Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAY TO FLORIDA BLANCA. - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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JAY TO FLORIDA BLANCA. - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 1 (1763-1781).
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JAY TO FLORIDA BLANCA.
Madrid, April 25th, 1780.
Mr. Carmichael has delivered to me a paper he had the honour of receiving from your Excellency before my arrival here, containing heads of many important inquiries,2 respecting which it was thought necessary that his Catholic Majesty should be exactly informed, before entering into a discussion with me and Mr. Carmichael, jointly or separately, on the subject of the affairs of the United States of North America, and their mutual interest with respect to Spain; but that the court, though desirous of information on these several articles, with all possible frankness and precision, did not mean to dive into matters which Mr. Carmichael and myself might regard as reserved to ourselves only. . . .
The inquiries in question are numerous and important. They do honour to the sagacity which suggested them, and, if fully answered, would produce a very interesting history of the present condition of the American States. On some of the subjects proposed, I can give your Excellency full and positive intelligence; on others, only general and by no means precise information. On all, however, I shall write with candour.
Such is the nature of the American governments and confederacy, that the Congress, and all other rulers of the people, are responsible to them for their conduct, and cannot withhold from their constituents a knowledge of their true situation without subjecting themselves to all the evils which they experience who substitute cunning in the place of wisdom. Hence it is that a knowledge of their affairs is easily attainable by all who will be at the trouble of collecting it; and as it is neither the policy nor inclination of America to draw a veil over any part of their affairs, your Excellency may be persuaded that every consideration forbids their servants, by a suppression or misrepresentation of facts, to deceive or mislead those whose amity they so sincerely endeavour to cultivate as they do that of Spain.
THE CIVIL STATE OF NORTH AMERICA.
Your Excellency has, with great propriety, arranged the subjects of your inquiry under two heads—the civil and military states of North America. The first of these is again branched into several subdivisions, at the head of which is the
Population of each State.
The exact number of inhabitants in the United States has not, I believe, been ascertained by an actual census in more than two or three of them. The only computation made by Congress was on the 29th of July, 1775, the manner and occasion of which exclude every suspicion of its exceeding the true number. Congress had emitted bills of credit to a very considerable amount, and were apprized of the necessity of emitting more. Justice demanded that this debt should be apportioned among the States according to their respective abilities; an equitable rule whereby to determine that ability became indispensable. After much consideration, Congress resolved “that the proportion or quota of each colony should be determined according to the number of the inhabitants of all ages (including negroes and mulattoes) in each colony”; but as that could not then be ascertained exactly, they were obliged to judge of and compute the number from circumstantial evidence. The delegates gave to Congress an account of the population of their respective colonies, made from the best materials then in their power, and so great was their confidence in each other that from those accounts that computation was principally formed. Your Excellency will readily perceive that the delegates were far from being under any temptations to exaggerate the number of their constituents; they were not ignorant that, by such exaggerations, they would increase their portion of aids, both of men and money, and that whatever errors they might commit could not be rectified by an actual numeration during the war. The computation then formed was as follows:
Exclusive of the inhabitants of Georgia, who were not at that time represented in Congress, and of whose numbers I have no information that I can confide in.
The form of government of each state.
In the pamphlets I have now the honour of transmitting to your Excellency, viz., No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5, you will find the constitutions of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina. The others I have not with me. The great outlines of them all are very similar. By the last accounts from America it appears that Massachusetts Bay had not as yet agreed upon their constitution, but had it then under consideration.
It cannot be necessary to observe to your Excellency that these new modes of government were formed by persons named and authorized by the people for that express purpose; that they were, in general, instituted with great temper and deliberation, upon such just and liberal principles, as, on the one hand, to give effectual security to civil and religious liberty, and, on the other, make ample provision for the rights of justice and the due exercise of the necessary powers of government.
The articles of confederation agreed upon by Congress, and approved by every State in the Union except Maryland, provide for the general government of the confederacy, and the ordering of all matters essential to the prosperity and preservation of the Union in peace and war. I ought also to inform your Excellency, that the reasons why Maryland has as yet withheld her assent to those articles, do not arise from any disaffection to the common cause, but merely from their not having adopted certain principles respecting the disposition of certain lands.
The union and resolution of the inhabitants to continue the war with vigour as long as may be necessary.
On this subject, I can give your Excellency certain and positive information; the storm of tyranny and oppression, which had for some years been constantly growing more black and more terrible, began to burst with violence on the people of North America in the year 1774. It was seen and felt and deprecated by all, except those who expected to gather spoils in the ruins it was designed to occasion. These were those who enjoyed, or expected emoluments from Great Britain, together with their immediate dependants and connections; such as the officers of government throughout the colonies, but with some very distinguished exceptions; those of the clergy of the Church of England almost without exception, who received annual salaries from the society established in England for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts; foreign adventurers, buyers and sellers, who, being no further attached to the country than as it afforded the means of gain, soon prepared to speculate in confiscations, and courted the notice of their sovereign by intemperate zeal for the ruin of his subjects. With these exceptions, the great body of the people moved together, and united in such firm and considerate measures for the common safety, and conducted their affairs with such regularity, order, and system as to leave no room to suppose them to be the work of only a prevailing party, as our enemies have always represented and affected to consider them.
There was, it is true, another class of persons not much less dangerous, though far more contemptible than those I first mentioned; persons who, in every revolution, like floating weeds in every storm, obey the strongest wind, and pass from side to side as that happens to change. I mean the neutrals, a pusillanimous race, who, having balanced in their minds the advantages and disadvantages, the gains and dangers of joining either side, are seduced by their fears to form a thousand pretexts for joining neither; who, to manifest their loyalty to their king, when his armies were successful, gave them every aid in their power, except drawing their swords against their country; and who, when their countrymen prevailed, were ready to render them all possible service, except taking arms against their prince.
The auxiliaries, whom the British measures and forces found in the country, consisted of persons from these classes. And although, when these first appeared in and wounded the bosom of America, she was obliged to extend her arms to repel the assaults of a foreign enemy, yet such was the union and spirit of her inhabitants, that she was soon enabled not only to put them under her feet, but on the ruins of her former governments to erect new ones in the midst of invasions from without and treacherous combinations from within. Being able to obtain no other terms of peace than unconditional obedience, she had sufficient courage to declare herself independent in the face of one of the best appointed armies Britain could ever boast of; as well as sufficient strength to limit its operations, and reduce its numbers.
It may perhaps be observed, that the first object of the war was a redress of grievances; that the present object is independence; and it may be asked whether the people are as much united with respect to the last as they were with respect to the first.
I am certain that the people of America never were so well united as they are at present, in that of their independence. Exclusive of actual observation on the spot, I think so because:
1st. The Declaration of Independence was made by Congress at a time when the great body of their constituents called for it.
2dly. Because that declaration was immediately recognized by the general assemblies and legislatures of the several States, without exception.
3dly. Because the successful army under General Burgoyne was defeated and captured by a great collection of the neighbouring militia, to whom he had offered peace and tranquillity on their remaining at home; terms which it was natural to suppose a great many of them would have accepted, had the Declaration of Independence been disagreeable to them.
4thly. Because the Congress, consisting of members annually elected, have repeatedly, expressly, and unanimously declared their determination to support it at every hazard.
5thly. Because their internal enemies have been either expelled or reduced, and their estates, to a very great amount in some of the States, confiscated and actually sold.
6thly. Because constitutions and forms of government have since been instituted and completely organized, in which the people participate, from which they have experienced essential advantages, and to which they have of consequence become greatly attached.
7thly. Because Congress unanimously refused to enter into treaty with the British commissioners on any terms short of independence; and because every State, though afterward separately solicited, refused to treat otherwise than collectively by their delegates in Congress.
8thly. Because the inhuman and very barbarous manner in which the war has been conducted by the enemy has so alienated the affections of the people from the king and government of Britain, and filled their hearts with such deep-rooted and just resentments, as render a cordial reconciliation, much less a dependence on them, utterly impossible.
9thly. Because the doctrine propagated in America by the servants of the King of Great Britain, that no faith was to be kept with Americans in arms against him, and the uniformity with which they have adhered to it, in their practice as well as professions, have destroyed all confidence, and leave the Americans no room to doubt but that, should they again become subjects of the King of Britain on certain terms, those terms would as little impede the progress of future oppression, as the capitulation of Limerick, in 1691, did with respect to Ireland.
10thly. Because the treaty with France, and consequently virtue, honour, and every obligation due to the reputation of a rising nation, whose fame is unsullied by violated compacts, forbid it.
11thly. Because it is the evident and well-known interest of North America to remain independent.
12thly. Because the history of mankind, from the earliest ages, with a loud voice calls upon those who draw their swords against a prince, deaf to the supplication of his people, to throw away the scabbard.
13thly. Because they do not consider the support of their independence as difficult. The country is very defensible and fertile; the people are all soldiers, who with reason consider their liberty and lives as the most valuable of the possessions left them, and which they are determined shall neither be wrested nor purchased from them but with blood.
14thly. Because, for the support of their independence, they have expressly, by a most solemn act, pledged to each other their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honour; so that their bond of union, for this very purpose, thus formed of all the ties of common interest, common safety, mutual affection, general resentments, and the great obligations of virtue, honour, patriotism, and religion, may with reason be deemed equal to the importance of that great object.
Whether there is any powerful party in favour of England, and what consequences are to be apprehended from it? Whether the heads of this party suffer themselves to be seduced by the promises of the British Government?
What has been already said on the subject of the union of the people in North America will, I imagine, in a great measure, answer these questions.
If by a party in favour of England is meant a party for relinquishing the independence of the United States, and returning to the dominion of Britain, on any terms whatever, I answer, there is no such party in North America; all the open adherents of the crown of Great Britain having either voluntarily quitted or been expelled from the country.
That Britain has emissaries and masked adherents in America, industrious in their little spheres to perplex the public measures, and disturb the public tranquillity, is a fact of which I have not the most distant doubt; and it is equally true, that some of these wicked men are by a few weak ones thought to be patriots, but they cannot with any propriety be called a party, or even a faction. The chief mischief they do, is collecting and transmitting intelligence, raising false reports, and spreading calumnies of public men and measures; such characters will be found in every country so circumstanced, and America has not been negligent in providing laws for their punishment.
The obvious policy of the court of London has induced them to boast perpetually of their party in America; but where is it? of whom composed? what has it done, or is doing? are questions to which they constantly give evasive answers. Much also have they said of the numbers that have joined their arms in America. The truth is, that at Boston, Rhode Island, New York, and Philadelphia, they gleaned some of that refuse of mankind to be found and purchased by anybody in all commercial cities. It is also true, that some men of weight and influence in the country, who joined the enemy on their first successes, did draw away with them several of their immediate dependants, whom they persuaded or otherwise influenced to enlist in their service. To these may also be added the prisoners, who at different times they forced into their service by famine, and other severities too numerous as well as barbarous to be here particularized. But I have no reason to believe, that all these aids put together ever exceeded three thousand men. This business, however (except with respect to prisoners), has long been over, and before I left America, many of those deluded people had returned and implored the pardon of their country.
In America, as in all other popular governments, your Excellency knows there must and ever will be parties for and against particular measures and particular men. The enemy, adverting to this circumstance, have had address enough to ascribe differences and temporary heats arising from this source, in which they were not interested, to causes much higher, and more flattering to their importance; and this they have done with so much art, as to have imposed in some instances on the credulity of men high in reputation for sagacity and discernment.
If your Excellency will be pleased to peruse a pamphlet marked No. 6, which you will find enclosed with the other papers I herewith transmit, and entitled “Observations on the American Revolution,” you will perceive that nothing is to be apprehended from this supposed party in North America.
A statement of the revenues of the States, and of their ability to contribute to the general expense; whether they will be able long to support this burden, and increase it if necessary.
The confederated States have no fixed revenues, nor are such revenues necessary, because all the private property in the country is at the public service. The only restriction imposed by the people is, that it be taken from them with wisdom and justice: or, to be more explicit, that the sums required be proportionate to the public exigences, and assessed on the individuals in proportion to their respective abilities.
A nation can seldom be destitute of the means of continuing a war, while they remain unsubdued in the field, and cheerfully devote their all to that service. They may indeed experience great distress, but no distress being equal to that of subjection to exasperated oppressors, whose most tender mercies are cruel, the Americans had little difficulty in making their election.
A statement of the public debts.
This subject your Excellency will find fully discussed in an address of Congress to their constituents, in which they compute their debts, and mention the means they had taken to preserve the public credit. It is also herewith enclosed, and marked No. 7.
A statement of the debts of each particular State.
Although exact accounts of these debts are contained in the public printed acts of each State, yet as I neither have any of those acts or extracts from them with me, and my general knowledge on this head is very imperfect, I am deterred from giving your Excellency any information respecting it, by the very great risk I should run of misleading you on this point.
The resources to lessen these debts.
Taxes; foreign and domestic loans; sales of confiscated estates, and ungranted lands.
The possibility of their supporting their credit in all the operations of government, in the commerce of their inhabitants, and, above all, in the protection of national industry.
As to the possibility of supporting their credit in the cases mentioned, there is no doubt it is very possible. How far it is probable, is a question less easy to answer. If the taxes called for by Congress last fall be duly paid, all will be safe. But whether they have been paid or not I am wholly uninformed, except that I find in a public paper that Virginia had make good her first payment. As I daily expect to receive advices from America on this subject, I shall postpone saying any thing further on it at present; but your Excellency may rely on my communicating to you a full state of what intelligence I may have respecting it.
As to supporting their credit in commerce, it is attended with considerable though not insurmountable difficulties. They are of two kinds—the want of sufficient commodities for remittances, and the risk of transporting them. North America abounds in valuable commodities, such as fish, oil, lumber, provisions of flesh and corn, iron, tobacco, and naval stores; peltry, indigo, potash, and other articles—all of which have greatly diminished since the war. The labourers formerly employed in producing them having been often called to the field, and by other effects of the war been prevented from regularly following their usual occupations. Of some of these articles, America still produces more than is necessary for her own consumption, but the risk of transporting them to Europe renders her remittances very uncertain. The asylum, which all British armed vessels find in the ports of Portugal, enables them to cruise very conveniently and with great advantage off the western islands, and other situations proper for annoying vessels from thence to France, Spain, or the Mediterranean. Hence it is that the trade from America to St. Eustatia has of late so greatly increased, it being carried on principally in small, fast-sailing vessels that draw but little water, and that the chief remittances to Europe have been in bills of exchange instead of produce.
With respect to the protection of national industry, I take it for granted that it will always flourish where it is lucrative and not discouraged, which was the case in North America when I left it: every man being then at liberty, by the law, to cultivate the earth as he pleased, to raise what he pleased, to manufacture as he pleased, and to sell the produce of his labour to whom he pleased, and for the best prices, without any duties or impositions whatsoever. I have indeed no apprehensions whatever on this subject. I believe there are no people more industrious than those of America, and whoever recurs to their population, their former exports, and their present productions amid the horrors of fire and sword, will be convinced of it.
By what means, or what branches of commerce, will the States of America have it in their power to indemnify Spain, whenever this power may second the views and operations of the Americans?
America will indemnify Spain in two ways—by fighting the enemy of Spain, and by commerce. Your Excellency will be pleased to remark that Spain, as well as America, is now at war with Britain, and therefore that it is the interest of both to support and assist each other against the common enemy. It cannot be a question whether Britain will be more or less formidable if defeated or victorious in America; and there can be no doubt but that every nation interested in the reduction of her power will be compensated for any aids they may afford America by the immediate application of those aids to that express purpose at the expense of American blood.
Your Excellency’s well-known talents save me the necessity of observing, that it is the interest of all Europe to join in breaking down the exorbitant power of a nation which arrogantly claims the ocean as her birthright, and considers every advantage in commerce, however acquired by violence or used with cruelty, as a tribute justly due to her boasted superiority in arts and in arms.
By establishing the independence of America, the empire of Britain will be divided, and the sinews of her power cut. Americans, situated in another hemisphere, intent only on the cultivation of a country more than sufficient to satisfy their desires, will remain unconnected with European politics, and, not being interested in their objects, will not partake in their dissensions. Happy in having for their neighbours a people distinguished for love of justice and of peace, they will have nothing to fear, but may flatter themselves that they and their posterity will long enjoy all the blessings of that peace, liberty, and safety for which alone they patiently endure the calamities incident to the cruel contest they sustain.
While the war continues the commerce of America will be inconsiderable, but on the restoration of peace it will soon become very valuable and extensive. So great is the extent of country in North America yet to be cultivated, and so inviting to settlers, that labour will very long remain too dear to admit of considerable manufactures. Reason and experience tell us that, when the poor have it in their power to gain affluence by tilling the earth, they will refuse the scanty earnings which manufacturers may offer them. From this circumstance it is evident that the exports from America will consist of raw materials, which other nations will be able to manufacture for them at a cheaper rate than they can themselves. To those who consider the future and progressive population of that country, the demands it will have for the manufactures and productions of Europe, as well to satisfy their wants as to gratify their luxury, will appear immense, and far more than any one kingdom in it can supply. Instead of paying money for fish and many other articles, as heretofore, Spain will then have an opportunity of obtaining them in exchange for her cloth, silks, wines, and fruits; notwithstanding which it is proper to observe that the commerce of the American States will for ever procure them such actual wealth as to enable them punctually to repay whatever sums they may borrow.
How far it may be convenient for these States to furnish ships of war, timber, and other articles for the king’s arsenals, without delay; and, if in their power, on what terms?
I am much at a loss to determine at present, and therefore will by no means give your Excellency my conjectures for intelligence.
It is certain, that in ordinary times, America can build ships as good, and cheaper than any other people, because the materials cost them less. The ships of war now in her service, as to strength and construction, are not exceeded by any on the ocean. On this subject I will write to America for information, and give your Excellency the earliest notice of it. Naval stores, and particularly masts and spars, may certainly be had there, and of the best quality; and I doubt not but that the Americans would carry them to the Havannah or New Orleans, though I suspect, their being in a manner destitute of proper convoys for the European trade, would render them backward in bringing them to Spain, on terms equal to the risk of capture on the one hand, and the expectations of purchasers on the other.
THE MILITARY STATE OF NORTH AMERICA.
The number and strength of the American troops; their present situation, and ability to oppose the enemy, especially in Georgia and Carolina.
Six months have elapsed since I left America, and I had not seen a return of the army for some time before that period. It did not, I am certain, amount to its full complement, and, in my opinion, did not in the whole exceed thirty or thirty-five thousand men; I mean regular troops.
The commander-in-chief, whose abilities, as well as integrity, merit the highest confidence, was authorized to conduct all the military operations in the United States at his discretion; subject, nevertheless, to such orders as the Congress might think proper from time to time to give. It is impossible, therefore, for me (not having received a single letter from America on these subjects since my arrival) to decide in what manner or proportions these troops are employed or stationed, though I am confident it has been done in the best manner.
All the men of proper age in America are liable to do military duty in certain cases, and, with a few exceptions, in all cases. The militia is for the most part divided into a certain number of classes, and whenever reinforcements to the main army, or any detachment of it, are wanting, they are supplied by these classes in rotation. These reinforcements, while in the field, are subject to the like regulations with the regular troops, and with them submit to the severest discipline and duty. Hence it is, that the people of America have become soldiers, and that the enemy have never been able to make a deep impression in the country, or long hold any considerable lodgments at a distance from their fleets. Georgia and South Carolina, indeed, enjoy these advantages in a less degree than the other States, their own militia not being very numerous, and speedy reinforcements from their neighbours of North Carolina and Virginia rendered difficult by the length of the way. They have, nevertheless, given proofs of their spirit by various and great exertions; and I have reason to believe, that all possible care has been taken to provide for their safety, by furnishing them with a proper body of troops under Major-General Lincoln, a very good officer, as well as a very good man.
Arms are still wanting in America, many of those imported proving unfit for use, and the number of inhabitants who were without proper arms at the beginning of the war, calling for great supplies. The army, and a considerable part of the militia, especially in the Northern States, have in general good arms.
The article of clothing has been, and still is, a very interesting one to the American army. It is impossible to describe, and, indeed, almost impossible to believe, the hardships they have endured for want of it. There have been instances, and I speak from the most undoubted authority, of considerable detachments marching barefooted over rugged tracts of ice and snow, and marking the route they took by the blood that issued from their feet; but neither these terrible extremities, nor the alluring offers of the enemy, could prevail on them to quit their standard or relax their ardour. Their condition, however, has of late been much bettered by supplies from France and Spain, and American privateers; but adequate provision has not yet been made for the ensuing winter, and I cannot conceal from your Excellency my anxiety on that head. A supply of clothing for twenty thousand men, added to what is engaged for them in France, would make that army and all America happy.
I foresee no other difficulties in providing subsisttence for the American armies in every station in which they may be placed, than those which may attend the transportation of it. But when I reflect on the obstacles of this kind which they have already met with and surmounted, I have little uneasiness about future ones. The last crops in America promised to be plentiful when I left it, but whether there would be any and what considerable overplus for exportation, was then undetermined; the damages done the wheat in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina by a fly, which infested those countries, not being to my knowledge at that time ascertained.
How many ships of war belong to Congress, is a question I cannot answer with certainty. I think there are not more than ten or twelve in the whole. Of privateers, there are a great number, but how many exactly has not been computed. In my opinion, they exceed one hundred, several of them very fine ships. The Governor of Martinique told me, that in that island alone, the American privateers had brought and sold above five thousand African slaves, which they had taken from the enemy. Nine tenths at least of all the rum and sugar used in North America, these three years past, have been obtained in the same way, and to their successes have the public been indebted for the most seasonable and valuable supplies of military stores which they have received. I left several vessels on the stocks at Philadelphia, and heard of more in other parts.
Upon the whole, his Majesty may rest perfectly assured, that the Americans are determined, though forsaken by all mankind, to maintain their independence, and to part with it only with their lives; the desolations and distresses of war being too familiar to them to excite any other passions than indignation and resentment.
That the country will supply its inhabitants with provisions, some clothing, and some articles of commerce.
That there is no party in America in favour of returning under the dominion of Britain, on any terms whatever.
That the King of France is very popular in America, being in all parts of it styled the protector of the rights of mankind, and that they will hold the treaty made with him inviolate.
That the people in America have very high ideas of the honour and integrity of the Spanish nation, and of his Catholic Majesty especially, and that this respect and esteem unite with their interest in rendering them so desirous of his friendship and alliance.
That the greatest difficulty under which America labours arises from the great depreciation of her bills of credit, owing principally to a greater sum having been emitted than was necessary for a medium of commerce, and to the impossibility of remedying it by taxes before regular governments are established.
That great attempts, seconded by the general voice of the people, have been made to retrieve the credit of those bills by taxation, the issue of which was as yet uncertain, but if unsuccessful, a recurrence to taxes in kind was still left, and would be practised, though it is an expedient which nothing but necessity can render eligible.
That if France and Spain were to unite their endeavours to conquer Britain in America, by furnishing the latter with the necessary aids of ammunition, clothing, and some money, there is reason to believe, that the House of Bourbon would find it the most certain and least expensive method of reducing the power of their irreconcilable enemy, and not only command the gratitude and perpetual attachment of America, but the general approbation of all who wish well to the tranquillity of Europe and the rights of mankind. Thus would that illustrious house erect lasting and glorious monuments to their virtues in the hearts of a whole people.
I fear your Excellency will consider the intelligence here given less full and precise than you expected. I regret that it is not in my power to render it more so, but it is not. I hope, however, that it will be thought sufficient to open a way to those further discussions which must precede the measures necessary to bind America to Spain, as well as to France, and thereby complete the division, and consequently the humiliation, of the British Empire; a work too glorious and laudable not to merit the notice of so magnanimous a prince as his Majesty, and engage the attention of a minister of such acknowledged abilities as your Excellency.
I flatter myself that the importance of the subject will apologize for my trespassing so long on your Excellency’s patience so soon after your return to Aranjues.
I have the honour to be, etc.,
[2 ]See letter from Florida Blanca, of March 9, 1780.