James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Lafayette, 16 March 1785

From Lafayette

Paris March the 16th 1785

My dear Sir

Was I to found my Hopes Upon the Letters I have from Congress, I would please my fancy with the Expectation of Wellcoming You to the European Shore—and Yet, when I Remember Your obstinate plans of life, I am affraid least my Warm Wishes Should be disappointed—in the Mean While, I will Continue writing, and By the Way Will advise You to send Your Answers By the packets Rather than By a private Vessel. Those letters I sent from Richmond are not Yet Arrived, and I do not think Any letters of the Executive, nor any Private dispatches from Virginia Have as Yet Got to Europe. The politics of this Country are not Yet perfectly Cleared Up. But I am firm in the opinion we shall Have no War at this time. The Emperor’s plans Have Been Opposed by France—it Has on one side saved the dutch, whose Sacrifices, in Comparison of What threatened them Will probably Be Small. It Has on the other Kept Up the Suite in the Empire of Germany, As By its dependance Upon the protection of France and Prussia, the duke of deux ponts Has Been Emboldened to oppose Arrangements Between the Emperor and the Elector of Baviera Where By this Would Have, it is Said, given up His Electorate for the low Countries of the Austrian House. The Conditions Betwe[e]n the dutch and the Emperor are not Yet published. But I Send You a declaration of the king of France to the Emperor, Which took place When He Entered the political Field a few months Ago. Count de Vergennes Has acted, in My opinion, with a Moderation and firmness which does Him Great Honour.1

I am Every day pestering Governement with My prophetics Respecting the Mississipy. My favourite plan, they think, Cannot Be Accepted By Spain, who Know not How to Give up what they once Have. On My Arrival, I strongly Advised, at least, to tell the Spaniards to make for themselves New orleans a free port. I am to Have a Conference on that interesting Subject with duke de la Vauguim Who is Going Next Week to Spain as an Ambassader. I Have writen letters By post to Madrid and Cadiz, to Be intercepted and Read. I wish theyr Ministry Were as Sensible and as well disposed as Ours is. I am told Congress Want to Send You there. Could’nt You Accept of it, only for a time, and in the Mean While make Your journey through france and italy? Kentucky, its growth, Its principles, and its inHabitants are, I find, Very little Understood in Europe, and not much so perhaps By many Europeans in America.

There is a Book of Mr. Necker Upon Finances which Has Made Great deal of Noise.2 It Has Raised a Party Spirit, where By Both Have to an Excess Hated or Adored Him. But I only Speak of the Book, which is a Very Sensible One, and Worth Your Reading. Untill You get it, I inclose a Miniature portrait of France, Made By the Man Who of Course Knows its Ressources. Its publication may Afford Entertainement.

Cher de Caraman’s Best Compliments wait Upon You, My dear Sir, and I Beg You Will Remember me to all Friends in Virginia—Mr. jefferson’s Health is Recovering—But He Keeps Himself too Closely Confined. By My last letters from the General, He was in full enjoyment of a plan for the Navigation of the Pottowmack.3 God Bless You, My dear friend, Remember me often, and for ever depend Upon the Warm Affection, and Most High Regard of Your devoted friend


The Mercantile interest is Warmer than Ever Against the New Regulations in favour of the West india trade. They are Encouraged By the Narrow Conduct of England, and the total interruption of Commerce Betwe[e]n french and Americans, who are all flocking to Great Britain.4

RC (PHi). No cover or docket. Enclosure not found.

1In Oct. 1783, Joseph II of Austria attempted to open the Scheldt River for international navigation and thereby expand his influence in European commercial affairs. Dutch soldiers crossed into Belgium and in retaliation, imperial troops seized two Dutch forts. For a time war threatened. A conference met at Brussels in Apr. 1784. Joseph’s sister, Marie Antoinette, tried to influence her husband Louis XVI, to support the imperial position, but instead Vergennes offered to mediate the problem. Joseph was forced to accept, and eventually relaxed his demand that the Scheldt be opened (Saul Padover, The Revolutionary Emperor: Joseph the Second 1741–1790 [New York, 1933], pp. 315–30).

2Jacques Necker, director general of France from 1776 to 1781 and again from 1788 to 1789, described his economic theories in Compte rendu au roi, published in 1781.

3Washington’s letter of 23 Dec. 1784 refers to negotiations concerning the navigation of the Potomac River. Although the general’s letter of 15 Feb. 1785 is much more detailed about this subject it is unlikely that Lafayette had received this letter (Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXVIII, 17–18, 71–75).

4Lafayette returned to France in 1782 with a whole commercial plan and used his influence in the French court to achieve its acceptance. The principal plank of his plan was that American trade should have an indefinitely privileged position in French ports. The Arrêt of Aug. 1784 provided Americans with seven ports in the West Indies and increased the list of approved imports. French commercial opinion was indignant about the new trade terms and a propaganda war in France followed. Measures later adopted to placate this interest almost totally nullified the American advantages. See Frederick L. Nussbaum, “American Tobacco and French Politics, 1783–1789,” Political Science Quarterly, XL (1925), 497–516; and “The French Colonial Arrêt of 1784,” South Atlantic Quarterly, XXVII (1928), 62–78; and Louis R. Gottschalk, ed., “Lafayette as Commercial Expert,” AHR description begins American Historical Review. description ends , XXXVI (1930–31), 561–70. The Arrêt had recently been published in America, in the Pa. Packet, 9 Mar. 1785, and the Pa. Gazette, 16 Mar. 1785.

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