Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 14 February 1783

To James Madison

Baltimore Feb. 14. 1783.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 11th. came to hand last night. From1 what you mention in your letter I suppose the newspapers must be wrong when they say that Mr. Adams, had taken up his abode with Dr. Franklin. I am nearly at a loss to judge how he will act in the negotiation. He hates Franklin, he hates Jay, he hates the French, he hates the English.2 To whom will he adhere? His vanity is a lineament in his character which had entirely escaped me. His want of taste I had observed. Notwithstanding all this he has a sound head on substantial points, and I think he has integrity. I am glad therefore that he is of the commission and expect he will be useful in it. His dislike of all parties, and all men, by balancing his prejudices, may give the same fair play to his reason as would a general benevolence of temper. At any rate honesty may be extracted even from poisonous weeds.

My stay here has given me opportunities of making some experiments on my amanuensis Franks, perhaps better than I may have in France. He appears to have a good enough heart, an understanding somewhat better than common but too little guard over his lips. I have marked him particularly in the company of women where he loses all power over himself and becomes almost frenzied.3 His temperature would not be proof against their allurements were such to be employed as engines against him. This is in some measure the vice of his age but it seems to be increased also by his peculiar constitution.

I wrote to the Chevalier de Ville Brun proposing his falling down to York or Hampton which was one of the measures I suggested in my letter to you, and was the most eligible except that of the flag, in my own opinion. His answer, dated Feb. 12. is in these words.

‘Je serois bien de l’avis proposé a votre Excellence d’aller mouiller a York ou Hampton pour etre a portee de profiter des premiers vents de Nord Ouest qui me mettroient loin de la côte dans la nuit, sourtout si je n’avois pas de convoy a conserver. Mais des batiments entrès aujourd’hui raportent avoir eté chassés par quatre fregates jusque sur la Cap Charles et avoir vu au mouillage de Linhaven bay un vaisseau et un fregate qui ont appareillés et pris un Brig qui navigoit avec eux. De plus York et Hampton n’ont pas un canon monté, si l’ennemi, tres superieur, entreprenoit de venir nous y forcer, il y auroit peu de sureté.

Peut etre conviendroit-il autant d’attendre, comme le propose M. de la Luzerne, jusqu’au Mois prochain, des nouvelles d’Europe, ou l’arrivée d’une division des Antilles promise par M. de Vaudreuil, ou bien encore quel’ennemi fatigué ne fut obligé de rentrer a New-York.’ The last basis is relish and furnishes matter for doubt how far the departure of the Romulus is a decided measure. It seems not unlikely. So for a purpose wherein time is the most pressing circumstance the idea of going in her is to be abandond.4 To go to Boston would be the most ?conomical plan. But it would be five weeks from my leaving this place before I could expect to sail from thence. Of course I may from here be in France by the time I should be sailing from Boston. Five weeks in a crisis of negotiation may be much. Should I accept of the Guadaloupe and she should be lost, it would under present circumstances draw censure. Moreover in this or the former case, besides losing the vessel, what will be my situation? That of a prisoner certainly. From what has been done in Laurence’s case5 they would not release me; in expectation of a high exchange; or if they did, it would only be on parole, in which case I could neither act nor communicate. This plan would have in it’s favour ?conomy and a possibility (a bare one) of dispatch. That of the flag still appears best. It is favoured by the circumstances of dispatch, safety, and the preservation of my papers. But when I think of the expence I feel myself annihilated in comparison with it. A vessel may be got here, but I question if for less than a thousand or two thousand pounds.6 Besides can a passport be obtained from New York without naming the vessel, the crew &c.? If not it would take long to furnish these circumstances from hence. The Delaware would be more eligible in that case. Otherwise this place is. If this should be adopted, what would be the extent of the protection of the flag to the papers I should carry? These, so far as this question would affect them, would be of three descriptions. 1. my own commission, instructions and other documents relative to my mission. 2. public letters to the Consuls, ministers and others on other business. 3. private letters. I have no means of satisfying myself on these points here. If therefore this measure should be adopted I should thank you for your opinion on them, as you can, where you are doubtful, make enquiry of others. I am exceedingly fatigued with this place, as indeed I should with any other where I had neither occupation nor amusement. I am very particularly indebted here to the politeness and hospitality of Genl. La Vallette who obliges me to take refuge in his quarters from the tedium of my own, the latter half of every day. You are indebted to him too as I should make my long letters much longer and plague you with more cypher were I confined at home all day. I beg you to be assured of my warmest wishes for your happiness.

Th: Jefferson

Feb. 15.7 9. o’clock P.M. After sealing up this letter I received yours of yesterday inclosing the King’s speech, for which I thank you much. The essential information conveyed to us by that is that the preliminary for our independance (which we before knew to have been agreed between the plenipotentiaries) has been provisionally ratified by him. I have thought it my duty to write the inclosed letter which after reading you will be so good as to stick a wafer in and deliver. I wish no supposed inclination of mine to stand in the way of a free change of measure if Congress should think the public interest required it. The argument of ?conomy is much strengthened by the impossibility (now certain) of going but in an express vessel. The principal matters confided to me were. 1. the new instruction; which perhaps may have been sent by Count Rochambeau, or may yet be sent. 2. the details of the financier’s department which Mr. Morris not chusing to trust to paper had communicated verbally. These in the event of peace or truce may safely go in paper. 3. the topics which supp[ort] our right to the fisheries, to the Western country, and the navigation of the Missisipi. The first of these is probably settled: the two latter should only come into discussion in the Spanish negociation, and therefore would only have been the subject of private conversation with Mr. Jay, whose good sense and knolege of the subject will hardly need any suggestions.

I forgot to mention to you in my letter that Mr. Nash arrived here the day before yesterday on his way to N. Carolina, and that Mr. Blunt is not yet arrived, but is weekly expected.8 I am yours affectionately,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers); endorsed in a hand other than Madison’s; partly in code. Enclosure: TJ to Livingston, this date.

The letter that TJ wrote to the chevalier de ville brun, dated 8 Feb., is missing.

1Beginning with this word the remainder of this paragraph and all of the next were written in code and were, in part, decoded interlineally by Madison, employing Code No. 1 (verified by the editors’ partial reconstruction of the cipher as indicated in the note to TJ to Madison, 31 Jan. 1783). The word “would,” which occurs twice in this passage, was not encoded by TJ.

2As decoded by Madison and as all texts print it, this sentence reads: “He has F——, he has Jay, he has the French, he has the English.” This, of course, is nonsense in the context in which it appears, and a partial reconstruction of the code makes it plain that the reading given above is the correct one. The letter “h” in the 1774, London, edition of Nugent’s Dictionary begins around page 400 (the word “guard” appears on p. 394); and the code as here employed involves, near these pages, the following: 401.25 (hate, as here conjectured), 401.29 (have or its variants), 402.1 (he), 402.24 (head), 403.16 (heart), &c. In all other instances in this letter and others in which Code No. 1 is employed, the code for “has” is 401.29; in the present sentence only does the code symbol 401.25 appear, and in this sentence it occurs four times, each time being rendered by Madison as “has.” It is clear that he miscounted the lines and thus gave a nonsense reading to the passage.

3The code symbol for this word is 369.9 and was not decoded by Madison. The symbols immediately preceding and following it are: 367.4 (frank), 368.7 (French), 369.34 (from). This narrowly limits the possible readings. Burnett, in his discussion of our Code No. 1 (Amer. Hist. Rev., xxii [1916–1917], 332, note), suggests “frivolous” as the reading, but this scarcely fits the context for “one who loses all power over himself.” “Frenetic” is also more plausible than “frivolous” in this context.

4This and the two preceding sentences were written in code; other words following this point that were written in code are given in italics. The words “basis” and “unlikely” in this passage are conjectural, since Madison did not decode their symbols (80.15 and 895.–17). Preceding and following code symbols for these two words are 60.27 (balancing), 89.1 (be), 861.3 (understanding), and 915.1 (up). Madison’s punctuation of the passage is also faulty, for he appears to have read it as if there were no period preceding “so” and he capitalized “the” after “circumstance” as if it were the beginning of a new sentence; in doing this he was probably misled by the extra space and by TJ’s habit of beginning sentences with lower case letters.

5The case of Henry Laurens, who was captured by the British in 1780 while on his way to negotiate a loan and a treaty of amity and commerce with Holland. He was confined in the Tower of London until 31 Dec. 1781 (DAB description begins Dictionary of American Biography description ends ).

6Not deciphered by Madison, who wrote in the margin, probably at a later date, “See Dictionary F & English.” As encoded by TJ, the passage reads: “1.1.819.36 or 843.10.819.36.” In Code No. 1 the symbol for “a” is 1.1 and the symbols immediately preceding and following 819.36 are: 818.25 (third) and 824.2 (time), suggesting clearly that “thousand” is the correct reading for 819.36. This word is repeated in the second pair of symbols, and both the character and the context of the remaining symbol suggest that “two” is the proper reading.

7An error for “Feb. 14.” This postscript was clearly added on the evening of the day when the main body of the letter was written. In the first sentence of the postscript TJ acknowledges a letter from Madison of “yesterday,” which was Madison’s letter of 13 Feb.; and Madison’s letter of 18 Feb. acknowledges “two favors of the 14th” from TJ.

8Abner Nash and William Blount were members of Congress from North Carolina.

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