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Special Message

January 13, 1818

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

I have the satisfaction to inform Congress that the establishment at Amelia Island has been suppressed, and without the effusion of blood. The papers which explain this transaction I now lay before Congress.

By the suppression of this establishment and of that at Galveztown, which will soon follow, if it has not already ceased to exist, there is good cause to believe that the consummation of a project fraught with much injury to the United States has been prevented.

When we consider the persons engaged in it, being adventurers from different countries, with very few, if any, of the native inhabitants of the Spanish colonies; the territory on which the establishments were made--one on a portion of that claimed by the United States westward of the Mississippi, the other on a part of East Florida, a Province in negotiation between the United States and Spain; the claim of their leader as announced by his proclamation on taking possession of Amelia Island, comprising the whole of both the Floridas, without excepting that part of West Florida which is incorporated into the State of Louisiana; their conduct while in the possession of the island making it instrumental to every species of contraband, and, in regard to slaves, of the most odious and dangerous character, it may fairly be concluded that if the enterprise had succeeded on the scale on which it was formed much annoyance and injury would have resulted from it to the United States.

Other circumstances were thought to be no less deserving of attention. The institution of a government by foreign adventurers in the island, distinct from the colonial governments of Buenos Ayres, Venezuela, or Mexico, pretending to sovereignty and exercising its highest offices, particularly in granting commissions to privateers, were acts which could not fail to draw after them the most serious consequences. It was the duty of the Executive either to extend to this establishment all the advantages of that neutrality which the United States had proclaimed, and have observed in favor of the colonies of Spain who, by the strength of their own population and resources, had declared their independence and were affording strong proof of their ability to maintain it, or of making the discrimination which circumstances required.

Had the first course been pursued, we should not only have sanctioned all the unlawful claims and practices of this pretended Government in regard to the United States, but have countenanced a system of privateering in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere the ill effects of which might, and probably would, have been deeply and very extensively felt.

The path of duty was plain from the commencement, but it was painful to enter upon it while the obligation could be resisted. The law of 1811, lately published, and which it is therefore proper now to mention, was considered applicable to the case from the moment that the proclamation of the chief of the enterprise was seen, and its obligation was daily increased by other considerations of high importance already mentioned, which were deemed sufficiently strong in themselves to dictate the course which has been pursued.

Early intimation having been received of the dangerous purposes of these adventurers, timely precautions were taken by the establishment of a force near the St. Marys to prevent their effect, or it is probable that it would have been more sensibly felt.

To such establishments, made so near to our settlements in the expectation of deriving aid from them, it is particularly gratifying to find that very little encouragement was given. The example so conspicuously displayed by our fellow-citizens that their sympathies can not be perverted to improper purposes, but that a love of country, the influence of moral principles, and a respect for the laws are predominant with them, is a sure pledge that all the very flattering anticipations which have been formed of the success of our institutions will be realized. This example has proved that if our relations with foreign powers are to be changed it must be done by the constituted authorities, who alone, acting on a high responsibility, are competent to the purpose, and until such change is thus made that our fellow-citizens will respect the existing relations by a faithful adherence to the laws which secure them.

Believing that this enterprise, though undertaken by persons some of whom may have held commissions from some of the colonies, was unauthorized by and unknown to the colonial governments, full confidence is entertained that it will be disclaimed by them, and that effectual measures will be taken to prevent the abuse of their authority in all cases to the injury of the United States.

For these injuries, especially those proceeding from Amelia Island, Spain would be responsible if it was not manifest that, though committed in the latter instance through her territory, she was utterly unable to prevent them. Her territory, however, ought not to be made instrumental, through her inability to defend it, to purposes so injurious to the United States. To a country over which she fails to maintain her authority, and which she permits to be converted to the annoyance of her neighbors, her jurisdiction for the time necessarily ceases to exist. The territory of Spain will nevertheless be respected so far as it may be done consistently with the essential interests and safety of the United States. In expelling these adventurers from these posts it was not intended to make any conquest from Spain or to injure in any degree the cause of the colonies. Care will be taken that no part of the territory contemplated by the law of 1811 shall be occupied by a foreign government of any kind, or that injuries of the nature of those complained of shall be repeated; but this, it is expected, will be provided for with every other interest in a spirit of amity in the negotiation now depending with the Government of Spain.

JAMES MONROE.

JANUARY 13, 1818.

James Monroe, Special Message Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/206561

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