Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 16 October 1792

To Jean Baptiste Ternant

Philadelphia Oct. 16. 1792.


I am to acknolege the receipt of your letter of the 9th. inst. proposing a stipulation for the abolition of the practice of privateering in times of war. The benevolence of this proposition is worthy of the nation from which it comes, and our sentiments on it have been declared in the treaty to which you are pleased to refer, as well as in some others which have been proposed. There are in those treaties some other principles which would probably meet the approbation of your government, as flowing from the same desire to lessen the occasions and the calamities of war. On all of these as well as on those amendments to our treaty of commerce which might better it’s conditions with both nations, and which the National assembly of France has likewise brought into view on a former occasion, we are ready to enter into negotiation with you, only proposing1 to take the whole into consideration at once. And while contemplating provisions which look to the event of war, we are happy in feeling a conviction that it is yet at a great distance from us, and in believing that the sentiments of sincere friendship which we bear to the nation of France are reciprocated on their part. Of these our dispositions be so good as to assure them on this and all other occasions, and to accept yourself those sentiments of esteem and respect with which I have the honor to be Sir your most obedt. & most humble servt.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Minister Plenipotentiary of France.” FC (Lb in DNA: RG 360, DL). Tr (AMAE: CPEU, xxxvi); French translation. Not recorded in SJL.

Early in September 1792 Ternant received instructions from the French foreign minister to negotiate an agreement with the United States for the suppression of privateering. Ternant was confident that the United States would accept such an agreement because its treaty of commerce with Prussia and its proposed commercial treaty with Portugal both contained clauses which forbade the citizens of one signatory from engaging in privateering against the shipping of the other under the authority of a third power with which that country was at war (Ternant to Dumouriez, 10 Sep. 1792, Turner, CFM, description begins Frederick Jackson Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends 158). Despite his initial intention to write to TJ immediately about this matter, Ternant waited until the Secretary of State returned from Monticello to broach the French proposal in a letter of 9 Oct. 1792, recorded in SJL as received the following day but not found. (On that day TJ also recorded in SJL the receipt of a second letter from Ternant of 9 Oct. 1792, which is likewise missing.) In a conference with Ternant held soon thereafter, TJ assured the French minister that he strongly approved in principle of the suggested stipulation against privateering. He noted, however, that the United States wished instead to make such a stipulation part of a new commercial treaty with France, and pointed out that he could not respond officially to the French proposal until he first discussed the matter with the President (Ternant to Chambonas, 11 Oct. 1792, same, 161). As the letter above indicates, Washington evidently approved of TJ’s position, disappointing Ternant’s hopes for a separate agreement (Ternant to Chambonas, 17 Oct. 1792, same, 162).

1Remainder of sentence underscored in Tr.

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