Thomas Jefferson Papers

VII. Secretary of State to David Humphreys, 11 August 1790

VII. Secretary of State to David Humphreys

New York Aug. 11. 1790.


The President having thought proper to confide several special matters in Europe to your care, it will be expedient that you take your passage in the first convenient vessel bound to the port of London.

When there you will be pleased to deliver to Mr. G. Morris and to Mr. Johnson the letters and papers you will have in charge for them, to communicate to us from thence any interesting public intelligence you may be able to obtain, and then take as early a passage as possible to Lisbon.

At Lisbon you will deliver the letter with which you are charged for the Chevalier Pinto, putting on it the address proper to his present situation. You know the contents of this letter, and will make it the subject of such conferences with him as may be necessary to obtain our point of establishing there the diplomatic grade which alone coincides with our system, and of ensuring it’s reception and treatment with the requisite respect. Communicate to us the result of your conferences, and then proceed to Madrid.

There you will deliver the letters and papers which you have in charge for Mr. Carmichael, the contents of all which are known to you. Be so good as to multiply as much as possible your conferences with him in order to possess him fully of the special matters sketched out in those papers, and of the state of our affairs in general.

Your stay there will be as long as it’s objects may require, only taking care to be returned to Lisbon by the time you may reasonably expect that our answers to your letters to be written from Lisbon may reach that place. This cannot be earlier than the first or second week of January. These answers will convey to you the President’s further pleasure.

Thro’ the whole of this business it will be best that you avoid all suspicion of being on any public business. This need be known only to the Chevalier Pinto and Mr. Carmichael. The former need not know of your journey to Madrid, or if it be necessary, he may be made to understand that it is a journey of curiosity to fill up the interval between writing your letters and recieving the answers. To every other person it will be best that you appear as a private traveller.

The President of the United States allows you from this date at the rate of two thousand two hundred and fifty dollars a year for your services and expences, and moreover what you may incur for the postage of letters; until he shall otherwise order.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP); at head of text: “To Colonel David Humphreys”; endorsed. FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 121). It is possible that some or all of the letters and papers carried by Humphreys were enclosed with the above, but it is also possible that Washington himself handed the more important ones to the envoy (see TJ to Washington, 8 Aug. 1790). In addition to ciphers, newspapers, &c. these included: (1) TJ to Carmichael, 2 and 6 Aug. 1790 and their enclosures. (2) TJ to De Pinto, 7 Aug. 1790. (3) TJ to Johnson, 7 Aug. 1790. (4) TJ to Morris, 12 Aug. 1790. (All of the foregoing are printed in the present series.) (5) Circular of Secretary of State to American Consuls in Europe, 25 Aug. 1790. (6) Secretary of the Treasury to Wilhem & Jan Willink, N. & J. Van Staphorst & Hubbard, 28 Aug. 1790, enclosing a commission of the same date ratifying and confirming the provisional loan of 3,000,000 florins notified in their letter of 25 Jan. 1790 and informing them that half of this sum was destined as a payment on the American Debt to France and to be applied by direction of William Short as chargé d’affaires (text of letter and enclosure in Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961—, 7 vols. description ends , vi, 580–5). (7) Secretary of the Treasury to William Short, 29 Aug. 1790 (printed in same, vi, 585–6; Short was by this letter referred to the Secretary of State “for instructions with regard to the timing of the intended payment” to France). Humphreys also carried various letters written by Washington (see below).

TJ took pains to see that his own secret dispatches to Short did not go by way of London with Humphreys. His public and private letters to Short of 9, 10, 12, 25, 26, and 31 Aug. 1790 were carried by a trusted individual, Nathaniel Barrett, with instructions that they were to be “delivered … with his own hands” to Short in Paris (TJ to Short, 10 Aug. 1790, Document vi in present series). Hamilton, on the other hand, instructed Humphreys to place his dispatches for Short in the custody of his brother-in-law, John Barker Church, a member of Parliament. Shortly after arriving in London, Humphreys wrote Short a letter revealing this fact and giving a hint of the effect Hamilton’s confidential conversations had had upon him: “To get the public debt into manageable way, if I may so express myself, seems now to be the great desideratum with our wisest and best political characters. On this subject you will be more particularly informed from some dispatches addressed to you by the Secretary of the Treasury, and which by his direction I am going to put into the hands of Mr. Church in order to be forwarded by a safe conveyance” (Humphreys to Short, 14 Oct. 1790, Humphreys, Humphreys description begins F. L. Humphreys, Life and Times of David Humphreys, New York, 1917, 2 vols. description ends , ii, 31–2). It was rumored in New York before Humphreys departed that he had gone to Europe to “negotiate [the Holland loan]” (see above, p. 75).

In his capacity as a private traveler, which the administration took exceptional precautions to establish in order to conceal the public nature of his mission, Humphreys carried letters written by Washington on 10 and 11 Aug. 1790 to Paine, D’Estaing, Gardoqui, Rochambeau, La Luzerne, Lafayette, and (on personal matters) Gouverneur Morris (texts in Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 80–8, 92–3). The longest and most carefully composed of these letters—that to Lafayette—bears almost unmistakable evidence of TJ’s influence if not indeed of his hand. Washington touched first on affairs in France and the leadership manifested by Lafayette, revealing both in this letter and in that to Rochambeau that TJ had given a corrective to accounts of the progress of the Revolution in English newspapers both by his own testimony and by calling attention to the accounts in the Gazette de Leide. He then adverted to American affairs, reported them on the whole to be satisfactory, and asserted that the treaty with the Creeks would “leave us in peace from one end of our borders to the other,” except for a small “banditti” of Shawnee and Cherokee that could easily be punished or destroyed. He then came to the main point—the threat of war, the policy of neutrality, the relations with Spain, and the mission of Humphreys. In France TJ had unquestionably influenced Lafayette’s letters to Washington and there can be little doubt that he exercised a similar influence in the reverse direction as Secretary of State.

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