Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 24 March 1793

From David Humphreys

Lisbon March 24th. 1793.


I have the honour to transmit a Copy of the Official Answer of the Secretary of State for foreign Affairs, respecting the two Subjects on which I had applied to him. A Translation is also annexed.

As the Papers containing the circumstances relative to this business will be before you, I will not trespass on your time by offering comments. I even forbear to remark on the policy of State that has operated in the forcible detention of all vessels from America, laden with grain, which have arrived here since the month of Decr. last; as well as on the idea which seems to be held forth of its being fraudulent for Merchants to dispose of their articles of commerce in the best markets and to the best advantage. Yet I must frankly confess the information is new to me, that any of our Merchants should have such a predilection for the Port of Lisbon as to order their Cargoes to be sold unconditionally there, at a lower price than might be obtained at Cadiz or other nieghbouring Ports.

I never entertained very sanguine hopes that any thing but the imperious dictates of necessity would induce that Class of Persons alluded to in the letter from the Secretary of State, to consent to the importation of flour into the Ports of Portugal. The Nobility, whose influence you are not insensible of, being the principal Mill-Owners, constitute that Class. However, I have no doubt we should already have obtained our object, had it not been for the arrival of so many Cargoes of wheat from America within the last two months. A crisis more favorable to the accomplishment of our wishes may still come. And if the superior prices which are now offered for flour in other Countries (and particularly in some of the Ports of Spain) should continue a little longer, perhaps that period is not so far distant as may have been imagined by this Government.

In submitting to the Executive, the profession on the part of the Court of Lisbon, “of its constant dispositions of cordial friendship and good correspondence towards the U.S. of America; as well as of its perpetual readiness to listen to all propositions which may tend to draw more closely those ties, and to establish a solid and permanent System of Commerce, reciprocally beneficial for the two States:” I have the honour to remain, with the highest esteem & respect Sir Your most obedient & Most humble Servant

D. Humphreys

P.S. Since finishing this letter M. d’Arbot the New French Minister has arrived. France, we understand has declared war against Spain.

RC (DNA: RG 59, DD); at head of text: “(No. 69.)”; between signature and postscript: “The Secretary of State &c. &c. &c.”; endorsed by TJ as received 17 May 1793 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (Lb in same). Enclosures: (1) Foreign Minister Luis Pinto de Sousa Coutinho to Humphreys, 20 Mch. 1793, reporting in response to his petitions of 18 Jan. to 16 Mch. 1793, which were referred to the Prince of Brazil, that his court has not altered its liberal policy respecting American ships with grain that are positively bound for other countries, and that any temporary exceptions to this system had been dictated by “either a momentary urgency or rather a well founded presumption,” demonstrated by the enclosed extract, that many American ships fraudulently try to take advantage of high prices elsewhere contrary to the real intention of their owners to sell the cargoes in Lisbon; explaining that there would be no change in the policy of refusing admission to American flour because the prohibition protects Portuguese interests and applies impartially to all foreign powers; and avowing his court’s cordial friendship and desire to strengthen commercial ties with the United States. (2) Extract from the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the Administrator General of the Custom House, 23 Dec. 1792, directing him not to permit the export of flour or wheat from Lisbon without the permission of the Administrator of the Corn Market, similarly instructing him not to allow the re-export of grain in order to prevent ships from feigning entry in distress so as to purchase and export grain “destined for the consumption of this Court,” and ordering him to stop the practice whereby Lisbon pilots advise ship captains either to avoid the port or enter it only while claiming to do so in distress, so that “we may not be reduced by negligence from our present abundance to want” (Trs in same, in Portuguese, in Humphreys’s hand; Trs in same, in English; Trs in Lb in same, in Portuguese and English).

On 17 May 1793 TJ sent this letter and its enclosures to the President, who returned them the next day (Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 142–3).

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