Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 4 February 1789

To John Jay

Paris Feb. 4. 1789.


Your favor of Nov. 25. by Gouverneur Morris is duly recieved. [I must beg you to take the trouble of decyphering yourself what follows, and1 to communicate it to nobody but the President, at least for the present.]2 We had before understood thro’ different channels that the conduct of the Count de Moustier was politically and morally offensive. It was delicate for me to speak on the subject to the Count de Montmorin. The invaluable mediation of our friend the Marquis de la Fayette was therefore resorted to, and the subject explained tho’ not pressed. Later intelligence shewing the necessity of pressing it, it was yesterday resumed and represented, thro’ the same medium, to the Count de Montmorin, that recent information proved to us that his minister’s conduct had rendered him personally odious in America, and might even3 influence the dispositions of the two nations, that his recall was become a matter of mutual concern,4 that we had understood he was instructed to remind the new government of their debt to this country, and that he was in the purpose of doing5 it in very harsh terms, that this could not increase their desire of hastening paiment, and might wound their affections, that therefore it was much to be desired that his discretion should not be trusted as to the form in which the demand should be made6 but that the letter should be written here and he instructed to add nothing but his signature; nor was his private conduct omitted.7 The Count de Montmorin was sensibly impressed. He very readily determined8 that the letter should be formed here, but said that the recall was a more difficult business: that as they had no particular fact to alledge against the Count de Moustier they could not recall him from that ministry without giving him another, and there was no vacancy at present. However he would hazard his first thoughts on the subject, saving the right of correcting them by further consideration: they were these; that there was a loose expression in one of his letters which might be construed into9 a petition for leave of absence, that he would give him permission to return to France, that it had been before decided on the request of the Marquis de la Luzerne that Otto should go to him in London, that they would send a person to America as Chargé des Affaires in place of Otto, and that if the President General Washington approved of him he should be afterwards made minister. He had cast his eye on Colonel Ternant and desired the Marquis to consult me whether he would be agreeable. At first I hesitated, recollecting to have heard Ternant represented in America as an hypochondriac discontented man, and paused for a moment between him and Barthelemy at London of whom I have heard a great deal of good. However I concluded it safer to take one we knew and who knows us.10 The Marquis was decidedly of this opinion.11 Ternant will see that his predecessor is recalled for unconciliatory deportment12 and that he will owe his own promotion to the approbation of the President. He established a solid reputation in Europe by his conduct when Generalissimo of one of the United Provinces during their late disturbances and it is generally thought that if he had been put at the head of the principal province instead of the Rhingrave de Salm he would have saved that cause. Upon the whole I beleive you may expect that the Count de Moustier will have an immediate leave of absence which will soon after become a recall13 in effect. I will try also to have their consuls admonished as to the line of conduct they should observe.

I shall have the honor of writing you a general letter within a few days: I have now that of assuring you of the sentiments of sincere esteem and respect with which I am Dear Sir your most obedient & most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Frank Monaghan, Washington, D.C., 1951); partly in code, accompanied by two pages of the decoded passages in Jay’s handwriting. Recorded in SJL as sent 4 Feb. 1789 “by Mrs. Paradise.” PrC (DLC). Dft (DLC); containing the text en clair and numerous deletions and interlineations, some of which are indicated below. Dupl (DNA: PCC, No. 87, ii); containing on verso of 3rd page TJ’s code messages of 14 and 18 Mch. and 11 May 1789, and evidently enclosed in TJ’s letter to Jay of the last date.

Gouverneur morris arrived in Paris early in February with a packet of American mail for TJ, including letters from Crèvecoeur, Hopkinson, Humphreys, Jay, Madison, Ramsay, and Washington. Morris was not himself burdened with “Letters Introductory,” since he regarded these as “a kind of Paper Money which is not only of little Value but which is not always a reputable, tho’ perhaps a legal Tender”; he had, however, asked Washington for a letter of, introduction “to Mr. Jefferson with whom I have only a slight Acquaintance” (Morris to Washington, 12 Nov. 1788, quoted in Beatrix Cary Davenport, ed., A Diary of the French Revolution by Gouverneur Morris, Boston, 1939, i, xxxvii). One of these letters brought to TJ was that from Madison of 8 Dec. 1788: there can be little doubt that it was this frank, coded message about the conduct of the count de moustier that caused TJ to bring up the matter again on 3 Feb., through the intermediation of Lafayette, with the count de montmorin. Morris, perfectly at home in the brilliant Paris salons and busily ferreting out official secrets that were not always as secret as he believed them, wrote Washington several months after Lafayette’s conversations with Montmorin: “I will also communicate a matter which Mr. Jefferson was not yet informed of, and which I could not tell him because I was forbidden to mention it to any Person here. You know I dare say, that the Count de Moustiers has his Congé. His Successor will be Colo. Ternant. At first in the Character of Chargé des Affairs, and when Mr. de Moustiers is otherwise placed, it is highly probable that Ternant may be made minister: but that will depend on the Situation of the Court at the time, so that there I only state Probability. As to the other you may reply on it, because my Intelligence I know to be good. The important Trait in this Appointment is that he is named as a Person who will be agreable to us” (Morris to Washington, 31 July 1789; DLC: Washington Papers). Washington, who already possessed the essential information, thanked Morris noncommittally for these “important communications” (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxx, 45). The present letter is not included among the “Letters from the American Minister (Mr. Jefferson) at the Court of France to the Secretary for Foreign Affairs,” that Washington began to read on 4 June 1789 preparatory to assuming responsibility for the conduct of foreign relations; these letters, extending from 20 Aug. 1788 to 15 Mch. 1789, Washington “Finished reading and making… extracts June 8th.” In extracting these dispatches the new president paid particular attention to the letter of 14 Nov. 1788 concerning the consular establishment and to the text of the Consular Convention (MS entitled “Notes and Minutes,” in Washington’s hands; DLC: Washington Papers, 243: 78–81). See TJ to Jay, 11 May 1789.

1This and subsequent words in italics are written in code. The text employed here is taken from TJ’s Dft en clair, verified by the Editors employing Code No. 10 and with errors of encoding or variations from Jay’s decoding being indicated in the following notes.

2Closing bracket supplied from Dft, there being none in either RC or Dupl.

3Preceding two words interlined in Dft in substitution for “tended to,” deleted.

4This word interlined in Dft in substitution for “interest,” deleted.

5Preceding five words interlined in Dft in substitution for “disposed to do,” deleted.

6TJ erred in encoding, so that, as correctly decoded by Jay, this passage read: “… as to the total in which the total should be made.” This error occurred because TJ, simultaneously transcribing Dft and encoding, at first transcribed en clair “the form in which the” and then decided to delete these words in RC and to encode them.

7At this point TJ deleted from Dft the following: “I authorised the Marquis was at liberty to say these were my sentiments expressed to him in a private conversation.”

8This word interlined in Dft in substitution for “promised,” deleted.

9Preceding four words interlined in substitution for the following, deleted: “he could pretend to understand as.” Dft also reads “one of de Moustier’s letters” instead of “one of his letters.”

10Dft reads: “whom we knew and who knew us,” which TJ altered in encoding to the above.

11At this point TJ deleted the following in Dft: “We came to this conclusion the rather because.”

12At this point TJ deleted the following in Dft: “that we had been consulted for his own appointment, that we.”

13This word was not decoded by Jay.

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