Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Monroe, 15 August 1785

From James Monroe

New York August 15th. 1785

Dear Sir

I have had the pleasure to receive yours by Mr. Adams with the cypher accompanying it and am happy to hear of the recovery of your health. I have only fail’d writing you by two of the packets the first of which sail’d before I had been advis’d she would, and the 2d. while I was ill of a pleurisy which I caught by walking in the rain to Congress and had like to have given me my final repose. Colo. Smith, Mr. Mazzai and Mrs. Macaulay Graham have since carried my letters to you, or rather took charge of them for that purpose. In those letters I gave you full information of the previous transactions in Congress as well as of the important business still before us. It therefore now remains to give you the progress since that time. The1 report proposing to invest Congress with the power to regulate commerce hath been twice before Congress in committee of the whole. It met with no opponant except the president. By this I do not mean that there were no others oppos’d to it, for the contrary is the case. They however said but little or rather committed their side of the question to his care. In favor of it there were but few speakers also. The committee came to no [conclusion]2 but desired leave to sit again. A second plan hath been proposd, a navigation act digested here and recommended to the States. This hath not been presented but probably will be. One would expect in a particular quarter of the union perfect concert in this business, yet this is not altogether the case. The 2d. plan above attended to takes its origin with MacHenry. The Eastern people wish something more lasting and will of course in the first instance not agree to it. They must therefore come in with that propos’d in the report. You will ask me why they hesitate? To be candid I believe it arises from the real magnitude of the subject, for I have the most confidential communications with them and am satisfied they act ingenuously. They fear the consequences may possibly result from it. The longer it is delayd the more certain is its passage thro the several states ultimately. Their minds will be better informd by evidences within their views of the necessity of committing the power to Congress for the commerce of the union is daily declining; the merchants of this town own I am told not more than two ships. I wish much to hear from you upon this subject. I expect it will be brought on again shortly, if for the purpose only of committing it to the journals. It may then be delay’d for sometime untill we may obtain full information on it: the report changing the instructions for forming commercial treaties will I believe be adopted. It changes the principle and puts an end to that of the right of the most favored nation. The policy of forming a treaty with powers not having possessions in the West Indies is doubted since from them we can obtain as much without as with a treaty, and such treaties whether upon that or any other principle in effecting the main object we have in view, the opening the islands by treaty with those who have them, may embarrass us. This is conceiv’d to be the only end which can be obtain’d upon principles of expedience to us by treaty. Of course that with Sweden &c. is unfortunate. Mr. Adams seems to suppose the principal object in his mission to the court of London was the formation3 of a treaty; but the contrary was certainly the case: it was merely to conciliate, and prevent a variance which seem’d to threaten at that time. He might however readily make this mistake under the present instructions. A treaty is not expected and I am satisfied the majority here wish all propositions on that head to cease, at least for the present, and untill our restrictions on their commerce have effected a different disposition. Mr. Jay is authorised to treat with Mr. Gardoqui upon the subjects arising between the two parties. He is to lay every proposition before Congress before he enters into any engagement with him. As yet we have heard nothing from him. The consulate convention lately formed with France is universally disapproved. It was form’d under instructions but in the opinion of the secretary of foreign affairs hath been deviated from. I have not had time to examine it attentively so cannot decide as to this fact. I shall sit out on the first of Sepr. for the Indian treaty on the Ohio and return thence thro Virga., and provided I shall be continued in Congress, to this place. I shall however attend the fœderal court for the trial of the controversy between Massachusetts and New York in Novr. so that I doubt whether I shall reach this before Decr. or Jany. next. The requisition will pass I expect this week and most of the important business remaining in a train for decision or be postponed for the winter. I have however no expectation that Congress will adjourn for the present year. I intended to have given you something of domestic news but am inform’d the mail is just closing. By this however, do not suppose that I have any thing worthy communication for the contrary is the case. I should be forc’d to look about me to find out any thing you would have patience to read. A. Lee is elected in the Board of treasury. We were under the necessity of having someone from this State and advocated his appointment. How is Miss Patsy? How is Short? How are they pleas’d with France. I must observe that Congress seem to expect the court of France will send a minister here. To visit you would give me infinite pleasure. Whether I shall be able or not depends on circumstances. If I do it will be in the spring after Congress adjourn or at least the most important business is finish’d. I send you the journals and am dear Sir yr. affectionate friend & servt.,

Jas. Monroe

RC (DLC); partly in code, with interlineal decoding by TJ.

The instructions Of Congress concerning the consular convention were those of 25 Jan. 1782, in pursuance of which Franklin had negotiated the convention signed by him and Vergennes on 29 July 1784 (two texts of the former are in DLC: TJ Papers, 7: 1209–10, and three of the latter in same, 11: 1780–5, 1786–91, 1792–1804). On 4 July 1785 Jay set forth an elaborate analysis of the manner in which these instructions … hath been deviated from, wherein he showed in parallel columns the form of convention Franklin had been authorized to negotiate and the form that had been agreed upon by him. There is scarcely room for question that the privileges and immunities granted French consuls were so extensive and so unusual as to make the result “incompatible with American sovereignty, and which had been so drafted as to emphasize the sovereign qualities of the ‘Thirteen United States of North America’” rather than the United States of America (S. F. Bemis, Diplomatic History of the United States, 3rd edn., p. 83). A copy of the printed text of Jay’s report is in DLC: TJ Papers, 13: 2215–9 (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxix, 500–15, 924, No. 483). On 17 July 1785 Marbois sent Vergennes a summary account of most of Jay’s objections and added: “Ce rapport ou Mr. Jay ne dissimule point ses dispositions à notre égard est plus considerable, mais comme il est tenu fort secret, je n’ai pu en obtenir que la partie dont je viens d’avoir l’honneur de vous rendre compte; j’aurai celui de vous faire parvenir le reste si je puis en obtenir la communication, mais on n’a pû me le promettre” (Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxx; Tr in DLC; Marbois sent the complete text of Jay’s report to Vergennes on 8 Aug. 1785; same). Otto reported that Franklin, on his arrival in America, appeared “fort etonné” at the news that the convention had not been ratified. He also assured Vergennes that Franklin “trouve les objections de M. Jay si superficielles qu’il ne les croit pas même dignes de faire l’objet d’une negociation” (Otto to Vergennes, 18 and 28 Nov. 1785; same, xxx). In 1786 Jay recommended that TJ be instructed to negotiate a new convention in conformity with the original instructions, and Congress approved this suggestion (JCC description begins Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. W. C. Ford and others, Washington, 1904–1937 description ends , xxxi, 713–35; xxxiii, 421–7; Jay to TJ, 3 Oct. 1786; TJ to Jay, 9 Jan. 1787). Vergennes was disturbed by Jay’s hostility to the convention arranged with Franklin, and wrote Otto: “Je me suis fait rendre compte, M. des observations que doit avoir faites M. Jay sur notre convention relative aux Consuls, et j’ai jugé qu’il n’y en avoit pas une qui méritât d’être prise en considération. Quoiqu’il en soit, j’attendroi pour discuter la matiére que M. Jefferson soit autorisé à la traiter avec moi” (Vergennes to Otto, 20 Sep. 1785; Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.U., xxx; Tr in DLC). Otto at this time was reporting to Vergennes that Adams’ dispatches to Congress had been unfavorable to France and were likely to have an ill effect if not countered; he added: “Ainsi, Monseigneur, le moyen le plus sûr que je connoisse de detruire ces impressions facheuses seroit que M. Jefferson fut instruit par quelque voye indirecte de ce qui se passe ici et ses relations seroient le contre-poison de celles de M. Adams.—M. Jefferson … est très attaché a l’alliance, il jouit ici d’une reputation excellente et meritée quoiqu’on doute de sa fermeté. S’il a connoissance de la difference des deux projets de convention il pourra peut-être s’en prévaloir envers le Congrès pour faire sentir les inconveniens du delai de la ratification et proposer que la convention soit redigée conformement au projet communiqué a M. le Chevr. De la Luzerne et ratifiée sans delai… . Je crois la convention une chose extrêmement desirable, mais nous serons bien plus forts en faisant agir Mr. Jefferson et en n’agissant nous mêmes ici que par nos amis” (Otto to Vergennes, 6 Sep. 1785; same, xxx; Tr in DLC). But Jay’s opposition prevailed.

1This and subsequent words in italics are written in code and were decoded interlineally by TJ; the text presented here is a decoding by the editors, employing Code No. 9. The only significant variation from TJ’s reading is noted below.

2This word is not in text; supplied conjecturally.

3TJ’s reading for this word is “relation”; Burnett, Letters of Members description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress description ends , viii, No. 186, Monroe, Writings, i, 103–6, and others follow TJ’s error.

Index Entries