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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of History of the
Lost State of Franklin

Samuel Cole Williams

published by the
Press of the Pioneers,
New York, 1933

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 18
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p123  Chapter XVII

Spain and Closure of the Mississippi — 1786

In this year (1786) was revived the question of the closure, by treaty, of the Mississippi river to American commerce. In May, 1785, Gardoqui appeared as Spain's representative to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Secretary Jay, and in July the latter was authorized by Congress to carry forward parleys. Washington thought this was a mistake, and that the true policy was to wait until actual settlements were far advanced toward the Mississippi, with the west people in a strategic position to impose their will upon Spain. "I may be singular in my ideas, but they are these: to open a door to, and make easy the way for those settlers to the westward (who ought to advance regularly and compactly) before we make any stir about the navigation of the Mississippi."1

Henry Lee was of like mind. In a letter to Washington he said: "the moment our Western Country becomes populous and capable, they will seize by force what may have been yielded by treaty."

But the question was pressed, and at the instance of the commercial classes of the East. A severe depression was felt by them at this time as a result in part of the clogging of the channels of foreign commerce; and they turned for relief to the advocacy of a treaty that would admit of a freer trade with Spain and her possessions. Rufus King, of Massachusetts, expressed the belief that if the free navigation of the river were secured the East and West must separate, since the commerce of the West would follow the current of that stream.

Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, saw separation threatening from another direction: "Should it [the right of navigation] be surrendered . . . can the western people be blamed for immediately throwing themselves into Spanish arms for that protection and support which you have denied them? Is it not to be clearly seen, by those who will see, that the policy of Spain in thus inducing us to  p124 consent to the surrender of navigation for a time, is, that she may use it for the purpose of separating the interests of the inhabitants of the Western Country entirely from us and making it subservient to her own purposes? Will it not produce this? When once this right is ceded, no longer can the United States be viewed as the friend or parent of the New States, nor ought they to be considered in any other light than that of their oppressors."2

Jefferson wrote to Madison in January, 1787, of Jay's project, giving quite the true view of the situation: "I never had any interest westward of the Alleghany, and never will have any. But I have had great opportunities of knowing the character of the people who inhabit that country. And I will venture to say that the act which abandons the navigation of the Mississippi, is an act of separation between the Eastern and Western Country. It is a relinquishment of five parts out of eight of the territory of the United States; an abandonment of our fairest subject for the payment of our public debts and the chaining of those debts on our necks in perpetuum. . . If they declare themselves a separate people, we are incapable of a single effort to retain them. Our citizens can never be induced, either as militia or as soldiers, to go there to cut the throats of their own brothers and sons . . . They [the Westerners] are able already to rescue the navigation of the Mississippi out of the hands of Spain."

In the same letter, Jefferson expressed the opinion that a little rebellion now and then was a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.3

Timothy Bloodworth, of North Carolina, pointed out in an official letter from Congress to Governor Caswell, that the Eastern States would receive the benefits of the commercial clauses in the sale of their fish and oil, while tobacco, a staple commodity of the South, was excluded, though the purchase price for the treaty was to be paid for by the South and West by the closing of the river. Then with his eye on Carolina's western possessions, he remarked that a pernicious consequence irreparably connected with the measure would be the alienation of the citizens, and the depreciation of the land, on the western waters.4

 p125  To this representative of North Carolina the success of Jay's proposal would mean the consolidation of all factions in Franklin and on the Cumberland against the people of the seaboard; and the depreciation in value of the immense holdings of transmontane lands of Carolinians. The passing of political control of the West from North Carolina would imperil titles claimed by her citizens covering 3,736,493 acres of choice land; not to speak of the State's control of ungranted parts of the trans-Alleghany regions.

It is significant that just at the time that plans for the Federal Constitution were being projected, threats of secession were so freely uttered from diverse sources. No closure of the Mississippi meant separation to the East; closure justified secession on the part of the South and West. The issue took a sectional color. Otto wrote Vergennes in September, 1786, that he feared that the heat engendered between the sections would lead to yet more open advocacy of disunion. This French diplomatist saw the issue in its true light. "The fertile plains of the interior would always attract a considerable number of the inhabitants of the different States, and it would be easier to stay a torrent than the constant flow of this population. . . . This emigration doubly enfeebles New England, since on the one hand it deprives her of industrious citizens, and on the other it adds to the population of the Southern States. These new territories will gradually form themselves into separate governments."5

Early in 1787 a Southern newspaper advocated that separation take the form of erecting four new nations on the ruins of the Confederation — one of the four to be comprised of the Southern States; another to be founded in Trans-Alleghania.6

The Author's Notes:

1 Sparks, Writings of Washington, IX, 102, 172.

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2 Debate on Jay's proposal, August 16, 1786, in American Historical Review, IX, 825.

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3 January 30, 1787, Jefferson's Writings (Ford ed.) V, 256.

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4 N. C. State Records, XXII, 902.

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5 Otto to Vergennes, Bancroft, History of the Constitution, II, Appendix, 389.

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6 Quoted in Massachusetts Centinel, of Apr. 18, 1787.

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Page updated: 23 Jul 13