Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams
Paris Feb. 22. 1787
I am to acknolege the honor of your letter of Jan. 29. and of the papers you were so good as to send me they were the latest I had seen or have yet seen. They left off too in a critical moment; just at the point where the Malcontents make their submission on condition of pardon, and before the answer of government was known. I hope they pardoned them. The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the Atmosphere. It is wonderful that no letter or paper tells us who is president of Congress,1 tho’ there are letters in Paris to the beginning of January. I suppose I shall hear when I come back from my journey,2 which will be eight months after he will have been chosen. And yet they complain of us for not giving them intelligence. Our Notables assembled to-day, and I hope before the departure of mr Cairnes3 I shall have heard something of their proceedings worth communicating to mr Adams. The most remarkable effect of this convention as yet is the number of puns and bon mots it has generated.4 I think were they all collected it would make a more voluminous work than the Encyclopedie. This occasion, more than any thing I have seen, convinces me that this nation is incapable of any serious effort but under the word of command. The people at large view every object only as it may furnish puns and bons mots; and I pronounce that a good punster would disarm the whole nation were they ever so seriously disposed to revolt. Indeed, Madam, they are gone. When a measure so capable of doing good as the calling the Notables is treated with so much ridicule, we may conclude the nation desperete, and in charity pray that heaven may send them good kings.
The bridge at the place Louis XV. is begun. The hotel dieu is to be abandoned and new ones to be built. The old houses on the old bridges are in a course of demolition.5 This is all I know of Paris. We are about to lose the Count d’Aranda, who has desired and obtained his recall. Fernand Nunnez, before destined for London is to come here.6 The Abbe’s Arnoux and Chalut are well. The Dutchess Danville somewhat recovered from the loss of her daughter.7 Mrs Barrett very homesick, and fancying herself otherwise sick. They will probably remove to Honfleur.8 This is all our news. I have only to add then that mr Cairnes has taken charge of 15. aunes of black lace for you at 9 livres the aune, purchased by Petit and therefore I hope better purchased than some things have been for you; and that I am with sincere esteem Dear Madam your affectionete humble sert
RC (Adams Papers); endorsed: “Mr Jefferson Febry 22 1787.”
1. The new Congress, scheduled to convene in Nov. 1786, did not obtain a quorum until 17 January. It elected Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania as its president on 2 Feb., and John Jay informed Jefferson of this on 9 Feb. (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford and others, Washington, D.C., 1904–1937; 34 vols. description ends , 32:1, 11; Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950– . description ends , 11:129).
2. Jefferson left Paris on 28 Feb. for a tour of southern France and northern Italy, returning on 10 June, for which see his “Notes of a Tour into the Southern Parts of France, &c” (same, 11:415–464).
3. Burrill Carnes, an American merchant at Lorient, carried letters to London for Jefferson in Feb. (same, 11:143, 188; vol. 6:200).
4. The Assembly of Notables, proposed by Louis XVI’s controller-general, Charles Alexandre de Calonne, opened on 22 Feb. after two postponements. Called to consult on France’s financial crisis, and widely lampooned at its opening, it proved far more independent than expected and suggested various reforms. The assembly met until 25 May when Louis XVI dismissed them in the wake of their demand for a meeting of the full Estates-General to approve new taxes. Jefferson described the assembly to JA in a letter of 23 Feb. (Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, N.Y., 1989, p. 227, 238–241, 259–260; Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950– . description ends , 11:176–177). For an example of the satirical prints mocking the assembly that were prevalent in Paris in February, see Schama, Citizens, p. 241.
5. Construction of the Pont de la Concorde, the bridge crossing the Seine from the Place Louis XV (later Place de la Concorde) and built in part with stones from the Bastille, began in 1787 and was completed in 1791. The plan to close the Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, and build a new one on the outskirts of the city, never came to fruition under Louis XVI and was abandoned at the start of the Revolution. It was finally remodeled in the 1860s (Karl Baedeker, Paris and Its Environs, 19th edn., N.Y., 1924, p. 59, 62, 264; Howard C. Rice Jr., Thomas Jefferson’s Paris, Princeton, N.J., 1976, p. 5–6, 25–26; Edward Planta, A New Picture of Paris; or, the Stranger’s Guide to the French Metropolis, 10th edn., London, 1818, p. 264–265).
6. Pedro Pablo de Abarca y Bolea, Conde de Aranda, was Spain’s ambassador to France from 1773 to Sept. 1787. Carlos José Gutiérrez de los Rios y Rohan-Chabot, Conde de Fernán-Núñez, Spain’s former ambassador to Portugal, replaced him in Dec. 1787 (Repertorium description begins Repertorium der diplomatischen Vertreter aller Länder seit dem Westfälischen Frieden (1648), ed. Ludwig Bittner and others, Oldenburg, &c., 1936–1965; 3 vols. description ends , p. 430–431, 438).
7. Elisabeth Louise (1740–1786), daughter of Marie Louise Nicole de La Rochefoucauld, widow of Jean Baptiste Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld de Roye, Duc d’Anville (JA, D&A description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 4:42, 66–67; Dict. de la noblesse description begins François Alexandre Aubert de La Chesnaye-Desbois and —— Badier, Dictionnaire de la noblesse, Paris, 3d edn., 1863–1876; 19 vols. description ends , 17:366).
8. The former Boston resident Nathaniel Barrett and his wife Margaret Hunt Barrett did not move to the port city of Honfleur, France, nor was she merely “fancying” her illness. She died on 6 June in Paris, probably of consumption (Jefferson, Papers description begins The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, Princeton, N.J., 1950– . description ends , 11:276, 476; Boston Independent Chronicle, 13 Sept.).