George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Gouverneur Morris, 22 January 1790

From Gouverneur Morris



Dear SirParis 22 January 1790

In another Letter of this Date I have mentioned a Part of Yesterday’s Conversation with the Count de Montmorin. That Part of it which I am now to communicate is for yourself alone. As Monsieur de la fayette had asked me some Days ago who should be sent to replace the Comte de Moustiers1 and (upon my answering with great Indifference it might be whom he pleased) had asked my Opinion of Colonel Ternant,2 I told the Count de Montmorin this Circumstance to which he replied that he had communicated his Intention to Monsieur de la fayette some Time since, in Consequence of the Intimacy which has long subsisted between them. I asked him if he would permit me to mention it to you. This Idea gave him Pleasure and he told me that he should consider it as a very great Kindness, and particularly if thro the same Channel he could learn whether that Appointment would be agreable to you. This is you know a Compliment which the most respectable Courts on this Side of the Atlantic usually pay to each other. It is not without Use and on the present Occasion is not a meer Compliment because Monsieur de Montmorin is sincerely desirous of cultivating a good Understanding with the United States. It is not impossible that he should retreat from his present Office; but he will I think in that Case be appointed Governor of the Children of France3 and his opinions while about the Court will have weight for many Reasons, among others because they deserve it. In talking over the deplorable Situation to which this Kingdom is reduced, I told him that I saw no Means of establishing Peace at Home but by making War abroad. He replied that he thought with me in Part, viz. that an offensive War might be useful but that he thought a defensive War must prove ruinous, that this last seemed the more likely to happen and that in either Case the State of the Finances was alarming. I observed that Ability in that Department might restore it even during a War, that Nothing could revive Credit without the Reestablishment of an executive Authority, and that Nothing could effect that Reestablishment but a general Sense of the Necessity. Upon this he lamented the Want of a Cheif Minister who might embrace the great whole of the public Business. He owns himself unequal to the Task, and too indolent into the Bargain. Our friend, lafayette (who by the bye is trying to stir up a Revolution in the King of Prussia’s Dominions) burns with Desire to be at the Head of an Army in Flanders and drive the Stadtholder into a Ditch.4 He acts now a splendid but dangerous Part. Unluckily he has given into Measures as to the Constitution which he does not heartily approve, and he heartily approves many Things which Experience will demonstrate to be injurious. He left America you know when his Education was but half finished. What he learnt there he knows well; but he did not learn to be a Government Maker. While all is Confusion here, the Revolt of Austrian Flanders, and the Troubles excited in Poland by the Agency of Prussia give every Reason to suppose that the King of Sweden will be vigorously supported: so that provided the Turk has but a sufficient Share of Obstinacy to bear a little more beating, the Scale (according to human Probabilities) must turn against Austria and Russia who are the Allies of France.5 Great Britain is as yet no otherwise engaged than as an eventual Party, and according to the best Opinion which my Judgment can form upon the Information I have been able to obtain the Premier of that Country can (to use the Words of Mr Addison) “ride in the Whirlwind and direct the Storm.”6 A Person however on whose Knowlege I have some Reliance assures me that Mr Pitt engrossed by Borough-Politics, and ignorant of continental Affairs, takes no Part in them but what he is absolutely forced into; and I am inclined to beleive that there is some Truth in that Assertion.

Before I close this Letter I think it just to mention that the Degree of Intimacy I enjoy with some of the first People here is not to be set down to the account of any Merit I may be supposed to possess. It results from the Letters of Presentation given to me, and I am particularly indebted to those written by the Marquis de la luzerne—and Mr Carmichael.7 It is this last Gentleman that placed me well with the Count de Montmorin who was some time Embassador in Spain⟨;⟩ and I mention this Circumstance the rather as it furnishes me the Occasion of repeating what I have formerly said to you upon Mr Carmichaels Subject. He is admirably well calculated for a foreign Minister, the Proof of which is that he enjoys the fullest Confidence of the Court of Madrid and is generally esteemed by all the other Ministers there. Add to this that his Hobby Horse is the Ambition of establishing a high Character in the diplomatic Line without anything mercenary about him. He is therefore valuable. Men without Passions will do nothing, interested Men will do too much, and at such a Distance from Home the Temper of a Minister is very important to the Country he represents. Excuse me I entreat you my dear Sir, mentioning what you know so much better than I do and attribute it to the proper Motive. Accept at the same Time I pray the Assurances of that sincere Esteem with which I am yours

Gouv. Morris

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC: Gouverneur Morris Papers; LB, DNA: RG 59, Despatches from U.S. Ministers to France.

1Eléanor François Elie, comte de Moustier, had been recalled as French minister to the United States and departed New York in October 1789.

2Jean-Baptiste, chevalier de Ternant (1751–1816), served under Lafayette during the American Revolution and in 1787 was a colonel in the Dutch Republican army and an agent of Lafayette’s in Holland. On 17 Jan. 1790 Morris dined with Lafayette who “asks me who I think of to go to America in the Stead of De Moustiers. I tell him I have not any fixed Opinion, shall be readily governed in that Respect by him &ca. He asks me what I think of Ternant. I tell him that I approve. Hence I conclude that he intends the Appointment to pass, in my Opinion, as of his making” (Chinard, George Washington As the French Knew Him, description begins Gilbert Chinard, ed. and trans. George Washington As the French Knew Him: A Collection of Texts. Princeton, N.J., 1940. description ends 90; Gottschalk, Lafayette between the American and the French Revolution, description begins Louis Gottschalk. Lafayette between the American and the French Revolution (1783–1789). Chicago and London, 1950. description ends 338–39; Morris, Diary of the French Revolution, description begins Beatrix Cary Davenport, ed. A Diary of the French Revolution by Gouverneur Morris. 2 vols. Boston, 1939. description ends 1:368).

3Morris was probably referring to the surviving children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: Louis-Charles (1785–1795), the dauphin of France since the death of his brother on 4 June 1789, and Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, madame royale (1778–1851).

4King Frederick William II of Prussia (1744–1797) restored his deposed brother-in-law William V (1748–1806), prince of Orange and Nassau and hereditary stadholder of the Dutch Republic of the Seven United Provinces, to his offices in 1787. In late 1789 and early 1790 Lafayette considered sending French troops into the Low Countries to support Flemish patriots and other reactionaries in Belgium, the Austrian Netherlands, and the bishopric of Liège (Gottschalk and Maddox, Lafayette in the French Revolution, description begins Louis Gottschalk and Margaret Maddox. Lafayette in the French Revolution: From the October Days through the Federation. Chicago and London, 1973. description ends 274–83).

5Frederick William II also had territorial ambitions in Poland, centered around Thurn, Danzig, and Gdansk. When Catherine II of Russia, who was also interested in acquiring Polish territory, became involved in a war against Turkey from 1787 to 1792, King Gustavus III (1746–1792) launched a Swedish offensive against Russia in order to recapture his Finnish provinces.

6Joseph Addison, The Campaign, a Poem, to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough (London, 1705), 14.

7Appointed chargé d’affaires in Madrid in September 1789, William Carmichael (c.1738–1795) was never made a full minister (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:53; Morris, Diary of the French Revolution, description begins Beatrix Cary Davenport, ed. A Diary of the French Revolution by Gouverneur Morris. 2 vols. Boston, 1939. description ends 1:98).

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