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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 25 May 1784

From Thomas Jefferson

Philadelphia May 25. 1784.

Dear Sir

Your favors of the 8th. & 15th. came to hand yesterday. I have this morning revised your former letters to see what commissions it would be best for me to execute here for you. In that of Feb. 17, you desire a recommendation of a fit bookseller in Paris & London. This certainly I can better do from the spot. In the mean time address yourself to me as your bookseller for either place, because at whichever I shall be I can easily order books to be sent you from the other. In the letter of March 16. you wish for any good books on the Droit public or constitutions of the several existing confederacies & on the Law of Nature & Nations. There are some books at Boinod’s on the first of these subjects but I have not time to examine them. I can do this so conveniently in Paris, get them on so much better terms, have them bound, & send them so speedily that I will refer the execution of this commission till I get there.1 Bynkershoeck & Wolfius I will also examine there & send you such parts of their works as I think you will like. Boinod will receive very soon the following books which he wrote for for me. Should you chuse any of them you will write to him & he will send them to you.

  • Les troubles des pais bas de Grotius.
  • Wicquefort des ambassadeurs.
  • Memoires de l’Amerique.
  • Barrington’s miscellanies.
  • Scheele’s chemical observations on air & fire.
  • whatever has been written on air or fire by Fontana, Priestly, Ingen-house, Black, Irvine, or Crawford.2

I have searched every book shop in town this morning for Deane’s letters & Hawk’ abr’ Co. Lit. except Bell’s. It is in none of them. Pritchard had sold Zane’s copy. I shall examine Bell’s also before I leave town & if I get them they shall come with Blair’s lectures which I purchased for you of Aitken & have desired him to send to Richmond to the care of James Buchanan.

Mr Zane is probably with you.3 Pray deliver my friendly compliments to him, tell him I have written three letters to him and find him unpunctual, having answered none of them. I am very anxious to receive the thermometrical trials I asked him to make in his cave. I wish they could be sent to me immediately to Paris. I could not get my notes printed here & therefore refer it till I shall cross the water where I will have a few copies struck off & send you one.4 The assembly of N. York have made Payne the author of Common sense a present of a farm. Could you prevail on our assembly to do something for him. I think their quota of what ought to be given him would be 2000 guineas, or an inheritance worth 100 guineas a year. It would be peculiarly magnanimous in them to do it; because it would shew that no particular & smaller passion has suppressed the grateful impressions which his services have made on our minds.5 Did I ever inform you that Genl. Washington would accept the superintendance of the clearing the Patow’m’ & Ohio, if put on a hopeful footing? Two vessels are arrived here in 24 & 25 days passage from London. They say the elections are going in favor of the ministry. Mrs House is well and her lodgings well accustomed.6 Poor mrs Trist is in a situation which gives us much pain. Her husband is dead, and she without knowing it is proceeding down the Ohio & Missisipi in hopes of joining him. There is a possibility only that letters sent from hence may overtake her at the Falls of Ohio & recall her to this place. I am obliged to put a period here to my letter being desired to assist in a consultation on a very disagreeable affair. A Frenchman of obscure & worthless character having applied to mr Marbois to give him the Consular attestations to a falsehood and being refused, attacked him in the streets a day or two after and beat him much with his cane.7 The minister has taken up this daring insult & violation of the law of nations in the person of the Secretary to their embassy & demands him to be given up (being a subject of France) to be sent there for punishment. I doubt whether the laws of this state have provided either to punish him sufficiently here or to surrender him to be punished by his own sovereign: and the——of this state is so indecisive that no defects of law will be supplied by any confidence of his in the justification of his assembly when they shall meet.8 They have not yet declared what they can or will do, & the scoundrel is going at large on bail, sending anonymous letters to the minister & Marbois with threats of assassination &c if the prosecution be not discontinued. The affair is represented to Congress who will have the will but not the power to interpose. It will probably go next to France & bring on serious consequences. For god’s sake while this instance of the necessity of providing for the enforcement of the law of nations is fresh on men’s minds, introduce a bill which shall be effectual & satisf[act]ory on this subject.9 Consuls you will always have. Ministers may pass occasionally through our country. Members of Congress must pass through it. Should Congress sit in or near the state, frequent instances of their members & public ministers entering the state may occur: I wish you every possible felicity & shall hope to hear from you frequently. I am with sincere esteem Dr. Sir your friend & sert

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed by JM and in an unknown hand.

1Jefferson used “refer” in the now obsolete sense of “postpone.”

2The short titles of works alluded to: Cornelius van Bynkershoek, Traité du juge competent des ambassadeurs; Christianus Wolfius, Principes du droit de la nature et des gens, and Jus gentium methodo scientifica pertractatum; Hugo Grotius, De rebus Belgicis; or, The Annals and History of the Low-Countrey-Wars; Abraham van Wicquefort, The Ambassador and His Functions, to Which Is Added, an Historical Discourse concerning the Election of the Emperor, and the Electors; MM. de Silhouette, de la Galissonière, Abbé de la Ville, Memoires des commissaires du roi et de ceux de Sa Majesté Britannique, sur les possessions & les droits respectifs des deux Couronnes en Amérique; Daines Barrington, Miscellanies; Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Chemical Observations and Experiments on Air and Fire; Felice Fontana, Recherches physiques sur la nature de l’air nitreux et de l’air déphlogistiqué; Joseph Priestly, Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air; and Philosophical Empiricism; Jan Ingenhousz, Experiments upon Vegetables; Joseph Black, Experiments upon Magnesia Alba, Quick Lime and Other Alcaline Substances; William Irvine (1743–1787), professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow, was famed for the clarity and logic of his lectures, but none of his writings appeared in print until 1805; Adair Crawford, Experiments and Observations on Animal Heat, and the Inflammation of Combustible Bodies.

3Isaac Zane, Jr., was a delegate from Frederick County, 1776–1782, and thereafter from Shenandoah County until his death in 1795 (Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 450; Roger W. Moss, Jr., “Isaac Zane, Jr., a ‘Quaker for the Times,’” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , LXXVII [1969], 291–306). Zane’s presence in the current session before 11 June cannot be demonstrated (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1784, p. 51).

4Jefferson had 200 copies of his Notes on the State of Virginia printed in Paris in 1785 (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , IV, 167 n.).

5Thomas Paine’s personal distress aroused Jefferson’s sympathy and moved other Virginians despite the “particular & smaller passion” that upset many in 1782. Then, Paine had written the pamphlet Public Good in support of a land speculating clique that challenged Virginia’s title to the lands north and west of the Ohio River. A bill introduced by JM in the House of Delegates on Paine’s behalf was defeated on 30 June 1784.

6“Well accustomed,” i.e., well filled with lodgers.

7The “obscure & worthless character” was Charles Julien Longchamps (Alfred Rosenthal, “The Marbois-Longchamps Affair,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LXIII [1939], 294–95). This episode created issues involving the “law of nations,” extradition, the power and duty of Congress and of the sovereign commonwealth of Pennsylvania, respectively, which embarrassed Franco-American relations for over two years.

8Jefferson intended that JM should fill in the blank with “President John Dickinson” of Pennsylvania.

9Pennsylvania enacted a law providing further punishment of a “violation of the law of nations” in the fall of 1784. Then, at its Oct. 1784 session, the Virginia General Assembly became the only other state to enact a similar law up to that time by explicitly providing for the extradition, upon the request of Congress. Any inhabitant of Virginia who had returned after allegedly violating the “law of nations” or “any treaty between the United States and a foreign nation” had to be surrendered to the offended nation (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1784, p. 110; Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 471–72). Thus after three years only these two states had heeded the congressional resolution of 23 Nov. 1781 urging each state to create or designate a court invested with power “to provide expeditious, exemplary and adequate punishment” of anyone found guilty of “offences against the law of nations” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXI, 1136–37). See also J. Rives Childs, “French Consul Martin Oster Reports on Virginia, 1784–1796,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , LXXVI (1968), 27–40. Oster was arrested in Norfolk on the complaint of a French national.

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