Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Shippen, 8 May 1788

To William Shippen

Paris May 8. 1788.

Dear Sir

I duly received your favor of Dec. 5. and have been made happy by the acquaintance of your son who has past some time with us in Paris. I have been absent a part of it, in Holland, so that I have seen less of him than I could have wished; but I have seen enough to attach me to him very sincerely, and assure you he will answer all your expectations and your wishes. I inclose you a letter from him. He left us yesterday with Mr. Rutledge for Bruxelles. He seemed disposed to follow in some degree a route which I proposed to him. That is to say, after seeing the Austrian and Dutch Netherlands, to take for his guides thro’ Germany the rivers Rhine and Danube, making, in his transit from the one to the other, an excursion to Geneva. To quit the Danube at Vienna, and go on to Trieste and Venice, thence to the bottom of Italy, come up it again, pass the Alps at Nice, follow the Mediterranean to Cette, then pass the Canal de Languedoc and the Garonne to Bordeaux, and thence either return to Paris or take wing for America as he pleases. He will thus have seen the best parts of the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and France, and return satisfied that no part of the earth equals his own country. He will return charged, like a bee, with the honey of wisdom, a blessing to his country and honour and comfort to his friends, in this number I hope to be classed by him, by you, and by Mrs. Shippen, being with sentiments of esteem & attachment, as sincere as they are antient, Dear Sir, Your affectionate friend & humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Shippen Family Papers); at foot of text: “Doctr. W. Shippen.” Enclosure: Thomas Lee Shippen to William Shippen, 6 May 1788 (DLC: Shippen Family Papers), a brief note which informed his father of their intended departure the next day, but which he opened after sealing in order to “relate … what has been agitating Paris for the two last days.” The account that young Shippen gave was from a different vantage point than that exhibited in TJ’s official dispatch to Jay of 4 May or in the oft-quoted passage of his letter to Hopkinson of 8 May. In part it reads: “On Saturday last the 3 of May the Parliament of Paris passed a spirited resolve by an unanimous vote, 9 peers being present of which Messrs. les Presidens De Premini & De Boulonnais were the authors. On Monday lettres de cachet were issued to apprehend these gentlemen. They had the address to elude the pursuit of the King’s officers by different stratagems—The former suspecting the consequence of his open behaviour in the Parliament, ordered his coach and six to be made ready, and immediately escaped by a private way to the Palace—a place hitherto held sacred as a sanctuary to all who take refuge in it. The officers thought themselves sure of their prize having the coach and six in their possession, and gave the patriot time to escape. The other disguised himself in his valet’s livery, and arrived at the Palace nearly at the same time where they joined counsels and convogued the Parliament. They came, 21 peers were of the number and about 400 persons of rank and high office. They had not long been sitting in debate, the Parliament within and their friends without the great chamber when a body of French guards to the number of 900 invested the Palace, whose orders were to allow no person to come in nor any one to go out. They were consequently confined in close custody all the night and some of the oldest Peers in France who had been most accustomed to soft repose were obliged to sleep upon the hard benches. In the morning, at 10 oclock of Tuesday the officer of the guards followed by a file of men their guns doubly loaded with ball entered the great chamber of justice, and demanded in an authoritative tone of voice that Messrs. De Premini and De Boulonnais should be given up, upon which the Parliament cried out with one voice Nous [som]mes tous De Premini and De Boulonnais. [Qu’est-ce] ce que c’est que vous demandez de [nous?] The officer then opened an order from the King commanding him to seize the before named gentlemen wherever they should be found meme au milieu de la grande chambre. They then came forward—were carried ignominiously in a hackney coach to the Lieutenant de Police, and are sent to a desart island in the Mediterranean. It is said to be the first instance of the sacredness of the Parliament house being violated, and the silence of the people on the occasion, tho’ it is acknowledged to be the most arbitrary stretch of power that has been almost ever made, by all who hear of it, shews how fit they are to be ruled despotically. While the guards were surrounding the Palace and the idle people of the neighborhood were surrounding the guards, the rest of Paris were as still and tranquil as if their rights had not been in jeopardy—I confess I am not sanguine in my hopes of a revolution in France in favor of liberty.”

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