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To Thomas Jefferson from Robert R. Livingston, 4 May 1802

From Robert R. Livingston

Paris 4th. May 1802.

Dear Sir

I am sorry so soon after my arrival here to trouble you with any thing that relates personally to myself, & which I fear will be not less painful to you, than it has been to me.

From Mr. Sumter’s first entrance into my family I have treated him with all the attention in my power, I have (as far as he would permit me) introduced him wherever I visited myself, & have extended indulgencies to him in the management of his office, which perhaps my duty to the public would not Justify. I did not indeed ask him to lodge at my house, because, considering him as a young Gentleman of fortune, who would enter into Society, & not be perfectly at ease under the restraints of a private family, & because having my wife & Children with me, I wished to have some hours that I could pass with them unembarressed by the presence of a Stranger; I however requested him to lodge in the Vicinity & to dine with me; this arrangement appeared perfectly agreable to him & continued ’till his marriage, nor had I the smallest reason to believe that he was in any way1 dissatisfied ’till a few days before the date of his letter (No 1). I sent a servant to him with my dispatches requesting him to take the servant with him, as they were pretty large, to see them delivered to Madame Brogniaut & to know when she meant to go,2 as I wished to write farther, or at least not to leave the papers in her hands ’till she was on the eve of departing. The reasons for these precautions are obvious from the nature of the dispatches. Mr Sumter returned them by the servant with this short answer “I won’t go”—His own letter will explain this transaction & to this I refer. He has not thought it proper in his Second letter (No 4) to answer my questions relative to the nature of the message that he thinks Justified this extreme disrespect. To You Sir, he may be more explicit.

Knowing how important it was to preserve harmony between persons so closely connected I determined to pass over this rude reply without notice. I sent the dispatches to Madme. Brogniaut by Coll. Livingston & received Mr. Sumter & his wife at dinner with my usual attention, & transacted some business with him, in the office, without the slightest mention of what had passed. I then delivered him the note (No 2) to copy being in answer to one (No 3) from Ct. Cobentzel; And a letter from Govr. Monroe, in answer to one in which he requests to get two swords, for officers to whom they were voted by the Legislature—After retaining these, 24 hours, they were returned with a refusal to copy them for reasons contained in his letter No 1. It was no longer possible for me to be silent.3 I wrote him the letter No 4, which produced the answer No. 5. and on the reexamination of Ct. Cobentzel’s note, the farther answer No 6.—I make no sort of comment Sir, upon any of these papers. all that I know relative to the Causes of his discontents, are contained in his letter; he has not thought it proper to particularise them in his reply to mine. I can only say that I have myself, as have all my family, treated him with the utmost attention on every occasion, and particularly in some so interesting to him, as not easily to be forgotten. We did not indeed believe that he would remain long in France, because nothing in this country ever appeared to please him; but we believed that when he returned, it would be with Sentiments of friendship towards us.4—You will see, Sir, how impossible it will be for me to continue to act, with Mr. Sumter, longer than is absolutely necessary, to receive your decision. If after reading his letters (to which alone I am content to refer) you think his temper and talents promise advantages to his Country from continuing him in the diplomatic line, I pray5 that he may serve his apprentiship under some other person;6 since it becomes necessary for me to say that I will only continue to act with him untill I am honored with your answer.7 It is certain that if I had not had Gentlemen, who acted as private Secretaries, I should not without other aid than Mr. Sumter, have been able to perform, the duties of the office, which must always be very ill executed, by a man, who has no sources of information but his public Correspondence, or no aid but a Secretary, who splits hairs about the extent of his duties, who weighs in the nicest balance, what is public & what a private correspondence, & who treats his principal with rudeness, when he differs with him about the extent of his duties.—It may be proper to mention, that if as I venture to presume, I am upon Mr. Sumters recall to name my own Secretary; my choice will not fall upon connection of my own, ‘tho it would certainly not disparage Mr. Sumter’s talents or address to compare them with those of the Gentn. in my family. As this letter may be the subject of discussion, I deny myself the pleasure, of entering at present on any other subject—And pray You to believe that I am, Dear Sir, with sentiments of the highest esteem & respectful consideration,

Your Most Obt. Hum: Servt.

Robt R Livingston

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Livingston; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by Livingston: “To the president of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Feb. 1803 and so recorded in SJL. Dft (NHi: Robert R. Livingston Papers); dated 28 altered to 29 Apr. 1802. Enclosures: (1) Count Cobenzl to Livingston, Paris, 26 Apr., inquiring about Jean Baptiste Entrès, originally of Rothenburg, who has been a merchant in New York and whose relatives in Austria have had no news for about 20 years (Tr in DNA: RG 59, DD; in a clerk’s hand, in French; probably the second dispatch of a series, with “No 2” at head of text and a similar notation by Livingston; endorsed); on 12 May 1803, Madison transmitted a copy of this letter to Edward Livingston as mayor of the city of New York (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:598). (2) Livingston to Cobenzl, 26 Apr., stating his suspicion that Entrès is long dead and his property dispersed; Livingston will, however, forward Cobenzl’s inquiry to the mayor of New York (Tr in DLC; in a clerk’s hand; endorsed by Livingston as No. 2). (3) Thomas Sumter, Jr., to Livingston, Paris, 27 Apr., explaining in response to a complaint from Livingston why he has not kept the legation office, which is in Livingston’s house and to which Sumter currently holds the key, open on a regular basis; he asks that they reach agreement on the “nature and content” of his official duties, noting in particular that the collection and filing of newspapers “after they are dispersed about your house, cannot be my business”; referring to “the letter of the President, to my father, proposing the appointment” (Vol. 33:440–1), Sumter says that although the letter states that he would perform the duties of a private secretary, the president “certainly did not expect or intend, that the services of a Secretary of Legation, were to be dictated by the discretion of the Minister,” as the president “could not have meant to offer me the situation of a drudge”; as for Livingston’s wish that Sumter “record in a book, all your correspondence, for the use of future Legations,” Sumter might agree to that practice “so far as the correspondence is official,” but there is no evidence of a precedent for it among the papers of Livingston’s predecessors; if Livingston were to consider “with what facility a Minister may increase & extend his correspondence, & that it is much more easy & agreable to write than to copy & recopy, you would perceive that no one man could keep pace with him, unless he submitted to be a perfect slave”; Sumter’s refusal to copy letters that Livingston wrote to Monroe and to Cobenzl was to prevent “the increase to this kind of extra-official business”; Sumter says that his refusal to see to the delivery of the dispatches to Madame Brongniart was not because he considered it outside his duties “but on account of the manner in which the demand was made,” declaring that “under the same circumstances, I should have acted in the same way to the President”; Sumter again asserts that TJ “could not have intended to offer me the place of a drudge”; he closes by saying “that whatever difference we may hold, in opinion, on this subject, it shall not diminish my zeal to serve the United States in my station, nor the deference which I owe to your rank and talents; nor yet, the friendship which I entertain for your & all your family” (Tr in DLC; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text in Livingston’s hand: “No. 1”). (4) Livingston to Sumter, 27 Apr., declaring that he has received Sumter’s of this date “with equal surprise & pain”; that he had not known of Sumter’s dissatisfaction until he received Sumter’s “rude message” concerning the delivery of the dispatches; that the legation office needs to be open on a regular basis, and the time required of Sumter, as well as his responsibilities, must depend to some degree on circumstances as well as on Livingston’s discretion; having two private secretaries to handle his personal correspondence, Livingston asks Sumter to state “what extra official business, I have ever even asked of you”; Livingston’s understanding of Sumter’s duties is that he will “copy all dispatches to the government & men in public characters,” with “the Minister & not the secretary being the sole judge of their propriety”; he will make duplicates and triplicates as necessary and see that the dispatches are delivered; he will keep an account of business transacted in the office and organize the newspapers; “A Secretary should also mingle in society particularly that of other Secretaries who are generally young men of rank; & rising into consequence, from whom much useful information may be collected beneficial to himself & of which he should enable his principal to avail himself”; the secretary should “do every act that in the opinion of the Minister the public interest may require not inconsistant with the character of a gentleman”; Sumter should have managed the upkeep of the office; Livingston himself has had to collect and organize the newspapers; regarding letterbooks, “I shall not Sir on this, or on any other occasion ask as a favor from the Secretary of Legation what I think it my duty to direct, but submitting your letter to the President, He will I presume give such orders as he thinks proper on the subject”; Livingston overlooked the “extraordinary disrespect” of Sumter’s response concerning the delivery of the dispatches, “wishing to pass over what had happened as a little gust of passion”; Sumter’s behavior “convinces me Sir of your wish to make a break between us”; the demands of the duties of the secretary’s office have been slight, but “of this however the President who has seen my dispatches will judge”; Sumter should make his charges more specific: “Conscious of having upon every occasion treated you not only as a Gentleman for whose family I entertained the highest respect, but with peculiar delicacy & friendship arising from personal regard, I shall be anxious to learn those hidden causes of dissatisfaction, that I may unwarily have given you”; if Sumter wishes to resign, “surely Sir it will be more for your interest & honor to assign some domestic reasons for it than to seek a cause in an imaginary complt. against me”; Livingston returns to Sumter the letter from TJ, which contains nothing “to justify your construction of the duties of your office”; Livingston could in turn “shew you that the President writing on the subject of your appointment gives me the most explicit assurances that you would be ready to perform the duties of a private Secretary (which however I have never asked of you) & that he has known no instance in which a Secretary of Legation was not as perfectly pliant as a private Secretary, & that your instructions should be pointed on that subject” (Vol. 33:433; Vol. 34:62–4); if Madison did not give Sumter such explicit instructions, “yet I had hoped that the President had not neglected to give them to you verbally—whether you have followed them or not our respective letters will enable him to judge”; reciprocating Sumter’s “professions of respect & personal friendship,” Livingston states that the differences between them have put “such an end to that confidence which ought to subsist between a Minister & his Secretary as must separate us at no distant day”; he closes by asserting his interest in Sumter’s “future pursuits & the pleasure it will afford me to learn that they are productive of honor & happiness to yourself your Country & your friends” (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand). (5) Sumter to Livingston, 30 Apr., asserting that “I am not at all frightened at your letter”; if their differences over his duties “must be decided either by your own despotic rules, or by an appeal to a higher authority,” Sumter prefers “the latter, where I may expect to find Justice & delicacy mixed with discretion & legitimate power”; he regrets only “giving pain to ourselves & to Mr. Jefferson, who will doubtless be mortified” to learn that such appointments “will be always liable to be thwarted by the assumption of authority, where men in high stations conceive their power bounded in any direction, only by their own wills”; Livingston’s construction of the secretary’s duties puts Sumter “unconditionally at your discretion,” whereas Sumter believes that he is “so much a free Agent as to Judge of & resist imposition”; Livingston regards having Sumter as secretary of legation “an imposition”; Sumter “shall make free to use the sentiments & temper which I think Justified by those which are displayed in such parts of your letter as are personal”; their correspondence will give TJ “the details of your accusations and my defence—& you are also welcome to see all I shall write to him on this occasion”; Sumter will continue to perform his duties “with as much convenience to you as possible, without embracing the system of slavery, which you have prescribed for me”; in a postscript Sumter asks to see the note from Count Cobenzl to confirm for himself whether it is public or private in nature: “perhaps your promise to direct the enquiry to the Mayor of N York instead of the Sy. of State might have led me into the error” (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand; at head of text in Livingston’s hand: “No 4”). (6) Sumter to Livingston, 1 May, a note returning with thanks the copy of Count Cobenzl’s communication; Sumter had previously failed to notice the count’s reference to an order from his court, but since Cobenzl did not use his own or Livingston’s titles and Livingston expected to send the note to the mayor of New York rather than the United States government, Sumter still believes that “it partakes more of the character of a private letter” and that any ensuing correspondence between the mayor and Livingston “would certainly not have been official in my view of the thing”; pursuit of the Entrès matter is unlikely to produce results “unless it be to fulfil your idea of the measure of the duty of a Secretary” (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand; endorsed by Livingston and labeled by him “No 6”). (7) Sumter to Livingston, 6 May, stating that he has heard from Fulwar Skipwith about a conversation between Skipwith and Livingston concerning Livingston’s “present disposition” concerning the rift between them, and “as you have given the opening, I shall willingly advance to the ground of harmony on which we stood before”; without either of them giving up his own view of the duties of the secretary of legation, “we may accommodate the thing in practice for a short time, as I shall desire my dismission by the first opportunity”; his resignation will be on the basis that “the appointment is not what I expected it to be; it need not be known that any cause of discontent had arisen between us”; he will open the legation office regularly in the afternoon and will assist other times if the business of the office requires it and he is available; he does this partly “from a respect to the feelings of Mr. Jefferson, who I have no doubt intended to give to each of us in due proportion a mark of his confidence & friendship”; perhaps this “temporary arrangement” will prove “that we can forego our private feelings & our sentiments in favor of what is due to public harmony”; he hopes that he and his wife “will remain on the same footing also with your family as heretofore” (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand, with a note by Livingston regarding underlining in the transcription; endorsed by Livingston and labeled by him “No 1”). (8) Livingston to Sumter, 6 May, stating that “I embrace with pleasure the expedient you propose” to keep the differences between them from widening or “becoming a source of uneasiness to the President or our friends”; Livingston and his family will continue to give “our sentiments of esteem” to Sumter’s wife (Tr in same; in a clerk’s hand; Livingston added his signature, endorsed the letter, and labeled it “No 2”). Enclosed in Livingston to TJ, 28 Oct. 1802.

’TILL HIS MARRIAGE: Thomas Sumter, Jr., married Nathalie Delage de Volude in March 1802 (S.C. Biographical Directory, House of Representatives, 4:547; Vol. 35:292n).

MADAME BROGNIAUT: Louise d’Egremont Brongniart was the mother of Louis André Pichon’s wife, Émilie Brongniart Pichon. Madame Brongniart, whose husband was a prominent architect, visited her daughter in Washington, D.C., in 1802 (Louis de Launay, Une grande famille de savants: Les Brongniart [Paris, 1940], 19, 22; Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 304–5; Vol. 32:430, 431n; TJ to Livingston, 10 Oct. 1802).

COLL. LIVINGSTON: Livingston’s son-in-law, Robert L. Livingston, who was married to Livingston’s younger daughter, Margaret Maria. Livingston’s older daughter, Elizabeth, was also married to a member of the extended family, Edward Philip Livingston. Both daughters and their husbands had accompanied Livingston and his wife, Mary Stevens Livingston, to France (George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746–1813 [New York, 1960], 50, 281–2, 309, 363, 380–1, 386; Vol. 35:63–4).

CT. COBENTZEL: Count Philipp (or Jean Philippe) Cobenzl, the Austrian minister to France. His cousin, Count Ludwig (Louis) Cobenzl, was vice chancellor for foreign affairs for Austria (Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon description begins Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, Paris, 1987 description ends , 427; Karl A. Roider, Jr., Baron Thugut and Austria’s Response to the French Revolution [Princeton, 1987], 97; Karl A. Roider, Jr., “The Habsburg Foreign Ministry and Political Reform, 1801–1805,” Central European History, 22 [1989], 165).

Livingston wrote to James MONROE on 27 Apr. about the TWO SWORDS and other matters, including Louisiana and affairs in France. Monroe had requested Livingston’s assistance in obtaining the swords in a letter of 15 Dec. 1801 (Daniel Preston, A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe, 2 vols. [Westport, Conn., 2001], 1:115–16, 123).

AS THIS LETTER MAY BE THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSION: after reaching an accommodation with Sumter on 6 May (Enclosures 7 and 8 above), Livingston refrained from sending this letter to TJ. In a letter to Madison on 12 May, Livingston noted simply that Sumter had “determined to resign for reasons which I presume he will explain to the president.” On 18 May, Sumter wrote to Madison requesting the president’s leave to resign from “an appointment which I find different from what I expected it to be.” Madison replied in August, accepting the resignation, but that communication has not been found and perhaps did not reach Sumter. In his letter to Madison on 12 May, Livingston asserted that if he were allowed to name Sumter’s replacement he would “make no appointment in my own family nor any which the president shd not fully approve.” In October 1802, Madison informed Livingston that the president had received Sumter’s resignation and “allows you to appoint a private Secretary.” That month, before he received that authorization, Livingston wrote to TJ that Sumter, who had not received a response to his resignation, still considered himself secretary of legation and had again refused to copy correspondence that he did not consider to be official in nature. That second rupture with Sumter prompted Livingston to send the above letter and its enclosures to TJ, who received them early in February 1803 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 3:220, 228, 498, 568; 4:25, 170–3; Livingston to TJ, 28 Oct. 1802; TJ to Livingston, 3 Feb. 1803).

1MS: “was.” Dft: “way.”

2Dft: “when she proposed to sail.”

3Here in Dft Livingston canceled “but I had determined to write to him in such a style as would enable him with honor to retract.”

4Dft: “towards me & now <in this I have been cruelly disappointed>.”

5Dft: “beg.”

6Dft: “master.”

7Here in Dft Livingston wrote: “I am thoroughly satisfied that the endeavour to make diplomatic characters by chusing secretaries of Legation from among the young men of fortune or connection from whom they expect support at home and rendering them independant of their principal,—will I fear be found ineffectual I am sorrey that my own experience shd. have evinced this truth & I shall be very unwilling to have another experiement made at my expence.”

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