Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin H. Latrobe, 22 September 1798

From Benjamin H. Latrobe

Richmond Septr. 22d 1798

Dear Sir,

A round-about application has just now been made to me respecting a navigation in your neighbourhood, between Milton and Charlotte’s ville, for which, I am told, a very considerable subscription is already raised. It comes from a very honest work man here, who presses me to go up, & see it. But as the thing seems to stand not quite upon so good as footing as the negociations of Messrs. W X Y & Z and the Lady &c, I take the liberty to mention it to you, & if my talents as an Engineer can be of the smallest service to you,—for I take it for granted that you are at the head of any work of public utility within your sphere of agency—I beg you will draw upon them to any amount.—I consider our improvements in navigation in their infancy, to require a little nursing by the hand of public spirit,—& to speak plainly,—when I offer my assistance to you, it is infinitely more with a view to be useful than to exhaust your funds by my emoluments. Little can be done this Year, if any thing be intended, but I shall be happy to wait upon you to advise or to plan for the next season, if you think proper.—

Since I had the pleasure to see you at Fredericsburg, I have been upon a strange errand at Norfolk,—to survey & report upon the fortifications at that place.—I spent about three Weeks in performing this service,—& having plann’d a new Fort for Point Nelson, & alterations for Fort Norfolk, & besides, designed Barracks for both places, an officer carried my papers to the Secretary at War. All that I had proposed was ordered to be carried into immediate execution, &—strange to tell,—the business was taken out of the hands of the Military Commander of the Garrison, & put into those of the Collector of the port. All this was consistent with the operations of a Government for the sake of a Revenue.—Of myself not the slightest notice has been taken,—because a man of my politics is not to be trusted in so important a case as the defence of the Country against the French. My politics I presume have been found out since my appointment to survey & report, for surely there was as much danger in permitting me to design,—as to construct a Work.—

The late accounts of the Paris negociation have made some impression here.—Marshall stands for Henrico district,—but his election is doubtful. Bushrod Washington, who offers for Westmoreland district stands little chance. His zeal against the subverters of all Government, has decided the wavering John Heath against him,—than whom, no one in the District has more influence, so that we shall most likely see Dr Jones again in Congress. Upon the whole, I think the aspect of things in this part of the country favors the republican side. But you have no doubt better intelligence from your more informed correspondents than I can give you.—John Mayo,—had distributed 500 Copies of the Cannibals progress in Henrico district to pave the way for himself. Captn. Billy Austin has sent a packet of Addison’s pedantry to Bedford,—Carrington scatters X W Y Z over the state, & another packet consisting of the speeches of Goodloe Harper & Ames is dispersed by a subscription of citizen subjects. But little I believe is effected by all this expence.—

I have taken the liberty to have several of your mould boards made for my friends. I do not apologize to you to so doing, as I know that your object is to be extensively useful. I have been astonished at their performance.

As I am somewhat uncertain whether or no you will ever receive these lines I forbear enclosing in them the drawings of the Philadelphia Nail cutting Machine which I have long made for you, but which I have never had an opportunity to send.—

I have now only to beg that you will excuse the liberty I have taken to write to you upon the subject of your Navigation upon the very informal application to me, & to assure you of the truth of the sentiments of esteem & respect with which I am

Your faithful Servant B.

B Henry Latrobe

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 1 Oct. 1798 and so recorded in SJL.

Negociations of Messrs. w x y & z and the lady &c: a statement by Charles C. Pinckney enclosed in the American envoys’ dispatch no. 4 of 24 Dec. 1797 reported that a few days before “a lady, who is well acquainted with M. Talleyrand,” had coaxed Pinckney that “all matters would be adjusted” if the U.S. would grant France a loan. Although often presumed to have been Madame de Villette, Marshall’s and Gerry’s landlady, the mysterious woman may actually have been the wife of Charles Mathurin de la Forest, who had held consular positions in the United States (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:166–7; Stinchcombe, XYZ Affair description begins William Stinchcombe, The XYZ Affair, Westport, Conn., 1980 description ends , 35, 47n, 65, 66–8, 75–6n).

John Marshall won a seat in the Sixth Congress, Bushrod Washington did not (Biog. Dir. Cong., 64, 1426). For Marshall’s campaign, see Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 3:494–502.

During the summer of 1798 William Cobbett published a pamphlet he called the cannibals progress, presented as an abridged and translated German account, originally issued in London, of French depredations in Swabia. Cobbett considered the work an example of “how I am working against the French. I have published 25 thousand of this work, and about as many more have issued, by my permission, from the German and other presses in the States. It has been, and long will be, a mighty engine. The little boys and the poor people buy it, and it is read in every family.” In 1801 Cobbett asserted that “upwards of a hundred thousand copies were printed and sold in the United States of America, besides a large edition in the German language” (G. D. H. Cole, ed., Letters from William Cobbett to Edward Thornton Written in the Years 1797 to 1800 [London, 1937], 4; William Cobbett, Porcupine’s Works; Containing Various Writings and Selections, Exhibiting a Faithful Picture of the United States of America, 12 vols. [London, 1801], 8:320n; The Cannibals’ Progress; or The Dreadful Horrors of French Invasion, as Displayed by the Republican Officers and Soldiers, in their Perfidy, Rapacity, Ferociousness and Brutality, Exercised towards the Innocent Inhabitants of Germany. Translated from the German, by Anthony Aufrer, Esq. [Philadelphia, 1798]; see Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends Nos. 33325–38).

Addison’s pedantry: probably An Infallible Cure, for Political Blindness, if Administered to Patients Possessing Sound Minds, Honest Hearts, and Independent Circumstances, an “oration” by Pennsylvania judge Alexander Addison published in Richmond in July, and printed also in Philadelphia under another title (see Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends Nos. 33269, 33270, 33873). Other addresses and writings by Addison also appeared in print during 1798. During the summer Timothy Pickering had sent 1,800 copies of the dispatches relating to the XYZ affair to Edward C. Carrington, the federal supervisor of the revenue for Virginia, for distribution in the state (Marshall, Papers, 3:475; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828 description ends , 1:82).

Sometime before the end of April TJ had furnished Latrobe with what the architect described as “the 3 Wise mens of the East’s Instructions”—apparently the instructions to Marshall, Pinckney, and Gerry as envoys to France (Latrobe, Virginia Journals description begins Edward C. Carter II and others, eds., The Virginia Journals of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1795–1798, New Haven, 1977, 2 vols. description ends , 2: 384).

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