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Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 8 March 1809

To William Short

Washington Mar. 8. 09.

Dear Sir

It is with much concern I inform you that the Senate has negatived your appointment. we thought it best to keep back the nomination to the close of the session, that the mission might remain secret as long as possible, which you know was our purpose from the beginning. it was then sent in with an explanation of it’s object & motives. we took for granted, if any hesitation should arise, that the Senate would take time, & that our friends in that body would make enquiries of us, & give us the opportunity of explaining & removing objections. but to our great surprize, & with an unexampled precipitancy, they rejected it at once. this reception of the last of my official communications, to them, could not be unfelt, nor were the causes of it spoken out by them. under this uncertainty, mr Madison, on his entering into office, proposed another person (John Q. Adams.) he also was negatived, & they adjourned sine die. our subsequent information was that, on your nomination, your long absence from this country, & their idea that you do not intend to return to it had very sensible weight: but that all other motives were superceded by an unwillingness to extend our diplomatic connections, & a desire even to recall the foreign ministers we already have. all were sensible of the great virtues, the high character, the powerful influence, & valuable friendship of the emperor. but riveted to the system of unentanglement with Europe, they declined the proposition. on this subject you will recieve the official explanations from mr Smith, the Secretary of state. I pray you to place me rectus in curiâ in this business, with the emperor, and to assure him that I carry into my retirement the1 highest veneration for his virtues and2 fondly cherish the belief that his dispositions & power are destined by heaven to better, in some degree at least, the condition of oppressed man.

I have nothing new to inform you as to your private friends or acquaintances. our embargo has worked hard. it has in fact federalised three of the N. England states. Connecticut you know was so before. we have substituted for it a non-intercourse with France and England & their dependancies,3 and a trade to all other places. it is probable the belligerents will take our vessels under their edicts, in which case we shall probably declare war against them.

I write this in the midst of packing & preparing for my departure, of visits of leave & interruptions of every kind. I must therefore conclude with my affectionate Adieux, to you, & assurances of my constant attachment & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (ViW: TJP); at foot of first page: “Mr Short”; endorsed by Short. PoC (DLC).

William Short (1759–1849), diplomat, businessman, and TJ’s longtime friend and frequent correspondent, graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1779. Short acted as TJ’s private secretary in Paris from 1785 to 1789 and remained there as chargé d’affaires, hoping to be appointed minister plenipotentiary to France. In 1792 he was instead appointed minister resident at The Hague and served as treaty commissioner to Spain from 1793 to 1795, when Thomas Pinckney replaced him. Short then lived in Paris until 1802, when he moved to Philadelphia. During his seventeen years abroad, TJ managed some of Short’s funds and loaned himself some of them to invest in his own nail manufactory and flour mill, money he did not repay until 1815. Short returned to Paris in September 1808 with an interim appointment as minister to Russia. After he failed to be confirmed in this post, he left Europe in 1810 and settled permanently in Philadelphia, amassing a large fortune through investments with Dutch bankers and land purchases in Kentucky and New York and serving as an officer of the American Colonization Society (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; George Green Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son: The Life of William Short, 1759–1848 [1993]).

The senate rejected TJ’s nomination of Short as minister plenipotentiary at Saint Petersburg on 27 Feb. 1809, due in part to his long absence from the United States, which Senator Samuel Taggart believed had rendered Short “a mere Frenchman.” The Senate further concluded that Russo-American diplomatic intercourse could be handled adequately by other public agents, making any appointment “inexpedient and unnecessary” (Taggart to John Taylor, 28 Feb. 1809, in George H. Haynes, ed., “Letters of Samuel Taggart,” American Antiquarian Society, Proceedings 33 [1923]: 335–6; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:112, 113 [24, 25, 27 Feb. 1809]).

rectus in curiâ: innocent, set right in point of law (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Manuscript: “the the.”

2Preceding two words substituted for “character.”

3Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Adams, John Quincy; minister plenipotentiary to Russia search
  • Alexander I, emperor of Russia; TJ’s relationship with search
  • American Colonization Society search
  • Connecticut; Federalists in search
  • Embargo Act (1807); TJ on search
  • Federalist party; in Conn. search
  • Madison, James; and appointments search
  • naileries; at Monticello search
  • Pinckney, Thomas search
  • Russia; and U.S. search
  • Russia; U.S. minister to search
  • Saint Petersburg; U.S. consul at search
  • Senate, U.S.; rejects W. Short’s nomination search
  • Short, William; identified search
  • Short, William; letters to search
  • Short, William; nomination of, rejected search
  • Smith, Robert; secretary of state search
  • Taggart, Samuel search
  • United States; and Russia search