Thomas Jefferson Papers

Jefferson’s Reply to the Representations of Affairs in America by British Newspapers, [before 20 November 1784]

Jefferson’s Reply to the Representations of Affairs in America by British Newspapers

[Before 20 Nov. 1784]

I am an officer lately returned from service and residence in the U.S. of America. I have fought and bled for that country because I thought it’s cause just. From the moment of peace to that in which I left it, I have seen it enjoying all the happiness which easy government, order and industry are capable of giving to a people. On my return to my native country what has been my astonishment to find all the public papers of Europe filled with accounts of the anarchy and destractions supposed to exist in that country. I have received serious condolances from all my friends on the bitter fruits of so prosperous a war. These friends I know to be so well disposed towards America that they wished the reverse of what they repeated from the public papers.

I have enquired into the source of all this misinformation and have found it not difficult to be traced. The printers on the Continent have not yet got into the habit of taking the American newspapers.1 Whatever they retail therefore on the subject of America, they take from the English. If your readers will reflect a moment they will recollect that every unfavourable account which they have seen of the transactions in America has been taken from the English papers only. Nothing is known in Europe of the situation of the U.S. since the acknowlegement of their independance but thro’ the channel of these papers.2 But these papers have been under the influence of two ruling motives 1. deep-rooted hatred, springing from an unsuccesful attempt to injure; 2. a fear that their island will be depopulated by the emigration of it’s inhabitants to America. Hence no paper comes out without a due charge of paragraphs manufactured by persons employed for that purpose. According to these,3 America is a scene of continued riot and anarchy. Wearied out with contention, it is on the verge of falling again into the lap of Gr. Br.4 for repose. It’s citizens are groaning under the oppression of heavy taxes. They are flying for refuge to the frozen regions which still remain subject to G.B. Their assemblies5 and congresses are become odious, in one paragraph represented as tyrannising over their constituents and in another as possessing no power or influence at all, &c., &c. The truth is as follows without aggravation or diminution. There was a mutiny of 300 souldiers in Philadelphia soon after the peace; and Congress, thinking the executive of that state did not act with proper energy to suppress and punish it, they left that city in disgust. Yet in this mutiny there neither was blood shed nor a blow struck. There has lately been a riot in Charlestown, occasioned by the6 feuds between the whigs who had been driven from their country by the British while they possessed it, and the tories who were permitted to remain by the Americans when they recovered it. There were a few instances in other states where individuals disgusted with some articles in the peace undertook to call town meetings, published the resolves of7 the few citizens whom they could prevail on to meet as if they had been the resolves of the whole town, and endeavored unsuccessfully to engage the people in the execution of their private views. It is beleived that these attempts have not been more than ten or a dozen thro’ the whole 13 states, [and not one of them has been succesful: on the contrary where any illegal act has been committed by the demagogues they have been put under a due course of legal prosecution.]8 The British when they evacuated New York, having carried off, contrary to the express articles of the treaty of peace, a great deal of property belonging to the citizens of the U.S. and particularly to those of the state of Virginia, amounting as has been said to half a million of pounds sterling, the assembly of that state lately resolved that till satisfaction was made for this, the article respecting British debts ought not to be carried into full execution, submitting nevertheless this their opinion to Congress, and declaring that if they thought otherwise, all laws obstructing the recovery of debts should be immediately repealed. Yet even this was opposed by a respectable minority in their senate9 who entered a protest against it in strong terms. The protest as it stands in the record follows immediately the resolutions protested against and therefore does not recite them. The English papers10 publish the protest without the resolutions and thus lead Europe to beleive that the resolutions had definitively decided against the paiment of British debts.11 Yet nothing is less true. This is a faithful history of the high sounded disturbances of America. Those who have visited that country since the peace will vouch12 that it is impossible for any governments to be more tranquil and orderly than they are.13 What were the mutiny of 300 souldiers in Philada., the riot of whigs and tories in Charlestown to the riots of London [under Ld. G. Gordon, and of London and the country in general in the late elections?]14 Where is there any country of equal extent with the U.S. in which fewer disturbances have happened in the same space of time? Where has there been an instance of an army disbanded as was that of America without receiving a shilling of the long arrearages due them or even having their accounts settled and yet disbanded peaceably? Instead of resorting as is15 too often the case with disbanded armies to beggary or robbery for a livelihood they returned every man to his home and resumed his axe and spade; and it is a fact as true as it is singular that on the disbanding of an army of 30,000 men in America there have been but two or three instances of any of those who composed it being brought to the bar of justice as criminals; and that you may travel from16 one end to the other of the continent without seeing a beggar. With respect to the people their confidence in their rulers in general is what common sense will tell us it must be, where they are of their own choice annually, unbribed by money, undebauched by feasting, and drunkenness.17 It would be difficult to find one man among them who would not consider a return under the dominion of Gr. Br. as the greatest of all possible miseries. Their taxes are light, as they should be with a people so lately wasted in the most cruel manner by war. They pay in proportion to their property from one half to one and a half per cent annually on it’s whole value as estimated by their neighbors, the different states requiring more or less as they have been less or more ravaged by their enemies. Where any other taxes are imposed they are very trifling and are calculated cheifly to bring merchants into contribution with the farmers.

Against their emigration [to the remaining British dominions]18 the superior rigor of their climate, the inferiority of their soil, the nature19 of their governments and their being actually inhabited by their most mortal enemies the tory refugees, will be an eternal security. During the course of the war the English papers were constantly filled with accounts of their great victories, their armies were daily gaining. Yet Europe saw that they were daily losing ground in America, and formed it’s idea of the truth not from what it heard but from what it saw. They wisely considered an enlargement of territory on the one side and contraction of it on the other as the best indication on which side victory really was. It is hoped that Europe will be as wise and as just now; that they will not consider the fabricated papers of England as any evidence of truth; but that they will continue to judge of causes from effects If the distractions of America were what these papers pretend, some great facts would burst out and lay their miseries open to the eyes of all the world: no such effects appear; therefore no such causes exist. If any such existed they would appear in the American newspapers which are as free as any on earth, but none such can be found in them. These are the testimonials to which I appeal for beleif. To bring more home to every reader the reliance which may be put on the English papers let him examine, if a Frenchman, what account they give of the affairs of France, if a Dutchman, what of the United Netherlds.; if an Irishman, what of Ireland, &c. If he finds that those of his own country with which he happens to be acquainted are wickedly misrepresented, let him consider how much more likely to be so are those of a nation so hated as America. America was the great pillar on which British glory was raised; America has been the instrument for levelling that glory with the dust. A little ill humour therefore might have found excuse in our commiseration; but an apostasy from truth, under whatever misfortunes, calls up feelings of a very different order.

Dft (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, with numerous deletions, interlineations, and corrections, the more important of which are noted below. Dft consists of four pages: p. [1] contains the observations on the settlement of disputes between states by judicial means, printed above (Vol. 6: 505–06) and p. [2]-[4] embrace the present text beginning at the point indicated in note 2, below. This left about three-quarters of p. [4] blank; after Dft had been completed, TJ turned this page upside down and on it wrote the first paragraph and part of the second as they stand in the text above up to the point indicated by note 2. In other words, after he had written the text TJ invented the fictitious returning veteran who had “fought and bled” for America, and, in making his fair copy (missing), he copied first the passage written last. The fiction of the wounded veteran was no doubt adopted for the dual purpose of enlisting a sympathetic audience and of concealing his own authorship.

This rough draft of the “publication for Leyd. gaz.” mentioned in TJ’s entry in SJL for his letter to C. W. F. Dumas, 20 Nov. 1784, is the text of one of the enclosures in that letter, which Dumas acknowledged in his to TJ of 1 Dec. 1784. In that letter Dumas reported that he had made two copies of the article and that he would send one to his friend Luzac, in Leyden, and the other to the office of the Courier de l’Europe as a piece addressed to the papers by a “respectable soldier, who passing through, left the piece for that purpose.” The first part of the article appeared in the supplement to the Nouvelles extraordinaires de divers endroits—commonly known as the Gazette de Leyde (published by Jean and Etienne Luzac)—for 7 Dec. and the remainder in the supplement of 10 Dec. 1784 (photostats in TJ Editorial Files from CSmH). The article is prefaced by the following editorial introduction:

“De LEYDE, Le 7. Décembre, 1784. Dans une des Feuilles de Londres du 27. Novembre, reçuë par la dernière Malle, l’on trouve l’Article suivant.—’Des Lettres de Philadelphie nous apprennent, que l’esprit de parti n’est nullement éteint en cet Etat, quelque bien règié qu’il soit en comparaison des autres. L’opposition à l’autorité, et même à l’existence du Congrès, gagne tous les jours du terrein.’—Tels sont les rapports qu’on ne cesse de publier en Angleterre, et qui de-la circulent par toute l’Europe: Nous les avons toujours méprisés ou passés sous silences, très-persuadés que, s’ils n’étoient pas entièrement faux, ils étoient du moins si fort exaggéres, qu’ils ne méritoient aucune confiance. Cependant, pour leur servir d’antidote, un de nos Correspondants vient de nous communiquer une Lettre, qu’il a reçuë avec une Pièce, écrite dans ce dessein. En voici la Traduction.”

After this editorial introduction there follows a paragraph which Dumas must have copied from TJ’s missing letter of 20 Nov. 1784, of which “la Traduction” is as follows:

Vous devez avoir senti, combien de tort il a été fait aux Etats-Unis de l’ Amerique aux yeux du Monde par les insertions fausses et scandaleuses, qui se publient chacque jour à leur sujet dans les Papiers Anglois. Personne n’a pris jusqu’à présent la peine de désabuser le Public à cet égard. C’est donc dans ce dessein qu’on a écrit la pièce suivante; et je prens la liberté de vous prier de lui procurer une place dans la Gazette de Leyde et dans le Courier de l’Europe, étant adressée à l’une et à l’autre de ces Feuilles. Pour votre sûreté, je puis vous certifier en conscience, qu’elle contient un état véritable des affaires Américaines.”

After receiving TJ’s letter and its enclosure, Dumas wrote to Charles Storer in London for transmittal to the Courier de l’Europe:

“Un Ami à tous égards respectable, m’étant venu voir à son retour d’Amérique, m’a laissé l’Ecrit qu’on vient de lire, avec charge expresse d’en faire parvenir copie, pour être insérée dans les deux papiers les plus estimés de l’Europe, le Courier de l’Europe et la Gazette de Leide, auxquels la parole y est adressée. On sait la manière scandaleuse dont l’Amérique est tous les jours traduite par les Nouvellistes Anglois aux yeux du monde. Personne jusqu’ici n’a pris la peine de le désabuser. C’est dans cette intention que la Pièce est écrite. Je signe ceci par honnêteté, afin de pouvoir garantir au Bureau, pour sa satisfaction privée, qu’elle présente la pure vérité sur l’état des affaires Américaines, en priant que mon nom, qui d’ailleurs n’a rien de commun avec elle, ne soit point public. Du reste, si l’on avoit des raisons pour décliner cette Insertion, il suffira de renvoyer le tout, sans avoir besoin d’en alléguer aucune” (FC in Rijksarchief, The Hague: Dumas Papers; see Dumas to TJ, 1 Dec. 1784).

Despite this appeal, TJ’s essay was not published in the Courier de l’Europe. John Adams’ illuminating analysis of that and other papers is also an excellent commentary on the British influence that TJ endeavored to combat in the present essay: “The views and designs, the intrigues and projects, of courts are let out by insensible degrees and with infinite art and delicacy in the gazettes. These channels of communication are very numerous, and they are artificially complicated in such a manner that very few persons are able to trace the sources from whence insinuations and projects flow. The English papers are an engine by which everything is scattered all over the world. They are open and free. The eyes of mankind are fixed upon them. They are taken by all courts and all politicians and by almost all gazetteers. Of these papers, the French emissaries in London, even in time of war, but especially in time of peace, make a very great use; they insert in them things which they wish to have circulated far and wide. Some of the paragraphs inserted in them will do to circulate through all Europe, and some will not do in the Courier de l’Europe. This is the most artful paper in the world; it is continually accommodating between the French and English ministry. If it should offend the English essentially, the ministry would prevent its publication; if it should sin against the French unpardonably, the ministry would instantly stop its circulation; it is therefore continually under the influence of the French ministers, whose underworkers have many things translated into it from the English papers and many others inserted in it originally, both to the end that they may be circulated over the world, and particularly that they may be seen by the King of France, who reads this paper constantly. From the English papers and the Courier de l’Europe many things are transferred into various other gazettes, the Courier du Bas Rhin, the Gazette des Deux Ponts, the Courier d’Avignon, and the Gazette des Pays Bas. The gazettes of Leyden and Amsterdam are sometimes used for the more grave and solid objects, those of Deux Ponts and d’Avignon for popular topics, the small talk of coffee-houses, and still smaller and lower circles” (Adams to president of Congress, 8 Sep. 1783; Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Am. Rev., description begins The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, ed. Francis Wharton description ends vi, 682). TJ was a subscriber both to the Courier de l’Europe and to the Gazette de Leyde (Account Book, 1 Sep. 1784).

1The following editorial insertion appears in the printed translation at this point: “[Nous en avons cependant eu grand nombre entre les mains, dans le tems que les Nouvelles de l’Amérique faisoient le grand objet de la curiosité du Public.]”

2As first written, the text began at this point at the top of p. [2]. TJ first wrote, then deleted: “The <transactions> situation of the U.S. of America since the acknowlegement of their independance has been communicated to the <states> people of Europe by the English gazettes only.”

3TJ first wrote, then deleted: “wretches.”

4TJ deleted at this point: “merely from a lassitude as a refuge from faction and violence”; then substituted: “for repose.”

5At this point TJ first wrote, then deleted: “are employed in establishing a legislative system of rapine and plunder against the individuals of other nations who trust them with their money.”

6TJ first wrote, and then deleted: “hatred.”

7TJ first wrote, and then deleted: “half a dozen or a dozen citizens who obeyed their summons.”

8The text in brackets, supplied, does not appear in the printed translation, which reads, instead: “et toutes ont été renduës publiques: Mais dans aucune il n’y a eu un nombre respectable de Peuple, qui y ait pris part.” Since the translation is, on the whole, a faithful and literal presentation of the text as it stands in Dft, this and the other variations in the French text, noted below, may represent changes which TJ made when he prepared the (missing) fair copy. The printed text in the issue of the Gazette de Leyde of 9 Dec. ends at this point; the following sentence begins the text in the succeeding issue.

9Instead of “their senate,” the printed translation reads, “le Sénat de Virginie.”

10Following this, TJ first wrote, then deleted: “<availing themselves of their> taking advantage of their separation.”

11TJ first wrote, then deleted: “To such meannesses have those descended.”

12TJ first wrote, then deleted: “(English and Scotchmen excepted).”

13TJ first wrote, then deleted: “Where is there a country of 800 miles square.”

14Instead of the text in brackets, supplied, the printed translation reads: “en 1780; troubles, où l’on porta l’audace jusqu’à violer les Chapelles des Ambassadeurs, et la violence jusqu’à brûler des Maisons et à tuer nombre de Personnes? Que furent-ils, si on les compare au vacarme, qu’il y eut à la dernière Election en Angleterre, et qui arrivent à chaque Election?”

15TJ first wrote, then deleted: “the practice with English souldiers.”

16At this point TJ first wrote, then deleted: “Savannah to Portsmouth.”

17At this point TJ interlined the words “There is not &c.” and then, in the inner margin between p. [2] and p. [3] of the Dft, wrote and then deleted: “There is not one in 10,000 of.” He then wrote in the inner margin of these pages the remainder of this paragraph and the first sentence of the next.

18Instead of the text in brackets, supplied, the printed translation reads: “vers les neiges et les glaces des Contrées, qui sont encore restées sous la Domination de la Grande-Brétagne”; also, numerals i through iv were inserted before the reasons, following.

19For the word, “nature,” the printed translation reads “Despotisme.”

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