Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to F. P. Van Berckel, 14 July 1791

To F. P. Van Berckel

Philadelphia July 14. 1791.


I take the liberty of troubling you with the perusal of the inclosed papers from Mr. Shaw, consul for the U.S. in the East Indies, wherein you will observe he complains of a prohibition from the government of Batavia to American ships by name to have any trade in that port, while such trade was permitted to other nations. I do not hesitate to presume that something has been misunderstood in this case. My presumption is founded on those sentiments of general amity which subsist between our government and that of the United Netherlands, and also on the whole tenor of our treaty which secures to us always the treatment of the most favored nation. Nevertheless the refusal by the government of Batavia has been so formal, so deliberate and pointed as to render it necessary to ask for some explanation. If you will allow me the honour of a moment’s conference on this subject the first time you come to town, I shall be obliged to you: and in the mean time have that of assuring you of those sentiments of esteem and respect with which I am Sir Your most obedt. & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC). FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120, iv).

Washington transmitted Shaw’s letter and its enclosures to TJ in his of 15 June, requesting him to consider them and, on his return to Philadelphia, to be prepared to render an opinion. TJ responded immediately, concluding that the matter was serious enough to warrant a formal representation but that it should not be made through Dumas, the American agent at The Hague, because he was out of favor with the government (TJ to Washington, 20 June 1791). The disturbing implications of Shaw’s letter also prompted TJ to solicit Tench Coxe’s information about American trade with Holland and her possessions for use in preparing the report on commerce which he expected to present at the opening of Congress (see Coxe to TJ, ca. June and 19 July 1791).

There is no record in SJPL to indicate that TJ gave his opinion in writing concerning the nature of his proposed representation. But, as was his custom in matters of importance, he must have submitted the above letter for Washington’s approval before dispatching it. Van Berckel, resident minister of the Netherlands whom TJ chose as the channel of communication, gave his disappointing response almost a year later (Van Berckel to TJ, 31 May 1792). There was no further exchange of letters on the subject, but TJ did submit to the minister “privately and informally” an extract of that part of his report on commerce concerning Dutch—American trade and asked him to verify its accuracy (TJ to Van Berckel, 13 Feb. 1793; Van Berckel to TJ, 22 Feb. 1793; see TJ’s Report on Commerce, 16 Dec. 1793).

Index Entries