Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Jean Baptiste Ternant, 20 November 1792

To Jean Baptiste Ternant

Philadelphia Novr. 20th. 1792.


Your letter on the subject of further supplies to the Colony of St. Domingo, has been duly received and considered. When the distresses of that Colony first broke forth, we thought we could not better evidence our friendship to that, and to the Mother Country also, than to step in to it’s relief, on your application, without waiting a formal authorization from the national Assembly. As the Case was unforeseen, so it was unprovided for on their part, and we did what we doubted not they would have desired us to do, had there been time to make the application, and what we presumed they would sanction as soon as known to them. We have now been going on more than a twelvemonth, in making advances for the relief of the Colony, without having as yet received any such sanction; for the Decree of 4 Millions of Livres in aid of the Colony, besides the circuitous and informal manner by which we become acquainted with it, describes and applies to operations very different from those which have actually taken place. The wants of the Colony appear likely to continue, and their reliance on our supplies to become habitual. We feel every disposition to continue our efforts for administering to those wants; but that cautious attention to forms, which would have been unfriendly in the first moment, becomes a duty to ourselves; when the Business assumes the appearance of long continuance, and respectful also to the National Assembly itself, who have a right to prescribe the line of an interference so materially interesting to the Mother Country and the Colony.

By the estimate you were pleased to deliver me, we perceive that there will be wanting to carry the Colony through the month of December, between 30, and 40,000 Dollars, in addition to the sums before engaged to you. I am authorized to inform you that the sum of 40,000 Dollars shall be paid to your Orders, at the Treasury of the United States, and to assure you that we feel no abatement in our dispositions to contribute these Aids from time to time, as they shall be wanting for the necessary subsistence of the Colony: but the want of express approbation from the national legislature must ere long produce a presumption that they contemplate perhaps other modes of relieving the Colony, and dictate to us the propriety of doing only what they shall have regularly and previously sanctioned.

Their Decree beforementioned, contemplates purchases made in the United States only. In this they might probably have in view, as well to keep the business of providing supplies under a single direction, as that these supplies should be bought where they can be had cheapest, and where the same sum will consequently effect the greatest measure of relief to the Colony. It is our wish, as undoubtedly it must be yours, that the monies we furnish, be applied strictly in the line they prescribe. We understand, however, that there are in the hands of our Citizens, some bills drawn by the administration of the Colony, for articles of subsistence delivered there. It seems just that such of them should be paid as were received before bonâ fide notice that, that mode of supply was not bottomed on the funds furnished to you by the United States, and we recommend them to you accordingly. I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the most perfect esteem and respect, Sir, Your most obedient and most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (AMAE: CPEU, Supplément, xx); in the hand of George Taylor, Jr., signed by TJ; at foot of first page: “M. de Ternant.” PrC (DLC). PrC of Tr (DLC); in Taylor’s hand. FC (Lb in DNA: RG 360, DL).

The French minister’s letter has not been found and is not recorded in SJL. The estimate, which was drawn up by the French consul general in Philadelphia, stated that the French troops who had been sent to Saint-Domingue to suppress the historic slave revolt on that island required an additional $326,000 in supplies over the next four months (see TJ to Alexander Hamilton, 21 Nov. 1792, Enclosure No. 2). Ternant submitted this request for assistance to TJ after learning from French officials on Saint-Domingue of the need for additional American aid (Ternant to Foreign Minister, 1 Dec. 1792, Turner, CFM, description begins Frederick Jackson Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends 165).

The decision to pay the first installment of the new amount requested by Ternant was the logical outcome of the Washington administration’s longstanding policy of helping French authorities on Saint-Domingue to stem the rising tide of servile insurrection in the colony. Under the terms of this policy, which was supported by the President and all the members of his otherwise increasingly divided cabinet, the American government had already approved or made advances of $440,000 to Ternant on the French debt for the purchase of supplies in the United States for the beleaguered supporters of the slave regime. Indeed, the administration regarded the suppression of the revolt on Saint-Domingue as a matter of such urgency that it made these advances to the French minister despite the absence of any formal authorization for them from the French government (see TJ to Short, 24 Nov. 1791; TJ to Ternant, 7 Mch. 1792; Timothy M. Matthewson, “George Washington’s Policy Toward the Haitian Revolution,” Diplomatic History, iii [1979], 321–36). TJ first conferred with Hamilton about Ternant’s new request for aid, and although the Secretary of the Treasury was initially reluctant to comply with it, in the end he counseled the President that a further advance of $40,000 for the relief of Saint-Domingue would be advisable, thus paving the way for the dispatch of TJ’s letter (Notes on the Legitimacy of the French Government, with Addendum, [18–19] Nov. 1792; Hamilton to Washington, 19 Nov. 1792, Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xiii, 169–73).

The Legislative Assembly’s decree of 26 June 1792 is discussed in note to Gouverneur Morris to TJ, 30 Aug. 1792. For the problems caused by the purchase of American supplies through bills drawn by the administration of Saint-Domingue, see Syrett, Hamilton, description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends xiii, 443–7.

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