Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1 January 1793

To George Washington

Philadelphia Jan. 1. 1793.


I have duly considered the translation of the letter of Dec. 27. from M. de la Forest1 stating that the French Consuls here have a right to recieve their salaries at Paris, that under the present circumstances they cannot dispose of their bills, and desiring that our government will take them as a remittance in part of the monies we have to pay to France. No doubt he proposes to let us have them on such terms as may ensure us against loss either from the course of exchange of cash for cash at Philadelphia, Amsterdam and Paris, or from the difference between cash and assignats at Paris, in which latter form they will probably be paid. I do not observe any objection from the treasury that this channel of remittance would be out of their ordinary line and inadmissible on that account.—Taking it therefore on the ground merely of an advance unauthorised by the French government, I think the bills may be taken. We have every reason to believe the money is due to them, and none to doubt it will be paid, every creditor being authorised to draw on his debtor. They will be paid indeed in assignats, at the nominal value only, but it is previously understood that these will procure cash on the spot of the real value we shall have paid for them. The risk, if any, is certainly very small, and such as it would be expedient in us to encounter in order to oblige these gentlemen. I think it of real value to produce favorable dispositions in the agents of foreign nations here. Cordiality among nations depends very much on the representations of their agents mutually, and cordiality once established, is of immense value, even counted in money, from the favors it produces in commerce, and the good understanding it preserves in matters merely political. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect respect & attachment, Sir, your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); at foot of first page: “The President of the U.S.”; endorsed by Tobias Lear. PrC (DLC); partly overwritten in a later hand. Tr (Lb in DNA: RG 59, SDC). Recorded in SJPL.

No text has been found of the letter to Alexander Hamilton from Antoine René Charles Mathurin de La Forest, the French consul general in Philadelphia, requesting the payment of French consular salaries through advances on the American debt to France. Hamilton had submitted a translation of La Forest’s letter to Washington, who referred it in turn to TJ. The President immediately submitted TJ’s letter to Hamilton, and although there is no record of the Secretary of the Treasury’s response, he must have temporarily withheld his approval from the course of action recommended by TJ. For on 8 Jan. 1793 the French minister, Jean Baptiste Ternant, called TJ’s attention to the subject of La Forest’s request, and two days later TJ submitted Ternant’s letter to Washington, who promptly referred it to the Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton advised the President that although the Treasury was able to comply with the French consul general’s request, it was advisable to consider this issue at a Cabinet meeting in view of the uncertain political situation in France and the fact that the United States had already made its scheduled debt payments to that nation. As a result, the Cabinet met on 12 Jan. 1793 and approved the payment of French consular salaries (Ternant to TJ, 8 Jan. 1793; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , xiii, 386, 440; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 7, 9, 11; Turner, CFM description begins Frederick Jackson Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791–1797,” American Historical Association, Annual Report, 1903, II description ends , 168).

1Preceding five words interlined.

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