Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 12 February 1788

To C. W. F. Dumas

Paris Feb. 12. 1788.


I have duly received your favor of the 5th. inst. inclosing that for Mr. Jay. The packet was gone, as I presume: but I have another occasion of forwarding it securely. Your attentions to the Leyden gazette are in my opinion very useful. The paper is much read and respected. It is the only one I know in Europe which merits respect. Your publications in it will tend to reestablish that credit which the solidity of our affairs deserve. With respect to the sale of lands, we know that two sales of 5. millions and 2. millions of acres have been made. Another was begun for 4. millions, which in the course of the negociation may have been reduced to 3. millions as you mention. I have not heard that this sale is absolutely concluded, but there is reason to presume it. Stating these sales at two thirds of a dollar the acre and allowing for 3. or 400,000 acres sold at public sale and a very high price, we may say they have absorbed 7. millions of dollars of the domestic federal debt. The states by taxation and otherwise have absorbed 11. millions more: so that that debt stands now at about 10. millions of dollars and will probably be all absorbed in the course of the next year. There will remain then our foreign debt between 10 and 12. millions, including interest. The sale of lands will then go on for the paiment of this. But as this paiment must be in cash, not in public effects, the lands must be sold cheaper. The demand too will probably be less brisk. So we may suppose this will be longer paying off than the domestic debt.—With respect to the new government, 9. or 10. states will probably have accepted it by the end of this month. The others may oppose it. Virginia I think will be of this number. Besides other objections of less moment, she will insist on annexing a bill of rights to the new constitution, i.e. a bill wherein the government shall declare that 1. Religion shall be free. 2. Printing presses free. 3. Trials by jury preserved in all cases. 4. No monopolies in commerce. 5. No standing army. Upon receiving this bill of rights, she will probably depart from her other objections; and this bill is so much of the interest of all the states that I presume they will offer it, and thus our constitution be amended and our union closed by the end of the present year. In this way there will have been opposition enough to do good, and not enough to do harm. I have such reliance on the good sense of the body of the people and the honesty of their leaders, that I am not afraid of their letting things go wrong to any length in any case. Wishing you better health, and much happiness I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect esteem and respect Sir your most obedient and most humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

In stating that the Gazette de Leide was the only paper he knew in Europe which merits respect, TJ was undoubtedly expressing an honest conviction, but he also knew that he was reflecting an opinion that Dumas himself had set forth in a letter to Jay that had recently passed through TJ’s hands (Dumas to Jay, 2 Feb. 1788; see note to Dumas to TJ, 5 Feb. 1788). Moreover, he was evidently impressed by the fact that Dumas had caused the Constitution, the Northwest Ordinance, and other documents from America to be printed in that journal, and he must have intended that his present compliment on the paper and the contents of this letter would be passed along to Luzac, its editor. Dumas took the hint and saw to it that Luzac received the praise and the letter—after being edited. An extract of the letter, omitting that part devoted to the sales of land in the Northwest Territory, appeared in the Gazette de Leide of 29 Feb. 1788 under the following caption: “Extrait d’une Lettre de Philadelphie du 10. Janvier.” TJ’s comment on the insistence by Virginia of a Bill of Rights as it appeared in this extract will serve to show how Dumas rewrote that part of the present letter: “les Virginiens insisteront principalement sur ce qu’il soit ajouté à la nouvelle Forme de Gouvernement un Bil des Droits; c’est-a-dire, un Acte, par lequel le Gouvernement commun de toute la Confédération détermine et constate les principes fondamentaux de la Liberté des Citoyens dans une République, qui soit telle de fait et non simplement de nom. Ces principes sont notamment: I. Que la Religion doit être libre: ii. Que la Presse doit être libre et exemte de toute disposition arbitraire: iii. Que dans tous les cas les Citoyens doivent être maintenus dans le droit d’etre jugés par Juris: iv. Que le Commerce ne soit restreint par aucuns Priviléges exclusifs ni Monopoles: V. Qu’il n’y ait point d’Armée permanente et soudoyée, dangereuse pour la Liberté des Citoyens.—Si la Virginie obtient, que ce Bil des Droits soit accordé aux Citoyens de l’Amérique, elle se départira probablement de ses autres difficultés: Et il y a d’autant plus d’apparence, qu’elle y réussira, que les principes à y établir ne sont pas autres que ceux qui ont déjà été posés comme fondamentaux dans la Constitution de Massachusett’s et dans celles de la plûpart des autres Etats. Ceux-ci d’ailleurs y ont un intérêt si évident qu’ils pourront prévenir la Virginie et lui offrir le Bil des Droits, qu’elle demande. Ainsi l’opposition à la Constitution projettée aura été assez forte pour faire du bien, mais non pour lui nuire: Et l’on peut se flatter avec raison d’après le bon-sens et la sagesse, que le Peuple Américain a montrés jusqu’ici dans toute sa conduite, ainsi que d’après la probité et le Patriotisme éclairé de ceux qui le gouvernent, que sa Constitution-Fédérative sera définitivement corrigée et les liens de son Union plus étroitement resserés avant la fin de l’année courante.” Luzac may have made some of the alterations in TJ’s letter in addition to those by Dumas; but the attempt to amplify and explain caused the editor or editors of it to mistake the precise nature of a bill of rights. It also caused the display of a natural lack of familiarity with the chain of influence that ran through the adoption of bills of rights by Massachusetts and other states in their constitutions—beginning, of course, with that of Virginia of 12 June 1776.

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