Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Carmichael, 25 December 1788

To William Carmichael

Paris Dec. 25. 1788.

Dear Sir

A sick family has prevented me, for upwards of a month from putting pen to paper but in indispensable cases, and for some time before that I had been waiting to receive American news worth communicating to you. These causes have occasionned my silence since my last which was of the 12th. of August, and my leaving unacknoleged, till now, your several favors of July 24. Aug. 14. Sep. 9. and Nov. 3. That of the 14th. inst. came also to hand the day before yesterday.

You have long ago known that 11. states have ratified our new constitution, and that N. Carolina, contrary to all expectation, has declined either accepting or refusing, but has proposed amendments copied verbatim from those of Virginia. Virginia and Massachusets had preferred this method of amendment, that is to say, desiring Congress to propose specific amendments to the several legislatures, which is one of the modes of amendment provided in the new constitution. In this way nothing can be touched but the parts specifically pointed out. New York has written circular letters to the legislatures to adopt the other mode of amendment, provided also by the constitution that is to say to assemble another federal convention. In this way the whole fabric could be submitted to alteration. It’s friends therefore unite in endeavoring to have the first method adopted, and they seem agreed to concur in adding a bill of rights to the Constitution. This measure will bring over so great a part of the Opposition that what will remain after that will have no other than the good effects of watching, as centinels, the conduct of government, and laying it before the public. Many of the opposition wish to take from Congress the power of internal taxation. Calculation has convinced me this would be very mischievous. The electors are to be chosen the 1st. Wednesday of Jan. the President the 1st. Wed. in Feb., and the new government is to meet at New York the 1st. Wed. in March. The election of Senators has already begun. Pennsylvania has chosen Mr. R. Morris and McClay, Connecticut Dr. Johnson and Elsworth. I have heard of no others. I hope there is no doubt of Genl. Washington’s acceptance of the Presidentship. Mr. J. Adams, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Jay, and Genl. Knox are talked of in the Northern and middle states for Vice president; yet it is suggested to me that the two latter will probably prefer their present offices, and the two former divide each other’s interest so that neither may be chosen. Remarkeable deaths are Colo. Bannister of Virginia, and John Penn of North Carolina. Genl. Washington writes me word that the great rains had prevented the continuance of their labours on the Patowmac so that they should not be able to bring the navigation this winter to the great falls as he had hoped. It will want little of it, and no doubt remains of their completing the whole. That of James river has some time since been so far completed as to let vessels pass down to Richmond. The crop of wheat in America the last year has been a fine one both for quantity and quality. This country is likely to want. They have offered a premium of 40. sous the quintal on flour of the U.S. and 30. sous on their wheat imported here. They have also opened their islands for our supplies. Much will come here.—Views, which bid defiance to my calculations,1 had induced this court in an Arret of Sep. 28. to comprehend us with the English, in the exclusion of whaleoils from their ports, in flat contradiction to their Arret of Dec. last. This you know would be sentence of banishment to the inhabitants of Nantucket, and there is no doubt they would have removed to Nova Scotia or England in preference to any other part of the world. A temporary order however is now given for our admittance, and a more permanent one under preparation. The internal affairs of this country will I hope go on well. Neither the time, place, nor form of the States general are yet announced. But they will certainly meet in March or April. The clergy and nobility, as clergy and nobility eternally will, are opposed to the giving to the tiers etat so effectual a representation as may dismount them from their backs. The court wishes to give to the unprivileged order an equal number of votes with the privileged, and that they should sit in one house. But the court is timid. Some are of opinion that a majority of the nobles also are on the side of the people. I doubt it when so great a proportion of the Notables, indeed almost an unanimity were against them, and 5. princes of the blood out of 7. If no schism prevents the proceedings of the States general, I suppose they will obtain in their first session 1. the periodical convocation of the states. 2. their participation in the legislature. and 3. their exclusive right to levy and appropriate money: and that at some future day, not very distant they will obtain a habeas corpus law and free press. They have great need of external peace to let them go on quietly with these internal improvements. This seems to be secured to them by the insanity of the K. of England. Regents are generally peaceable, and I think this country will not let itself be diverted from it’s object by any other power. There are symptoms which render it suspicious that the two empires may make their peace with the Turks. It seems more eligible to Russia to do this by ceding the Crimea to them, that she may turn to the other side and save Poland which the K. of Prussia is endeavoring to wrest from her. Probably the loss of his principal ally will induce him to adopt a language and a conduct less Thrasonic. The death of the King of Spain contributes to throw into incertainty the future face and fate of Europe. The English count on his successor. We have not yet received from London the decision on the question of regency. It is believed the Prince of Wales will be sole regent and that there will be a total change in the ministry. In this case probably Eden2 will be recalled. He will have found that the old proverb is not always true ‘that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ There is something concerting between your court and our Kentuck[ians].3 What is it ? It mer[its]4 your in[vestig]ation.5

The necessity of carrying back my family to America, and of arranging my affairs, which I left under expectation of returning to them very soon, have induced me to ask of Congress a leave of 5. or 6. months absence during the next year. I hope to obtain it in time to sail soon after the vernal equinox, and shall return immediately after the autumnal. I shall be happy while there if I can render you any service, and shall hope to receive your commands before my departure, and in the meantime a continuance of your interesting communications, now become more so till we see which way the new administration of your residence will turn itself. I have the honor to be with great and sincere esteem Dear Sir your most obedt. & most humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

TJ’s information that there was something brewing between the Spanish Court and our Kentuckians may have been fuller than his query to Carmichael would suggest, and it may have come indirectly from a French double-agent and adventurer named Pierre Wouves d’Argès, chevalier of the Order of St. Louis, who had served in Canada during the French and Indian war, had lived for some time on the border between New York and Canada, had travelled extensively among the western parts of the American states, and for three years had resided in and near Kentucky, whence he had kept Vergennes informed in 1785–1786 of developments in “cette terre promise” (Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxx—xxxi; Tr in DLC). In 1787 D’Argès returned to France and made proposals to D’Aranda, Spanish minister at Versailles, that Spain should strengthen Louisiana and weaken the western settlements of the United States by encouraging American frontiersmen to settle within Spanish territory on the lower Mississippi, at the same time placating those that remained by offering modified commercial privileges at New Orleans such as would be low enough to please but high enough to stimulate emigration. It is hard to imagine that the French foreign minister was unaware of this approach taking place in Paris, if indeed he did not inspire it, and, while Floridablanca seized upon the opportunity to send D’Argès to America with a new treaty proposal and with instructions to support Gardoqui’s negotiations, he had excellent reasons for distrusting the French adventurer. Floridablanca sent D’Argès to New York on one of the royal packets from Coruña, permitting no other passenger to accompany him—a fact which caused Moustier in New York to suspect that something very important was afoot and that it had to do with the Mississippi question (Moustier to Montmorin, 14 Feb. 1788; same, xxxiii). Gardoqui distrusted D’Argès perhaps more than Floridablanca did, and both he and Governor Estaban Miró at New Orleans threw obstacles in D’Argès’s way (Arthur P. Whitaker, The Spanish-American Frontier:1783–1795, Boston, 1927, p. 78–89). The French-Spanish adventurer arrived in New Orleans in May 1788 (see Carmichael to TJ, 26 Jan. 1789), but, after a year’s fruitless waiting, he gave up and returned to Paris. A new and bolder master of intrigue in the troubled affairs of the West, James Wilkinson, was now the principal agent for Spanish interests among the American frontiersmen. In view of the barriers thrown up against D’Argès by Spanish colonial officials, it is plausible to conjecture that Floridablanca suspected D’Argès of having been inspired by the French ministry, hence sent him on a fruitless mission to America merely as a counter-feint.

1Preceding five words interlined in substitution for “I cannot comprehend,” deleted.

2This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and have been decoded by the Editors, employing the partially reconstructed Code No. 11.

3TJ may have erred in encoding the last two syllables; this conjectural reading within brackets (supplied) is clearly what he intended.

4The code symbol for matter in brackets (supplied) is lost through mutilation, but Tr gives the correct symbol.

5TJ may have erred in encoding here, for his final code symbol calls for “mation,” an ending incompatible with the conjectural reading within square brackets (supplied). TJ may, of course, have asked for “information,” but if this plausible word is what he set out to encode, he certainly erred.

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