Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Short (Extract), [30 April 1784]

To William Short (Extract)

[30 April 1784]

Whether Congress will keep1 ministers abroad is still undecided. A disposition however seems to prevail to add to the present commission for negociating foreign treaties of amity and commerce. One of our own delegates and one other gentleman have proposed the mission to me. If I was thought of at all, I wished not to have known it, as it may place me in a very false point of view to others. I am in truth indifferent. If they desire it I shall go, for place is to me at present uninteresting. As young Franklin is already Secretary to the Commission, you have said you would condescend to be the index of a book. So dispose then of your matters as to be in utrumque paratus, and on short warning. If I am enabled to offer you no other advantage [than a bed and board free, I am also enabled to]2 assure you I shall give you very little trouble. A first and full supply of cloathing will cost you an hundred guineas, and a considerably less sum will suffice annually afterwards. Pocket expenses will be you know just what you please. I am assured that a servant carried from hence, will be an expense, incumbrance, and the most useless animal in the world. To hire a Valet therefore will add from twelve to twenty four guineas a year to your expence. A few days or weeks will certainly decide whether I am to go, and should you conclude finally to be of the party, let me know by the return of the first or second post, that I may be prepared to answer any other applications on the same subject. Still however consider this only as among possible events. Dr. Lee is appointed an Indian Commissioner, which vacates his seat here. I had suggested to a friend early in the winter your nomination to Congress. Should you be appointed and Congress adjourned you had better do no act of acceptance till November.

Tr (ViWC); undated, but date is established by part of a sentence quoted in Short to TJ, 8 May 1784; entirely in TJ’s hand and endorsed by him: “Extract of letter to W. Short, written from Annapolis”; at foot of and upside down to text, there is the following from some other unidentified document: “correcting from the beginning, the irregularities which have already taken place & preventing”; partly in code, the key to which is written on a separate slip. Tr (ViW), sent to Short; also entirely in TJ’s hand, but without underlined words and code numerals (see note 1, below); key to the code is written at upper left corner of page and text of extract is written around it; endorsed by Short, evidently at a much later date: “Memorandum. This paper must have been written some time in the Spring of 1784.”

TJ’s original letter to Short of this date has not been found. The entry for it in SJL reads: “W. Short. Matter in cypher—Wm.son [Hugh Williamson]—Encylopedie.” The explanation for the fact that there are in existence two copies of the extract is evidently this: after TJ received Short’s reply of 8 May, in which Short expressed his inability to decode the letter, TJ first worked out for himself the “Matter in cypher,” underlining the words which had been written in code in the original and writing under them the corresponding numerals for the code; he then must have made the copy which he sent to Short (Tr in ViW) without indicating the words which had been originally written in code. Since TJ did not receive Short’s reply of 8 May until 24 May, there was no longer any need for secrecy. One of our own delegates: This was probably Monroe. I had suggested to a friend … your nomination: See TJ to Madison, 20 Feb. 1784.

1This and subsequent words in italics are underlined in Tr (ViWC) and the corresponding code numerals are written below the underscoring. The code employed in this letter was used for all coded passages in letters from TJ to Short on and after 18 Jan. 1784; since the letter for that date is missing, it is not clear whether TJ sent an actual copy of the code or merely explained to Short how to construct and use it—probably the latter. This code (Code No. 4) was based on the word “Nicholas” and was one in which errors in encoding and decoding could easily occur; TJ himself, in fact, appears to have made an error in the use of the code in the sentence quoted and queried by Short in his letter to TJ of 8 May.

2The text in brackets (supplied) is the passage incorrectly coded in the original (missing) letter as quoted by Short in his letter of 8 May.

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