Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Lafayette, [ca. 6 March 1786]

From Lafayette

[ca. 6 Mch. 1786]

Inclosed, my dear Sir, I send you a letter to Gnl. Knox wherein I mention Count d’estaing’s Anecdote as He gave it to me. Your idea Respecting Paul Jones is Very Good, and if He is prevailed upon to go, altho’ you deni you think yourself Warranted in Advancing public Monney to Him, He will easily find it Among His friends. And I think the sooner He goes, the better. Wishing you a good journey Have the Honour to be Yours,


RC (DLC); without place, date, or name of addressee; not recorded in SJL; the date has been supplied from the date of the enclosure; see Lafayette to TJ, 19 Mch. 1786. Enclosure (DNA: PCC, No. 150, i; Tr and English translation): Lafayette to Henry Knox, 6 Mch. 1786, expressing his concern for the enormous expenses required to bring about effective measures for protecting American commerce against the Barbary states, and stating: “another motive does also operate within my heart, it is the ambitious and boundless desire that the United States may in every circumstance strike out new and most direct roads to glory and consequence: and the less vigor is shewn by the natives of Europe against those pirates the greater pride I would derive from spirited measures in this instance provided they are accompanied with a probability of success. While in this disposition I happened to hear an anecdote from count d’Estaing which he has also presented to Mr. Jefferson and which we both thought it worth the while to send to Congress. Not that I pretend to advise the measure until I have taken more particular informations of the fact and perhaps it will be proper for an experienced officer such as Commodore Jones who now is in Paris to go and examine that place. It may also be adviseable to compare the expenses of the expedition with those of a treaty. But in the meanwhile I take the liberty to enclose you the anecdote as Count d’Estaing has given it to me and beg also leave to observe that this federal measure, should it meet with success, would command the attention of Europe in a manner very advantageous to the United States.”

There can be little doubt that TJ inspired Lafayette’s letter to Knox, and that it and its enclosure resulted from consultations among TJ, John Paul Jones, and Lafayette. TJ for well over a year had been writing private letters to America suggesting the desirability of breaking away from the European custom of purchasing peace with the Barbary states by paying high tribute, and he had likewise been impressed with the idea of employing a small naval force on fixed stations to blockade the ports of the Barbary powers instead of maintaining a large cruising force. The translation of “a paper from the Count D’Estaing” reads: “M. de Massiac who was secretary for the department of marine and afterwards vice admiral, while a captain in the navy was chosen to command an expedition to bombard Algiers. But he conceived a mode might be adopted which would be less expensive and more certain of success. He proposed to blockade Algiers with a vessel of 64 guns and two frigates by anchoring nearly on the bar with chains and kedge anchors that if it was necessary he could be able to pass the winter in this situation and the sick officers and sailors should be replaced. This mode is the most certain and at the same time the most distressing to the enemy as it will prevent almost entirely all communication. The ship and two frigates are superior to all the Barbarian marine. A constant readiness for action, a strict discipline, and proper guard boats to make the rounds during the night form the main principles of these kind of expeditions. Perseverance insures success. It is the opinion of the Count D’Estaing that the plan of Mr. de Massiac is not only practicable but is the only mode of reducing those Barbary powers against which it is directed. He thinks if it was put in practice against all of them they would soon cease to be a nation of pirates and become a commercial people. Paris 4th March 1786. Estaing” (MS in clerk’s hand, signed by D’Estaing; translation in clerk’s hand; both in DNA: PCC, No. 150, i, with covering letter from Henry Knox to Nathaniel Gorham, 25 May 1786). The idea of a bold stroke, imaginative in concept and economical in operation, that would at once bring the Barbary powers to terms and “command the attention of Europe in a manner very advantageous to the United States,” was certainly one that was bound to enlist TJ’s earnest support; see TJ to Monroe, 10 May 1786; D’Estaing to TJ, 17 May 1786.

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