Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Short, 9 September 1785

From William Short

The Hague, Friday
Septr. 9th. 1785

Dear Sir

On my Return from Amsterdam on Saturday last I met with a Letter here which arrived the same Day from Mr. Adams. The Baron de Thulemeier had also received his Answer from Berlin. His letter and that from Mr. Adams removed all the Difficulties except that of the Errata. As I had not inclosed a List of them at first to Mr. Adams he could say nothing on that Subject to me. Notwithstanding the Baron urged the unimportance of the Errata and seemed impatient to have them corrected and signed, I chose rather to await the Tuesday’s Post, adding it was only two Days and that I should certainly at that Time have a Letter from you. As no Letter arrived and the Baron seemed to desire very much that the Affair should be completed, and above all as the English Part of the Treaty will correct the Errata of the French, I promised him that if he would await the Post of this Day I would undertake, in Case no Letter arrived from you, to correct the Errata and exchange the Treaties. To this I was the rather induced because he had agreed to accept the Originals which I had brought and to recieve and exchange them, notwithstanding this is the first Instance that has ever happened in the Prussian Cabinet. As this Concession on the Part of his Majesty seemed to have a Right to something on the other Side I did not think I could do less than accede to his Desire of despatching this Business; particularly as I knew it was your Desire it should be finished as soon as possible. No Letter therefore having arrived by this Day’s Post I shall tomorrow agreeable to Engagement, meet with Mr. Dumas at the Baron de Thulemeier’s to put the final Hand to it and on Sunday shall set out on my Route to Paris. Should you do me the Favor Sir to write to me, direct to Bruxelles, poste restante. I shall probably be there the Day Week that I set out from hence. It will give me great Pleasure to receive a Letter from you at that Place, and I hope I shall hear that you approve my acceding to the Baron de Thulemeiers Sollicitations to finish this Business without waiting longer; as I assure you Sir, it is not without some Reluctance that [I] undertake it after having communicated to you a List of the Errata.

My Compliments for Colo. Humphries and I beg you to be persuaded of the sincere Affection & Regard with which I am yours, &c.,

W Short

RC (ViWC). Short wrote a similar letter to Adams, this date (MHi: AMT).

Short had written Adams on 5 Sep. that De Thulemeier had that moment received authorization from the Prussian court to receive the text of the treaty in French and English, but to give in exchange for it “an Exemplaire in French” only. He added that De Thulemeier “hopes we will be induced to accept in Exchange what alone he is authorized to offer. But this is no more than what the Baron offered to do at our first Interview so that his Powers on this Subject have not been enlarged … since his Arrival here. Thus circumstanced Sir I rather suppose it will be necessary to cede this Point although I shall do it with Reluctance and not without trying other Means as it seems to be desired by you to have the Treaty exchanged in the two Languages” (Short to Adams, 5 Sep. 1785, acknowledging Adams’ of 30 Aug. 1785; MHi: AMT; see note to Short to TJ, 23 Aug. 1785). Short evidently did not report to TJ this limitation in De Thulemeier’s instructions. Adams replied to Short’s observations of the 5th: “I have received from Mr. Jefferson a copy of his letter to you of the 1st. inst. and agree fully with him in sentiment that we should agree to consider the French column as the Original if the Baron thinks himself bound to insist upon it, but if the practice of his Court will admit of the execution in the two languages, each to be considered as equally original, it would be very agreeable to me. I … agree that it will be necessary to cede the point, if the Baron cannot be persuaded to sign the Copy in both languages, upon your agreeing that the French shall be considered as the Original. I wish, however, to try the experiment; not urging it with too much earnestness, nor persisting in it too long. I will not disguise from you, what I should advise you to reserve from others with some discretion, that, old as I am, I hope to live to see the day when the American language will be understood and respected in every Court in Europe—not from any dislike to the French or the London” (Adams to Short and Dumas, 11 Sep. 1785: MHi: AMT). Adams’ interest in the problem of language was not a mere matter of diplomatic etiquette. As early as 1780 he had made the remarkable proposal that Congress establish an “American Academy for refining, improving, and ascertaining the English Language” (Adams to the president of Congress, 5 Sep. 1780; Works, ed. C. F. Adams, vii, 250). In the letter to Short and Dumas of 11 Sep. 1785, incidentally, Adams seems to have acquired the honor of being the first to employ the phrase “American language,” heretofore accorded to Dr. William Thornton, who used it in his Cadmus; or, a Treatise on the Elements of Written Language, published in Philadelphia in 1793 (cited by H. L. Mencken, Supplement I: The American Language, 1945, p. 5, who points out that “American dialect” dates from 1740 and “American tongue” from 1789).

It was the arrival of TJ’s letter of 1 Sep. 1785 to Short that enabled De Thulemeier to overcome the obstacle of his instructions—that is, the authorization to Short to regard the French column as the original (see Short to TJ, 11 Sep. 1785). The signed copy of the treaty retained for the United States bears at the head of each of the two texts the word “Original”; but this was probably a later addition, and when and by whose authority the designation was made is not clear.

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