Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Joel Barlow, 12 March 1798

From Joel Barlow

Paris 12 March 1798—

Dear Sir,

The extreme mortification with which I view the progress of a misintelligence between two nations that ought to cherish each other with peculiar symaphy has induced me to address to my Brother in law Mr. Baldwin my sentiments on that subject. But I am apprehensive that before my letter can arrive Congress will adjourn, & Baldwin be gone to Georgia. In that case the chance of its doing any good will be lost, as the present crisis of our affairs cannot continue long.

For this reason I enclose a copy of it to you, trusting in your prudence to make such use of it only as may do the most good to the cause of truth, & the least mischief to me. The bluntness & severity with which I have delivered some of my sentiments, you will see, are not calculated for your eye, but for those of a more intimate friend.

Permit me to thank you, as I sincerely do, for accepting the place of vice president. I know it must have been a sacrifice of feeling and of every personal consideration to the hope of rendering public service, at a time when I was afraid you had become quite discouraged.

I am with great attachment & respect Dear Sir Your obet. Sert.—

Joel Barlow

RC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Mr. Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 July 1798 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Barlow to Abraham Baldwin, Paris, 4 Mch. 1798, a treatise on worsening relations between the United States and France, attributing the deterioration to American measures that included the appointment of Gouverneur Morris as minister to France, the Jay Treaty, the recall of James Monroe, and the sending to France of Pinckney (whose return there after the French government’s refusal to recognize him “was undoubtedly intended as an insult”), Marshall (“whose effigy had been burnt in Virginia for his violent defense of the English treaty”), and Gerry (“a little make-weight man, appointed with the intention that he should have no influence”); Barlow also rues Adams’s failure to change the direction of policy and his “borrowing the cant of Edmond Burke” in his message of 23 Nov. 1797, to which Congress should have replied with “an order to send him to the madhouse”; he laments anti-French statements in Congress and the “dirty calumny against the French” in American newspapers; he fears that the envoys in Paris might call for strong measures and push Adams into “another desperate leap in to the region of madness” in his policy toward France; and he concludes: “When, in God’s name are we to expect from America any just ideas relative to France? Look to England for a republic; but do not look to France for a monarchy” (Dupl in DLC; opening pages in a clerk’s hand, remainder in Barlow’s hand; at head of text: “Copy”). Enclosed in John Brown to TJ, 29 June 1798.

Matthew Lyon obtained, not from TJ, a copy of Barlow’s letter to Baldwin. Lyon had it published and also read portions to assemblies in Vermont. That dissemination of the letter became the basis of two counts of the indictment of Lyon later in 1798 under the Sedition Act. Federalist newspapers condemned Barlow’s letter to Baldwin and reprinted it to demonstrate the character of opposition to the government (Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, 226–33; James Woodress, A Yankee’s Odyssey: The Life of Joel Barlow [Philadelphia, 1958], 193–8).

See the note to Fulwar Skipwith to TJ, 17 Mch. 1798, concerning William Lee’s role as courier of this and the following document.

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