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JQA Diary, volume 31 21 March 1820
JQA Neal Millikan Adams-Onis Treaty Florida Annexation Foreign Relations

21. V:15. Captain O’Brien called at my Office and took his papers to carry to the Committee of the Senate, to whom his petition has been referred. He was much disposed for Conversation, but I was obliged to attend the Meeting at the President’s, where I found Mr Crawford, and Mr Wirt. Mr Calhoun soon afterwards came— The President had made a draft of a Message, to Congress the postponement of proceedings relative to Spain and Florida to the next Session. It referred to the despatches last received from J. Forsyth and G. W. Campbell— To the interposition of the Russian Charge 289d’Affaires at Madrid, to prevail upon Forsyth not to go away as he had threatened and intended— To the good offices of Russia and France, and Great-Britain to induce the ratification of the Treaty by Spain— To the wishes expressed by them both that the United States should take no measure of reprizal, at least without first waiting for the Spanish Minister, who is to come and ask for explanations—and to the distressed situation of Spain, which makes forbearance the dictate of a magnanimous policy; concluding with the remark that our position for asserting our right by our own force will not be impaired by the proposed delay. Crawford declared himself in favour of the measure more frankly and explicitly than I expected; though he saw and with us all remarked, that it was subject to much misconception and misrepresentation. Wirt’s opinion as usual, was not opposed to that of the President; the only objector, and quite to my surprize was Calhoun— First he said it was a change of ground, from what the President had recommended at the commencement of the Session; for which change, neither the interposition of Russia and France, nor their wishes, nor the new distresses of Spain afforded sufficient motives— The dispositions and wishes of Russia were indeed not so strongly marked in the despatch from Mr Campbell, as in the Letters from Count Nesselrode, Capodistrias, and Pozza di Borgo to Poletica, which he had confidentially read to me, but which could not be communicated to Congress, and which rested only upon my report. The popular feeling would be jealous of every appearance of yielding to the interference of any foreign power, and any expression of compassion for the distressed Condition of Spain might be understood as discountenancing the insurrection, which has lately broken out in the expeditionary army near Cadix, which ought most cautiously to be avoided— That as to any compassion for Spain we were neither bound to feel it; nor should we get credit for it if we did— Instead of a motive to forbearance, the new difficulties of the Spanish Government rather should confirm us in the purpose of doing Justice to ourselves, as it took at once from Spain both the power of resistance and the disposition of resentment against us. Calhoun after enlarging in this strain of argument, still professed to submit these ideas with diffidence. Crawford replied; admitting that they were of great weight—but said that although there might be great objections to avowing publicly any deference for the wishes and opinions of other Powers, yet it was wise and proper to shew such deference— It was with Nations as with individuals— A man might profess to be perfectly independent, and to set at nought the opinions and wishes of others; but he could not get along without soon finding the inconvenience to himself of such a system. And so with Nations— However sturdily they may adhere to their Independence, they will not find it good policy to set the opinions and wishes of other Nations at defiance— He also thought the distressed condition of the Spanish Government, was a circumstance of considerable weight to urge forbearance on our part— He knew it was the feeling of several members of Congress, and named particularly Mr Walker of Alabama, as having expressed the Sentiment to him— I added that this motive appeared to me to be of great power— Perhaps of itself sufficient to justify the whole change— As a real motive it was magnanimous, and true magnanimity was in my opinion the highest wisdom of a Nation— Nor had I any doubt that we should get some credit for it—not indeed in the opinions or acknowledgment of our envious enemies; but in that of all those who are disposed to befriend us— So too we should get credit from Russia and France for manifesting and avowing a deference for their opinions and wishes. They could have no motive for disbelieving us, and as it would flatter them in the estimate of their own importance, they would easily give credence to our assertion. The general disposition of the Power towards us, and the particular Spirit with which their wishes were manifested, were also very material in estimating the propriety of conciliating them with compliance— The general disposition of France and Russia towards us, was friendly— Their wishes were that Spain should do us justice and ratify the Treaty. Their advice to us was in favour of Peace—of our own Peace, with Spain, and of the general Peace of Europe, in which they are all interested.— There was a material difference between a wish manifested by such a power, and in such a manner, and the wish of a malevolent power, expressed in a dictatorial or menacing manner— To such a manifestation I would not only shew no deference, but would at once meet it with the most determined resistance. Calhoun readily admitted this difference— I said that as to a change of policy on the part of the Executive, there was in reality none. The President had recommended 290at the commencement of the Session, that a discretionary power should be given to take Florida, and indemnify the Claimants as the Treaty had provided; but to wait for the Minister who is to come for explanations, if he should arrive during the Session of Congress— But Congress had not given that discretionary power; the minister had not arrived, but Forsyth says, may be expected in May, and Gallatin says, not till after the close of the Session of Congress— The Committee of foreign Relations have reported a Bill, positively requiring the President to take possession of Florida; admitting in their Report that in that case the contested Grants will all be good against the United States, and proposing to look westward of the Sabine for future satisfaction of the claims. Forsyth intimates as probable that this is precisely what the Spanish Government wishes. That we should take possession; and thus strengthen their claim to the confirmation of the grants— If the Bill proposed by the Committee of Foreign Relations passes, it will play the game into the hands of Spain— If it fails, Congress will do nothing; but the Session will terminate leaving to the world, and to the expected Spanish negotiator, the appearance of disagreement between the Executive and the Legislature. A disagreement too after long and violent debates, which cannot fail to arise on the proposed Bill— The debates may perhaps take place, notwithstanding the message should be sent; but the vote in the end, will agree with the President’s recommendation— The Executive and Legislature will harmonize together, and all our resources for negotiation with the coming Spaniard will remain unimpaired. These arguments, entirely decisive to my mind were not satisfactory to Calhoun; he seemed apprehensive that the Executive would come in collision with the Committee of foreign Relations; and there was some question whether the Emperor of Russia himself would be pleased to have his name used in the Message— The President finally determined that I should take the draft of the Message, and shew it to Mr Lowndes the Chairman of the Committee of foreign Relations, and to Mr Poletica the Russian Minister; and after hearing their opinions of the measure, it should be determined by another administration meeting, whether the Message should be sent or not— The news came this day of the Assassination of the Duke de Bèrri on the 13th. of February; an event by which Mr Hyde de Neuville, and his family were very deeply distressed. Mr Roth the Secretary of Legation came to apologize for their not attending this Evening at our weekly party— Hersant had called last Evening to enquire if I had received any particulars of the disaster— I had none but the newspaper accounts— This Evening the party at our house was crowded; about one hundred persons— Mrs Adams made it a sort of wedding party to the new married couple Mr and Mrs Gouverneur. They danced Cotillions and it was near midnight when the company left us— Major Lamb was of the party.