George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Louis XVI, 28 May 1791

From Louis XVI

[Paris, 28 May 1791]

Tres chers grands amis et alliés

nous avons choisi le sieur de Ternant Colonel Commandant du Régiment royal Liegiois pour aller résider auprès de vous en qualité de notre Ministre Plenipotentiaire.1 Il est parfaitement instruit des sentiments et des principes qui font la baze de nos liaisons avec vous, et nous ne doutons pas qu’il ne nous donne une nouvelle preuve de son zêle pour tout ce qui peut intéresser notre service, en se conduisant de la maniere la plus propre à vous convaincre du desir que nous avons de les perpetuer et de les resserrer de plus en plus.2 Nous vous prions d’ajouter une foi entiére à tout ce qu’il vous dira de notre part. Il ne peut trop vous assurer, et vous ne sauriez etre trop persuadés de l’affection constante et de l’amitié sincére que nous portons aux Etats unis en général et à chacun d’Eux en particulier. Sur ce nous prions Dieu qu’il vous ait Tres chers grands amis et Alliés en sa sainte et digne garde. Ecrit à Paris le 28 mai 1791. Votre bon Ami et Allié

Louis Montmorin

DS, DNA: RG 59, Communications from Heads of Foreign States.

1Jean-Baptiste, chevalier de Ternant, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental army from 1778 until his capture at the surrender of Charleston, S.C., after which he was exchanged in May 1780 and later promoted to brevet colonel. Returning to France in 1783, he served in the French army as a colonel. The unpopular Eléanor-François-Elie, comte de Moustier, was recalled in 1789, and on 17 Jan. 1791 Ternant was chosen to replace him as minister to the United States. Ternant left France on 25 or 26 June and arrived at Philadelphia on 10 Aug., when he met privately with GW. Ternant presented his credentials on 12 Aug. and reported to his superior the following day. See Ternant to Montmorin, 13 Aug. 1791, Turner, Correspondence of the French Ministers, description begins Frederick J. Turner, ed. Correspondence of the French Ministers to the United States, 1791–1797. Washington, D.C., 1904. In Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1903, vol. 2. description ends 2:43–45.

2Although France and the United States stood at the brink of a trade war in the spring of 1791, Ternant carried no instructions to negotiate a new commercial treaty based on full reciprocity to replace the disputed Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778 (see Thomas Jefferson to GW, 18 Jan. 1791, and GW to the U.S. Senate, 19 Jan. 1791 and source note; Miller, Treaties, description begins Hunter Miller, ed. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2, 1776-1818. Washington, D.C., 1931. description ends 2:7; 1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 27–28, 135–36). Despite William Short’s lobbying efforts against the measure, the National Assembly in early March 1791 issued decrees repealing American trade privileges, and GW approved Jefferson’s policy of having Short privately consult with Lafayette before protesting officially (Lafayette to GW, 7 Mar. 1791, GW to Lafayette, 28 July 1791, and Jefferson to GW, 30 July 1791). Almost two months before Jefferson wrote to Short, however, the French legislature seemed to have acted more favorably to the United States but in actuality offered only a palliative. On 2 June the National Assembly decreed “that the King be prayed to cause to be negociated with the United States, a New Treaty of Commerce that may tend to strengthen those mutual relations of friendship and good understanding, so highly beneficial to them both.” The president of the National Assembly himself sent a copy of the decree to Jefferson, which was received on 9 Aug. (Jean-Xavier Bureau de Pusy to Jefferson, 6 June 1791, in 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 20:524–28). Short informed Jefferson of the decree, and Lafayette wrote Jefferson on 7 June that Ternant carried a letter from the National Assembly “Expressing sentiments Most sincerely felt. He will Explain How it Happened the Assembly Blunderd in the duties on oil and tobacco, and I Hope You will Be satisfied with His Accounts on these Matters” (Short to Jefferson, 6, 10 June, Lafayette to Jefferson, 7 June 1791, ibid., 528–36, 539–41, 548–50). But three months after Ternant’s arrival, Jefferson wrote to Short: “M. de Ternant tells me he has no instructions to propose to us the negociation of a commercial treaty, and that he does not expect any” (Jefferson to Short, 24 Nov. 1791, ibid., 22:328–32).

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