Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Lafayette, with “Avis au Comité du Commerce”, [19] March 1786

From Lafayette, with “Avis au Comité du Commerce”

Paris March the 18th [19] 1786

My dear Sir

Inclosed I send you several letters which Have been intrusted to me, and Now are forwarded by a safe Hand. You will also find one I had writen to you at the time of your departure which Arrived too late. The Epistle to Joseph Brant is writen by My Young indian whom I Requested to ask Brant what are His Views and His Hopes from the Court of Great Britain.

I am every Minute waiting for a Copy of my writen opinion on the affair of tobacco. It was delivered in a speech at the Committee but I was requested to put it upon paper. To morrow we Meet Again. I am Considered as one that has got a very strange idea, and don’t think I Can get Any thing Now But the Hatred of the financeering people. But as M. de Malesherbes was telling me in his Botanic Style I am Sowing Seeds which will Bear fruits in time. At the last meeting I was Engaged in a Hot Skirmish with the three very able representatives of the farm. And to morrow I don’t think the Action will be worse supported on both sides, as I have Acquired at last a pretty Compleat knowledge of the subject. I don’t Conceive What Has become of Mr. Darcel. Now that I Have Emerged from the Heap of Snuff in which I Had Enveloped Myself for many days I will Endeavour to find Him out. I am Endeavouring to form a Compagny to farm the duty on tobacco, but Every Body is so much affraid of the farm that None dare to think of it unless I keep their Names a Secret, so that I stand alone.

My best Respects wait on Mrs. and Miss Adams, and to Mr. Adams. Remember me to Col. Smith. Most Respectfully and affectionately Yours,


RC (DLC); despite its date, this letter was evidently concluded, if not written entirely, on Sunday, 19 Mch., as the reference to the meeting of the American committee “To morrow” indicates. Noted in SJL as received 25 Mch. 1786, “while in London.” Enclosures: Humphreys to TJ, 17 Mch.; Short to TJ, 19? Mch.; Lafayette to TJ, ca. 6 Mch.; a letter from My young Indian (Peter Otsiquette; see Gottschalk, Lafayette, 1783–89, p. 433) to Joseph Brant, who was at that time in London (W. L. Stone, Life of Joseph Brant, N.Y., 1838, ii, 249–61); copy of Lafayette’s “Avis au comité,” printed below.

There is some doubt as to when Lafayette delivered his speech at the Committee, Gottschalk placing the date at 20 Feb. and Nussbaum at 15 Feb. The latter, probably influenced by the misdating of TJ’s letter of 20 Feb. as 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, is clearly too early, since Lafayette’s letter to Boullongne shows that the speech was made “à la dernière séance” (F. L. Nussbaum, Jour. Modern Hist., iii [1931], p. 600, 605). Gottschalk’s date is also too early. He concludes that the committee adjourned on 20 Feb. “with the understanding that it would not meet again for a month” (same, p. 226, note 16; p. 227, note 20). The sources cited—Lafayette to Vergennes, 25 Feb., and the present letter to TJ—do not sustain this conjecture. In his letter to Vergennes, Lafayette said that the committee had suspended “pour les jours gras, mais … reprendront avec le Carème” and that “avant la fin de la Seconde Semaine on aura tous les avis que preparent les membres du committé” (Lafayette to Vergennes, 25 Feb. 1786, Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxxi). The first day of Lent in 1786 was 1 Mch.; evidently, then, the American committee met once during the more than two weeks preceding the present letter. It is very likely that the meeting at which Lafayette spoke occurred about the time TJ was preparing to leave for London or just after he left on 6 Mch. If the speech had occurred before then, it is very unlikely that Lafayette would have found it necessary, during the third week of March, to inform TJ that his “opinion… was delivered in a speech at the Committee,” for evidently the two men were in touch with each other up to the moment of TJ’s departure (see Lafayette to TJ, ca. 6 Mch. 1786). Up to mid-March, therefore, the committee had five meetings: 8, 15, 20 Feb.; ca. 6 Mch.; and 20 Mch. 1786 (see TJ to Lafayette, 20 Feb. 1786). The Committee: There has been some doubt as to the identity of all the members comprising the committee appointed by Calonne to consider questions pertaining to Franco-American trade (Nussbaum, “Vergennes and Lafayette versus the Farmers General,” Jour. Mod. Hist., iii [1931], p. 598, 604, 606; Gottschalk, Lafayette, 1783–89, p. 222). There were twelve members originally, and they were named in a letter from Tavernier de Boullongne, chairman, to Vergennes, 7 Feb. 1786: commissaires du commerce: Boyetet, Dupont; maîtres des requêtes: Montaran, Colonia, Blondel, La Porte, Boullongne de Nogent; farmers-general: Brac de la Perrière; councillors of state: Boullongne, Le Noir: others: Lafayette, Simon Bérard of Paris, not of L’Orient as suggested by Gottschalk and Nussbaum, though he was identified with the house of Jean Jacques Bérard & Cie. of that city, a firm engaged in the tobacco trade on a large scale (see notes to TJ to Lafayette, 20 Feb. 1786, Bérard to TJ, 6 May 1786; Boullongne to Vergennes, 7 Feb. 1786, Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxxi; Tr in DLC). Saint-Amand and Paulze may have been added to the committee after 7 Feb.; they were certainly at the Berni meeting (actually this was another “committee,” at which Vergennes himself was present) on 24 May 1786 as representatives of the farmers-general along with La Perrière (see Vergennes to TJ, 30 May 1786). Indeed, these two may have been in the group as early as the meeting of ca. 6 Mch., for Lafayette here (and similarly in his “Avis au comité”) speaks of the three very able representatives of the farm. Paulze drew up the reply to Lafayette in a report to Vergennes (Paulze to Vergennes, 17 Apr. 1786, enclosing a sixty-six page “Mémoire relatif à la vente du tabac américain par la Ferme Générale,” Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., xxxi; Tr in DLC); this was read at “la penultieme seance du Comité,” which may have been the meeting held on 20 Mch. 1786. For yet other members of the committee, see Short to Jay, 4 May 1787.

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