Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 20 February 1786

To Lafayette

Paris Feb. 20. 1786.

Dear Sir

I forgot last night a very material circumstance in my calculation. The Farmers general are, by their bail, obliged to keep a certain provision of tobacco and snuff always on hand. I believe it is three years consumption. However for fear of error I will call it two years; because were the bail silent on this head they would certainly have always on hand one year’s stock ready for manufacture, and one year’s stock manufactured. There is no extensive manufacture which does not find that it has on hand generally two years’ stock of goods. As the Farmers buy their tobacco for ready money (and I know they even advance money) they lay out of their money two years. This interest must therefore be added, and the estimate will stand thus

22 millions of pounds weight of tobacco at 6 sous cost 11,600,000₶
the cost of manufacture is 1. sol the pound 692,500  
guards &c. to prevent contraband 5,000,000  
revenue paid annually to the king 28,000,000  
interest on the whole for 2. years @ 5. pr. cent 4,529,5001
whole cost of annual purchase of tobacco then is 49,821,7502
they sell annually but 13,850,000 . which at 3₶–10s brings them 45,705,000  
they lose annually then by the farm of tobacco 4,116,750  

Thus, according to their own shewing, the king should in favor to them, discontinue the bail; and they cannot ask it’s continuance without acknowledging they have given in a false state of quantities and sums. I am Dear Sir your’s affectionately,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC) misdated 10 Feb. in L & B description begins Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert E. Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,“Memorial Edition,” Washington, 1903–1904 description ends , IV, 197.

The calculations that TJ gave to Lafayette last night and revised in the present letter were intended to assist the latter in his effort as a member of the American committee to abolish the tobacco monopoly of the farmers-general. The first meeting of the committee was held on 8 Feb. and others on 15 and 20 Feb. The group of Lafayette’s advisors on Sunday evening, 19 Feb., may also have included Condorcet, Dupont, and others who aided him (see F. L. Nussbaum, “The Revolutionary Vergennes and Lafayette versus the Farmers General,” Jour. Modern Hist., iii [1931], p. 592–613; Gottschalk, Lafayette, 1783–89 description begins Louis Gottschalk, Lafayette between the American Revolution and the French Revolution (1783–1789), Chicago, 1950 description ends , p. 220–7). See note to Lafayette to TJ, 19 Mch. 1786. In his “avis au Comité” Lafayette wrote: “Mes calculs ont été corrigés par un ami accoutumé à des combinaisons [les] plus profondes,” which may have been a reference to aid given here and at other times by TJ, or it may have referred to one of the others who assisted him. The group of advisors very probably included two others who have not hitherto been suggested as possible members. The first is the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, distinguished liberal, patron of the arts and sciences, close friend of TJ, Condorcet, and Lafayette, translator of the American constitutions, and, in the words of St. John de Crèvecœur, “the pearl of all the Dukes a Good Man and an most able Chemyst” (Crèvecœur to TJ, 15 July 1784; for an account of La Rochefoucauld and his and his family’s close relations with TJ, see Marie Kimball, Jefferson: The Scene of Europe, p. 81–91). In 1790 when La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt was a member of the National Assembly, he sent to the Comte de Roederer a bundle of papers that he thought would permit them to make “l’arrangement du Tabac sans perdre de tems” this bundle was later labeled: “Commerce du Tabac en france considere relativement aux etats-unis d’amerique. Propositions de Mrs. Jefferson Schort Demoustier Lafayette” (Archives Nationales, Paris, Roederer Papers, Registre 29 AP 12; the volume of documents, including many others not sent by La Rochefoucauld, is in same, 29 AP 85). The documents transmitted by La Rochefoucauld included a copy of Lafayette’s “avis au Comité” (see Lafayette to TJ, 19 Mch. 1786) and an undated translation of TJ’s letter to Vergennes of 15 Aug. 1785, a fact which suggests that he and TJ had discussed the tobacco monopoly and, with Lafayette, were probably collaborators in the effort to break it. This letter to Vergennes, therefore, was one of many documents available to the committee which Roederer headed in the National Assembly; a copy of that committee’s report “concernant le revenu public provenant de la vente exclusive du tabac” is preserved among TJ’s pamphlets in DLC (Sowerby No. 2581). The second figure who may have been among Lafayette’s advisors at the meeting of 19 Feb. 1786 is Simon Bérard, one of the leading merchants of France, who on 10 Jan. had written a memorial to Vergennes opposing the tobacco monopoly in arguments that closely paralleled those TJ had employed in his letter of 15 Aug. 1785 (see notes to Lafayette to TJ, 19 Mch. 1786, and Bérard to TJ, 6 May 1786). He appears to have been the only member of the American Committee who had had actual experience in the tobacco trade.

1The correct figure is 4,529,250; TJ so calculated it, as is shown by his total, but evidently erred in transcribing.

2The figure is correct; see note 1.

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