ADAMS, John Quincy. Twelve letters signed ("John Quincy Adams") as Secretary of State, to Spanish Ambassadors Don Francisco Vives and Don Joaquin Anduaga, Department of State, Washington, 3 May 1820 to 29 May 1822. Together 44 pages, folio, occasional browning, several with slight dampstains.
THE ACQUISITION OF FLORIDA FROM SPAIN: AN ARCHIVE DOCUMENTING
FINAL NEGOTIATIONS FOR THE ADAMS-ONÍS TRANSCONTINENTAL TREATY
A highly significant correspondence concerning Adams's dogged efforts to ensure Spanish ratification of the historic Adams-Onís or Transcontinental Treaty, by which the United States acquired all of East Florida, Spain renounced all claims to Oregon, the southern border of the U.S. was fixed at the Sabine River and U.S. possessions extended westward along the 42nd parallel to the Pacific Ocean. Unable to effectively administer their colonial possessions, Spain had found it increasingly difficult to prevent raids on U.S. settlements by Florida's Seminole Indians. In response, the American government authorized Andrew Jackson's campaigns against the Seminoles, which resulted in Jackson's unauthorized punitive expedition into Florida in 1818. In the diplomatic furor which ensued, Adams initiated negotiations with Spanish ambassador Luis de Onís y Gonzales and on 22 February 1819 signed the preliminary articles. The treaty would prove vital to the growth of the nation and in the words of one authority constituted "the greatest diplomatic victory won by any single individual in the history of the United States" (Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy, p. 340).
A minor flaw in the treaty provisions, relating to two recent grants in Florida, forced negotiations to be reopened. Then, before ratification could be completed, Ferdinand VII was deposed in January 1820, placing the entire treaty in jeopardy. The nullification of the land grants in Florida became the pretext by which ratification was postponed. In this fascinating group of letters, Adams determinedly presses the new Spanish ambassadors to complete the process of ratification. On 3 May 1820, Adams forcefully answers Vives's objections to the treaty and rejects his insistence that the U.S. must not recognize the new South American republics. "As a necessary consequence of the neutrality between Spain and the South American provinces, the United States can contract no engagement not to form any relations with these provinces...Mr. Onis had long and constantly been informed that a persistance in it would put an end to the possible conclusion of any treaty whatever." As to the issue of Ferdinand VII's Florida land grants, he explains that the object of a particular clause was "to guard your Government, and all persons who might have had an interest in any of the annulled grants, against the possible expectation or pretence that those grants would be made valid by the treaty...Mr. Onís...declared that those grants were null and void." Asserting that any mistake within the treaty was the fault of Onís, Adams threatens to increase American demands, and to include Texas, if ratification does not proceed: "if any further delay...should occur, the United States could not hereafter accept either of $5,000,000 for the indemnities due to their citizens by Spain, nor of the Sabine for the boundary between the United States and the Spanish territories."
On 8 May, in an 18-page letter, Adams insists upon "the absolute obligation by which His Catholic Majesty was bound to ratify the treaty within the term stipulated...the reasons alleged for his witholding the ratification are altogether insufficient for the justification of that measure...the United States have suffered by it the violation of a perfect right..." The treaty, he reminds them "was signed after a succession of negotiations of nearly twenty years' duration, in which all the causes of difference between the two nations had been thoroughly discussed." Adams cites international law, arguing that there is no justifiable reason to void the treaty: "No case can be cited by you in which such a refusal has been justly given; and the fact of refusal, separate from the justice of the case, amounts to no more than the assertion that sovereigns have often violated their engagements and their duties: the obligation of His Catholic Majesty to ratify the treaty signed by Mr. Onís is therefore complete."
Adams emphatically rejects the King's request for a new treaty: "The Government of the United States, by a forebearance perhaps unexampled in human history, has patiently waited...What then, must have been the sentiments of the President upon finding...that instead of explanations, His Catholic Majesty has instructed you to demand the negotiation of another treaty, and to call upon the United States for stipulations derogatory to their honor, and incompatible with their duties as an independent nation?" Adams adds that Spain's problems with its South American colonies are irrelevant to the negotiations, and maintains that U.S. recognition of the independent government of Buenos Aires was demanded "by every friend of humanity." He informs Vives in conclusion that the President cannot accept Spain's conditional promise of ratification.
An angry remonstrance from Vives was met by a conciliatory letter of May 18 from Adams: "From the correspondance and conferences between us, your personal satisfaction upon all the points...has been declared; and I am now directed to inform you that the further delay, in which the Government of the United States has acquiesced, in the pursuit of their rights, was suggested by the spirit of the most friendly conciliation towards your country, and with a special regard to the interesting circumstances in which it is now placed." On May 28th, Vives again temporizes, claiming that the treaty could only be ratified after the meeting of the Cortes. Adams parried this excuse on June 8: "There is no Power upon Earth more qualified than these United States, by their own experience, to feel the connection between sentiments of liberty and national happiness, so there is no one which will more sincerely rejoyce to find that the same connection will result from the experience of a constitutional Government to the people of Spain. The sacrifices made by the United States in assenting to that treaty...were agreed to in the spirit of concession, of harmony, and of magnanimity...It was neither their policy nor their desire to obtain burdensome or unequal conditions from Spain." After Adams's exhausting diplomatic exertions, the treaty was finally ratified by the Spanish diplomats on 19 October.
Even after ratification of the historic treaty, there remained unresolved issues. On 28 February 1821, he patiently explains that "this treaty must be considered as a compact of mutual concessions...While appreciating in all its force the sense of justice, by which, after the maturest deliberation...the President deems it unnecessary to press the remark...that to grantees, whose titles were in fact null and void...no indemnity can be due, because no injury was done." President Monroe, he notes, "has accepted the ratification of the treaty as an earnest [example] of that cordial harmony, which it is among his most ardent desires to cultivate between the United States and Spain."
Subsequent letters concern legal issues related to the transfer of Florida and a boundary question resulting from an earlier American treaty with the Choctaws. On August 13, Adams defends territorial Governor Andrew Jackson in a dispute over cannons at Pensacola which the Spanish governor had refused to surrender: "General Jackson and Col. Butler on these occasions acted in strict conformity to the instructions which they had received from this Government." He likewise insists the Spanish surrender the archives and documents relating to Florida: "With regard to the Documents in the public registry...they are understood to be public archives relating directly to the property of the province, and essential as records...." They are "as indispensable to the United States, as it must henceforth be useless to the Government of Spain." Letter of 17 and 29 May 1822 concern the final official survey of the boundaries stipulated by the treaty.
Provenance: A Spanish family, purchased in 1991. (12)