Front Page Titles (by Subject) OPINION ON WAR BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND SPAIN 1 - The Works, vol. 6 (Correspondence 1789-1792)
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OPINION ON WAR BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND SPAIN 1 - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 6 (Correspondence 1789-1792) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 6.
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OPINION ON WAR BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND SPAIN1
[july 12, 1790.]
Heads of consideration on the conduct we are to observe in the war between Spain and Gt. Britain and particularly should the latter attempt the conquest of Louisiana & the Floridas.2
The dangers to us, should great Britain possess herself of those countries.
She will possess a territory equal to half ours, beyond the Missisipi.
She will reduce that half of ours which is on this side the Missisipi.
by her language, laws, religion, manners, government, commerce, capital.
by the possession of N. Orleans, which draws to it ye dependence of all ye waters of Misspi.
by the markets she can offer them in the gulph of Mexico & elsewhere.
She will take from the remaining part of our States the markets they now have for their produce by furnishing those markets cheaper with the same articles, tobo. rice. indigo. bread. lumber. naval stores. furs.
She will have then possessions double the size of ours, as good in soil & climate.
She will encircle us compleatly, by these possessions on our land board, and her fleets on our sea-board.
instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we shall have one, with more than the strength of both.
Would the prevention of this be worth a War?
consider our abilities to take part in a war.
our operations would be by land only.
how many men should we need to employ?— their cost?
our resources of taxation & credit equal to this.
Weigh the evil of this new accumulation of debt against the loss of markets, & eternal expence & danger from so overgrown a neighbor.
But this is on supposition that France as well as Spain shall be engaged in the war.
for with Spain alone the war would be unsuccessful, & our situation rendered worse.
No need to take a part in the war as yet—we may chuse our own time.
Delay gives us many chances to avoid it altogether.
In such a choice of objects, Gr. Britain may not single out Louisiana & the Floridas.
she may fail in her attempt on them.
France and Spain may recover them.
if all these chances fail, we should have to re-take them. the difference between retaking, & preventing, overbalanced by the benefits of delay.
Delay enables us to be better prepared.
to obtain from the allies a price for our assistance.
Suppose these our ultimate views, What is to be done at this time?
1. as to Spain?
if she be as sensible as we are, that she cannot save Louisiana and the Floridas, might she not prefer their Independance to their Subjection to Gr. Britain?
Does not the proposition of the Ct. d’Estaing furnish us an opening to communicate our ideas on this subject to the court of France, and thro’ them to that of Madrid? And our readiness to join them in guaranteeing the independance of those countries?
this might save us from a war, if Gr. Britain respects our weight in a war.
and if she does not, the object would place the war on popular ground with us.
2. As to England? say to Beckwith
‘that as to a Treaty of commerce, we would prefer amicable to adversary arrangements, tho’ the latter would be infallible, and in our power: that our ideas are that such a treaty should be founded in perfect reciprocity: and wd. therefore be it’s own price:
that as to an Alliance, we can say nothing till it’s object be shewn, & that it is not to be inconsistent with existing engagements: that in the event of a war between Gr. Britain & Spain we are disposed to be strictly neutral: that however we should view with extreme uneasiness any attempt of either power to seize the possessions of the other on our frontier, as we consider our own safety interested in a due balance between our neighbors’ [it might be advantageous to express this latter sentiment, because if there be any difference of opinion in their councils, whether to bend their force against North or South America, or the islands (and certainly there is room for difference) and if these opinions be nearly balanced, that balance might be determined by the prospect of having an enemy the more, or less, according to the object they should select].
[1 ]Jefferson sent this to the President, with the following note:
[2 ]Among the Jefferson MSS. is a single sheet, containing what is evidently the first, or rough draft of this paper. As it varies in several respects, it is included here for purposes of comparison.Heads of consideration on the conduct we are to observe in the war between Spain and Gr. Britain, and particularly should the latter attempt the conquest of Louisiana and the Floridas. The danger to us shd. G. B. possess herself of Louisiana and the Floridas. Beyond the Missi. a territory equal to half ours. She would reduce our Cis-Missi. possessions. Because N. Orleans will draw to it the dependence of all those waters. By her language, laws, religion, manners, govnt., commerce, capitals. By the markets she can offer them in the gulph of Mexico. She would then have a territory the double of ours. She would take away the markets of the Atlantic States,By furnishing the same articles cheaper, tobo., rice, indigo, bread, lumber, fur. She would encircle us completely, her possessions forming a line on our land boards, her fleets on our sea board. Instead of two neighbors balancing each other, we should have one with ye strength of both. Would the prevention of this be worth a War? Consider our abilities to make a war. Our operations would be by land only. How many men would it need to employ?—their cost? Our resources by taxation and credit equal to this. Weigh the evil of this new accumulation of debt.Against the loss of market and eternal danger and expence of such a neighbor. But no need to take a part as yet. We may choose our own time for that. Delay gives us many chances to avoid it altogether. They may not single out that object. They may fail in it. France and Spain may recover it. The difference between prevention and retaking, overbaled. by benefits of delay. Enables us to be better prepared. To stipulate with Spain and France advantages for our assistance. Suppose these our ultimate views, what is to be done at this time? 1. As to Spain.If she be as sensible as we are, that she cannot save Louisiana and the Floridas, might she not prefer their Independce. to their Subjectn. to Gr. Br.?Can we not take advantage of Ct. D’Estaing’s propos’n to communicate thro’ the court of France our ideas on this subject and our readiness to join them in guarantee?This might save us from a war, if Gr. Br. respects our weight in a war. If she does not, it would place the war on popular ground. 2. As to England, say to B.That as to a treaty of commerce we hd. never desired it but on terms of perfect reciprocity.That therefore we never thought to give any price for it but itself.That we had wished for it to avoid giving mutual bonds to the commerce of both nations.But that we have the measures in our own power which may save us from loss.That as to the alliance they propose, it would involve us against France and Spain.And considered even in a moral view, no price could repay such an abandonmt. of character.That we are truly disposed to remain strictly neutral. Tho’ we must confess yt. we shd. view in a very serious light attempts to extend themselves along our frontier, and destroy all balance in our neighborhood. [The latter sentiment it might be advantageous to express, because if there be any difference of op’n in her councils whether to bend their force agt. North or South America (and certainly there is room for difference) and if these operations be nearly balanced, the possibility of drawing an enemy the more on themselves, might determine the balance.]