Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Bowdoin, 15 November 1806

Paris Nov. 15. 1806.


I had the honour last to address you on the 20th Ulto., & altho’ I have nothing specially important to communicate, I think it my duty to apprize you, that there is no change taken place in the posture of our affairs, and that there is little reason to expect there will be any: the same apathy & indifference on the part of france, and the same obstinacy & perverseness on that of Spain continue to mask the measures & conduct of the two Govts., being either well assured of this friendship, or indifferent to the hostility of the U. States! So far is Spain from relaxing in her disposition, that there is good reason to apprehend, that no movements on the part of this Governmt. will now induce her to change her policy or conduct, even should she be seriously invited thereto by this Govt.:—For appearances justify the opinion, that Spain discovers strong symptoms of uneasiness under her subjection to this Govt., & will doubtless seize the first opportunity to shake off her alliance & political connection with it. I presume, that Mr. Erving has duly acquainted you with the Symptoms of this change, & with the motives and policy by which it is induced: suffice it to say Sir, that there is good reason to suppose, that Spain has been drawn into the Coalition against france, & that she is collecting her forces & waiting a favourable opportunity openly to declare herself. This I understand, is the true explanation of a late proclamation published by the Prince of Peace calling upon the people of Spain for the aid of men & Cavalry for placing the military forces of the country upon a respectable footing! This proclamation has been published here, & is ascribed to different motives; few people however suppose, that Spain will be intrepid enough under existing circumstances to turn her arms against France.—

The Emperor & Prince of Beneventum still continue in Prussia, & when they will return is not even spoken of: The affairs of europe seem to be more embroiled than ever: New Revolutions & changes are taking place on all sides, and every state in europe is terrified at the rapid movements & successes of the french army. War was declared with Prussia on the 9th of Octo., & already her armies are cut up & destroyed; all her strong places taken except Magdebourg, & that upon the point of surrendering, whilst all the germanic dominions of Prussia, are in the possession & subjected to the discipline of the french army. The van of the army is already advanced into Poland; & the main body is following by forced marches: whether the Russians will wait to receive them, or will retire, or in such case, whether the war will be extended to Russia as some suppose, time will discover.

Certain however it is, that the french army, from the Classes from which it is drawn, as well as from the character & respectability of the Soldiers composing it, is superior to any other establishment yet known in europe:—The habits, discipline, & courage of the Soldiers, the ability activity & intelligence of the Officers, the great experience & Skill of the Generals, added to the transcendant Talents & Energy of the chief, who guides & directs it, make it the most formidable engine of power, which Europe has witnessed, since the fall of the roman empire: and there is nothing wanting to give it its full force & Effect:—This mighty engine combines with it all the aid which an intelligent & irritating policy can give it, to penetrate as well the Designs as to influence the views of its enemies. Its Emissaries pervade every Cabinet whose maxim is “divide et impera.” No stratagem is wanted or expense saved to distract or confuse the councils of its Enemies; none to corrupt or to weaken their Efforts!—Such a collossus of power actuated by one head & moved by one hand, & that hand anxiously bent upon guiding & dirrecting it to Universal Empire,—to that of controuling even the opinions of men, is as it must be, a most frightful & terrific spectacle to every independent nation! With a power actuated by such views, the measures of past obligations & policy have little weight & the appearances of friendship are mere expedients of the moment to disguise its views or to carry an end its designs: It may not be the policy of a Government removed as ours is at present from the impending yoke, which threatens every nation in Europe to engage in a war of speculation, yet I have no hesitance in saying, that in my opinion the present situation of things requires every independent nation, however distant, to be prepared for the worst, to organize its forces to collect its best means of defence, to build forts, establish arsenals & procure arms & ammunition for at least double the population to guard against every event; and that the arms shd. be similar to those used by the french army. Europe conquered & placed under the federative influence or rather subjection of this governmt. the first object of france will be to recolonize the United States, & to make all america subservient to her interest; This to be looked for as a matter of course, & to suppose that the ambition of this Governmt. wch. aims at the conquest of Europe will not extend to the establishmt. of a fleet and the possession of colonies, would be too absurd had we not the emperor’s open declaration to the contrary! I have no prejudices as a politician, to incorporate with the opinions or advice herein suggested: It is the serious result of my judgment, which I think it my duty under existing circumstances to lay before you.

I have the honour to subscribe myself with the highest esteem and attachment Sir Your faithful & most obedient Servant

(Duplicate) James Bowdoin.

P.S. a Copy of the Spanish Proclamation is enclosed.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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