Front Page Titles (by Subject) NOTES OF CONFERENCE BETWEEN JAY AND FLORIDA BLANCA. 1 - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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NOTES OF CONFERENCE BETWEEN JAY AND 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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NOTES OF CONFERENCE BETWEEN JAY AND FLORIDA BLANCA.1
St. Ildefonso, September 23, 1780.
After the usual civilities, the Count began the conference by informing Mr. Jay that the Court had received intelligence from the Havana, of Congress having so far complied with the request made to them to permit the exportation of provisions for the use of his Majesty’s fleets and armies there, as to give license for shipping three thousand barrels of flour, circumstances not admitting of further supplies at that time; that this business was conducted by Mr. Robert Morris in a manner with which he was well pleased; that Congress had also, in order to promote the success of the Spanish operations against Pensacola, etc., agreed to make a diversion to the southward, to detach a considerable body of regular troops and militia to South Carolina under General Gates; that his Majesty was well pleased with, and highly sensible of, these marks of their friendly disposition, and had directed him to desire Mr. Jay to convey his thanks to them on the occasion.
Mr. Jay expressed his satisfaction at this intelligence, and promised to take the earliest opportunity of conveying to Congress the sense his Majesty entertained of their friendship, manifested by these measures. He told the Count it gave him pleasure to hear the business of the Spanish supplies was committed to Mr. Robert Morris, and assured him that the fullest confidence might be reposed in that gentleman’s abilities and integrity. He requested his Excellency again to assure his Majesty that he might rely on the good disposition of Congress, and of their evincing it in every way, which the situation of their affairs and the interests of the common cause might render practicable and expedient. The Count told Mr. Jay that he had proposed to the French Ambassador to send to Congress, for the use of their army, clothing for ten regiments lately taken in the convoy bound from Britain to Jamaica, and in which the two Crowns were equally interested; that the Ambassador approved the proposition, but had not yet given his final answer. He then observed that a negotiation for peace between Britain and Spain appeared at present more distant than ever; that the former had offered his Majesty every thing he could desire to induce him to a separate peace; but that the King, adhering to the same resolutions in favour of America, which had influenced his conduct in his mediation for a general peace and since, had rejected them, and that Congress might rely on his Majesty’s determination never to give up or forsake America, but on the contrary continue affording her all the aids in his power.
He told Mr. Jay that the Court of London, dis appointed in their expectations of detaching Spain, had it in contemplation again to send Commissioners to America to treat with Congress on the subject of an accommodation with them; that this measure was at present under the consideration of the Privy Council, and that there was reason to suppose it would be adopted. He observed that the English had hitherto discovered much finesse and little true policy; that first they endeavoured by their intrigues in France, to separate that kingdom and America, but not succeeding there, they sent Commissioners to America; that the last year they attempted to detach France, and this year Spain, and that being unsuccessful in both they would again attempt America; that the best way of defeating their designs was mutual confidence in each other. He remarked that America could not rely on any promise of Britain, and asked, if she was once detached from France and Spain, who could compel an observance of them? Mr. Jay thanked the Count for this communication, and assured him that Congress would not only adhere to their engagements from motives of interest, but from a regard to their honour, and the faith of treaties; that the opinion of Congress on this subject corresponded with that of his Excellency, and that their conduct, with respect to the former English Commissioners, gave conclusive evidence of their sentiments on the subject. Mr. Jay promised in case he received any intelligence relative to this matter, his Excellency might depend on its being communicated immediately to him.
The Count appeared satisfied with this, and again repeated his former assurances of the King’s good disposition towards America, etc., etc.
Mr. Jay informed his Excellency that the subject on which he was desirous of conversing with him, arose from the paper he had received from M. 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 of 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; he observed to the Count that he intended to attempt this loan in Spain, France, and Holland, and begged to be informed in what manner he should evidence the responsibility of his Majesty to the persons who might be disposed to lend the money, for that in this and other similar cases he meant to be guided by his Excellency’s directions. The Count replied that as this matter fell within the department of M. Musquir, the Minister of Finance, he would consult him upon it on Tuesday evening next, and immediately thereafter inform Mr. Jay of the result. He then apologized and expressed his regret for not being able to furnish the money he had expected to supply (alluding evidently to the thirty or forty thousand pounds which, in the conference at Aranjues, the 11th day of May last, he said he expected to be able to supply by the end of this or beginning of next year). He said he had been disappointed in the remittances expected from America, for he was advised that two ships which he had expected would arrive from thence with treasure in December or January next would not come, and that this and other circumstances rendered it impossible for him to advance us any money in Europe. But that he would, nevertheless, agreeably to the King’s intentions, give us all the assistance in his power.
Mr. Jay desired to be informed whether any steps were necessary for him to take for forwarding the clothing at Cadiz to America. The Count answered that he waited the French Ambassador’s answer on the subject, and that he had as yet no inventory of them, but that he would again speak to the Ambassador, and make arrangements for sending them on to America as soon as possible.
Mr. Jay then proceeded to regret that the pleasure he derived from these instances of his Majesty’s friendship to the United States was mingled with pain from being informed by the above-mentioned paper, that the King conceived he might have just cause to be disgusted with them.
Because, 1st, they had drawn the bills of exchange without his previous consent; and, 2dly, because they had not given any tokens of a recompense. Mr. Jay reminded his Excellency that these bills were drawn upon himself, and not on Spain, and although that Congress might have hoped, for reasons already assigned, to have been enabled to pay them by a loan from his Majesty, yet that every other usual measure was left open for that purpose. That an application to Spain for such a loan could give no just cause of offence, for that if it had not been convenient to her to make it, all that she had to do was to have told him so, and he was then at liberty to take such measures for procuring it elsewhere as he might think proper. The Count replied that what Mr. Jay observed was true, but that certainly the bills were drawn with an expectation of their being paid by Spain, and that this might probably have been done if previous notice of the measure had been given. That he always intended to have done something towards their payment, but had been prevented by disappointments, and the exigencies of the State. Mr. Jay continued to observe that the second cause assigned for this disgust, viz., that Congress had given no tokens of a recompense must have arisen from a mistake. He reminded his Excellency that he had never requested a donation from Spain, but that, on the contrary, he had repeatedly offered to pledge the faith of the United States for the repayment with interest, within a reasonable time after the war, of whatever sum his Majesty might be so kind as to lend them. To these remarks the Count said only that interest for the money would have been no object with them; that they would gladly have lent it to us without interest, and repeated his regret at the disappointment which had prevented them. He appeared rather uneasy and desirous of waiving the subject.
Mr. Jay next called the Count’s attention to a part of the paper in question, which informed him “that there were hints (though no credit was given to it) of some understanding between America and the Court of London.” He observed that this subject was both delicate and important; that so far as this understanding related to Congress, or the governments of either of the States, he was sure that this insinuation was entirely groundless; that there might possibly be intriguing individuals who might have given cause to such suspicions; that if there were such men or bodies of men it would be for the good of the common cause that they should be detected and their designs frustrated. He therefore requested that if his Excellency had any evidence on this subject he would be pleased to communicate it, and thereby enable him to give Congress an opportunity of taking such measures as circumstances might render proper. The Count said he had nothing specific or particular as yet to communicate; that he was pursuing measures for further discoveries, and that he would mention to Mr. Jay whatever information might result from them.
Mr. Jay resumed his animadversions on 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. To this the Count replied that to this day he was ignorant of these terms, and that no particular propositions had been made him. Mr. Jay then reminded him of his letters from Cadiz, and of the conference on the subject at Aranjues on the 2d day of June last, in the latter of which, after conferring on the subject of aids, and of the treaty, his Excellency had promised to reduce his sentiments on both to writing, and send him notes on each; that as to the first, Mr. Jay had received the notes, but not on the last; that he had been in constant expectation of receiving them, and that delicacy forbade pressing his Excellency on that matter, or offering any thing further till he should have leisure to complete them.
He said he thought he had given them to Mr. Jay or Mr. Carmichael, which both of them assured him he had not. Of this the Count appeared after a little time satisfied, when Mr. Jay resumed the subject by remarking 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 alteration 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 necessarily to render different treaties necessary. Mr. Jay answered, that admitting this to be the case, the treaty with France might be made the basis, and then go on mutatis mutandis. The Count proceeded to say that it would not conduce to the general pacification to hurry on the treaty; that finding Congress were not disposed to cessions, without which the King would not make a treaty, he thought it best, by mutual services and acts of friendship, to continue making way for more condescensions on both sides, and not excite animosities and warmth by discussing points which the King would never yield. That, therefore, Mr. Jay might take time to write to Congress on the subject, and obtain their instructions.
He said that previous to Mr. Jay’s or M. Gerard’s arrival at Madrid, M. Mirales had informed him that Congress would yield the navigation of the Mississippi, but that M. Gerard informed him that Congress had changed their resolution on that subject; that he had mentioned these obstacles to Mr. Jay and Mr. Carmichael, and it was probable that having done this, he had neglected or forgotten to give Mr. Jay the notes in question. Mr. Jay here reminded his Excellency that the conference between them of the 2d day of June last turned among other points on these obstacles, and that they had then mutually expressed hopes that regulations calculated to remove them in a manner satisfactory to both parties might be adopted, and that the conferences respecting them were concluded by his Excellency’s promising to give Mr. Jay notes of his sentiments on the proposed treaty. The Count admitted this, and made several observations tending to show 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 Gulf 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 far more important than the acquisition of Gibraltar, and that if they did not get it, it was a matter of indifference to him whether the English possessed Mobile or not; that he chose always to speak his sentiments plainly and candidly on those occasions, for which reason he generally acted differently from other politicians, in always choosing to commit himself to paper, and appealing to the knowledge of the French Ambassador and others, who had done business with him, for the proofs of this being the principle of his conduct. He concluded by saying he would give his sentiments in writing on this subject to Mr. Jay.
Mr. Jay made no reply to the Count’s remarks on the navigation, but observed that, being little acquainted with the practice of politicians, he was happy in having to treat with a Minister of his Excellency’s principles. He added that there were many points necessary to be adjusted in order to a treaty; that they might proceed to agree upon as many as they could, and with respect to the others he should state them clearly to Congress, and attend their further instructions.
Mr. Jay then again turned the conference to the paper before-mentioned, by observing to the Count that it appeared from it that the King also expected from Congress equivalents to the supplies formerly afforded, and also the expenses of the war, which it alleged had its origin from them; that as to the first he could only repeat what he had before said, that a general account of them was necessary; that he neither knew the amount of them, nor the terms on which they were granted; that it was a transaction previous to his appointment; that on being furnished with the necessary information he would transmit it to Congress, and wait their instructions; that an expectation of an equivalent to the expenses sustained by Spain in the war was inadmissible on every principle. He read the passage in question, and remarked that America could no more be justly chargeable with the expenses of the war sustained by Spain, than Spain could be justly chargeable with the expenses of the war sustained by America. The Count replied, that Mr. Jay had mistaken his meaning, and that he urged it merely to show that as the States were deriving considerable advantages from very expensive operations on the part of Spain, that consideration should incline them to more condescension towards the latter.
Mr. Jay assured his Excellency that he knew it to be the disposition of Congress to contribute all in their power to the success of the common cause, and that they would on every occasion give proofs of it, and among others that he was confident they would permit his Majesty to export from thence, during the war, ship-timber and masts for the royal navy, and would readily consent to such measures as might be proper and necessary for facilitating it. He further observed that, having been informed by M. Gardoqui that his Majesty would like to take and finish a seventy-four gun ship now on the stocks in one of the eastern ports, on which it was said no work was doing, he would with pleasure write to Congress and propose their transferring her to his Majesty’s at prime cost; that this previous step was necessary, as Congress might perhaps intend that vessel for particular services, but he was confident they would otherwise be happy in indulging his Majesty’s inclinations. The Count appeared pleased with this. He said that with respect to timber they stood most in need at present of yards, and should be glad to obtain a supply of them from Congress; that as to the ship, he wished to be informed exactly of her present state, and the materials wanted to complete and equip her, which he observed might be sent from the Havana, and whether a crew of Americans could be had to navigate her there. Mr. Jay replied, that though he was sure that Congress would readily give their aid in these and other matters interesting to Spain, yet he could not forbear reminding his Excellency, as a friend, that public business done under the direction of public bodies was always more expensive than when done by individuals. That, therefore, he would submit it to his consideration whether it would not be more advisable to commit the management of these affairs to the agent intended to succeed M. Mirales, who, by being on the spot, would have opportunities of acting on exact information, and in a manner more consistent with the views of his Excellency. The Count agreed in this opinion, and promised to communicate to Mr. Jay his further intentions on this subject.
Mr. Jay informed the Minister that as his further stay there would now be unnecessary, and business called him to Madrid, he purposed to return there on Monday next. The Count concurred and the conference ended.
Congress will permit me to observe that many things in this conference are important, and demand instructions. I forbear to point them out, because they are obvious; and I take the liberty of giving this hint from a knowledge of the delays attending the proceedings of large bodies.1
I returned to Madrid on the day appointed; and whether to accept or not to accept the bills became a very serious question. After reviewing all the reasons for and against it, which are numerous, and which Congress will readily perceive without a particular enumeration, I determined to put a good face on the business, and accept all that should be presented, which I have accordingly done, and am daily doing. What the event will be I cannot pretend to decide. All that I can say is, that my endeavours shall not be wanting to render it successful. The responsibility of the King will not produce much, and the difficulty of borrowing money has been increased, by the number of agents sent to Europe for that purpose by several of the different States, who I am told have imprudently bidden on each other.
M. Gardoqui returned to Madrid a few days after I did, and brought me word from the Minister, that instructions should be sent to their Ambassadors in Holland and France, to assure in due form the responsibility of the King to such persons as might there incline to lend us money on the credit of it, and that the Minister would do the same here. He told me further that the Minister hoped I would not be discouraged, nor consider things only on the dark side, for that it was still his intention to afford America every aid in his power. All this I ascribe to the exertions of America, and I am confident that it will always be necessary for the United States to be formidable at home, if they expect to be respectable anywhere.
For my own part, I shall be disappointed if I find Courts moving on any other principle than political ones, and, indeed, not always on those. Caprice, whim, the interests and passions of individuals, must and will always have greater or less degrees of influence. America stands very high here, at present. I rejoice at it, though I must confess I much fear that such violent exertions may be followed by languor and relaxation. What the plan of this Court is with respect to us, or whether they have any, is with me very doubtful. If they have rejected all the overtures of Britain, why is Mr. Cumberland still here? And why are expresses passing between Madrid and London through Portugal? If Spain is determined that we shall be independent, why not openly declare us so, and thereby diminish the hopes and endeavours of Britain to prevent it? She seems to be desirous of holding the balance, of being in some sort a mediatrix, and of courting the offers of each by her supposed importance to both. The drawing of bills on me was considered as a desperate measure, prompted by our imbecility, and was a bad card to play at a time we were endeavouring to form a treaty, and when prudence demanded that the importance of Spain to us should not have been brought forward, or placed in such a glaring point of view.
One good consequence, however, has resulted from it. The cordiality of Spain has been tried by it. For I know of a certainty, that it was in her power easily to have made the loan we asked. Indeed, we shall always be deceived, if we believe that any nation in the world has, or will have, a disinterested regard for us, especially absolute monarchies, where the temporary views or passions of the Prince, his Ministers, his women, or his favourites, not the voice of the people, direct the helm of State. Besides, from the manner in which the war is carrying on, it would seem as if it was the design of France and Spain that the longest purse, not the longest sword, should decide it. Whether such be really their intention, or how far it may be politic, I cannot pretend to determine. This, however, is certain, that it would be putting the affair on a hard issue for us. It is also certain, that some respect is due to appearances and probable events, and we should be cautious how we spend our money, our men, or our public spirit, uselessly.
In my opinion, we should endeavour to be as indedent on the charity of our friends, as on the mercy of our enemies. Jacob took advantage even of his brother’s hunger, and extorted from him a higher price than the value of the Mississippi even for a single dinner. The way not to be in Esau’s condition, is to be prepared to meet with Jacob’s.
From what I can learn of the King’s character, I am persuaded that a present from Congress of a handsome fast-sailing packet-boat would be very acceptable, and consequently very useful.
I am informed, and believe, that a loan from individuals in France is impracticable. Here nothing can be done in that way. What may be expected from the like attempts in Holland, I am unable to say.
I have received no answer to my letter to Count de Vergennes; the Ambassador informs me that the Count has written him on the subject, and the following is an extract from his letter.
“I doubt whether I shall be able to render Mr. Jay the service he requests of me, independently of what the Ministry has furnished the Americans in the course of the year. Dr. Franklin is urgent for a million extra, to meet the drafts of Congress to the 31st of December. I am sensible how important it is to prevent them from being returned protested, but the difficulty is to find the means. I shall do my best in this exigency, but am not sure of success; beyond this, it would be impossible for me to go.”
[1 ]Respecting previous conferences, see notes to letters of May 11 and June 7, 1780, ante.
[1 ]As previously stated, the account of this conference and Jay’s criticisms form a part of his second report to Congress, dated November 6, 1780.