Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Charles Thomson, 18 June 1784

From Charles Thomson

Philadelphia June 18. 1784.

Dear Sir

I flattered myself with the hopes of seeing you on my return to Philadelphia, but found you had set out for Boston with a view to embark at that place. I have therefore sent by a conveyance directly for France three Commissions for negotiating, if necessary, additional treaties of Commerce with France, the United Netherlands and Sweden, and a duplicate of the Instructions.

The affair of Longchamps is still undecided. When the matter was first brought before Congress, he had absconded and it was supposed had fled to some other state. Upon this Congress passed an Act recommending it to the several states to issue a proclamation and offer a reward of five hundred dollars for apprehending him so that he might be brought to justice. Before this could take effect he was apprehended and confined in prison but soon after admitted to bail. As his going at large gave offence he was delivered up by his bail and again confined. But having applied for a writ of habeas corpus he was brought before Justice Bryan and on his return found means to escape from the Officer who had him in custody. However he was again taken in a few days and is now confined and to take his trial on the 24 of this Month. As I purpose to attend the trial, I shall be able to give you a more particular account of the result.

On the 3d. of June Congress was adjourned agreeably to the act of 26 April to meet at Trenton on the 30th. October. Previous to the adjournment they appointed a committee of the States and defined their powers. On the 4 June the Committee met and elected Mr. Hardy chairman. I took the opportunity of mentioning to the committee the necessity I was under to return to Philadelphia and expressed a wish that I might be indulged with leave to remain there unless something should occur to render my attendance on them necessary. This they readily and unanimously granted, which was the more satisfactory as they could not obtain the votes of nine states for their meeting at Philadelphia. They then adjourned to meet again at Annapolis on the 26 instant. I had some doubts of their being able to form a Committee, but as delegates from Georgia are come on and Delaware it is said will attend I fancy they will have a quorum on the 28 and have great hopes they will be so tired of their situation in Annapolis, that they will be induced to remove to the Northward. I wish Congress were settled. This mode of rambling is neither consistent with dignity nor convenience. But I find we must go the common round of Nations before us and learn wisdom from our own experience. With great respect, I am Dear Sir Your obedient humble servt.,

Chas. Thomson

P.S. I take the liberty of enclosing a letter to Mr. Jay. Should he have left France before this reaches you, be so kind as to return it or forward it to him.1 I must beg leave to recommend to your friendly Notice and Attention Mr. Isaac Norris, a near relation of Mrs. Thomson. As he is a young man of an amiable disposition and considerable fortune, I am anxious he should return as uncorrupted as he went, which I fear will not be the case with some of our young men. Mr. Jay was so obliging as to take him under his protection. And I shall esteem it as a particular favour if you will by your advice and countenance direct his pursuits so that he may avoid the temptations that will be thrown in his way and become a useful member of Society.

C T.

RC (DLC). FC (PHi). There are two entries in SJL recording receipt of a letter from Charles Thomson of 18 June: one of these is under date of 13 Aug. and the other is under date of 18 Sep. 1784. There are several possible explanations for this: (1) Thomson sent a duplicate of the present letter by a different vessel; (2) one of the entries may pertain to the letter of 18 June to the commissioners (see following); (3) since TJ in his reply to Thomson of 11 Nov. 1784 mentioned only one letter of 18 June and since it is very unlikely that Thomson wrote TJ two letters of that date in addition to the one to the commissioners, one of the entries is in error. On the whole, the last of these seems the more probable, particularly since there is evidence in SJL at this time that TJ allowed some time to elapse before recording entries; e.g., TJ to Madison, ca. 1 June 1784, is interlined above an entry of letters received on 19 June and is merely dated “June”; and just below the entry for a Thomson letter of 18 June under date of 18 Sep. there is the following entry for Monroe’s letter of 9 Aug. 1784: “received some time this month.” Enclosure: Probably Thomson to Jay, 18 June 1784 (Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , vii, No. 629).

The affair of longchamps is still undecided: The problem raised by Longchamps’ attack on Marbois-the establishment of penalties for interference with the rights of diplomatic officials-was not really settled until the Articles of Confederation had given way to the federal Constitution and Congress had been empowered to deal effectively with “offenses against the law of nations” (Art. i, sect. viii, par. 10). All that Congress could do in 1784 was to recommend to the states that a reward of $500 be offered for Longchamps’ capture (see resolution under date of 29 May 1784). President John Dickinson of Pennsylvania issued a proclamation in accordance with this resolution on 4 June (a copy of the broadside is reproduced in PMHB description begins The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography description ends , lxiii [1939], p. 297), and on 10 and 12 July 1784 Longchamps was tried before the Supreme Court of that state on charges of assault and battery. He was convicted, fined one hundred crowns and costs, sentenced to twenty-one months in jail, and compelled to give bond guaranteeing good behavior for seven years (Alfred Rosenthal, “The Marbois-Longchamps Affair,” same, p. 294–301, and based on a dossier kept by Marbois on the affair and now in PHi). But this merely punished the offender for assault and battery and did not solve the larger problem of Congress’ power to deal with such offenses. The states lacked legislation on the subject, and Pennsylvania and Virginia were the only two that enacted laws in response to Congress’ appeal. The incident that gave rise to these laws continued to plague relationships between France and America for over a year. Indeed, Thomson expressed to Franklin the view that “The atrocious and unprovoked outrage lately committed in this city by one Long-champs, a vagabond Frenchman, seems to carry strong marks of a premeditated design to embroil us with France and what makes this still more probable is the palliating account given of this affair in a paper newly set up here as if for the purpose entitled the ‘Courier de l’Amerique,’ and which is conducted by Boinod & Gaillard two strangers who came to this place last fall about the same time as Longchamps. The whole complexion of this paper evidences a marked inveteracy against France and a strong desire to excite fears and jealousies or at least to give an unfavorable impression of her. I am glad to find that the zeal of the Authors has hurried them into so palpable a manifestation of their design, and that suspicions are already raised which I trust will guard against the influence of the poison they mean to convey. I send you the Courier de l’Amerique as far as published and some other papers of the day. I also send the copies of some originals which will explain the circumstances of the outrage committed by Longchamps and the measures taken by government in consequence thereof. I must inform you that the Judges have not yet given an answer to the last letter of the president. The question ‘Whether Longchamps can be legally delivered up by Council according to the claim made by the late Minister of France’ was publickly argued by lawyers before the Judges who still have it under advisement. In the meanwhile L. is confined in prison. The matter is laid before the legislature who have now under consideration a bill which I have no doubt will pass for effectually securing the rights and immunities of public ministers and punishing the violators of them. It may not be amiss to acquaint you that from his own shewing it appears that Longchamps had been an Officer in the French service, that in 1775 he came to America and went to our camp then before Boston where he was cordially received; that after being in our camp and about headquarters for some weeks he took the advantage of a pass given for the purpose of going into the country to slip into Boston which we were besieging; that he wanted permission of General Gage to come again into our camp, but for some reason that does not appear it was not granted. That in our camp he passed by the name of Longchamps and in Boston by that of Blutier. In short from many circumstances there is reason to suspect that at that time he either was or wished to be employed as a spy of the British general. Whether his late crime is the effect of sudden passion or the result of some premeditated plan may possibly in time be manifested” (Thomson to Franklin, 13 Aug. 1784, PHi). Le Courier de l’Amerique, the first French newspaper in America, continued its sensational use of the episode and, upon Marbois’ declining Boinod & Gaillard’s offer to print his version, dealt so harshly with him that he complained to Vergennes, charging that the aim of the publishers was to sow discord between the United States and France. On this affair, see TJ to Monroe and to Thomson 21 May 1784; TJ to Madison, 25 May 1784; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , vii, Nos. 612, 613, 630, 631, 634, and 695; House to TJ, 10 Aug. 1784; Thomson to TJ, 1 Oct. 1784; and JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxvii, 478, 502, 564; xxviii, 314–15; xxix, 598–9, 651.

1Corrected from FC. RC reads: “… reaches you you will be so kind as to return it forward it to him."

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