Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from De Corny, 20 February 1787

From De Corny

Paris Le 20. fevrier 1787

Dear Sir

The inclosed Report in parchement is to be sent to you, trusted to your Excellency’s cares, and immediately forwarded to the State of Virginia. I take the Liberty of passing it thro’ your hands and even of praying you to put it at End By the first opportunity. I do that with the more pleasure as it affords me occasion to renew thousand assurances of the Esteem, respect and friendship with which I have the honor to be for ever Dear Sir Your Excellency’s the most obedient and most humble servant,

Ethis de Corny, Louis Dominique

P.S. I sent for you, to the Mis. de la Fayette, 70 printed copies of the report, in order of being forwarded to the North america. But M. le Mis. de la Fayette desires for himself, the notoriousness and distribution of it could be prevented. I owe comply to his Will. You may, for your own account settle this matter with him.

RC (DLC). Not recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Le Pelletier to TJ, 1 Feb. 1787 and its enclosure (see note there).

For a bibliographical and historical account of the publication of the Procés-Verbaux, which bears the imprint “Philadelphia: Printed by M. Carey and Co. Front-Street, West-Side, near Market-Street. 1786,” see Gilbert Chinard’s “Notes and Appendix” to a reprint of the unique copy owned by Stuart W. Jackson as set forth in Bulletin de L’Institut Français de Washington, new ser., No. 4, Dec. 1954, p. 67–110.

There is no evidence that TJ actually sent any of the printed texts to America or that he took any part in procuring publication there. This is surprising in view of his frequent and full testimonials in letters to Jay, Washington, and Madison about the valuable assistance rendered by Lafayette in promoting American interests in France and in view of his interest in procuring European publication (see TJ to Rayneval, 30 Sep. 1786). The factual summary that TJ caused to be printed in the Gazette de Leide stands in marked contrast to the extraordinary record set forth in the proceedings themselves. According to the latter, the prévôt des marchands et echevins at a meeting on 15 Sep. 1786, at which a letter was read from Baron de Breteuil conveying the king’s permission for the bust to be presented, directed Veytard to notify the deans of the counsellors of the city that the date had been fixed for the ceremony and to inform them that, “comme la modestie des personnes principalement interessées à cette cérémonie a sollicité qu’elle fut faite sans éclat, le Bureau a cru devoir se dispenser à l’ égard des Compagnies d’une Convocation en regle.” This would seem to mean that both TJ and Lafayette, perhaps through De Corny, had made the request for a ceremony “sans eclat,” for they were certainly the principals. Both, ironically, were absent from the occasion: three days after the meeting on 15 Sep., TJ suffered the accident to his wrist that confined him to his room and, though Lafayette had spent about two weeks in Paris in September, he departed for Auvergne before the ceremonies on the 28th. Short took TJ’s place in the great hall of the Hôtel de Ville amid circumstances that may have made TJ grateful for the injury that pleaded his excuse—though that injury did not prevent him, scarcely a week later and at the cost of a night of excruciating pain, from making an excursion with Maria Cosway on the eve of her departure from Paris. Short had long since given TJ and friends in Virginia an account of the ceremony, but Le Pelletier’s enclosure included not only all of the relevant documents but also an exact description of the arrangements and the ceremony “sans eclat.” In the great hall of the Hôtel de Ville there was arranged a long phalanx of benches for the audience, at the upper end of which were two armchairs for Le Pelletier and Short and six others for the échevins, all of them in crimson velvet adorned with gold lace. Toward the upper end of the phalanx, before a table covered with crimson velvet and facing the prévôt, was the seat for the procureur du roi (De Corny); on the other side of the table, its back to the prévôt’s chair, was the seat of the greffier en chef, also covered with crimson velvet and gold lace. In a recess the bust of Lafayette rested on a table under a velvet veil. The officials were in their ceremonial robes and the huissiers in livery. They, the counsellors, minor officials, and the audience entered the hall under an arch of crossed arms held by two ranks of guards and took their places, Houdon beside the bust. Then Short, “membre au Conseil des Etats de Virginie chargé de réprésenter S. E. M. de Jefferson, Ministre plénipotentiaire des Etats-Unis, retenu chez luy pour cause de maladie,” arrived at the Hôtel de Ville where he had been received within the entrance by two huissiers. These, preceded by a sergeant and four guards, conducted him up the grand stairway, where, at the landing, he was met by the greffier en chef. The procession then continued into the great hall, through the phalanx of benches and up to the prévôt, where Short saluted the officials and sat down, covering himself, as did the officials. He then presented TJ’s letter of 27 Sep. 1786, which Le Pelletier accepted in a speech in which he declared that the act of Virginia was “un hommage aussi honorable que les services qui l’obtiennent ont été distingué.” Le Pelletier handed TJ’s letter and the Virginia resolution to Veytard, who read them in French. When this was done, De Corny pronounced his remarkable address (see Vol. 10: 414–5) which he concluded by formally requesting, in the name of the king and of the city, that the letter of Baron de Breteuil and of TJ, as well as the Virginia resolution, be recorded in the “Registre des actes Importantes de l’hôtel de Ville” and that the bust of Lafayette “soit placé dans la grande salle destinée aux Elections et aux séances publiques dans un lieu apparent.” Le Pelletier then called for the advice of the échevins, who gave their approval by acclamation, whereupon he requested Houdon to place the bust on the mantel at the back of the great hall. At the same instant the bust was unveiled and borne between two files of guards to the place designated, “au bruit des Trumpettes et des Timbales et d’une Musique militaire” and to the applause of the audience. “Many tears were shed at the moment of the music commencing and the placing of the bust,” Short declared (Short to William Nelson, 25 Oct. 1786; DLC: Short Papers). Following this climactic moment of the ceremony, Short was conducted by some of the échevins, guards, and huissiers to the entrance of the Hôtel de Ville. A month later he reported that the “sensation [the proceedings] made in Paris is inconceivable” (same).

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