George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 18 March 1791

From Thomas Jefferson

Mar. 18. 1791.

Th: Jefferson is sorry to present a long letter to the President to be read at so busy a moment: but the view which it presents of our commercial matters in France is too interesting to be unknown to the President. the circumstances presented to view in the 2d page of the letter induce Th: J. to think it may be well to commit to mister Short & the M. de la Fayette to press our settlement with Spain on a broader bottom than merely that of the case of Ste Marie.1

AL, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DLC:GW.

For the background to this letter, see GW to Jefferson, 10 Mar. 1791.

1In addition to other business, GW was busy preparing for his Southern Tour and his upcoming meeting with the proprietors of the federal district in Georgetown. The enclosure was William Short’s letter to Jefferson dated 6 Nov. 1790, which dealt primarily with commercial relations with France. On the second page of his letter, Short commented on the possibility of seeking an accommodation with Spain over the navigation of the Mississippi through the French court. Short wrote: “I know not what change the peace will make, but I think that if a war had taken place, the Spanish Ambassador here, who has much influence, as it is supposed, at Madrid, would have listened without much difficulty to arrangements in the nature of those you speak of in your letter to Mr. C. Even as it is, I should suppose it not amiss to have the idea set agoing by the French court by way of experiment. Should you approve of this it would be well to give instructions respecting it without loss of time. This is the most favorable moment that will probably ever occur at Paris. 1. Because M. de Montmorin who will probably remain and is talked of as prime minister, is well acquainted with the Spanish court. 2. Because he is not only personally attached to M. de la fayette, but knowing that he owes the preservation of his place to him, is fully disposed to enter into all his views. 3. Because more confidence can be had in M. de la fayette than any other person in this business; so that by his means it might be ascertained to what length the court of Madrid could be induced to go, and that without the U.S. committing themselves at all. 4. Because it is very possible that under another administration our views might be thwarted instead of being promoted by this country” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 18:13–25).

GW replied to Jefferson on 19 Mar. 1791: “The President concurs with the Secretary of State in opinion that, circumstances make it advisable to commit to Mr Short and the Marqs de la Fayette to press in a discreet manner, our settlement with the Court of Spain on a broader bottom than merely that of the case of Ste Marie, and authorises him to take measures accordingly” (ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers). In his draft GW wrote “circumstances render it advisable” and “authorises him to write accordingly” (Df, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Jefferson wrote to Short the same day that GW “is of opinion that it is expedient to press at this moment our difference with Spain to a settlement. You are therefore desired, instead of confining your application for the interference of the court of France to the simple case of Ste. Marie . . . to ask it on the broad bottom of general necessity that our right of navigating the Miss[issipp]i be at length ceded by the court of Madrid, and be ceded in such form as to render the exercise of it efficacious and free from chicane. . . . Mr. Carmichael is instructed to press this matter at Madrid, yet if the Marquis and yourself think it could be better effected at Paris with the count de Nuñnez it is left to you to endeavor to draw it there. Indeed we believe it would be more likely to be settled there than at Madrid, or here” (Jefferson to Short, 19 Mar. 1791, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 19:529–31). In June Short reported to Jefferson that Lafayette and Montmorin had expressed their willingness to assist the United States in reaching an accord with Spain, but Montmorin was certain the Spanish “would not agree to have the subject treated here, as you seem to desire.” Confidentially, Montmorin suggested that Congress ought to allow the western settlers to seize New Orleans, implying that the French would not support Spanish efforts to recover the territory (Short to Jefferson, 6 June 1791, ibid., 20:528–37).

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