Front Page Titles (by Subject) JAY'S NOTES OF CONFERENCE WITH FLORIDA BLANCA. 1 - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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JAY’S NOTES OF CONFERENCE WITH FLORIDA BLANCA. 1 - 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’S NOTES OF CONFERENCE WITH FLORIDA BLANCA.1
Aranjues, May 11, 1780.
Mr. Jay having waited on the Count de Florida Blanca, in consequence of a message received on the evening of the 10th, the latter commenced the conversation by observing that he was sorry that his ignorance of the English language prevented him from speaking with that ease and frankness with which he wished to speak in his conferences with Mr. Jay, and which corresponded with his own disposition and character.
He 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, that being an affair the most pressing and more immediately necessary to enter upon. 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. That their expenses had been so great in the year 1779, 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. He observed, that to do this they had prepared a very expensive and numerous convoy at Ferrol and other ports of Spain, loaded with provisions, naval stores, and every other article necessary for the squadron before mentioned, which convoy did not arrive at Brest until the day on which the Spanish fleet sailed from thence. That the supplies so sent had emptied their magazines at Cadiz, Ferrol, and other ports, and had frequently obliged them to buy at enormous prices the necessary stores to supply the fleet under the admirals Cardova and Gaston, on their arrival in the ports of Spain. That they had been forced to sell these stores thus sent to France, and others purchased for the same purpose at Bordeaux, Nantes, and elsewhere, at half price; and added, that their loss on this occasion could scarce be calculated. This, joined to the other expenses, and the great losses they had sustained in their marine and commerce, but chiefly in the former, and the great expenses they were at in consequence thereof, rendered it difficult for the King to do for America what he could have done easily the last year, and which he declared repeatedly, and in the strongest manner, it was his intention to do, as might be judged from his conduct heretofore; touching slightly on the succours sent us from Spain, the Havana, and Louisiana, but dwelling on his conduct in the negotiation last year with Great Britain, in which he would on no account be brought to sacrifice the interests of America.
Such being his Majesty’s disposition and intentions previous to the war, Mr. Jay might easily judge that he was not less determined at present to support their interests, whether formally connected with America by treaty or not. That, notwithstanding the losses and misfortunes sustained, the King’s resolution, courage, and fortitude induced him to continue the war, and therefore they were obliged to incur much expense in order to fill their magazines and make necessary preparations for this campaign and the next, yet that it was his Majesty’s intention to give America all the assistance in his power. That it was as much his inclination as duty to second these dispositions, and that he had received the King’s orders to confer with his colleagues thereon. He observed, however, that, although he was First Secretary of State, he must first confer with them on this subject; and from his own personal inclinations to second the King’s intentions and to serve America, he was desirous of concerting with Mr. Jay measures in such a manner as would prevent him from meeting with opposition from his colleagues, and therefore he spoke to him not as a minister, but as an individual.
In order to facilitate this, he said it was necessary to make some overtures for a contract, in case Mr. Jay was not absolutely empowered to make one; 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. That for ships-of-the-line, they could procure them themselves; that if America could furnish them with the former, they might be sent to their ports in Biscay, loaded with tobacco or other produce, and, discharging their cargoes, be left at the disposition of Spain. He also mentioned timber for vessels, but said that was an article not so immediately necessary, though it might be an object of consequence in future. He observed that he mentioned this at present in order that Mr. Jay might turn his thoughts on that subject as soon as possible, and that he would, in order to explain himself with more precision, send him, either on Saturday or Sunday next, notes containing his ideas on this subject, and adding that he hoped that the one, viz., Jay, would assist the other, meaning himself, to manage matters in such a way as to procure the means of obtaining for America present aid.
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 twenty-five, thirty, or forty thousand pounds sterling, and in the meantime, should these bills be presented for payment, he would take such measures as would satisfy the owners of them, viz., by engaging, in the name of his Majesty, to pay them, observing that the King’s good faith and credit were so well known that he did not imagine this would be a difficult matter. He also said that, in consequence of what Mr. Jay had written with respect to clothing for the American army, it might be in his power to send supplies of cloth, etc., which he would endeavour to do.
Mr. Jay, in answer, assured him of his high sense of the frankness and candour with which he had been so obliging as to communicate the King’s intentions and his own sentiments, and gave him the strongest assurances that he should, for his part, with the same frankness and candour, give him all the assistance and information in his power to forward his generous intentions in favour of his country, and that he might depend that in doing this he would neither deceive him in his information nor mislead him by ill-grounded expectations.
The Count then expressed his confidence in these assurances, said he had been well informed of the characters both of Mr. Jay and Mr. Carmichael (who was present at the conference), and said that he considered them as les hommes honnêtes, and that no consideration could have prevailed upon him to have treated with men who did not sustain that reputation.
The Count then proceeded to the second point, viz., with respect to the treaty in contemplation between Spain and America. He began by observing that he now spoke as a Minister, and as such that he would be as candid and frank as he had just been speaking as a private man; and that it was always his disposition to do so with those from whom he expected the same conduct. He then proceeded to observe 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 M. Miralles, 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 mentioned Cape Antonio and Cape ———, and expressed their resolution, if possible, of excluding the English entirely from the Gulf of Mexico. They wished to fix them 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. He observed that the King had received all his impressions with respect to the necessity of this measure previous to his being in place, and appeared to regard it as a point from which his Majesty would never recede, repeating that still, however, he was disposed to give America all the aid in his power, consistent with the situation of his affairs, to distress the common enemy; that this point being insisted on, it would be necessary for the Court of Spain to obtain the most accurate knowledge of local circumstances, with which he supposed Mr. Jay and his constituents were more fully apprised than his Majesty’s Ministers could be. That for this purpose he had already written to the Havana and Louisiana, in order to obtain all the necessary information, which he gave reason to believe they had not yet received. He dwelt on the necessity of this information previous to any treaty, and expressed his own regret that ways and means could not be found to obviate or overcome this impediment.
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, in which, he assured him, he was as well disposed to assist him as in the means of procuring the assistance and succours for America before-mentioned; always repeating the King’s favourable disposition, his inviolable regard to his promises, etc., etc. On this subject he also subjoined that whenever Mr. Jay chose to go to Madrid he desired to have previous notice of it; for in those cases he would leave his sentiments in writing for him with Mr. Carmichael; or, if he should also go to Madrid, that he would then write to Mr. Jay there, to which he might return an answer by the Parle (a post which goes to and from Madrid) to Aranjues, every twenty-four hours.
Mr. Jay expressed his full confidence in what the Count had done him the honour to communicate to him, and assured him of his satisfaction and happiness in having the good-fortune to transact a business so important to both countries, with a Minister so liberal and candid in his manner of thinking and acting.
The conference ended with much civility on the one part and on the other, and with an intimation from the Count, that he should take an opportunity of having the pleasure of Mr. Jay’s company at dinner, and of being on that friendly footing on which he wished to be with him.
What passed in the course of this conference needs no comment, though it calls for information and instructions. If Congress remains firm, as I have no reason to doubt, respecting the Mississippi, I think Spain will finally be content with equitable regulations, and I wish to know whether Congress would consider any regulations necessary to prevent contraband, as inconsistent with their ideas of free navigation. I wish that as little as possible may be left to my discretion, and that as I am determined to adhere strictly to their sentiments and directions, I may be favoured with them fully, and in season.
The Count de Florida Blanca had upon all occasions treated me with so much fairness, candour, and frankness, that between the confidence due to him and the footing I was and ought to be on with the French Ambassador, I was embarrassed exceedingly, especially as there is little reason to doubt of their being on confidential terms with each other. I was reduced to the necessity, therefore, of acting with exquisite duplicity, a conduct which I detest as immoral, and disapprove as impolitic, or of mentioning my difficulties to the Count, and obtaining his answers. I preferred the latter, and wrote the following letter to the Count de Florida Blanca:
Aranjues, May 12, 1780.
It is with the utmost reluctance, that I can prevail upon myself to draw your Excellency’s attention from the great objects that perpetually engage it. But the liberality, frankness, and candour, which distinguished your conduct towards me the last evening, have impressed me with such sentiments of correspondent delicacy, as to place me in a most disagreeable situation.
Deeply sensible of the benefits received by my country from their illustrious ally, prompted by duty and inclination to act not only with the highest integrity, but the greatest frankness towards him and his Minister, and influenced by the good opinion I have imbibed of the talents, attachment, and prudence of the Count de Montmorin, I have given him and his Court assurances that he should receive from me all that confidence, which these considerations dictate. These assurances were sincere; I have most strictly conformed to them, and as no circumstances of delicacy forbid it, I have communicated to him the information I gave your Excellency relative to American affairs, and the resolution of Congress for drawing bills upon me, these being the only transactions within my knowledge and department, which related to that proposed connection between Spain and America, for the accomplishment of which, the King of France has been pleased to interpose his kind offices with his Catholic Majesty.
But, Sir, my feelings will not allow me to permit the confidence due to one gentleman to interfere with that which may be due to another. Honour prescribes limits to each, which no consideration can tempt me to violate. You spoke to me the last evening in the character of a private gentleman, as well as of a public Minister, and in both without reserve. Let me entreat your Excellency therefore to inform me, whether I am to consider your conferences with me, either in the whole or in part, as confidential. I am apprised of the delicacy of this question. I wish I could know your sentiments without putting it. I assure you my esteem and respect are too sincere and too great not to make me regret every measure that can give you an uneasy sensation. On this occasion I am urged by justice to you as well as to myself, and that must be my apology.
Unpractised in the ways of courts, I rejoice in finding that I am to transact the business committed to me with a gentleman, who adorns his exalted station with virtues as well as talents, and looks down on that system of finesse and chicanery which, however prevalent, wisdom rejects and probity disapproves.
With sentiments of attachment and esteem, I have the honour to be, etc.
To this I received the following answer:
Aranjues, May 14, 1780.
Sensible of the favorable opinion you are pleased to entertain of my conduct, both as a minister and a private gentleman, I have the honor to assure you that, on every occasion, you shall experience nothing but frankness and candour on my part. Besides that my own principles are invariable on these points, I am certain thereby to follow the example and good intentions of the King my master.
The delicacy, which induced you to doubt, whether there would be any impropriety in communicating to the Ambassador of France the explanation we had in the course of our late conference, accords well with the idea I first formed of your character, and I am pleased with this mark of your attention. Besides, it appears to me that you may do it freely, especially as those explanations are founded on principles of equity and wisdom, for the benefit of the common cause. But if, hereafter, circumstances demand a more pointed reserve, by accidents we cannot now foresee, we shall always have time to agree upon those points which it may be necessary to keep secret.
I am, Sir, with the most sincere attachment, and the most perfect consideration, your most humble and most obedient servant,
Count de Florida Blanca.
[1 ]The history of Jay’s Spanish Mission appears in full in vols. vii. and viii. of Sparks’ “Diplomatic Correspondence.” In the present work those portions alone are republished which refer immediately to the points at issue, or which throw Jay’s politic management of American interests into relief. The above notes are extracted from his elaborate report to Congress of his attempts at negotiation at the Spanish Court down to May 26, 1780.—See “Diplomatic Correspondence,” vol. vii., pp. 220-282. Other reports followed.