Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Stephens Smith, 3 August 1787

From William Stephens Smith

Lisbon August 3d. 1787.

Dr. Sir

I propose embarking in the Packet for Falmouth the day after to-morrow. It is probable I shall be in London in about 18 or 20 day’s. My last Letters from Mrs. Smith inform me that she had received a Letter from General Sullivan addressed to me as follows: Dr. Sir I take the Liberty of enclosing a draught in your own favor upon Govr. Jefferson for 46£. 17. 10s. stgr. payable at 10 day’s sight, and have drawn upon you for the like sum payable at 30 day’s sight, the reason of my doing this is because Bills upon France will not sell here at this time without great loss, and having advanced Cash for Govr. Jefferson to amount of the Contents, and forwarded the articles by Capt. Pierce, I have taken the Liberty to trouble you to negotiate this matter. Yours &c. John Sullivan.

Your advice on this subject will be agreable. I shall do my self the honor of informing your Excellency after my arrival in London, particularly of my visit to this court and what has passed between me and the Prime Minister on our affairs &c. I am with great regard Your Excly. obedt. & hm

W. S. Smith

RC (MHi); endorsed. Recorded in SJL as received 26 Aug. 1787.

See John Sullivan to TJ, 27 Apr. 1787. The phrasing of John Adams’ acceptance of Sullivan’s draft; Mrs. Abigail Adams Smith’s letter to TJ of 11 July 1787 with its enclosures; her taking the trouble to send a copy of Sullivan’s letter to Smith in Lisbon; and, especially, Smith’s extraordinary and repeated use of the phrase your Excellency—all betray a strong resentment at the liberty Sullivan had taken and, equally, reveal the assumption that Sullivan had adopted this course with TJ’s approval. On his side, though TJ acknowledged Mrs. Smith’s letter, he sent the compensating bill of exchange directly to Adams; there is no evidence that he ever corresponded with Mrs. Smith again, though he repeatedly expressed friendly feelings for her. In his acknowledgment of the present letter, TJ discoursed on other matters, casually asked for an adjustment that would make possible “a final state of my account” with Smith, and, after stating the facts about Sullivan which showed that TJ himself had been far more imposed upon than anyone else and with no more explanation, casually concluded: “However I have no doubt he will explain the matter to me” (TJ to Smith, 31 Aug. 1787). The incident was passed over without exacerbated feelings principally because TJ remained unruffled, as he characteristically did in such situations. The exorbitant and extraordinary price that Sullivan exacted for the decayed skin and bones of a moose might have included in addition the marring of a friendship because of the method he chose of obtaining payment. But TJ was genuinely fond of Colonel Smith and his wife; he knew well that Smith possessed a rather volatile temper; and his own habit was to suffer imposition rather than permit small incidents to interfere with friendships: even in war and politics he believed that different views should not be permitted to intrude upon social intercourse, and while this was a rule of conduct sometimes violated, his failures to observe it—as in differences with Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall—arose almost entirely out of his concern for the public interest, almost never out of concern for his own. In Congress TJ had once drafted a severe reprimand for Sullivan which the latter must have known about even though it was never delivered; yet neither of the men, so far as can be discerned from the record, allowed this to interfere with their relationship; on the contrary, there is much to show that they held each other in esteem (see Vol. 1: 477–8; Vol. 6: 447–55). TJ’s letter to Sullivan when he finally learned the facts about the cost of the moose and related items is a remarkable example of his refusal to permit annoying circumstances to interfere with cordial relationships (see TJ to Sullivan, 5 Oct. 1787). The trait that he displayed on such occasions was one that Smith himself had admired in TJ.

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