Monroe, James (1758-1831) "Commencement" address to Congress
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Commencement Message of President Monroe to both houses of Congress. Begins with positive assessment of America's situation and a discussion of a trade agreement with Great Britain. Then gets into relations with Spain, the real thrust of the speech. Defends recent American actions against Florida. Says that Spanish territory in North America is poorly policed, claiming "the government of Spain, has scarcely been felt." Says criminals and marauding Indian tribes have used Florida as a base to attack the United States. Says Spain could have prevented problems by ceding the territory to America and that there eventually comes a point where a power must act to preserve its interests and self defense. Goes on to defend Major General Andrew Jackson's incursion into Florida. Says land taken was not taken from Spain, but from criminals and rebels that had taken it from her in the first place. Claims no harm was meant to Spain. Finishes speech with a discussion on the wars in South America and domestic concerns, especially Indian relations in the West. Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819.
President Monroe's initial objective of his presidency was to secure the nation's southern border. A particular source of concern was Spanish Florida. In December 1817, Monroe authorized Andrew Jackson to attack the Seminole Indians in Florida. Jackson proceeded to destroy their villages, overthrow the Spanish governor, and execute two British citizens whom he accused of inciting the Seminoles to commit atrocities against Americans. Instead of apologizing for Jackson's conduct, President Monroe, in the following message, defended the Florida raid as a legitimate act of self-defense and informed Spain that it would either have to police Florida effectively or cede it to the United States. In 1819, Spain transferred Florida to the United States and the U.S. government agreed to honor $5 million in damage claims by Americans against Spain.
Fellow Citizens of the Senate, and of the house of Representatives.
The auspicious circumstances, under which you will commence, the duties of the present session, will lighten the burthen, inseparable from the high trust committed to you. The fruits of the earth have been unusually abundant: commerce has flourished; the revenue has exceeded the most favorable anticipation, and peace and amity, are preserved with foreign nations, on conditions just & honorable, to our country. For these inestimable blessings, we cannot but be grateful, to that Providence, which watched over the destinies of nations.
As the term limited, for the operation of the commercial convention, with Great Britain, will expire early in the month of July next, and it was deemed important, that there should be no interval, during which, that portion of our commerce, which was provided for by that convention, should not be regulated, either by arrangement, between the two governments, or by the authority of Congress, the Minister of the United States at London was instructed, early in the last summer, to invite the attention, of the British government, to the subject, with a view, to that object. He was instructed, to propose also, that the negotiation, which it was wished to open, might  extend to the general commerce, of the two countries, and to every other interest and unsettled difference , between them; particularly those, relating to impressment, the fisheries, and boundaries, in the hope, that an arrangement might be made, on principles of reciprocal advantage, which might comprehend, and provide, in a satisfactory manner for, all these high concerns I have the satisfaction to state, that the proposal was received, by the British government, in the spirit which prompted it, and that a negotiation has been opened, at London, embracing all these objects. In full consideration of the great extent, and magnitude of the trust, it was thought proper, to commit it to not less, than two of our distinguished citizens, and in consequence, the Envoy Extraordinary, and Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States, at Paris, has been associated, with our Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, at London, to both of whom, corresponding instructions, have been given; and they are now engaged in the discharge of its duties. It is proper to add, that to prevent any inconvenience, resulting from the delay, incident to a negotiation, on to many important subjects, it was agreed, before entering on it, that the existing convention, should be continued, for a term, not less than eight years.
Our relations with Spain remain, nearly in the state, in which they were, at the close of the last session. The convention of 1802, providing for the adjustment, of a certain portion, of the claimed of our citizens, for injuries sustained by spoliation, [inserted: and] so long suspended, by the Spanish government, has at length been ratified by it; but no arrangement has yet been made, for the payment, of another portion, of like claims, not less extensive, or well founded, or for other classes of claims, or for the settlement of boundaries. These subjects, have again been brought, under consideration, in both countries, but no agreement has been entered into, respecting them. In the mean time, events have occurred,  which clearly prove, the ill effect, of the policy, which that government, has so long pursued, on the friendly relations of the countries, which is it presumed, it is at least of as much importance to Spain, as to the United States, to maintain...
Nov. 18. 1818
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