Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 29 November 1788

To John Jay

Paris Nov. 29. 1788.


In the hurry of making up my letter of the 19th. inst. I omitted to inclose the printed paper on the subject of whale oil. That omission is now supplied by another conveiance by the way of London. The explanatory Arrêt is not yet come out. I still take for granted it will pass, tho’ there be an opposition to it in the council. In the mean time orders are given to receive our oils which may arrive. The apprehension of a want of corn has induced them to turn their eyes to foreign supplies; and to shew their preference of receiving them from us, they have passed the inclosed arrêt giving a premium on wheat and flour from the United states for a limited time.1 This you will doubtless think proper to have translated and published. The Notables are still in session. The votes of the separate bureaux have not yet been reduced to a joint act in an assembly of the whole. I see no reason to suppose they will change the separate votes relative to the representation of the tiers etat in the states-general. In the mean time the stream of public indignation, heretofore directed against the court, sets strongly against the Notables. It is not yet decided when the States will meet: but certainly they cannot till February or March. The Turks have retired across the Danube. This movement indicates their going into winter quarters, and the severity of the weather must hasten it. The thermometer was yesterday at 8°. of Farenheit, that is, 24°. below freezing; the degree of cold of the year 1740, which they count here amongst their coldest winters.2 This having continued many days, and still likely to continue, and the wind from Northeast, renders it probable3 that all enterprize must be suspended between the three great belligerent powers. Poland is likely to be thrown into great convulsions. The Empress of Russia has peremptorily demanded such aids from Poland as might engage it in the war. The King of Prussia, on the other hand, threatens to march an army on their borders. The vote of the Polish confederacy for 100,000 men, was a coalition of the two parties in that single act only. The party opposed to the king has obtained a majority, and have voted that this army shall be independant of him. They are supported by Prussia, while the King depends on Russia. Authentic information from England leaves not a doubt that the king is lunatic, and that that, instead of the effect, is the cause of the illness under which he has been so near dying. I mention this, because the English newspapers, speaking by guess on that, as they do on all other subjects, might mislead you as to his true situation; or rather might mislead others who know, less than you do, that a thing is not rendered the more probable by being mentioned in those papers.

I inclose those of Leyden to the present date with the gazettes of France, and have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect esteem & respect, Sir, Your most obedient humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: PCC, No. 87, ii). PrC (DLC). Enclosures: (1) Copy of TJ’s Observations on the Whale-Fishery (see Document iv of the group of documents on the whale fishery, under 19 Nov. 1788). (2) Printed copy of an arrêt, dated 23 NOV. 1788, whereby the king, “ne voulant négliger aucun des moyens qui peuvent encourager pendant cette année l’importation des grains étrangers,” announced the decision to grant to any French merchant who would import any wheat or flour from the United States between 15 Feb. and 30 June 1789 a bounty of “trente sous par quintal de blé, et de quarante sous par quintal de farine” (DNA: PCC, No. 87, ii, accompanied by translation by John Pintard). (3) Printed copy of another arrêt, also dated 23 Nov. 1788, announcing that the king, having taken information on the price of grain and the different circumstances affecting its value, had been pained to learn the harvest had been short of expectations; that it was generally known that a disastrous hailstorm had ravaged “une vaste étendue de terrains, et plusieurs causes malheureuses ont ainsi concouru à la mediocrité des récoltes dans la plus nombreuse partie des provinces du royaume” that the king nevertheless had been informed there was no scarcity to be feared but the surplus would not be sufficiently large to keep the price within reasonable limits; that it was not within the power of the king to control “les loix de la Nature,” but he had strictly forbidden the exportation of grain and at the same time supported “la plus parfaite liberté dans la circulation intérieure, afin que toutes les provinces de son Royaume puissent s’entr’aider mutuellement” that the king, “par une suite de son inquiétude paternelle, et sur les plaintes qui lui ont été adressées,” thought it necessary to place an obstacle at once to a kind of speculation not useful to proprietors and essentially harmful to consumers, that is, “les achats et les accaparemens entrepris uniquement dans la vue de profiter de la hausse des prix, et qui inspirent ensuite le desir dangereux de voir arriver ce renchérissement,” since such speculations, which are useful in years of abundance, excite alarms and may have unhappy consequences when the price of necessities is already very high; that the king, unwilling to authorize investigations that can be so easily abused, thought it necessary to revive, for this year, the ancient system limiting sale and purchase to markets in order to enable the police to observe those who carry on such “un trafic déshonnête” that at the same time he thought it proper to renew the ancient ordinances prohibiting from all trade in grain those charged with supervision of the police and good order, and to extend this prohibition also to all those who have the management of royal funds or are in any other way connected with administration; that the king at the same time promised his particular protection to merchants who might import wheat purchases in foreign countries or who were engaged in equalizing the resources and means of subsistence by shipping grain from one province to another; that his majesty could not guarantee, “maugré ces précautions et toutes celles qu’Elle prendra par voie d’administration, pour exciter l’importation des blés étrangers dans le royaume,” that the price of this commodity would not be constantly high this year, but that, notwithstanding the painful situation of his finances, he would grant greater relief to the most indigent part of his subjects than at any other time and would “ne cessera de faire tout ce qu’on peut raisonnablement attendre de sa bienfaisance et de ses moyens”; and that the king had given orders for carrying the foregoing stipulations into effect (DNA: PCC, No. 87, ii; accompanied by translation by John Pintard; another printed copy of the arrêt is in Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.—U., xxxiii). Both arrêts were issued over the signature of Laurent de Villedeuil; Pintard’s translations of both are printed in Dipl. Corr., 1783–89 description begins [William A. Weaver, ed.] The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace …to the Adoption of the Constitution, Washington, 1837, 3 vols. description ends , ii, 255–8, though these contain errors: for example, in the first, a part of the text concerning the bounties offered is omitted and the translation reads: “a bounty of Thirty sous for every quintal of flour.”

1Jay followed TJ’s hint about publication only to the extent of releasing this sentence, which, together with the English translation of the arrêt offering bounties for the importation of wheat and flour, appeared in the New-York Journal for 19 Feb. 1789 under the heading: “Extract of a letter dated Paris, Nov. 29, 1788, from the honorable Mr. Jefferson, to Mr. Jay.” See TJ to Lafayette, 7 July 1789.

2As originally phrased, this passage read: “a degree of cold not known at Paris since 1740”; it was then altered by deletion and interlineation to read as above.

3This word interlined in substitution for “certain,” deleted.

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