Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 22 June 1785

To William Stephens Smith

Paris June 22. 1785.


I have been honoured with your letter of May 28. inclosing those you had been so kind as to bring for me from America, as I had before been with a note informing me that such letters were in your possession. We had hoped you might have taken your passage in the French packet which might have given us the pleasure of seeing you here. Your arrival however in London was so well timed with respect to that of Mr. Adams that our regrets must give place to the general object of your mission which appears in event to have been better consulted by you than by our wishes. I congratulate you sincerely on your appointment and safe arrival. I wish you may find your situation agreeable. You will have one disagreeable circumstance the less than we have here, that of speaking the language of the country you are in. No one can know the value of this advantage till he has experienced the want of it. The external manners of the people too are more like those of your own countrymen, tho’ I doubt whether in benignity of disposition we do not find a greater resemblance here. The public papers tell us of a conference between Mr. Adams and Mr. Pitt. I am anxious to hear what passes on our business, tho’ I have little doubt what it will be. During the late war I had an infallible rule for deciding what that nation would do on every occasion. It was, to consider what they ought to do, and to take the reverse of that as what they would assuredly do, and I can say with truth that I was never deceived. It remains to see whether the present administration is under the influence of the same fatality. I shall with great pleasure receive your letters from time to time if you will be so good as to honour me with them, and will make you such returns as our information here will enable us, and am with great respect Sir Your most obedt. humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Rosenbach Co., Philadelphia, 1951). PrC (DLC).

Smith’s letter of 28 May 1785 has not been found, but the note informing TJ that the letters were in his possession was doubtless that from Adams to TJ, 27 May 1785. Smith had arrived in London the day before Adams did, but he had been traveling in leisurely fashion from Falmouth for ten days and reporting his adventures at considerable length to his old commander, Baron Steuben (Smith to Steuben, 16–18 May 1785; NHi: Steuben Papers). When he finally arrived at London at six in the evening of 25 May, he reported to Steuben that he “put up at the Royal Hotel in Pall Mall near the Palace at St. James, thinking it best to strike at the highest Peg at once. Very fortunately Mr. Adams and his Lady and Daughter arrived on the 26th. I waited on them immediately and was much pleased with the reception I met with and could very plainly discover that they had taken the pains to make some enquiry after me for they knew me perfectly and those who gave the account must have been pretty well acquainted and have dealt candidly. They have continued to be very attentive and polite and I have a great prospect of passing my time pleasantly with them” (Smith to Steuben, 15 June 1785; same). Adams had indeed been concerned about his new secretary, particularly because of Smith’s membership in the Cincinnati, on which their views were poles apart. “When Virtue is lost Ambition succeeds,” Adams had written Gerry in April. “Then indeed Ribbons and Garters become necessary; but never till then. … I don’t wonder at a Marquis de la Fayette or a Baron Steuben. They were born and bred to such Decorations and the taste for them” (Adams to Gerry, 25 Apr. 1785). Smith, a few days after meeting Adams, revealed his contrary opinion of the Society of the Cincinnati when he reported to Steuben: “I met Colo. Robinson of the Pennsylvania Line at the theatre with the Medal of the Cincinnati in his button Hole ridiculously sporting with a Cyprean Nymph. If Gentlemen are above attending to their personal character some little attention should be paid to the Character of a Society who may honour them with their Badge” (Smith to Steuben, 15 June 1785; NHi: Steuben Papers). But the entire Adams family was immediately won over by the charm and good qualities of the future husband of young Abigail, and he by theirs. For TJ’s high opinion of Smith, see his letter to Abigail Adams, 20 Nov. 1785.

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