refit: accordingly the first fair wind that offered (which was not ‘till near three weeks from the above mentioned Aera) was embraced in pursuance of the advice given by the officers: and after having passed through very blustering, squally latitudes, we are now in smooth seas, having the advantage of trade-winds which blow directly for the Island; nor are we, if the calculations made are just, more than 220 miles distant from the destined port.
… [December 7] happened to be a merry [day] to the sailors … for crossing the tropick [ i.e. , of Cancer] they insisted upon an antient custom of shaving and ducking every person that had not crossed it before excepting only those who paid their fine. I could not forbear smiling at Peier’s fate, who had been diverting himself with observing the operation performed on many of them, ‘till they exclaimed at the injustice of exempting him, and insisted upon his being tarred at least. … Peter, sobbing, declared that had not his new coat been spoilt, lie would not have regretted so much the difficulty of getting rid of the tar. Apropos of Peter, his behaviour throughout this voyage has charmed me; I thought 1 could trace his grand-father’s firmness in the equanimity of the child. May the resemblance be increased and perpetuated in every disposition and action of his life. …
Martinico, December 26th, 1779
Join with me, my dear mamma and sisters in grateful acknowledgements to that supreme Being whose indulgent care lias preserved your friends through every danger, and permitted them to arrive in health in a most delightful Island, furnished with every thing necessary for health and almost every thing that can contribute to pleasure. On the 18th inst. early in the morning I was agreeably surprised to find that we were sailing [close] along the [most] verdant, romantic country I ever beheld. In that instant every disagreeable sensation arising from unpleasing circumstances during our voyage, gave place to the more mild and delightful emotions of gratitude.
At breakfast we were visited by some of the planters who live near the shore, and from them we learnt that Mr. [William] Bingham [of Philadelphia, agent for the Continental Congress in the West Indies] was still at St. Pierre; when we arrived opposite to that City Mr. Jay wrote him a letter, and my brother waited upon him; upon which Mr. Bingham very politely returned with the Colonel and insisted upon our resideing with him during our stay at Martinique; and never was I more charmed with any thing of the kind than with the polite friendly reception we met with from that gentleman. The two families most dear to me would be delighted with this Island. The neatness that prevails here cannot be exceeded and frankly I confess I never saw it equalled.
How mistaken was I as to the character of our allies! The Admiral Le Motte Piquet has granted to Mr. Gerard’s request a Frigate to convey us to France, and we shall sail from this place the 28th inst. …
And now I must bid adieu to my best beloved friends. Think not any more that I have forgotten you.…
May the Almighty guard, protect and bless, my ever dear, my ever valued friends. Embrace my little blessing [young Peter Augustus]. My heart is too sensibly affected to proceed, and to discontinue is like parting a new. Adieu!
S A. J AY
A brief description of Martinique and of the second leg of the journey, from Martinique to Spain, is furnished by Jay in a letter to Robert R. Livingston written shortly after his arrival in Cadiz. Now that he was actually in Spain, he thought it prudent to adopt a slightly more complicated code for his correspondence with his friend.
Cadiz, 19th February 1780
… We left Martinico the 28th December in the Aurora a French Frigate commanded by [Admiral La Motte-Picquet] a very genteel agreeable Man. He went by the Way of St. Thomas to avoid Danger [from the British fleet]; and arrived here the 22d of last Month. If when you have nothing else to do, you should consult your Map, you will percieve that we had a very uncommon short Passage. The Aurora is a dull Sailor, but we were favored with Winds constantly fair, and I may add strong. The Marquis was bound to Toulon, from whence we expected to have gone to Paris, and from thence over the Pyrenees to Madrid. But on touching here for Intelligence, we learned that Admiral [Sir George] Rodney had saved us the necessity of going that round about Way to Madrid, he having gained an undoubted Superiority in the Mediterranean. This Point being settled, I immediately made the necessary Communications to the Spanish Ministry, from whom I am now in daily Expectation of recieving Dispatches.
The Cypher I sent you has become useless, and must be omitted. Take the following, vizt. the second part of Boyers Dictionary, in which the English is placed before the French. It is not paged. You will therefore number the Pages, marking the first page with No. 1, and so on. In each page there are three Columns—let c denote the first, a the second, and b third. Count the number of words from the Top, to the one you mean to use, inclusive, and add seven to it. Thus, for Instance, the word abject is the third word, in the third Column, of the second Page; and is to be written in Cypher as follows—2-b-10. The Dictionary I have was printed in London in the Year 1771 and is called the thirteenth Edition with large additions.
… Be particular in informing me whether this Letter comes to your Hands free from Marks of Inspection. I shall put a Wafer under the Seal; compare the Impression with those you have formerly recieved from me. If you should have Reason to suspect that all is not fair, I will on being informed of it send you another Cypher. Be cautious what you write in the common Way, as I am persuaded few Letters would reach me thro the Post Offices of France or Spain uninspected.
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
… I am here in a disagreable Situation. Congress have made me no Remittances—the small Credit I had on Doctr. [Benjamin] Franklin [then in Paris] is expended. The Idea of being maintained by the Court of Spain is humiliating, and therefore not for the public Good. The Salary allowed me is greatly inadequate—no part of Europe is so expensive—nor did I ever live so oeconomically. The Court is never stationary—moving from Madrid to the Pardo, then to Aranjues—thence to St. El Defonso—thence to the Escurial—in perpetual Rotation. To keep a House at each place is not within the Limits of my Finances—to take ready furnished Lodgings and keep my own Table at each, is beyond Belief expensive. I live at Aranjues, in a Posada [inn], in one single Room, with but one Servant, and without a Carriage. When I left Philadelphia every thing was cheaper there than here. Spain does not cloath its Inhabitants—their Butter Cheese fine Linnen, fine Silks, and fine Cloths, come from France Holland etc. They have imposed an exorbitant Duty on all foreign Commodities, and a heavy Tax is laid on Eatables sold in the Market. The Sum allowed me will let me live, but not as I ought to do—a paltry post Chaise drawn by three Mules costs me every Time I go to or from here to Aranjues (7 Leagues) ten Dollars—all things in that Proportion. To Day I am to try a pair of Mules for which I am asked 480 Dollars—they tell me they are very cheap. Yesterday I refused a pair, the Price of which was 640 Dollars. I cannot get a plain decent Carriage and Harness under 870 Dollars. Judge of my Situation—so circumstanced I cannot employ Couriers to carry my Dispatches to the Sea Side or to France. My Letters by the Post are all opened. Fortunately on this occasion Mr. [Richard] Harrison [American agent at Cadiz, whom Jay often used as an unofficial courier] now going to Cadiz will take my Letters. With whatever Allowance Congress may make, I shall be content. I know how and am determined to live agréable to my Circumstances. If Inconveniences result from their being too narrow, they will be public ones. They therefore merit the Consideration of Congress…
I am your Friend John Jay∗
∗This letter is published by permission of the New-York Historical Society.
Jay did not come face to face with Floridablanca until May 11, 1780, almost four months after arriving at Cadiz, but a considerable correspondence preceded the confrontation. From the Par do, Floridablanca had informed Jay at the end of February that until the bases for an alliance with Spain were disclosed, his Majesty felt that it would not be “proper” for Jay “to assume a formal character, which must depend on a public acknowledgment and future treaty.” “Divested of the gloss which its politeness spreads over it,” Jay informed the president of Congress, Floridablanca’s pronouncement meant that the United States would be recognized only when and if it agreed to certain terms. Gérard had warned Jay that Congress’s insistence on America’s sharing the navigation of the Mississippi might well prove a stumbling block, but Jay was not willing to drop this demand. “As affairs are now circumstanced,” he wrote Congress, “it would, in my opinion, be better for America to have no treaty with Spain than to purchase one on such servile terms. There was a time when it might have been proper to have given that country something for their making common cause with us, but that day is now past. Spain is at war with Britain.”
Floridablanca, preliminary to a meeting, asked Jay for a lengthy report on “the civil and military state of the American provinces”—he could not bring himself to say “states”—and their resources. Jay labored over his reply for several weeks until he had amassed and organized an impressive body of data.
Then, late in April, Jay learned that some months before, Congress, jumping the gun in anticipation of a loan from Spain, had drawn bills of exchange upon Jay for 100,000 pounds sterling payable at sight in six months; only a month now remained before the bills would fall due, and Jay was reduced to the humilia- tion of informing Floridablanca of their existence and asking for immediate payment. In his letter Jay conceded that Congress’s action might appear “indelicate,” but offered as an excuse the impossibility of notifying the King earlier because of his own protracted voyage to Spain.
Accordingly, it was a wary foreign minister who confronted John Jay in person at Aranjuez, where the court was staying, on May 11, 1780. The Conde de Floridablanca was, like his American visitor, a man of middle-class background bred to the law. Fifteen years Jay’s senior, he was as vain as the New Yorker and had already won a reputation both for ruthlessness to political rivals and for a temper that could not brook contradiction.
Jay spoke no Spanish, Floridablanca no English. In this and future conferences between the two, Carmichael acted as translator; immediately afterward he would sit down and commit what had been said to paper. In this way Jay kept a running account of his meetings with the Foreign Minister, which he sent to Congress along with comments of his own. Those that have hitherto appeared in print have been inaccurately reproduced, and significant cipher portions, herein decoded, have in the past been omitted.
As the two diplomats spoke, Jay soon realized that the Spaniards expected a quid for the quo he sought.
Aranjuez 11th May 1780
… [Floridablanca] observed that he intended to speak on two Points. The first related to the Letter Mr. Jay had written to him, on the Subject of Bills of Exchange drawn on him by Congress. … He said that the last Year he should have found no Difficulty on that Head, but that at present, although Spain had Money, she was in the Situation of Tantalus, who with Water in View could not make use of it—alluding to the Revenue arising from their Possessions in America, which they were not able to draw from thence [because of the British blockade]. That their Expenses in the year 1779 had been so great, particularly for the Marine, as to oblige them to make large Loans, which they were negotiating at present. He entered into a Summary of those Expenses, and particularized the enormous Expense of supporting thirty five Ships of the Line and Frigates in French Ports.
Floridablanca was referring to an ill-fated Franco-Spanish naval armada assembled in the summer of 1779 to spearhead an invasion of England. Plagued by a smallpox epidemic and by mismanagement for which both allies shared the blame, the joint fleet maneuvered ineffectively in the Channel waters until good sailing weather was gone, and the invasion fizzled out.
This joined to the other Expenses… rendered it difficult for the King to do for America what he could have done easily in the last Year. … yet that it was his Majesty’s Intentions to give America all the Assistance in his Power. …
In order to facilitate this, he said it was necessary to make some overtures for a Contract … and then he pointed out the object most essential to the Interests of Spain at the present Conjuncture. He said that for their Marine they wanted light Frigates, Cutters, or swift sailing Vessels of that Size. … He also mentioned Timber for Vessels, but said that was an Article, which was not so immediately necessary, though it might be an Object of Consequence in future.…
With respect to the Bills of Exchange which might be presented, he said that at the End of the present Year or in the Beginning of the next, he would have it in his Power to advance 25,000, 30,000 or 40,000 Pounds Sterling, and in the mean Time, should these Bills be presented for Payment, he would take such measures as would satisfy the owners of them Vizt., By engaging in the Name of his Majesty to pay them, observing that the Kings good Faith and Credit, was so well known, that he did not imagine this would be a difficult matter.…
The Count then proceeded to the second Point Vizt., with Respect to the Treaty in Contemplation between Spain and America.… He … [observed] That there was but one obstacle, from which he apprehended any great Difficulty in forming a Treaty with America, and plainly intimated that this arose from the Pretensions of America to the Navigation of the Mississippi. He repeated the Information which the Court had received from Monsieur Miralles [Juan de Miralles, Spanish agent to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia], that Congress had at one Time relinquished that Object; That he also knew from the same Source that afterwards they had made it an essential Point of the Treaty. He expressed his uneasiness on this Subject, and entered largely into the Views of Spain with respect to the Boundaries (He … expressed their Resolution if possible of excluding the English entirely from the Gulf of Mexico.) they wished to fix by a Treaty which he hoped would be perpetual between the two Countries. He spoke amply of the King’s anxiety, Resolution and Firmness on this Point, and insinuated a wish that some method might be fallen upon to remove this Obstacle.…
Mr. Jay here took an Opportunity to mention that many of the States were bounded by that River, and were highly interested in its Navigation, but observed that they were equally inclined to enter into any amicable Regulations, which might prevent any Inconveniences with Respect to Contraband or other Objects which might excite the Uneasiness of Spain.
The Count still however appeared to be fully of Opinion that this was an Object that the King had so much at Heart, that he would never relinquish it; adding however that he hoped some middle Way might be hit on which would pave the way to get over this Difficulty and desired Mr. Jay to turn his thoughts and attention to the Subject.…
From that initial conference at Aranjuez on May 11, it was apparent to Jay that he was in for a series of fencing matches with a master of thrust, parry, and deception. It was also clear to him that Spain had financial troubles of her own, and furthermore that Congress’s insistence on obtaining for America the free navigation of the Mississippi would prove the major stumbling block to a treaty.
Meanwhile, Jay was becoming suspicious of the presence at the Spanish court of Father Thomas Hussey, an Irish priest, and of an English playwright named Richard Cumberland. Cumberland was particularly conspicuous; with his wife and two flirtatious daughters he had taken a large house in Madrid and was openly received at court and presented with gifts by the King. For a nation at war with England to be so ostentatiously cordial to an Englishman, Jay reflected, was very odd indeed; the contrast with his own poor-relation status was painful. Evidently Jay’s suspicions reached Floridablanca, possibly through the French ambassador, the Comte de Montmorin. The result was that the Foreign Minister asked Jay and Carmichael to confer with him in his office on the evening of June 2.
Aranjues, 2d June 1780
… [Floridablanca said] that his reason for desiring to see [Jay] at present, proceeded from something mentioned to him by the French Ambassador, of which he supposed he was Informed. He recapitulated what he had before mentioned of the Kings good Faith, and favorable disposition towards America.… After these reflections and assurances, He told Mr. Jay that the Person lately from England by the way of Portugal [Father Hussey] was the Chaplain of their Former Embassy at London, that he had been there for some time on his private Affairs, and had at the same Time Instructions concerning an exchange of Prisoners, which their sufferings rendered expedient, that the Death of an Uncle, a Chaplain of the Court had obliged him to return. That an English Gentleman and his Family [Cumberland] had come to Lisbon with him under the pretext or really on Account of the Ill Health of a Daughter, to whom the Duke of Dorset was much attached; That the opposition made by his friends to the marriage had affected her Health, and that this Family was desirous of passing through Spain to Italy. He added that this Gentleman was one of Lord George Germaine’s [the British Colonial Secretary] Secretaries, and would perhaps have some proposals to make for an exchange of Prisoners, and possibly others of a different Nature, which he assured Mr. Jay should be communicated to him … candidly.… He desired Mr. Jay, therefore to make himself easy on this Subject giving new assurances of the King’s strict regard to Justice and good Faith and of his disposition to assist America.
Mr. Jay begged him to be persuaded of the perfect confidence of America, and his own, and of their reliance on the good Faith, Justice, and Honor of his Catholic Majesty; that he had no other apprehension from the circumstance of English mens resorting to this Court, than that the enemy would on this, as on former occasions avail themselves of it, by endeavoring to alarm and deceive our People.…
Floridablanca was disingenuous in his remarks to Jay about Hussey and Cumberland. The facts seem to show that the intriguing Irish priest was a double agent working for both Spain and England. He and the time-serving English playwright had been authorized by the British Foreign Office to enter into secret talks with Spain to win that nation away from her alliance with France and thus scotch any chance of Spain’s recognition of the rebellious Thirteen Colonies. The Cumberland-Hussey negotiations finally bogged down over the issue of Gibraltar, which England had seized in 1704. Spain demanded its return; England refused to allow Cumberland to offer it. Jay, however, was unable to capitalize on that eventuality.
In the ensuing days, Floridablanca seemed evasive. Jay, now reconciled to protracted negotiations, reported to John Adams: “This Court seems to have great respect for the old adage festina lente, at least as applied to our independence.” Much as he would like to see “perfect amity and cordial affection” between America and her Spanish neighbors, he could not take such an eventuality for granted. “I shall in all my letters advise Congress to rely principally on themselves; to fight out their own cause at any hazard, with spirit, and not to rely too much on the expectation of events which may never happen.”
A few days later Floridablanca alluded once more to the proposal, made in the opening conference, that America supply warships in return for Spanish funds. Jay promptly rejoined that timber, masts, and naval stores as well as labor cost money, the last being one commodity in short supply with Congress. Should the United States put the money advanced by Spain into building frigates for her, the net gain to America would be nil. Should, in the meantime, Congress’s bills be protested, would it not deal a blow to the credit of the United States? Would it not be calculated to allow the enemy to draw conclusions as to “the inability of Spain to advance the sum in question?” In a follow-up note to Floridablanca, Jay was completely frank. “Believe me, sir” he wrote, “the United States will not be able to pay their debts during the war, and therefore any plan whatever calculated on a contrary position must be fruitless.” He was prepared to pledge the faith of the United States for repayment with “a reasonable interest,” after the war, of such sums as might be loaned by Spain. “What more can I offer? What more can they do?” he pleaded. Once more Floridablanca made it clear that there was one thing the United States could do: renounce its claims to the navigation of the Mississippi.
In a niggardly gesture Floridablanca informed Jay that the King was prepared to pay a bill of $333 which Jay had presented, but, as Jay observed to Congress, the Minister’s note “looked dry, and indicated a degree of irritation.” Jay felt that this was no time to press for the treaty, and he found himself reduced to the role of a humble supplicant for funds to pay bills Congress had recklessly drawn against him for supplies from abroad. A conference with Floridablanca on July 5 followed hard on the heels of the news reaching Madrid that Charleston had fallen to the British. “The effect of it,” Jay remarked in a letter to the president of Congress, “was as visible the next day as that of a hard night’s frost on young leaves.”
Madrid, July the 5th, 1780
… After the usual compliments the bad News relative to the surrender of Charlestown, just received, became the Topic of conversation. The Count … expressed his Sorrow on the occasion, but … seemed to think it strange that the place had not been better defended, and that more vigorous measures had not been taken to impede the Enemy’s progress … Mr. Jay replied that probably when all circumstances relative to this Affair were known, there might be reasons which would account for the conduct of the Americans on this occasion; to the Truth of which remark the Count appeared to assent. [Floridablanca] mentioned the death of Mr. Miralles [at Washington’s Morristown encampment at the end of April] and regretted his loss at this time. … He said he had recommended to his Majesty a Person to succeed him, whom he knew, that spoke English whom he expected soon, and to whom he would explain his Ideas on the Subject of the Bills, and on other matters, touching which Mr. Jay had written to him, and who would confer also with Mr. Jay on those Subjects.…
He then proceeded to speak of the Bills of exchange, in the possession of the Messrs. Joyce [a mercantile house of Bilbao], and seemed to be surprised that that House should be possessed of so many of them. He advised Mr. Jay to be cautious of those Gentlemen, saying that they were as much English in their Hearts, as the Ministry of that Country;… [Floridablanca then] spoke much of the deranged State of our Finances, and Credit, of the advantages taken of Congress by Merchants and others, who availed themselves of that circumstance, which he called cruel Extortions. …
He asked Mr. Jay, if America could not furnish Spain with Masts and Ship Timber. Mr. Jay replied that those articles might be obtained there. The Count then said that he would defer further remarks on this Head, ‘till the arrival of the Person whom he expected would succeed Mr. Miralles, and appeared desirous of leaving this subject, and, indeed, all other matters relative to American affairs, to be discussed when he came.…
Mr. Jay reminded his Excellency in a delicate manner of the Supplies of Clothing etc. etc. [for Washington’s troops] which had been promised in a former Conference, and said that if they could be sent in Autumn, they would be essentially useful. The Count assured him that measures would be taken for this purpose, with the Person so often hinted at in the course of the Conference, that probably these Goods would be embarked from Bilboa, as everything was so dear at Cadis. He also once more told Mr. Jay that at all events he might accept the Bills presented by Messieurs Joyce payable at Bilboa—Though he appeared to wish that this measure might be delayed for a fortnight if possible.…
In July there occurred an event which helped brighten Jay’s drab and discouraging routine of diplomacy and lighten the burdens of enforced residence in an uncongenial and alien land. In an unusually jolly letter, Jay passed on the good news to Sally’s father.
Madrid 14 July 1780
I give you Joy—there is a little Stranger here, who I hope will one Day have the Pleasure of calling you Grandfather. On the 9th Instant Sally was delivered of a Daughter as like her Brother as two Children can be. The Mother is in a fair Way and the Child thrives finely. It has as yet no Name nor am I certain what it will be. The old Goody [nurse] has a great Mind to save it from Limbo (a Spanish Name for a Dark Receptacle for the Souls of Infants who die unbaptized). About Eight Days ago she presented Mrs. Jay with the Pictures of [here Jay evidently intended to fill in the name of some patron saints, but mailed the letter without finding out which saints they were] Who I presume have succeeded the ancient Goddesses in presiding over Births. If these Saints had any thing to do with it we are much obliged to them, for [Sally] had a fine Time of it.
When the Child was born [the nurse] proposed, as being customary here, to give it the Name of the Saint of that Day—for they are so happy as to have at least one Saint for every Day in the Year. But as the Saints are at War with us Heretics we shall name it after some Sinner that will probably have more affection for it. Wonder on looking over the Almanack I found that the gth July was the Day of St. Carlo who was a pope, and as neither that Name or office except in the Case of pope Joan ever appertained to a Female I did not see how the old Ladys Advice could be followed in this Instance. I was nevertheless mistaken in supposing this Difficulty insuperable for in similar Cases it seems the Name of Papa which is Spanish for pope is taken, as being sufficiently feminine for the most delicate Virgin. However as the popes are as clever as the old Norman Lawyers were in drawing extensive Conclusions from weak premisses, and might possibly from such a Circumstance claim some Right to my little Girl, whom I wish not to embarrass with any Disputes with the See of Rome, I think it will be most prudent to let her take her Chance under the Name of Susanna who was a good Sort of a Woman and nobly resisted the lasivious Attacks of two Inquisitor Generals, whom the Latin Bible have in Compliment I suppose to the Presbyterians stiled Presbyters .
I am Dear Sir with sincere Regard Your most obedient Servant [J OHN J AY ]
The joy was short-lived, as Sally, with tears in her eyes, reported to her “mamma.”
Madrid, August 28th 1780
Had I wrote to my dear mamma a fortnight ago while my whole heart overflowed with joy and gratitude for the birth of a lovely daughter, I am sure every line must have conveyed pleasure to the best of parents, who well knows the affection of a mother. Every circumstance united in rendering that event delightful to us—excluded the society of our most intimate friends, behold us in a country, whose customs, language and religion are the very reverse of our own; without connections, without friends; judge then if Heaven could have bestowed a more acceptable present—nor was the present deficient in any thing that was necessary to endear it to us: rather let me say that every wish of my heart was amply answered in the precious gift—in her charming countenance I beheld at once the softened resemblance of her father and absent brother, her little form was perfect symmetry; and nature, by warding off those disorders that generally attack infants, seemed to promise a healthy constitution added to those circumstances, her very name increased my pleasure.… When I used to look at her every idea less pleasant vanished in a moment, scenes of continued and future bliss still rose to view, and while I clasped her to my bosom my happiness appeared compleat. Alasl mamma how frail are all sublunary enjoyments! But I must endeavor to recollect myself.
On Monday the aand day after the birth of my little innocent, we perceived that she had a fever, but were not apprehensive of danger until the next day when it was attended with a fit. On Wednesday the convulsions increased, and on Thursday she was the whole day in one continued fit, nor could she close her little eye-lids till Fryday morning the 4th of August at 4 o’Clock, when wearied with pain, the little sufferer found rest in—Excuse my tears—you too mamma have wept on similar occasions. Maternal tenderness causes them to flow, and reason, though it moderates distress, cannot intirely restrain our grief, nor do I think it should be wished. For why should Heaven (in every purpose wise) have endowed it’s lovely messenger with so many graces, but to captivate our hearts and excite them by a contemplation on the beloved object of our affection, to rise above those expectations that rather amuse than improve, and extend our views even to those regions of bliss where she has arrived before us—while my mind continues in its present frame: I look upon the tributes my child has paid to nature as the commencement of her immortality, and endeavor to acquiesce in the dispensations of the all-wise disposer of events; and if my heart continues in proper subjection to the divine will, then will she not have sickened, not have dyed in vain.
… Mr. Jay is at present absent, the Court being at St. Ildefonso between 13 and 14 leagues from hence: and I own I never feel so intirely myself as when in his company, for ‘tis then that the silent encouragement I receive from his steady, modest virtue, operates most powerfully upon my mind: and I may add upon my conduct; for what can I fear, or how can I repine, when I behold him who is equally interested, composed in danger, resigned in affliction, and even possessing a chearful disposition in every circumstance- excuse me my dear mamma, excuse my officious pen, perhaps too ready to obey the dictates of my heart, but he really is virtue’s own self.…
I am with the sincerest affection, ever yours S ARAH J AY
During the hot summer of 1780, Jay faced, in addition to his private grief, a horde of creditors of the Congress claiming their pound of flesh. Jay waited with mounting impatience for action from Spain. On August 15, 18, and 25 he wrote Floridablanca reminding him of his acute embarrassment. There was no answer. When Jay called, he was told the Minister was sick, although others had seen Floridablanca that morning. As Jay himself told the Congress, “it appeared to me proper to mention my embarrassments to the French ambassador, who had always been friendly, and ask his advice and aid on the subject.” To the Comte de Montmorin, therefore, he related the long and sorry chronicle of his shabby treatment at Floridablanca’s hands; then he asked the Frenchman’s advice about what he should do.
St. Ildefonso, 27th August 1780
… The Ambassador told Mr. Jay that he ought to ask an Audience of the Minister. To this Mr. Jay replied that he could not hope to have an answer to this request, as he had not been able to procure one to the different applications he had already made.… [The Comte de Montmorin] then asked Mr. Jay, if he had written to Congress, to stop drawing Bills on him. Mr. Jay replied, that he could not with propriety give such information to Congress … particularly [after] the Minister’s declaration that he would be able to furnish him with thirty or forty thousand pounds Sterling at the end of the present or commencement of the next Year, and that in the mean time other arrangements might be taken to pay such Bills as might become due after that Period; He added that if [Floridablanca] had candidly told him that he could not furnish him with Money to pay the Bills, he should then immediately have informed Congress of it, who would have taken of course the proper measures on the Occasion.… [Montmorin] seemed to think the Spanish Minister would pay the Bills that had been already presented.…
The Conference ended with a promise of the Count de Montmorin that he would endeavour to speak to the Count de Florida Bianca on the Subject, but that he was afraid he should not be able to do it fully until Wednesday next.
W M. C ARMICHAEL , Secretary .
Jay, transmitting Carmichael’s notes to Congress, added some notes of his own that tell what happened next—and reveal the struggle Jay was having with his own fierce pride and his determination to preserve America’s national honor.
… On Wednesday Afternoon the 3oth August, I waited on the Ambassador to know the result of the Conversation he had promised to have with the Minister on our Affairs. He did not appear very glad to see me. I asked him whether he had seen the Minister and conversed with him on our affairs. He said he had seen the Minister, but that as Count D’Estaing was present, he had only some general and cursory conversation with him and, slipping away from that Topic, went on to observe that I would do well to write another Letter to the Minister mentioning the number of Letters I had already written, my arrival here, and my desire of a Conference with him. I told the Ambassador that while four Letters on the Subject remained unanswered, it could not be necessary to write a fifth.… I observed to him further, that this Conduct accorded ill with the Ministers assurances; That unless I had met with more tenderness from the Holders of the Bills, they would have been returned noted for non-acceptance. That if such an Event should at last take place after the Repeated promises, and declarations of the Minister, there would of necessity be an End to the Confidence of America in the Court of Spain. He replied that he hoped things would take a more favorable turn, that to his knowledge the Minister had been of late much occupied and perplexed with business, that I ought not to be affected with the Inattention of his Conduct. That … he would by all means advise me to write the Minister another Letter praying an audience.
I answered that the object of my coming to Spain was to make propositions not supplications , and that I should forbear troubling the Minister with further Letters ‘till he should be more disposed to attend to them. That I considered America as being, and to continue Independent in fact , and that … I did not imagine Congress would agree to purchase from Spain the acknowledgment of an undeniable fact, at the Price she demanded for it. That I intended to abide Patiently the fate of the Bills, and should transmit to Congress an Account of all matters relative to them. That I should then write the Minister another letter on the Subject of the Treaty, and if that should be treated with like neglect, or if I should be informed that his Catholic Majesty declined going into that Measure, I should then consider my Business as at an End, and proceed to take the necessary Measures for returning to America.…
The Ambassador was at a stand; After a little Pause, he said, he hoped my Mission would have a more agreeable Issue. He asked me if I was content with the conduct of France—I answered most certainly; for that she was spending her blood, as well as treasure for us. This Answer was too general for him. He renewed the question by asking whether I was content with the Conduct of France relative to our proposed Treaty with Spain—I answered that as far as it had come to my knowledge, I was. This required an explanation, and I gave it to him by observing that by the Secret Article [of the Franco-American treaty] Spain was at Liberty to accede to our Treaty with France whenever she pleased, and with such Alterations as both Parties might agree to—That Congress had appointed me to propose this Accession now, and had authorized me to enter into the necessary discussions and Arguments —That to give their Application the better Prospect of Success, they had directed me to request the favorable Interposition of the King of France with the King of Spain; That I had done it by letter to the Count de Vergennes [the French foreign minister], who in Answer had assured me of the King’s disposition to comply with the Request of Congress, and informed me that Instructions analogous to this disposition should be given to the Ambassador at Madrid. That it gave me pleasure to acknowledge that his [Montmorin’s] Conduct towards me had always been polite and friendly but I still remained ignorant whether any, and what progress had been made in the Mediation.… The Ambassador made no direct reply to these Remarks but again proceeded to repeat his advice that I should try one more letter to the Minister;—I told him, I had after much consideration made up my mind on that Subject, and that it appeared to me inexpedient to follow his advice in this Instance.…
How far the tone of this conversation may be judged to have been prudent I know not—It was not assumed, however, but after previous, and mature deliberation. I reflected that we had lost Charleston; That Reports run hard against us, and therefore, that this was no time to clothe oneself with humility.
On considering the Earnestness with which the Ambassador had pressed me to write another Letter to the Minister, I began to suspect that it might be the wish of the Latter, who, conscious of having gone rather too far, might desire this way to retreat through. I concluded therefore to adhere to my Resolution of not writing, but that if the Ambassador should confirm any suspicions by again pressing the measure, in that case to consent to send Wm. Carmichael to the Minister with my compliments, and a Request that he would favor me with a Conference at such Time as might be most convenient to him.…
On Saturday Morning the ad September I committed my Message for the Minister to Mr. Carmichael. … After being long detained in the Anti-Chamber, he had an opportunity of delivering his Message.… On … the 3d September Don Diego Gardoqui of Bilboa presented me a Note from the Count de Florida Bianca in these words: The Count de Florida Bianca presents his compliments to Mr. Jay, and recommends to him to form an acquaintance with the bearer of this Letter, being the Person in question whom he had expected from Day to Day. [Translation]
Meantime Jay poured out his heart to Franklin.
St. Ildefonso 8 September 1780
… Our Affairs here go on heavily. The Treaty is impeded by the Affair of the Mississippi and the Fate of my Bills is not yet decided. I have been permitted indeed to accept to the amount of about 11,000 Dollars and this Circumstance gives me more Hopes for the Rest than anything else. The Fact is there is little Corn in Egypt. This entre nous.
Cumberland is here still. His Hopes and Fears are secret. He went from hence a few Days ago and is soon expected back again. To what policy are we to ascribe this. I am told we have nothing to fear. It may be so, but my Faith is seldom very extensive. If we have nothing else to fear we have always Danger to apprehend from such a Spy—so situated, so surrounded by inquisitive communicative and some say friendly Irishmen. In short I wish you could hear me think, but that like most other wishes is vain, and I must leave Time to inform you of many things which at present must not be written.…
From Passy came Franklin’s reply, containing both sage advice and the promise of financial succor.
Passy, October 2, 1780
I received duly and in good Order the several letters you have written to me.… The papers that accompanied them of your writing, gave me the pleasure of seeing the Affairs of our Country in such good Hands, and the Prospect, from your youth, of its having the Service of so able a Minister for a great Number of Years [Jay was then 34, Franklin 74]. But the little success that has attended your late Applications for money mortified me exceedingly; and the Storm of bills which I found coming upon us both, has terrified and vexed me to such a Degree that I have been deprived of sleep, and so much indisposed by continual anxiety, as to be rendered almost incapable of Writing.
At length I got over a reluctance that was almost invincible, and made another Application to the government here for more Money. I drew up and presented a State of Debts and newly-expected Demands, and requested its Aid to extricate me. Judging from your Letters that you were not likely to obtain any thing considerable from your Court, I put down in my estimate the 25,000 dollars drawn upon you, with the same Sum drawn upon me, as what would probably come to me for Payment. I have now the Pleasure to acquaint you that my Memorial was received in the kindest and most friendly Manner, and though the court here is not without its Embarrassments, on Account of money, I was told to make myself easy, for that I should be assisted with what was necessary.… You will not wonder at my loving this good Prince [Louis XVI]: He will win the hearts of all America.
If you are not so fortunate in Spain, continue however the even good Temper you have hitherto manifested. Spain owes us nothing; therefore, whatever friendship she shows us in lending Money or furnishing Cloathing, etca., though not equal to our Wants and Wishes, is however tant de gagné ; those who have begun to assist us, are more likely to continue than to decline, and we are still so much obliged as their aids amount to. But I hope and am confident, that Court will be wiser than to take Advantage of our Distress.… Poor as we are, yet as I know we shall be rich, I would rather agree with them to buy at a great Price the whole of their right on the Mississippi, than sell a Drop of its Waters. A neighbour might as well ask me to sell my street Door.…
I will write to you again shortly and to Mr. Carmichael. I shall now be able to pay up your Salaries compleat for the year; but as Demands unforeseen are continually coming upon me I still retain the expectations you have given me of being reimbursed out of the first remittances you receive.
If you find any Inclination to hug me for the good News of this Letter, I constitute and appoint Mrs. Jay my attorney, to receive in my Behalf your Embraces.
With great and sincere esteem, I have the honour to be, Dear Sir,
Your most obedient and most humble Servant, B. F RANKLIN
Fortunately, by the time Franklin’s reply reached him, Jay’s circumstances were not so desperate, for the arrival of Gardoqui, “the person so long expected,” seemed to speed up the negotiations with Spain.
Don Diego de Gardoqui was a member of a prominent mercantile firm of Bilbao; one day he would become Spain’s first accredited minister to the United States. He began his conversations with Jay by proposing that the United States waive the free navigation of the Mississippi “as consideration for aids.” When Jay apprised him that he was not prepared to put that article in question, Gardoqui replied that “the exigencies of state” would not permit the King to pay more bills than the ones which had already been accepted. Jay sought to pin Floridablanca down. Might the United States expect any further aids from Spain? he asked him in a note written at San Ildefonso on September 14.
Fortuitously, some good news from America arrived overnight. The report of the establishment of the Bank of Pennsylvania and other fiscal efforts of the Continental Congress presented the thirteen states as better credit risks than they had appeared following the fall of Charleston. Jay remarked drily to Congress that it seemed as though America “had risen like a giant refreshed with sleep and doing wonders.”
The Spanish court was now ready to make a gesture, but did so with what seems like pathological circumspection. On September 75 Gardoqui turned over to Jay a paper dictated “in his Excellency’s name” by Floridablanca’s secretary, Don Bernardo del Campo. In substance, it said that the King was prepared to furnish the United States with a credit of $150,000 over a three-year period. The letter was delivered unsigned, and the lawyer in Jay realized that such an anonymous pledge might later be disavowed. It must be signed, Jay insisted, and under pressure Gardoqui agreed to affix his name.
That was the background for the meeting of Jay and Floridablanca held on the evening of September 23, with Gardoqui present as translator. The italicized portions are newly decoded and are published here for the first time.
… Mr. Jay informed his Excellency that the Subjects on which he was desirous of conferring with him arose from the Paper he had received from Mr. Gardoqui the 15th Instant, containing his Excellency’s answer to Mr. Jay’s letter of the 14th.
Mr. Jay then requested the Count to communicate to His Majesty his thanks for the offer he had been pleased to make of his responsibility in order to facilitate a Loan in favor of America for one hundred and fifty thousand Dollars, and also for the promise of Clothing, etc., etc. and to assure him that the gratitude of the States would always be proportionate to the Obligations conferred upon them.…
Mr. Jay resumed his [reference to] the Paper in question, by observing that it assured him it was necessary “That Congress should give sure and effective tokens of a good Correspondence, proposing reciprocal Measures of a compensation etc. In order that his Majesty might extend his further Dispositions towards them.” That for his part, he could conceive of no higher tokens which one Nation could give to another of friendship and good will, than their Commissioning and sending a Person for the express purpose of requesting his Majesty to enter into Treaties of Amity and Alliance with them, and that on Terms of Reciprocity of Interest and mutual Advantage.… Mr. Jay … [remarked] that the Order of conducting that business appeared to him to be this, That as a right was reserved by the Secret Article to his Majesty to accede to the Treaty between France and America whenever he thought proper, and that the Latter would go into a discussion of any alterations the King might propose, that should be founded on reciprocity of Interest. The first question was whether his Majesty would accede to it as it was, or whether he would propose any and what alterations.
The Count here interrupted Mr. Jay by saying that the Interest of France and Spain with respect to America, were so distinct as [to make] different Treaties necessary. Mr. Jay answered that admitting this to be the case, the Treaty with France might be made the Basis, and they might go on Mutatis Mutandis; the Count replied that his Majesty would never consent to make that Treaty, the basis of one between him and the United States that that Treaty had been concluded by the French without the knowledge of the King and without having made him the offer of being a party to it. That the King’s resentment had been so much excited by this conduct as well nigh to have occasioned a rupture between the two Courts, and that on the secret article being made known to him he had answered that when he found it convenient to enter into Treaty with the Colonies he would take care of his interest without consulting any one . Hence he observed it would not be proper to mention any thing of the French Treaty but to form one of anew . Mr. Jay assured his Excellency that this was the first time he had ever heard of this Anecdote and expressed some surprise at it . The Count desired him to keep it secret adding that the French Ambassador knew it very well .…
[Floridablanca] said that previous to Mr. Jay’s or Mr. Gerard’s arrival at Madrid, Mr. Miralles had informed him that Congress would yield the Navigation of the Mississippi, but that Mr. Gérard informed him that Congress had changed their resolution on that Subject. … The Count … made several Observations tending to shew the Importance of this Object to Spain, and its determination to adhere to it, saying with some degree of warmth, that unless Spain could exclude all Nations from the Gulph of Mexico, they might as well admit all; That the King would never relinquish it; That the Minister regarded it as the principal Object to be obtained by the war, and that obtained he should be perfectly Easy whether or no Spain procured any other cession; That he considered it as far more important than the acquisition of Gibraltar.…
Shortly thereafter, Jay learned from Gardoqui that Charles III had asked his ambassadors in Holland and France to pass the word that the King was prepared to back whatever loans they might make to America. Jay was prepared for further disillusionment, and his final meeting of the year with Floridablanca, on November 8, only confirmed his suspicion that Spanish efforts to float a loan for America had not been pressed too hard.
Through the year 1781 Spanish-American negotiations sputtered fitfully, and then ground to a halt. Jay’s letter to Franklin in Paris remarking that “there is little Corn in Egypt” had correctly reported the negligible financial assistance that Spain stood ready to provide the American rebels. Floridablanca recognized America’s potential territorial expansion as posing a threat to that monopolist control of the Mississippi River and of the trade of the Gulf of Mexico that Spain intended to preserve. Accordingly, while doling out a few centavos at a time to relieve Jay’s acute embarrassments, Floridablanca kept a tight rein on the purse strings. They would be loosened for Jay, he implied, only if America were prepared to waive her claim to navigate the Mississippi. When the proposition was put to Jay by an agent of Floridablanca, he replied, “The Americans, almost to a man, believe that God Almighty has made that river a highway for the people of the upper country to go to the sea by.”
On February 15, 1781, Congress, worn down by backstairs intrigue in Philadelphia, authorized Jay to withdraw his demand for the free navigation of the Mississippi in order to remove the chief obstacle to an alliance with Spain. Jay was not apprised of the revised instructions for many months, and when he received them he prudently made America’s relinquishment of the navigation of the Mississippi contingent on Spain’s acceptance of an alliance. This was the key proposition Jay put to Floridablanca in September, 1781, but the latter jailed to snatch the advantageous offer.
In fact, Spain never made the proposed alliance, nor even presumed to recognize the thirteen states until England had already done so. Actually, therefore, Jay gave up nothing, even though he had to write off further Spanish aid.
In April, 1782, Franklin summoned Jay to Paris.
Passy, April 22, 1782
I have undertaken to pay all the Bills of your Acceptance that have come to my knowledge, and I hope in God no more will be drawn upon us, but when Funds are first provided. In that Case your constant Residence at Madrid is no longer so necessary. You may make a Journey either for health or Pleasure without retarding the Progress of a Négociation not yet begun. Here you are greatly wanted, for Messengers begin to come & go, and there is much talk of a Treaty proposed, but I can neither make or agree to Propositions of Peace without the Assistance of my Colleagues. Mr. [John] Adams I am afraid cannot just now leave Holland; Mr. Jefferson is not in Europe, and Mr. Lawrens is a Prisoner, though abroad on Parole.∗I wish therefore that you would resolve upon the Journey, and render yourself here as soon as possible. You would be of infinite Service. Spain has taken four Years to consider whether she should treat with us or not. Give her Forty. And let us in the mean time mind our own Business. I have much to communicate to you but chuse to do it viva voce , than trust it to Letters. I am ever, my Dear Friend,
Yours most affectionately B. F RANKLIN
∗ Thomas Jefferson was among the peace commissioners designated by Congress, but chose not to serve. South Carolina’s Henry Laurens had been taken prisoner when Charleston fell to the British in 1780 and transported to England. It was not at all clear to Franklin—even today historians argue the point- whether under the terms of his parole Laurens could properly serve as an American peace commissioner, but he did.
Jay soon prepared to shake the dust of Spain from his boots. Ahead lay the ultimate battles of diplomacy that ended the American Revolution and achieved independence for the Thirteen Colonies. At Paris Jay was to play a stellar role denied him at the court of Spain.
In retrospect, it is doubtful whether anyone could have squeezed more juice out of the Spanish lemon than Mr. Jay. He had managed, with constant nagging, to get Spain to advance the pledged $150,000 over a three-year period. That sum was paid in ten installments to Gardoqui and other Spanish merchant bankers to make good the drafts drawn on Jay I Congress. An additional $24,000 was charged to Jay account for clothing taken by Spanish ships as prizi from intercepted British vessels and turned over fc the use of the American army. By 1792, according t Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s calculation an additional amount of $99,007.89 was due Spain in interest at five per cent from the date of the loans.
In order to establish American credit Hamilton without Spain’s asking and much to her surprise, bo rowed money from the Dutch and paid off the Spanis debt in the fall of 1793. The Spanish government gat receipts, and so the matter ended.
The issue of the free navigation of the Mississippi was not so easily settled. It plagued Spanish-America relations well down into the Washington administration. The problem seemed solved when in 1795 Thomas Pinckney, dispatched on a mission to Span obtained from Manuel de Godoy, Spain’s principal minister, a treaty by which Spain acknowledged America’s western boundary as the Mississippi and concede both the free navigation of the river and the Privileg of deposit of American cargo at New Orleans for three-year period.
The execution of the treaty was another mattet Several years of disagreeable disputes followed. Span, found one pretext after another to delay evacuatin the remaining posts she held on the east side of th Mississippi. Scarcely had a joint survey of the Spanish American boundary been completed when, in 1800 Louisiana was secretly ceded by Spain to France. Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon in 1803 followed by the Florida purchase in 1819, settled once and for all the issue of the free navigation of tht Mississippi and made the United States the master of a great continental domain. The end justified, perhaps, all the forebodings and suspicions of Florida blanca; it also abundantly vindicated the tenacious stand of John Jay back in 1780.
The excerpt from Lieutenant Kennedy’s letter on page 112 reads as follows:
“Thanks for your good wishes on our rescue. We were extremely lucky throughout. After today it won’t happen again. Working out of another base—& went in to see the doc about some coral infections I got. He asked me how I got them—I said swimming—he then burst loose with—’Kennedy—you know swimming is forbidden in this area—stay out of the god-damned water.’ So now it’s an official order—. so no more strain. Best regards to Sted—Red and all the boys—Remember me to Mac if you see him.
Over & out Jack”