Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, 20 October 1802

From Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis

auteuil près paris Le 28 Vendémiaire
an 11 de La R. f.

Monsieur Le Président,

je prends La Liberté de vous offrir un exemplaire d’un ouvrage que je viens de publier en france, et dont Le Sujet forme La Base de toutes Les Sciences morales. au milieu des importans objets qui vous occupent, je n’ose espérer que vous puissiez prendre Le tems de Lire deux gros volumes: mais j’espere que vous Recevrez avec Bienveillance, Cet hommage Bien Sincere de mon admiration & de mon Respect. je me flatte aussi que vous n’aurez pas oublié Les personnes qui ont eu Le Bonheur de vous voir chez La très Bonne made helvétius, & Chez Le Digne Docteur franklin. nous avons perdu made helvétius; & Le Cit. La Roche & moi, nous occupons sa maison, Legs d’autant plus touchant de Son amitié, que Ses Cendres reposent dans Son jardin. C’est là, Monsieur Le président, que j’ai eu L’avantage de vous voir quelques fois; C’est là, qu’après votre départ pour L’amérique, nous avons Si Souvent parlé de vous avec Cette vénérable amie. que tous Ces Souvenirs vous fassent Recevoir avec quelque intéret, L’hommage des Sentimens tendres et Respectueux que j’ai toujours eu pour vous, & que votre administration vraiment Républicaine me rend encor plus Chers.



Auteuil, near Paris, 28 Vendémiaire Year 11
of the French Republic [i.e. 20 Oct. 1802]

Mister President,

I am taking the liberty of sending you a copy of a work that I have just published in France and whose subject is the foundation of all the moral sciences. Amid the important topics that occupy you, I do not dare hope that you might take time to read two large volumes, but I hope you will accept, with good will, this very sincere sign of my admiration and respect. In addition, I flatter myself in thinking that you have not forgotten those who had the pleasure of seeing you at the homes of dear Madame Helvétius and the worthy Doctor Franklin. We have lost Madame Helvétius; Citizen La Roche and I take care of the house, a legacy of her friendship that is all the more touching because her ashes rest in the garden. That is where I sometimes had the privilege of seeing you, Mister President. That is where this venerable friend and I often talked about you, after your departure for America. May all these memories inspire you to accept with some interest the gift of warm and respectful sentiments that I have always had for you and that your truly republican government renders all the dearer to me.


RC (DLC); at head of text: “À Mr. Thomas jefferson président des états unis d’amérique”; endorsed by TJ (damaged). Recorded in SJL as received 13 May 1803.

Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757–1808), a physician and professor, wrote on medicine, public health, medical education, and philosophy. Writing to Charles Willson Peale on 13 Mch. 1808, TJ described Cabanis as the premier physician in France and the author of that country’s best works on medical topics. Before studying medicine, Cabanis was a student poet and secretary to a Polish bishop of noble birth. In the 1780s, he joined the salon of writers and thinkers, including Volney and Condorcet, that Anne Catherine de Ligneville Helvétius sponsored at Auteuil, outside Paris. He responded to the French Revolution with enthusiasm, but fell under suspicion during its most violent period. When Condorcet could not evade execution in 1794, Cabanis helped the mathematician and philosopher arrange his affairs and furnished the poison that Condorcet used to take his own life. The National Institute elected Cabanis a member in December 1795, in the category of moral and political sciences. In 1798, he became a deputy in the Council of Five Hundred. He may have taken part in the planning of the Brumaire coup in 1799, and he certainly promoted the constitutional changes that put Bonaparte into power as first consul. Cabanis promptly became a member of the Sénat. In the Institute, however, he had become affiliated with the idéologistes or idéologues, and like them he became alienated from Bonaparte’s regime beginning in 1802. On 13 July 1803, writing to Cabanis in reply to the letter printed above, TJ recalled the circle of friends that used to gather in the “delicious” village of Auteuil in the period before the French Revolution: “in those days how sanguine we were!” (Dictionnaire description begins Dictionnaire de biographie française, Paris, 1933–, 19 vols. description ends , 7:752–3; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 316–17; DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ; Amable Charles, Comte de Franqueville, Le premier siècle de l’Institut de France, 25 Octobre 1795–25 Octobre 1895, 2 vols. [Paris, 1895–96], 1:120; Vol. 34:439, 441; Vol. 36:481n).

UN OUVRAGE: Cabanis’s Rapports du physique et du moral de l’homme, first published in Paris in a two-volume edition in 1802. The book, which was a compilation of a dozen scientific papers that Cabanis wrote in the 1790s, discussed the interrelationship of physiology, environment, and moral philosophy. TJ, impressed by Cabanis’s treatment of the problem of mind and body, later commended the book to Thomas Cooper, John Adams, and Lafayette (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 1246; DSB description begins Charles C. Gillispie, ed., Dictionary of Scientific Biography, New York, 1970–80, 16 vols. description ends ). See also the second letter of Robert R. Livingston at 28 Oct. and the first one from Lafayette at 1 Nov.

The Abbé Martin Lefebvre de LA ROCHE had lived in a pavilion on the grounds of Madame Helvétius’s estate at Auteuil for a number of years (Franklin, Papers description begins Leonard W. Labaree and others, eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, New Haven, 1959–, 39 vols. description ends , 27:590).

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