Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 3 October 1787

To C. W. F. Dumas

Paris Octob. 3. 1787.


I had received your favor of the 23d. of September two days ago. That of the 28th. and 29th. was put into my hands this morning. I immediately waited on the Ambassadors, ordinary and extraordinary of the United Netherlands, and also on the Envoy of Prussia, and asked their good offices to have an efficacious protection extended to your person, your family, and your effects, observing that the United states know no party, but are the friends and allies of the United Netherlands as a nation, and would expect from their friendship that the person who is charged with their affairs until the arrival of a minister should be covered from all insult and injury which might be offered him by a lawless mob, well assured that their minister residing with Congress would on all occasions receive the same. They have been so good as to promise me, each, that he will in his first despatches press this matter on the proper power, and to give me reason to hope that it will be efficacious for your safety. I will transmit your letter to Mr. Jay by the Count de Moustier who sets out within a week for New York as Minister plenipotentiary for France in that country. I sincerely sympathize in your sufferings, and wish that what I have done may effect an end to them, being with much respect & esteem, Sir, your most obedient & most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (PHi); after date, in Dumas’ hand: “reçue le 9e.”; endorsed. PrC (DLC).

TJ’s immediate appeal to the Ambassadors and his report on Dumas’ situation in his letter to Jay of 8 Oct. 1788 (which Jay never commented upon) rested the matter squarely on the principle of diplomatic immunity without implying that Dumas was anything more than a person … charged with American affairs pending the appointment of a minister. John Adams had been requested by the States General to dismiss Dumas forthwith, but, while clearly regarding Dumas as an American agent, and recognizing that his difficulties proceeded from his activities as a Patriot and as a supporter of France, Adams could only transmit the formal complaint to Congress (Adams to TJ, 28 Oct. 1787). This he did with a blunt statement of the implications: “I am sorry for his embarrassed situation, but know not the cause of it but by conjecture. One thing I know, that the United States may very easily be involved in a war by indiscreet intimacies between their servants and foreign Powers and national parties. Congress have but two ways to take upon this occasion—either to dismiss Mr. Dumas at the requisition of the States General, or to write a letter, or order one to be written, desiring their High Mightinesses to articulate the particulars of their exceptions and displeasure against Dumas.” In a subsequent letter to Jay, Adams conjectured that the British ambassador at The Hague was the instigator of the attack on Dumas and stated that the British, conscious of the importance of The Netherlands in the balance against France, had suspected him of directing Dumas’ course; that, as Dumas had a pension from France reversible to his daughter, it would be better for the United States to pay this pension or to dismiss him rather than to have in their service a person receiving pay from two powers; that he hoped Congress would, nevertheless, take time to deliberate upon the subject—in fact, he hoped that they would “take so much [time] that the present passions may cool, and the present scene be shifted” (Adams to Jay, 25 Oct. and 15 Nov. 1787, the first enclosing his correspondence with Fagel, secretary of the States General, and all printed in Dipl. Corr., 1783–89 description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peaceto the Adoption of the Constitution, Washington, Blair & Rives, 1837, 3 vol. description ends , ii, 811–7). The injunction to proceed slowly was scarcely needed; in another month Dumas was hoping to escape his difficulties and to enhance his standing by negotiating a treaty at Brussels, but it was not until the following March that Jay, having received Dumas’ and Adams’ letters from Congress with directions to report, began to struggle with an incident that had already passed the critical stage. As to the two courses suggested by Adams, Jay rejected the first on the ground that it would be “improper to dismiss any of the public servants on the complaint of a foreign court without a previous Hearing, it being of great Importance that the Ministers and officers of the united States should have nothing to hope for or to fear from foreign Courts.” He also rejected Adams’ suggested alternative as being open to other objections: “In whatever Light Mr. Dumas may be considered at the Hague, the fact is that he never was regularly charged with the affairs of the united States at that court, nor does he hold any official place of any kind under them. Hence it follows that Congress cannot on that Principle take cognizance of his Conduct or institute any Inquiries relative to it.—It is true that Mr. Dumas has for many years been (tho rather indirectly than otherwise) employed as a political agent, in which Capacity he has been zealous and useful, and that Congress in Consideration of his services have allowed him a Pension themselves, and consented to his receiving another from the King of France. They have also continued to treat and consider him as being in some sort in their service for they have permitted him to live in their House at the Hague, and his Correspondence with them and their ministers still proceeds as heretofore. These and similar circumstances have probably led their high Mightinesses into some Mistake relative to this Gentleman, and yet they seem to be apprized that no Appointment from Congress has in the usual and regular form been communicated to them; for Mr. Fagel in the letter before mentioned seems to consider him as deriving his appointment from Mr. Adams, and it is from Mr. Adams and not from Congress that he requests and expects his Dismission.” Jay therefore thought that it would be “most prudent to avoid all Questions relative to the Conduct of Mr. Dumas or the Treatment he has met with, as on the one hand he was not restrained or discouraged, so on the other he was not Instructed nor requested nor stimulated by Congress or by any Letters from this office, to intermeddle in the domestic Quarrels of the Dutch, and holding no office under Congress they are not accountable to their High Mightinesses for his Conduct, nor to him for the Consequences of his having acted according to his own private Judgment and wishes, or according to the wishes and Desires of others.” At the same time, Jay thought it was not prudent to ignore the matter and to leave the States General in doubt as to Dumas’ relation to Congress, for “if the complaints against him should continue unnoticed, they will naturally be led to conclude that his conduct had been dictated by their Instructions,” especially since Adams’ reply to Fagel had pointed out that “‘all the authority by which Mr. Dumas acts under the United States, is derived directly from Congress.’” Jay thought the least objectionable method of communicating this view was that he “should be permitted,” not directed, to express regret on behalf of Congress that Dumas had incurred the displeasure of the States General to such an extent that they had requested “his Dismission from what they apprehend to be an Employment under Congress,” and to say that Dumas’ zeal and services during the Revolution had won Congress’ confidence and good will; that it was not owing to any change in their sentiments that he had not been since the peace charged with the care or direction of the affairs in The Netherlands; that “from that period he had constantly been regarded by Congress as a gentleman who deserved well of them, and to whom, tho holding no Place under them, it would always give them Pleasure to shew marks of kindness and Regard”; that, “altho it would be improper for Congress to enter into any Inquiries relative to the political conduct of a Gentleman not in their Services yet … they cannot forbear to wish that Mr. Dumas may experience all that magnanimity which honest men who in civil commotions take different sides, should shew to each other” (Dft, dated “March 1788” in NK-Iselin). Jay was correct in thinking Dumas had never been regularly appointed, but he was wrong in regarding Dumas’ annual stipend as a pension: according to the resolution of 14 Oct. 1785 approving the report on Dumas’ status that Jay himself had drawn, it was a “salary of thirteen hundred dollars per Annum,” retroactively begun on 19 Apr. 1775 and to “continue till the further order of Congress, he continuing his services” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , xxix, 835). The dilemma posed for the secretary for foreign affairs was inherently an impossible one, and though Congress on 14 Feb. 1788 had directed Jay to report on the matter, he never complied: his attempt to carry out the direction, while completed in rough form, remained among his private papers and bore this endorsement by him: “Draft of an unfinished Report respecting Mr. Dumas’ conduct.”

The direct and immediate course adopted by TJ was perhaps based on doubtful assumptions concerning Dumas’ status and it must have led to the demand by the States General for Dumas’ dismissal (see note to Dumas to TJ, 26 Oct. 1787), but it effectively averted the threat posed against Dumas as a person. The real danger that Adams pointed out continued to stand unconfronted by Congress, the only authority that had both the responsibility and the power to face it.

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