Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Nathanael Greene, 12 January 178[6]

To Nathanael Greene

Paris Jan. 12. 1785 [i.e. 1786].

Dear Sir

Your favour of June 1. did not come to hand till the 3d of September. I immediately made enquiries on the subject of the frigate you had authorised your relation to sell to this government, and I found that he had long before that sold her to government, and sold her very well as I understood. I noted the price on the back of your letter, which I have since unfortunately mislaid so that I cannot at this moment state to you the price. But the transaction is of so long standing that you cannot fail to have received advice of it. I should without delay have given you this information but that I hoped constantly to be able to accompany it with information as to the live oak, which was another object of your letter. This, tho’ it has been constantly pressed by Mr. St. John, and also by the M. de la Fayette since his return from Berlin, has been spun to a great length, and at last they have only decided to send to you for samples of the wood. Letters on this subject from the M. de la fayette accompany this.

Every thing in Europe is quiet, and promises quiet for at least a year to come. We do not find it easy to make commercial arrangements in Europe. There is a want of confidence in us. This country has lately reduced the duties on American whaleoil to about a guinea and a half the ton, and I think they will take the greatest part of what we can furnish. I hope therefore that this branch of our commerce will resume it’s activity. Portugal shews a disposition to court our trade; but this has for some time been discouraged by the hostilities of the pyratical states of Barbary. The Emperor of Morocco who had taken one of our vessels, immediately consented to suspend hostilities, and ultimately gave up the vessel, cargo and crew. I think we shall be able to settle matters with him. But I am not sanguine as to the Algerines. They have taken two of our vessels, and I fear will ask such a tribute for a forbearance of their piracies as the U.S. would be unwilling to pay. When this idea comes across my mind, my faculties are absolutely suspended between indignation and impotence. I think whatever sums we are obliged to pay for freedom of navigation in the European seas, should be levied on the European commerce with us, by a separate impost, that these powers may see that they protect these enormities for their own loss.

I have the honour to be with sentiments of the most perfect esteem & respect Dear Sir Your most obedient and most humble servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (PHi); endorsed. PrC (DLC).

The letters on this subject from the M. De La Fayette which accompanied the present letter were evidently those of 3 and 29 Dec. 1785. In the first, responding to Greene’s appeal for aid in the marketing of Georgia live oak timbers in France, Lafayette informed Greene that “in my last Conference with Marechal de Castries the naval Minister, I found Him better disposed to purchase his naval stores in America than ever he had been,” that Castries would “be particularly happy to make arrangements with one he so much Respects as general Greene, but wishes you first to send a small Cargo, particularly of Knees-crooked timber, Bois courbes de toutes Espece to any french port,” that Lafayette thought this sample cargo should be in charge of “a very Clever Capitane with orders to come immediately to me and [with] your pleins pouvoirs to treat on a Large Scale,” and that it would be advisable to have Wadsworth and McHenry associated in the enterprise (Lafayette to Greene, 3 Dec. 1785; DLC: Greene Papers; Dft of a letter from Greene to Castries, undated but written in latter part of 1785, setting forth the fine qualities of American live oak and soliciting an order, is in MiU-C). Before Lafayette’s letter arrived in America, Castries ordered a thousand cubic feet of “Green [live] Oack in Knees, cut in your Cumberland Island, and also for some pieces of Red Cedar wood,” an order which Lafayette transmitted at once, along with the advice that the quality and price of the cargo should “be such as to encourage a Bargain … upon a very Large Scale which probably will take place immediately” (Lafayette to Greene, 29 Dec. 1785; MiU C; see also Gottschalk, Lafayette, 1783 89, p. 209–10).

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