Thomas Jefferson Papers

William Short to John Jay, 30 November 1789

William Short to John Jay

Paris Nov. 30. 1789

Dear Sir

I had the honor of receiving yesterday your letter of Octob. the 13th. by Count de Moustier who arrived here five or six days ago. The letter for the King, the duplicate of the consular convention, and papers accompanying this letter were delivered me at the same time. I shall put the letter for the King into the hands of the Minister to-morrow. The consular convention which had been also received with your letter of Septem. the 17th. as mentioned in my last was immediately communicated, and that to be exchanged for it is now preparing. The present situation of the Bureaux will occasion a delay of some days yet, as the Minister informed me yesterday. I shall lose no time in forwarding it after its reception.

The opposition to the decrees of the national assembly which had begun to shew itself in some of the Parliaments and the States of Cambray has ceased and served only to shew the inutility of resistance. The assembly at the request of the King have withdrawn the prosecutions they had ordered against the refractory members of these bodies. Thus the political revolution may be considered as effected so far as it relates to the transfer of all power into the hands of the representatives of the people, but the affair of their finances will probably give them much trouble for some time to come. The Minister in whom the nation has for some time been accustomed to have an unlimited confidence describes their situation as so desperate, and proposes his remedy with so little hopes of success that all parties seem to be alarmed. Plans of finance are therefore proposed by many quite ignorant of the subject, and the assembly without confidence in that proposed by the Minister because he has so little confidence in it himself, are induced to listen to whoever has a plan to propose. Their attention is thus diverted from the main object and distracted by the variety presented to their view. The loss of time which this occasions and the uncertainty which it creates in the minds of all respecting future operations, produce already bad effects on public confidence and may perhaps occasion the stoppage of payment which they are so solicitous to avoid. Still the resources of this country are so immense as well from their annual revenue, as the great objects of ecclesiastical property and royal domains that the evil can only be temporary. I learned by the papers you sent me as well as by Count de Moustier that you were at the head of the judiciary department. I have always thought that in order to reconcile the citizens of the United States to a change in their modes of trial to which men in all countries adhere with obstinacy, it would be necessary only to have at the head of this department a person of great talents and possessing the confidence of all. I have no doubt Sir that that object will be now answered and I most sincerely congratulate my country on the event. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect respect & attachment, Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servt.

W Short.

Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “No. 11. W Short to the Secty of State.”

On assuming office as secretary of state, TJ reviewed all of Short’s dispatches to Jay, thus becoming in effect their recipient. Hence for this period of transition in which the office itself was at a standstill and when for a time Short himself did not know whether TJ or Jay was the encumbent, the following summaries may be given of Short’s dispatches Nos. 1–10 that were written after TJ’s departure from Paris and before the above was sent:

No. 1, 30 Sep. 1789: informing Jay of TJ’s departure and of his own reception as chargé des affaires (for text at large, see note to Short to TJ, 8 Oct. 1789).

No. 2, 9 Oct. 1789: giving a more extended and formal account of the “events of a very extraordinary and unexpected nature” than that in Short’s letter to TJ of the day before, and adding: “When the Members who had seperated for dinner returned to the Assembly in the evening, they found the room occupied by immense crowds of women who filled the galleries and most of the seats of the members, some singing, some dancing, others crying out du pain, and many of them with swords hanging to their sides. In this confusion it was impossible to proceed regularly to business; still the members continued assembled. A part of the deputation they had sent to the King returned bringing with them his acceptation pure and simple of the articles of the constitution and Bill of rights which had been sent to him some days before, and to which by his answer received in the morning, he had only acceded conditionally.—In this situation the Marquis de la Fayette approached Versailles, about 11 o’clock at night. Although on leaving Paris he was the prisoner of his troops and the mob which followed them, before his arrival he had obtained such a command over them that notwithstanding the impetuosity of the multitude he was able to halt them and make them swear Allegiance to the National Assembly and to the King before entering the town. This was the more necessary because [it was suspected a party] attached [to the Duke of Orleans] had [been tampering with his Tro]op[s and the mob, and also because his de]signs in [his present singular situation] might [have been] liable [to suspicion, both to the King] and [the Assembly]. M. de la Fayette leaving his troops thus halted went alone to the King, who after assuring him of the entire confidence which he placed in his loyalty and honor, agreed to be guarded in future by the national troops under his command. The posts around the Chateau which they had formerly occupied were immediately delivered to them, and from that moment their conduct was most exemplary. The remainder of the night was employed in keeping order amongst the thousands of people who continued flocking there from Paris. At six o’clock in the morning (of Tuesday) M. de la Fayette worn down by the fatigues of the preceding day and night, retired to repose himself. During his absence the mob became ungovernable. They fired on and killed the gardes du corps wherever they could find them. Some of them in their flight were pursued into the Queen’s Antichamber. She was awakened by the cries of death and fled into the chamber of the King, who had been also roused by the noise of immense crouds surrounding and running up and down the Chateau. M. de la Fayette, whose conduct on this occasion has acquired him from all parties the appellation of the guardian angel of the day, was immediately called up. The first objects which presented themselves to his view were the heads of two of the gardes du corps which the people were carrying on pikes through the streets in triumph. Numbers of others about to become victims to the rage of the moment were rescued by him from slaughter. It is not yet ascertained how many fell. The large court in front of the Chateau was now filled with the furious multitude. The King shewed himself to them from the terrace of his chamber. They insisted with loud cries that he should go to remain at Paris. He consented and added that he would carry the Queen and his family. It was not known how this would be received by them. Fortunately it was answered with shouts of joy. This became the signal of universal reconciliation.—The national Assembly being immediately informed of this decision of the King resolved that they considered themselves as inseparable from his Majesty for the present Session and sent to inform him of their resolution to follow him to Paris.” Short then described the journey to Paris and the orderly reception there: “From this moment a calm reigned through all the streets which seemed to have been the effect of Magic, and the next morning to the astonishment of every body bread became as abundant as ever and has continued so since. This confirms the opinion that the scarcity was not real. There are many suspicions on this subject among all parties. A number of people however are arrested on suspicion of having mischievous designs in stirring up the populace‥‥ One thing however which is certain is that if the late scarcity of bread should return, the effects of popular rage would be more than ever to be dreaded, as [the king] and particularly the [queen will] in that case be absolutely [in the hands] of [a mob] who in times of [famine] will be too [strong] for the [guards]‥‥ The King has written to day a letter to the Assembly at Versailles in which he informs them that the proofs of affection and fidelity which he has received from the inhabitants of Paris have induced him to fix his residence here‥‥ They will continue their deliberations at Versailles untill a place shall be prepared for them here. The objects which occupy them at present are the remaining articles of the constitution and a provisory change in their criminal procedure.” Short enclosed the decree prepared by Necker on finances and also the National Assembly’s address to their constituents, drawn by Mirabeau; he added that he had been assured the premium on wheat and flour had been extended to December, but had not been officially informed of it and did not think it worth while to see the minister on the subject in the existing state of affairs (Tr in DNA: RG 59, DD; partly in code, the matter in brackets [supplied] being the interlinear decoding).

No. 3, 11 Oct. 1789: transmitting gazettes of France and of Leyden and a journal of proceedings of the National Assembly, the last containing “an allusion to a conspiracy being discovered in Paris” Short added that he had “this moment learned that Mr. Jefferson sailed from Havre for Cowes on the night of the 8th instant” (Tr in same).

No. 4, 20 Oct. 1789: stating that the National Assembly had the day before opened their session in Paris with between seven and eight hundred members, “an agreeable circumstance” in view of the fears entertained; that the Duke of Orleans had been stopped at Boulogne and his passport queried there; that it was “generally supposed that the commission in England [on behalf of the king] was merely a pretext for removing him from Paris,” since the suspicions of the event mentioned in dispatch No. 2 increased daily; that details could not be added because this dispatch was to go by post and the use of cipher might cause it to be stopped altogether, as had happened on occasion; that it was not possible to go out of Paris without a passport, even to dine in the country; that he feared “circumstances like this will disgust many of those who were friends to a revolution from which they expected real liberty” that the municipal organization of Paris formed “in several respects … sixty different republics,” resulting in many inconveniences theretofore submitted to with resignation as unavoidable; that the progress of the war in September had been “most fatal to the Turk” that letters of 23 and 26 Sep. from Richard O’Bryen, one of the prisoners at Algiers, informed of his being taken from under protection of the English consul and transferred to the house of the Spanish consul; and that these letters said the Algerines had started the increase of their marine “with unexampled industry,” a fact which would augment their need of masts and timber and therefore might provide “a proper time for the United States to commence a negociation by means of these articles, which would be at present more acceptable than money.” Short added that six of the American prisoners were dead, so that only fifteen remained, and that the Spanish consul was in advance for their support “from April 87 to August 89 833 ½ Sequins” (Tr in same).

No. 5, 25 Oct. 1789: stating that the Duke of Orleans had been permitted to proceed and was then in England, and giving the following explanation for the plan “to remove him from the scene of action … partly by threats and partly by giving him a pretext” for going to England: “As this matter was in agitation for some days, it is thought that those of his party had taken measures to have him stopped at Boulogne, hoping that if he was brought back to Paris they might recommence their operations under a new form. If no proofs existed against the Duke the party would have seized that occasion of denouncing the [Marquis] who had forced him to leave Paris, being a member of the national Assembly. If proofs existed the party was glad to have a Prince of the blood with them to share or to soften their fate. Count Mirabeau who is known to have been the soul of the party has acknowledged to the [Marquis] that this was their plan, and he added that finding the party as well as the Duke unfit for any thing, he had resolved to abandon them, and now would devote himself to him. He has taken this means of coming into the ministry. As his uncommon talents give him great weight in the Assembly and as it is thought that he is the only person who can restore force to the executive, it is probable he will soon be a minister. Although his moral reputation is the worst that can be, one of the engines which he moves at present for this purpose is to render the place of the present ministry as disagreeable as possible. He proposed the motion of which you will see an extract in the memorial of the ministry which I have the honor of enclosing. The Assembly have not as yet proceeded on this memorial.” Short gave an account of the execution of two of the leaders of the mob that had seized and put to death a baker on 21 Oct. on suspicion of concealing bread, and enclosed also a copy of the martial law adopted by the Assembly (Tr in same; the words in italics are in code and have been decoded by the Editors, employing a partially reconstructed key to Code No. 11; Short employed the symbol 1612 twice to indicate Lafayette, who was the person whom he indubitably had in mind [see Short to TJ, 3 Nov. 1789], though no appropriate corresponding designation can be found on the syllabic key to Code No. 11).

No. 6, 28 Oct. 1789: stating that the “most remarkable circumstance … in the National Assembly within these three days is an arrété by which they have determined that the Assemblies of the Provinces at present, and particularly that called in Dauphiné, were irregular and consequently request the King to take such measures as he may judge proper for preventing them” that these Assemblies had been called on account of the extraordinary events which carried the king and National Assembly to Paris; that that of Dauphiné “was more feared than the others, because a member of the national assembly of the most leading talents and influence … Monsr. Mounier … one of the principal contributors to the beginning of this revolution,” had become disgusted on the king’s removal to Paris; that, being opposed to a legislature of a single chamber, he had retired to Dauphiné, became the “principal cause of the assembling of that Province,” and, with the support of the clergy, nobility, and discontented, might lead them in the direction of counter-revolution; that the other deputies of Dauphiné had written a letter to their province saying that their “assembling at this time is irregular, unnecessary, and may be dangerous” that the next day was fixed for “deciding the fate of ecclesiastical property … estimated at two milliards of livres, and the salaries necessary for the clergy at an hundred millions annually” that the Prussian envoy had given notice the day before “that his master had ordered ten battalions to march to Liege (about ten thousand men)” because of “the late disturbances at Liege … not between the people and the Government, but between the citizens and the lower classes of the people” and that the account of the taking of Belgrade had been confirmed. Short added: “Mr. Jefferson mentioned to you some time ago that he had desired the Bankers of the United States at Amsterdam to remit a certain sum of money here for the ransom of our prisoners. These bills for that sum are received and at my disposal, but I have heard nothing from the person who was to undertake the business, nor do I suppose that there is the smallest probability of success. I think Mr. Jefferson informed you also Sir, that he had the same idea, though he thought it proper to leave nothing untried. The money will probably remain here unemployed” (Tr in same; the words in italics are in code and are decoded interlineally).

No. 7, 7 Nov. 1789: stating that it was moved in the National Assembly by Mirabeau on 5 Nov. to send envoys to the United States to negotiate the payment of the American debt in flour; that in the debate some members declared that it “must be considered as a bad debt” and that the motion would probably pass. Short added: “I have been told an American gentleman here (Mr. G. Morris) has made a contract with government for the supply of a considerable quantity of flour. As I did not learn this either from Mr. Morris or the Minister I suppose it the wish of the parties that it should not be public. I do not know the terms of the contract, but imagine it may be proper to assure the citizens of the United States that this contract cannot have a monopolizing quality, and that they will meet with every possible facility in bringing their wheat and flour to the French market. M. de Montmorin authorizes me to give you this assurance.” Short announced the two “very important questions” decided by the National Assembly during the preceding week: (1) that all ecclesiastical property was at the disposal of the nation; and (2) that the parlements should not again assemble, since the judiciary system would be revised; and said that the provinces had given proofs of their approval of the king’s going to Paris, that of Dauphiné even having “shewn marks of dissatisfaction at M. de Mounier’s having retired from the Assembly” (Tr in same). See, for comparison, Short’s account of Morris’ projected contract in his letter to TJ, 30 Nov. 1789.

No. 8, 8 Nov. 1789: stating that he had not expected the premium to be continued, though he had constantly urged it, and is astonished to find it proclaimed on the 5th when the president of the committee of subsistence said on the 6th that it could not be granted “on account of the contracts entered into with private persons for supplies.” Enclosure: Proclamation of the king extending bounties on importations of wheat, rye, barley, and flour from America from 1 Dec. 1789 to 1 July 1790, as follows: 30 sous per quintal on wheat; 40 sous on wheat flour; 24 sous on rye; 32 sous on rye flour; 20 sous on barley, and 27 sous on barley flour (Tr in same, with English and French texts of the proclamation).

No. 9, 18 Nov. 1789: enclosing gazettes of France and of Leyden, in the former of which is the king’s proclamation of 5 Nov. 1789 offering premiums on grain and flour importations, copies of which he had already sent by “four different channels at the time of its first appearance” Short promised to write the next day (Tr in same).

No. 10, 19 Nov. 1789: stating that the gazettes and debates of the National Assembly enclosed in his of yesterday contained proceedings concerning ecclesiastical property and also evidence of the “discontent in the States of Cambray” excited thereby; that nothing serious is feared from this opposition; that he is enclosing the journals of the preceding three days and the memorial of Necker on finances; that in the latter there is a reference to a loan in negotiation in Holland on the security of the United States debt to France, about which “M. de Montmorin has since told me he did not think it would be carried into execution” and on which Short commented: “The offer having been made by the Dutch proves the favor into which we are rising at Amsterdam, and of which our Bankers have long been assuring us” that the motion mentioned in dispatch No. 7 had not been renewed and would probably end there, though Short had reason to believe that it caused the renewal of the premium on grain and flour; that the disturbances in Brabant had come to civil war and two bloody actions had taken place on the 13th and 14th, with report saying “the Imperialists were defeated in both” that the United Provinces had declared “an unalterable neutrality,” though it was “well known that the insurgents as they are called are countenanced by them” that the march of the Prussian troops had been halted; and [in postscript:] that he had received Jay’s letter of 17 Sep. and the enclosed Consular Convention with it. Short added: “It is useless to say any thing relative to those parts of your letter which regard Mr. Jefferson. I don’t doubt you will see him before you receive this letter. I shall take the liberty of addressing this to you although private letters inform us that you have quitted the office of foreign affairs” (Tr in same; PrC in DLC: Short Papers).

Jay’s letter to Short of 17 Sep. 1789, acknowledged in the last of the foregoing dispatches, explained that the Consular Convention had not been sent earlier because it “was not until very lately that all Doubts respecting the Seal of the United States were removed,” and said: “In this Office no new appointments have as yet been made, so that the Business of it could not be conducted in a regular official Manner since the Organization of the present Government, by which the Validity of former Commissions had in the Opinion of many been rendered at least questionable” (FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 121). On 3 Mch. 1790 Jay wrote Short acknowledging receipt of his dispatches Nos. 1–8 and 10, and added: “My removal to another Department and the expectation of Mr. Jefferson’s arriving speedily and succeeding me in the Office naturally retarded the Progress of our foreign Affairs. It gives me Pleasure to inform you that he has accepted the Appointment of Secretary of State, and is expected here from Virginia in the course of a Fortnight. On his Arrival your Letters shall be laid before him” (RC in DLC Short Papers; FC in DNA: RG 59, FL; Jay made the same promise on 7 Oct. 1789 in a letter to John Skey Eustace of Bordeaux acknowledging his of 15 July with its enclosures, which he promised to place before TJ on his arrival, being “persuaded he will avail himself of the Information it contains, for the Benevolent Purposes which induced you to acquire and convey it” FC in same; Eustace’s letter and enclosures, which may have related to the Algerine captives, have not been found). TJ, in his first official communication to Short on 30 Mch. 1790, acknowledged the receipt of those dispatches (Nos. 9 and 11–14.) that had arrived subsequent to Jay’s acknowledgment of 3 Mch. 1790. See TJ to Remsen, 5 Apr. 1790.

Jay’s letter of 13 Oct. 1789 by count De Moustier is endorsed as received 29 Nov. 1789 (RC in DLC: Short Papers).

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