Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Humphreys, 8 May 1801

From David Humphreys

Madrid May 8th 1801

Dear Sir.

Upon receiving the certain, tho’ not official, intelligence of your having been elected to the Chief Magistracy of the U.S.; I offer my sincere & ardent vows to Heaven, that your Administration may be highly useful to your Country & glorious to yourself.

In Septr. last I had the honour of addressing a letter to you by Mr Henry Preble, recommending him as a suitable Character to be named Consul of the U.S. at Cadiz. I have lately heard of his nomination by your Predecessor … for which I rejoice, because I think he possesses the qualities necessary for that place.

Without the design of interrupting for many minutes your more important occupations, I could not resist the pleasure of expressing how sensibly I was affected with your Speech, when you entered upon the execution of the Office of President. I need not say it has been extremely applauded on this side of the Atlantic. For myself, I might, perhaps, have taken the more pride in the perusal in finding your sentiments accord with those which I have occasionally committed to writing long ago, & which will probably have been printed before this shall reach you. At least they are, in my judgment, the sentiments of genuine Republicanism and of genuine American federalism.

Nor will I trespass on your time by treating in detail of the complicated affairs of this Mission. My correspondence with, & reports to, the Department of State, for almost four years past during my residence here, will have given a tolerably correct idea of the numerous & disagreeable subjects of discussion which have fallen to my lot. I have endeavoured on all occasions to combine firmness with conciliation, the fortiter in rê, with the suaviter in modô, as far as has been in my power. How far I have succeeded it is for others to determine. In attention, industry, zeal & perserverance, I know I have not been wanting. No letter or application of any of our Countrymen, on business, which I have ever received, has remained unattended to or unanswered. I believe I have presented more Memorials & Notes to the Ministers of H.C.M., than have been presented by all the other Ministers of the U.S., at all the Courts of Europe, since the Declaration of Independence. I have had a constant struggle to maintain. Almost every thing which has been gained has been by perserverance. Influenced by a sense of duty, nothing, I trust, can discourage me from pursuing that enegetic & delicate system of conduct, which I judge best calculated to define the rights of our Citizens, and to prevent a misintelligence between the American & Spanish Governments. The final result of that conduct is more than I can undertake to predict. Had I not arrived at this Court at the time I did, the French Directory would, in all probability, have prevented the Posts on the Mississipi from having been delivered to us; thus would have induced a war between the U.S. & Spain. Altho’ most of my applications to this Government, in the cases of Individuals, have had little other advantage than that of keeping alive the claims which have been exhibited; yet I have sometimes, by the dint of reasoning & persevering, had the satisfaction of preventing great embarrassments to our commerce, & heavy losses to our Citizens, which must inevitably have been experienced, but for my efforts. I have caused to be restored to American Citizens, in a single instance, more property than the amount of my whole Salary since I have been in the Service of the U.S. And very lately I have saved for others more than 60,000 Dollars, which certainly would have been forever lost to them but for my interference. I might cite a number of other similar examples. I have not confined myself merely to report to the Department of State, the political transactions which have occurred in this Peninsula. I have constantly laboured to keep the Government informed of the events which have happened in the rest of this quarter of the World. In order that this sketch should not be irksome, I have abstained from tedious reflections … knowing that others were as capable as myself of deducing conclusions from the facts which were offered. When you was Secretary of State, I recollect you afforded me much satisfaction by saying, you often received information of important events sooner from me than from any other Person in Europe. And Genl Washington afterwards gratified my feeling not a little by alluding to the regularity of my official correspondence. I am conscious that I have not since relaxed my exertions … and by adverting to the number of my letters from this corner of Europe, you will probably be of the same opinion. I am persuaded you will excuse me for continuing the same habitual regularity, even tho’ there be not objects of magnitude to communicate. I write for possible utility, not for shew or reputation. For I am sensible that even the negative intelligence, of there being no News, is sometimes interesting. You will, in all probability, learn from England the state of affairs in the North of Europe at an earlier period than from Spain. Yet as a kind of commentary on the Convention between England & Denmark, communicated in my public letter of this day, I take the liberty of enclosing to you a confidential & friendly communication, made to me by the Baron de Shubart, Minister of Denmark to this Court, now at Copenhagen. The undisguised observations of a Man versed in politics, tho’ expressed in haste, on the spot, will frequently bring one better acquainted with the real situation of affairs, than the most elaborate Diplomatic dissertations when intended for the public eye.

I do not venture to say any thing here concerning my opinion of the general necessity of our maintaining a navy to a certain extend & particularly a small naval force in the Mediterranean; because you will probably have seen what I have already committed to paper, on these subjects, in print, before this can reach you. The same reason prevents me from repeating what I have mentioned to the two former Presidents of the U.S. on the means of manning our public armed vessels. Genl Washington went out of Office before he received my letter. And I know not whether that which I addressed to Mr Adams with the same object ever reached him. I have alluded to both, in my “Thoughts on the necessity of maintaining a Navy in the U.S.—”

With the highest respect & esteem I have the honour to be, Dear Sir, Your Mo: ob: & Mo: hble Servt

D. Humphreys

Dupl (DLC); at foot of text: “Thos Jefferson President of the U.S. of America”; at head of text: “Duplicate”; ellipses in original; endorsed by TJ as received 22 July and so recorded in SJL. Dft (CtY: Humphreys-Marvin-Olmsted Collection). Enclosure: Herman Schubart to Humphreys, Copenhagen, 14 Apr. 1801, reporting the battle there on 2 Apr. and the resulting negotiations between the Danish government and British naval commanders, noting the stunning effect of the news of the death of Paul I, whose personal energy and passion had been critical to the alliance of the Baltic nations, and discussing the effects of the czar’s death on international relations (RC in DLC: TJ Papers, 107:18257–60; in French).

Humphreys’s letter in support of Henry Preble was dated 23 Sep. 1800. At that time Humphreys anticipated having his own writings printed (Vol. 32:162–3).

Fortiter in rê: see Elbridge Gerry to TJ, 4 May.

H.C.M.: His Catholic Majesty (the king of Spain).

The government of Denmark consented to an armistice following the British assault on Copenhagen. Humphreys enclosed a copy of the 9 Apr. convention of armistice in his public letter of this day, a dispatch to the secretary of state (William Short to TJ, 19 Apr. 1801; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:147–8; Parry, Consolidated Treaty Series description begins Clive Parry, ed., The Consolidated Treaty Series, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1969–81, 231 vols. description ends , 56:71–6).

Already committed to paper: in a dispatch to the secretary of state in January, Humphreys urged that warships be sent to the Mediterranean. He argued that war with a Barbary Coast state would be an opportunity to “astonish all the European nations” by displaying decisiveness and naval “prowess” on the part of the United States. Such a demonstration might prevent other wars, he thought, and “would at least serve to give ourselves as well as others a just idea of & respect for our own Character.” Humphreys wrote in a similar vein to the secretary on 14 Apr. and suggested that “a few frigates” and other vessels be sent to “chastise” Tripoli, “that haughty but contemptible power.” Humphreys, anticipating the new publication of his poetry and prose works, may have expected his views on the Tripoli situation to appear in print by that means. Late in May 1801, the National Intelligencer did publish an extract of his communication of 14 Apr. with letters that he had enclosed from Richard O’Brien, the U.S. consul at Algiers (see also David Austin to TJ, 1 June 1801). The heading of that item, which other newspapers also circulated, implies that the Intelligencer received the documents from Madison’s office, not from Humphreys. In the fall of 1802, Humphreys drew on his dispatches from Madrid to compose “Remarks on the War Between the United States and Tripoli.” He included that essay in his Miscellaneous Works, which finally appeared in 1804. In 1794, when he was negotiating with Algiers for the recovery of American prisoners, Humphreys caused some disruption of the Washington administration’s policy on the issue by giving newspapers his own recommendation for a lottery to raise ransom money (Humphreys to the secretary of state, postscript of 23 Jan. to dispatch of 13 Jan. 1801, in DNA: RG 59, DD; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:92–3; National Intelligencer, 29 May; Connecticut Courant, 8 June; Herald of Liberty, 22 June; David Humphreys, The Miscellaneous Works of David Humphreys [New York, 1804; repr. Gainesville, Fla., 1968], 67–75; Robert J. Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776–1815 [Chicago, 1995], 131–2; Vol. 32:162).

Humphreys included his thoughts on the necessity of maintaining a navy in his Miscellaneous Works. In a letter to George Washington in January 1797, he had suggested the creation of a naval militia to provide crews for armed vessels. Humphreys was acquainted with O’Brien, and by advocating a strong navy and a bellicose response to the Barbary states, he echoed O’Brien’s opinions. TJ had a detailed memorandum written by O’Brien in May 1797 urging an augmentation of U.S. naval strength (Frank Landon Humphreys, Life and Times of David Humphreys: Soldier—Statesman—Poet, “Belov’d of Washington,” 2 vols. [New York, 1917], 2:206–8, 250, 254; Allison, Crescent Obscured, 155–6, 176–8; Humphreys, Miscellaneous Works, 77–88; Vol. 29:375–7).

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