Thomas Jefferson Papers

A Fourth of July Tribute to Jefferson, 4 July 1789

A Fourth of July Tribute to Jefferson

Paris July 4th 1789


Your intention of withdrawing awhile from this court on a visit to our happy country offers an occasion which we cannot resist, of testifying those sentiments of gratitude and attachment which your conduct has taught us to realize, as the emotions of ingenuous minds towards an illustrious Benefactor.

As citizens of the United States we feel a laudable pride in joining the general voice of our country and of that of the age in which we live in rendering the sincerest tribute of respect to a compatriot so distinguished for his exertions in favour of that country and for the general happiness of mankind; but as temporary residents in a foreign kingdom, a situation in which the grateful heart becomes more susceptible and good actions recieve an additional merit, you will pardon our zeal if it assumes a language which in other circumstances it might be unbecoming the dignity of a Republican Patriot to recieve. Praise is honorable only in proportion to the freedom and information of the persons from whom it arises; from a depressed subject it is a proof of power and of meanness; from an enlightened freeman, of merit and of gratitude. It is the application of this principle which alone can render public testimonials of this kind acceptable to such minds as have the goodness to deserve them.

During your residence in this kingdom your particular kindness and attention to every American who has fallen in your way have endeared you to their hearts; and we are sure, as we speak the language which they have often uttered on this subject, that were they all present they would join in this our most cordial acknowledgement. But your conduct in this respect, though in the highest degree noble and generous, makes but a part of the motives of our love and admiration. The benefits resulting to the United States from your various negotiations in Europe excite in us a gratitude of a more extensive and patriotic nature. In these negotiations, your comprehensive views and minute attentions to every interest of every part of the country you represent, at the same time that your policy is directed to the general harmony and happiness of all nations, render you the proper minister of that enlightened people whose cause is the cause of humanity, and whose example we trust will greatly benefit mankind.

As this is the anniversary of our Independence our sensations of pleasure are much increased from the idea that we are addressing ourselves to a man who sustained so conspicuous a part in the immortal transactions of that day—whose dignity energy and elegance of thought and expression added a peculiar lustre to that declaratory act which announced to the world the existence of an empire. Be pleased, Sir, to accept our congratulations on the return of this day: a day which we hope arises with peculiar glory on our hemisphere, as it finds an extensive people happily united under the organization of a new government which promises the most lasting advantages.

May your visit to that country afford you a noble and endearing satisfaction, both as to the prosperity of your particular connections and affairs, and as it may give you an opportunity of rendering new services by your information and advice to that illustrious band of your fellow patriots who must welcome you with every token of respect.

While those of us who remain longer in France shall have reason to regret your absence, yet we cannot but rejoice with you on its occasion, and sincerely wish you a prosperous and happy voyage.

With every sentiment of gratitude and respect we have the honor to be, Sir, your most obedient and very humble servants,

john paradise philip mazzei
samuel blackden e: haskell
joel barlow th. appleton
jam. swan benjn. jarvis

RC (DLC); in the hand of Joel Barlow, except for signatures. Not recorded in SJL.

The names of Americans in Paris that are not attached to this complimentary address are significant, the most prominent among them being Gouverneur Morris, Daniel Parker, and Jonathan Nesbitt. On 30 June Edward Haskell and John Paradise called on Morris and asked him to sign, but, in Parker’s presence, Morris stated his reasons “against the Measure and against the Thing,” and Parker joined him “in objecting to it” (Morris, Diary, i, 128). On 2 July Morris called on TJ, found Joel Barlow and Samuel Broome with him, and, after they had gone, informed TJ that he had “prevented an Address to him, which he is thankful for” (same, i, 132). In neither instance did Morris record his reasons in his diary, though the expressions he used indicate that he objected both to the form—Morris was recognized as a stylist, both by himself and by others—and to the idea of presenting an address; yet the fact that the principal abstainers shared in common their association in one degree or another with Robert Morris and his commercial ventures and that Morris was claimed by the aristocrats in the National Assembly as sympathetic with their views may also have had influence. Morris was, nevertheless, at dinner at Hôtel de Langeac on the Fourth and recorded in his diary: “A large Party of Americans [were present] and among them Monsr. and Madame de La Fayette. Some political Conversation with him after Dinner in which I urge him to preserve if possible some constitutional Authority to the Body of Nobles as the only Means of preserving any Liberty for the People. The current is setting so strongly against the Noblesse that I apprehend their Destruction, in which will I fear be involved Consequences most pernicious, tho little attended to in the present Moment” (same, i, 134).—The presentation of the address to TJ must have been made after the Lafayettes and Morris had departed—the latter to write Carmichael somewhat piqued because TJ had not introduced him to the diplomatic corps as being “not worth my Acquaintance” (same, i, 135). Paradise evidently took the lead in the idea of making such an address and presented it to TJ, but the fact that the handwriting is Barlow’s and that Paradise was scarcely in condition to compose such an orderly paper makes it virtually certain that Barlow drafted it: from this time until late August Paradise was not able to “summon his faculities” even to address a note to TJ from England (Bancroft to TJ, 21 Aug. 1789; but for a contrary view as to the authorship, see Shepperson, John Paradise and Lucy Ludwell, p. 382, where the handwriting is stated to be Paradise’s).

This congratulatory address offers additional proof that the generally accepted view that TJ’s authorship of the Declaration of Independence was not known until challenged early in the 19th century needs modification. It is true that contemporary historians such as Gordon and Ramsay did not mention TJ’s authorship: the Declaration was, of course, a committee report and Congress altered its text by deletion of a great part of TJ’s composition, and these facts may have been chiefly responsible for early omission by historians of mention of TJ’s authorship, furnishing also the basis for such a statement as that of John Marshall, Life of George Washington, Philadelphia, 1804, ii, 411, that “the draft reported by the committee has been generally attributed to Mr. Jefferson” (Mercy Otis Warren credited the Declaration to “the ingenious and philosophic pen of Thomas Jefferson”; History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution Boston, 1805, i, 309). The Paris address of 1789, while it indicates that TJ’s authorship was known, was not the first evidence of the sort. What may have been the first public attribution of authorship to TJ had come six years earlier and was also one of the most succinct and happily expressed appraisals of the Declaration of Independence ever made. This was uttered by Ezra Stiles in an election sermon, wherein he paid tribute to “Jefferson, who poured the soul of the continent into the monumental act of independence” (The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor, New Haven, 1783, p. 46).

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