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this subject, in pursuance of his instructions, in January, 1780, in a second conference he made the following communication to congress. “That his most christian majesty, being uninformed of the appointment of a minister plenipotentiary to treat of an alliance between the United States and his catholic majesty, has signified to his minister plenipotentiary to the United States, that he wishes most earnestly for such an alliance; and in order to make the way more easy, has commanded him to communicate to the congress, certain articles, which his catholic majesty deems of great importance to the interests of his crown, and on which it is highly necessary that the United States explain themselves with precision and with such moderation, as may consist with their essential rights."
66 That the articles are,
“1. A precise and invariable western boundary to the United States.
“ 2. The exclusive navigation of the river Mississippi. “ 3. The possession of the Floridas; and,
“ 4. The land on the left or eastern side of the river Mississippi.
“ That on the first article, it is the idea of the cabinet of Madrid, that the United States extend to the westward no farther than settlements were permitted by the royal proclamation bearing date the
1763. “ On the second, that the United States do not consider themselves as having any right to navigate the river Mississippi, no territory belonging to them being situated thereon.
“On the third, that it is probable the king of Spain will conquer the Floridas, during the course of the present war; and in such an event, every cause of dispute relative thereto, between Spain and these United States, ought to be removed.
“On the fourth, that the lands lying on the east side of the Mississippi, whereon the settlements were prohibited by the aforesaid proclamation, are possessions of the crown of Great Britain, and proper objects against which the arms of Spain may be employed, for the purpose of making a permanent conquest for the
Spanish crown. That such conquest may, probably, be made during the present war. That, therefore, it would be advisable to restrain the southern states from making any settlements or conquests in these territories. That the council of Madrid consider the United States, as having no claim to those territories, either as not having had possession of them, before the present war, or not having any foundation for a claim in the right of the sovereignty of Great Britain, whose dominion they have abjured.
" That his most christian majesty, united to the catholic king, by blood and by the strictest alliances, and united with these states in treaties of alliance, and feeling towards them dispositions of the most perfect friendship, is exceedingly desirous of conciliating between his catholic majesty and these United States, the most happy and lasting friendship.
“That the United States may repose the utmost confidence in his good will to their interests, and in the justice and liberality of his catholic majesty; and that he cannot deem the revolution, which has set up the independence of these United States, as past all danger of unfavorable events, until his catholic majesty and the United States, shall be established on those terms of confidence and amity, which are the objects of his most christian majesty's very earnest wishes."*
This communication disclosed the reasons why his catholic majesty had refused his assent to the French treaty of alliance, as well as the causes of his displeasure that the king of France had concluded a treaty without his concurrence; and without insisting that the Americans should have purchased the aid of France, as well as Spain, in effecting their independence, by the sacrifice of all their western territory. The proclamation referred to, in this communication, was that of the 7th of October, 1763, by which, for the purpose of preventing improper settlements on lands reserved for the Indians, the governors of all the colonies were prohibited, during the pleasure of the crown, from granting lands, beyond the heads or sources of any of the rivers, which fall into the Atlantic ocean, from the west and north west, or of any
* Secret Journals of Congress, vol. 2, p. 309.
lands reserved for the Indians. The views of Spain, therefore, as disclosed by this communication of the French minister, were, that the United States could have no valid claim to lands lying west of the Alleghany mountains ; thereby limiting their boundaries west, to the old line claimed by France, before the war of 1756.
This subject was extremely interesting to all the states, particularly to Virginia, who in fact had made settlements far west of these limits. Spain, it was evident, contemplated the conquest not merely of the Floridas, but of all the extensive country east of the Mississippi, watered by the rivers, which entered the parent stream from the north and east, as belonging to Great Britain, and to claim it by right of conquest. In her views on this subject, she was countenanced and supported by the court of France. To this, however, the United States could never assent. Many of the states claimed to the Mississippi, by virtue of their charters, as well as by the treaty of 1763. Congress, however, did not think proper, to explain themselves directly to the French minister, on these extraordinary views and pretensions of the Spanish court. The delegates of Virginia, were afterwards specially instructed by the legislature of that state on this subject; and on the 4th of October, 1780, congress directed the American minister at the Spanish court, to adhere to his first instructions respecting the right of the United States to the free navigation of the Mississippi, into and from the sea ; which right,
, they said, if not attainable by an express acknowledgment, was not to be relinquished. As to boundaries, he is instructed to adhere strictly to those already fixed by congress; and in addition they said, “ Spain having, by the treaty of Paris, ceded to Great Britain, all the country to the north-eastward of the Mississippi, the people inhabiting these states, while connected with Great Britain, and, also, since the revolution, have settled themselves at divers places, to the westward, near the Mississippi, are friendly to the revolution, and being citizens of these United States, and subject to the laws of that to which they respectively belong, congress cannot assign them over, as subjects to any other power."
To enforce these instructions, congress on the 17th of October, 1780, drew up and sent to their ministers, in France and Spain, a statement of their claim to the western country, as far as the Mississippi, explaining the reasons and principles on which it was founded. This was to be communicated to both courts, and was intended as an answer to the claim of the court of Madrid, as well as “to satify both those courts of the justice and equity of the intentions of congress.”
This very able state paper was drawn by a committee, consisting of Mr. Madison, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Duane; and no doubt was from the pen of Mr. Madison. In support of the claim on the part of the United States, to extend west as far as the Mississippi, congress observed that it was unnecessary,“ to take notice of any pretensions founded on a priority of discovery, of occupancy, or on conquest. It is sufficient that by the definitive treaty of Paris, of 1763, article seventh, all the territory now claimed by the United States, was expressly and irrevocably ceded to the king of Great Britain ; and that the United States are, in consequence of the revolution in their government, entitled to the benefits of that cession."
“ The first of these positions,” they subjoined, “ is proved by the treaty itself. To prove the last, it must be observed, that it is a fundamental principle in all lawful governments, and particularly in the constitution of the British empire, that all the rights of sovereignty are intended for the benefit of those from whom they are derived, and over whom they are exercised. It is known, also, to have been held for an inviolable principle by the United States, while they remained a part of the British empire, that the sovereignty of the king of England, with all the rights and powers included in it, did not extend to them in virtue of his being acknowledged and obeyed as king, by the people of England, or of any other part of the empire, but in virtue of his being acknowledged and obeyed as king of the people of America themselves; that this principle was the basis, first of their opposition to, and finally of their abolition of, his authority over them. From these principles it results, that all the territory lying within the
limits of the states, as fixed by the sovereign himself, was held by him for their particular benefit, and must equally with his other rights and claims in quality of their sovereign, be considered as having devolved on them, in consequence of their resumption of the sovereignty to themselves.
" In support of this position it may be further observed, that all the territorial rights of the king of Great Britain, within the limits of the United States, accrued to him from the enterprises, the risks, the sacrifices, the expense in blood and treasure of the present inhabitants and their progenitors. If in latter times, expenses and exertions have been borne by any other part of the empire, in their immediate defense, it need only be recollected, that the ultimate object of them, was the general security and advantage of the empire ; that a proportional share was borne by the states themselves ; and that if this had not been the case, ;
the benefits resulting from an exclusive enjoyment of their trade have been an abundant compensation. Equity and justice, therefore, perfectly coincide, in the present instance, with political and constitutional principles."*
In consequence of information communicated by the American minister appointed to negociate peace with Great Britain, congress, in October, 1780, gave him additional instructions. He was informed that a short truce, would be highly dangerous to the United States ; but if a truce should be proposed for so long a period, or an indefinite period, requiring so long notice, previous to a renewal of hostilities, as to evince on the part of Great Britain, a virtual relinquishment of the war, and an expedient only to avoid the mortification of an express acknowledgment of American independence, he might, with the concurrence of their ally, accede to it, on condition of the removal of the land and naval armaments from the United States : he was directed, however, in case of a truce, to hold up the United States to the world, “ in a style and title not derogatory to the character of an independent and sovereign people.”
With respect to those persons, who had either abandoned, or been banished from, any of the United States, he was instructed
* Secret Journals of Congress, vol. 2, pp. 327, 328. Note 9.