Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 24 April 1791

To George Washington

Philadelphia Apr. 24. 1791.


I had the honour of addressing you on the 17th. since which I have recieved yours of the 13th. I inclose you extracts from letters received from Mr. Short. In one of the 7th. of Feb. Mr. Short informs me that he has received a letter from Mr. de Montmorin, announcing to him that the King has named Ternant his minister here.—The questions on our tobacco and oil have taken unfavorable turns. The former will pay 50. livres the thousand weight less when carried in French than foreign bottoms. Oil is to pay twelve livres a kental, which amounts to a prohibition of the common oils, the only kind carried there. Tobacco will not feel the effect of these measures till time will be given to bring it to rights. They had only 20,000 hhds. in the kingdom in Novemb. last, and they consume 2000 hhds. a month; so that they must immediately come forward and make great purchases, and not having, as yet, vessels of their own to carry it, they must pay the extra duties on ours. I have been puzzled about the delays required by Mr. Barclay’s affairs. He gives me reason to be tolerably assured, that he will go in the first vessel which shall sail after the last day of May. There is no vessel at present whose destination would suit. Believing that even with this, we shall get the business done sooner than thro’ any other channel, I have thought it best not to change the plan.—The last Leyden gazettes give us what would have been the first object of the British arms had the rupture with Spain taken place. You know that Admiral Cornish had sailed on an unknown destination before the Convention was recieved in London. Immediately on it’s reciept, they sent an express after him to Madeira, in hopes of finding him there. He was gone, and had so short a passage that in 23 days he had arrived in Barbadoes, the general rendezvous. All the troops of the islands were collecting there, and Genl. Matthews was on his way from Antigua to take command of the land operations, when he met with the packet-boat which carried the counter orders. Trinidad was the object of the expedition. Matthews returned to Antigua, and Cornish is arrived in England. This island, at the mouth of the Oronoko, is admirably situated for a lodgment from which all the country up that river, and all the Northern coast of South America, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Portuguese, may be suddenly assailed.

Colo. Pickering is now here, and will set out in two or three days to meet the Indians, as mentioned in my last.—The intimation to Colo. Beckwith has been given by Mr. Madison. He met it on very different ground from that on which he had placed it with Colo. Hamilton. He pretended ignorance and even disbelief of the fact: when told that it was out of doubt, he said he was positively sure the distribution of arms had been without the knowlege and against the orders of Ld. Dorchester, and of the government. He endeavored to induce a formal communication from me. When he found that could not be effected, he let Mr. Madison percieve that he thought however informal his character, he had not been sufficiently noticed: said he was in N. York before I came into office, and that tho’ he had not been regularly1 turned over to me, yet I knew his character. In fine he promised to write to Ld. Dorchester the general information we had recieved and our sense of it; and he saw that his former apologies to Colo. Hamilton had not been satisfactory to the government.—Nothing further from Moose island nor the posts on the Northern border of New-York, nor any thing of the last week from the Western country.

Arthur Campbell has been here. He is the enemy of P. Henry. He says the Yazoo bargain is like to drop with the consent of the purchasers. He explains it thus. They expected to pay for the lands in public paper at par, which they had bought at half a crown the pound. Since the rise in the value of the public paper, they have gained as much on that, as they would have done by investing it in the Yazoo lands: perhaps more, as it puts a large sum of specie at their command which they can turn to better account. They are therefore likely to acquiesce under the determination of the government of Georgia to consider the contract as forfeited by nonpayment.—I direct this letter to be forwarded from Charleston to Cambden. The next will be from Petersburg to Taylor’s ferry; and after that I shall direct to you at Mount Vernon. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most affectionate respect and attachment Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by Lear. PrC (DLC). Enclosures: Although TJ had received eight letters from Short since Washington’s departure (his public dispatches between 2 Dec. 1790 and 22 Feb. 1791), the three extracts enclosed in the above letter were all taken from that of 16 Jan. 1791 (see notes to that letter which identify the extracts). In his letter to Washington of 10 Apr. 1791 TJ enclosed one extract from Short’s dispatch of 24 Jan. 1791 (see note 5 to that letter for identification of extract).

In a note to Tobias Lear dated “Sunday Apr. 24. 1791.” TJ explained his plans for communicating with the President during his travels southward: “Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to Mr. Lear. On calculating the march of the President, (at 200 miles a week) he determines to direct this day’s letter to Cambden, next Sunday’s to Taylor’s ferry, and this day fortnight’s to Mount Vernon. They will all probably get a little ahead of him: but this is the best fault. Should he travel a little faster than is expected, so as to get before his letters, they will never overtake him, conveyances across the country are so rare” (RC in ViU; not recorded in SJL). Although TJ communicated more regularly and more fully with Washington than did any other member of the administration, having failed to send his regular weekly letter only three times while he himself was travelling, his carefully calculated plan for having his letters wait for Washington’s arrival failed almost completely. Of the eleven letters TJ wrote during Washington’s travels, only those of the 2d and 10th of April and the 15th of May were received by the President before he returned to Mount Vernon. This was partly due to the laxness of the postal service in the southern states and partly to Washington’s departure from his scheduled route on his return. Immediately on arriving home Washington wrote Hamilton a long letter explaining the circumstances and informing him of his plans so that if any pressing public matters came up, his location at a given time would be known. The letter closed “with affectionate regard,” and nothing in it implied that the failure of communication was attributable to anything other than the reasons given (Washington to Hamilton, 13 June 1791, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , viii, 470–1). By comparison, Washington’s brief letter to TJ two days later was almost curt, closing with “Your most obedient Servant” (Washington to TJ, 15 June 1791). Before this time the President was well aware of the publication of TJ’s letter to Jonathan B. Smith and its criticism of heretical doctrines that had sprung up, a fact which must have influenced the difference in tone of the two letters as it undoubtedly did the future relations between TJ and Washington (see Editorial Note and group of documents at 26 Apr. 1791).

1TJ first wrote “formally” and then changed it to read as above.

Index Entries