Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from C. W. F. Dumas, 24 July 1788

From C. W. F. Dumas

Lahaie 24 Juillet 1788


J’ai vu la Lettre que votre Excellence a écrite dernierement à Mr. Luzac, et Elle aura vu par son Supplément du 22, No. LIX, qu’il en fait fidele usage. Je lui avois déjà témoigné mon mécontentement sur l’insertion de la Lettre malintentionnée, prétendue de N. York du 26 Avril, tirée de certaine Gazette du 24 Juin,1 et copiée dans son Supplément No. LIII, et prié de se tenir en garde contre de semblables pieces anonymes, tandis que je lui fournissois des intelligences plus sures, que je lui garantissois.

Une Lettre d’Amsterdam, du 21 du courant, m’apprend, “that by a Ship arrived the same day from N. York, there are Letters up to the 10th ulto. by which the appearances for the accession of the State of N. Yk. to the new federal plan are less flattering than before, the Members elected for that Convention being two thirds antifederalists. Yet there was a Chance, that if nine States had come in, N. York could do the like thro’ policy”—[Nous ne nous en flattons pas trop]—“The accounts of Virginia and N. Carolina were promising, and all seem to think, the new Government would be decided upon the Beginning of July”.

Nous espérions, les amis et moi, que 12 Etats s’y conformeroient, et nous sommes vraiment mortifiés qu’un Etat principal comme celui de N. Yk. tant pour le Commerce que pour son local, reste en défaut pour se faire ensuite tirer l’oreille par de longs pourparlers. Quoiqu’il en soit, dans mon opinion tout doit finalement tourner bien; et j’aime à me persuader, que le mois d’Août ne se passera pas sans que j’en reçoive la nouvelle positive, tant de Votre Excellence que de nos amis d’Amsterdam.

Vous verrez, Monsieur, par la Dépêche ci-jointe, combien de bonnes gens sont encore en ce pays sur le Lit de roses de Montezuma. Je me recommande à votre bon souvenir, et suis avec grand respect, de Votre Excellence, Le très-humble & très-obéissant serviteur,

C W F Dumas

RC (DLC); endorsed; brackets in MS. FC (Dumas Letter Book, Rijksarchief, The Hague; photostats in DLC). Enclosure (same): Dumas’ dispatch to Jay, 18 July 1788, stating that the affair of the French ambassador would be held in suspense during his absence of some months in Lorraine; that someone had daubed the house of the United States with orange color during the night; that the disorders continue and two atrocious acts had occurred at Rotterdam—the murder of a tailor by the mob for having deposed against some seditious persons imprisoned by the late government, and the brutal and almost fatal attack on Captain Riemersma, a wealthy textile manufacturer, despite the fact that he wore an Orange cockade; that the attack on Riemersma was suspected of being planned and conducted by persons interested in English cotton manufactures; that Van Berckel’s son had said some very unkind things of him to Shippen and Rutledge; and (in a postscript dated 20 July) that he enclosed the London Courier of the 16th containing the provisional treaty between Great Britain and Prussia, signed on 13 June (English translation printed in Dipl. Corr., 1783–89, description begins The Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States of America, from the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Peace … to the Adoption of the Constitution, Washington, Blair & Rives, 1837, 3 vols. description ends iii, 618–20).

TJ’s letter to Mr. Luzac, publisher of the Gazette de Leide, has not been found and is not recorded in SJL Index. The Lettre Malintentionnee that appeared in Supplément No. lii of the Gazette de Leide for 1 July 1788 and inspired TJ’s letter to Luzac enclosing a reply was in fact aimed at the account of the Doctor’s Riot that TJ had drawn up and caused to be printed in Supplé ment No. lii of 27 June 1788; and aimed also at the piece appearing in Supplément No. xlix for 17 June describing the favorable progress of ratification of the Constitution and the perfect harmony prevailing among the states (see note to TJ to Dumas, 9 June 1788). Luzac introduced this Lettre Malintentionnee by saying that impartiality required its publication in view of the previous account in Supplément lii. This new piece included two items, both from New York, one dated 26 Apr. and one 30 Apr. 1788. The former stated that, although “la plûpart des bons Patriotes” were actively in favor of the Constitution, there were in some states powerful factions opposing any change in the system; that the latter feared the granting of too-great powers to Congress would cause a fall “de l’Anarchie dans le Despotisme”; that the public had never been more completely surprised than by the result in New Hampshire; that all of the friends of the Constitution had fully expected that state to adopt it, but the delegates, being given instructions to reject it, could find no other alternative than to adjourn to the third week in June, hoping thereby to win over more adherents to their side; that “Le Comté de Carlisle” in Pennsylvania had solemnly protested against the new form of government; that Rhode Island had rejected it; that New York could scarcely be counted upon to adopt; that only six states had ratified thus far, and, meanwhile, “le Congrès est dans un dénuëment complet: Ses Finances sont épuisées; et il s’y trouve rarement un nombre suffisant de Délégués pour délibérer sur les affaires publiques”; that the individual states continued to exercise, on their territory, all of the rights of sovereignty and to make laws which were scarcely consistent with engagements taken by Congress with foreign powers; that commerce, which at the beginning of peace had suffered a great shock, imperceptibly was being reëstablished, although it was less lucrative than before the war; that the weakness of the police in the principal cities had just been demonstrated in New York, where a mob of 1500 attacked the doctors, insulted the magistrates, and wounded several; that the governor was able to assemble only a few militia, but was repulsed, pulled by the hair—a fact specifically stated in one of Moustier’s dispatches—and otherwise mistreated; that the “Populace vouloit absolument goudronner et emplumer les Médécins coupables; punition, qu’on inflige ordinairement en Amérique, et qui etoit connuë en France du tems des Croisades”; that the arrêt of 29 Dec. 1787 had produced a great sensation in America by the encouragements it gave to the commerce of the United States, which could only increase the bonds between the two nations. The “Extrait d’une Lettre de New-York du 30. Avril” stated that there had been some hope that Rhode Island would return to the fold, but this feeble ray had vanished when that state became the first formally to reject the Constitution; that, instead of calling a convention of deputies, the legislature had allowed the people to decide; and that on 24 Mch. 1788 the new Constitution had been rejected by a plurality of about 2700 to 200 votes.

The response to this in Supplément lix of 22 July 1788 is there identified as coming “De Leyde, le 21 Juillet”; if Dumas is correct in saying that Luzac had made faithful use of TJ’s letter, then the following, which appeared in this number, must have been substantially what TJ wrote: “Dans nos Feuilles précédentes nous avons annoncé, que six des Etats, qui composent l’Union-Américaine avoient déjà adopté la nouvelle Constitution Fédérative: sçavoir, ceux de Massachusett’s, Connecticut, New-Jersey, Pensylvanie, Delaware, et Georgie; et que récemment celui de Maryland avoit suivi leur exemple par une pluralité de 63. contre 11. Voix. Nous pouvons dire aujourd’hui, qu’un huitième Membre de la Confédération vient de s’y joindre. C’est l’Etat de la Caroline-Méridionale. Le Projet de la Convention-Générale de Philadelphie y a été agréé par une pluralité de 149. contre 72. Voix. A la date des Avis, qui nous ont donné cette Nouvelle, la Convention de Virginie étoit assemblée pour le même objet: Si elle se décide egalement pour l’adopter, il y aura déjà le nombre de 9. Voix, qui est suffisant pour faire passer le Projet en Loi générale pour tous les Etats de l’Union. Ceux de New-Hampshire, New-York, et Nord-Caroline se seront probablement déjà déterminés aujourd’hui; mais l’on ne sçait pas encore si l’affirmative en faveur de la nouvelle Constitution y a réuni la pluralité ou la négative. Ainsi l’on s’abstiendra de faire des conjectures à cet égard, comme s’en est permis l’Auteur de l’Article de New-York du 26. Avril, inséré d’après la Gazette de France dans notre Supplément du No. LIII. Nous les hazarderons d’autant moins, qu’il pourroit en arriver à nos prédictions comme aux siennes; c’est-à-dire, qu’elles fussent démenties par l’évenement, presqu’au moment même que nous les aurions Communiquées au Public.”

Although Dumas depreciated the accuracy of the anonymous pieces that appeared in Supplément liii as coming from a “certaine Gazette,” he knew, as did TJ, that these were drawn from the Gazette de France, a journal that for many decades had been the official organ of the French ministry and that had been openly acknowledged as such since 1762. This fact gave Luzac little choice in the matter except to publish. It also underscores the significance of the general tone of the articles, making necessary some comment on their origin and the attitude of the French ministry toward the American Constitution.

In DLC: TJ Papers, 33: 5714–5 there is an “Extrait des instructions données au Cte de Moustier le 30. 7bre 1787,” in an unidentified hand and without any indication of the date or means by which it came into TJ’s possession; this extract bears the following note at the head of its text: “Preuves du Machiavelisme et de la duplicité du Cabinet de Versailles.” Accompanying this is a PrC of a translation in TJ’s hand (without the note just quoted) which reads as follows: “’The Ct. de Moustier will have seen in the correspondence of the Sr. Otto that the Americans are occupied with a new constitution. This object interests but weakly the politicks of the king. His Majesty thinks, on the one hand, that these deliberations will not succeed on account of the diversity of affections, of principles, and of interests of the different provinces, on the other hand, that it suits France that the U.S. should remain in their present state, because if they should acquire the consistence of which they are susceptible, they would soon acquire a force or a power which they would be very ready to abuse. Notwithstanding this last reflexion the Minister of the king will take care to observe a conduct the most passive neither to show himself for, nor against, the new arrangements on which they are occupied, and when he shall be forced to speak, he will only express the wishes of the king, and his own personal wishes, for the prosperity of the US.’” (A PrC of the French text is in MoSHi.)

The policy outlined in this instruction was, of course, but a continuation of Vergennes’ consistent aim of maintaining the United States in a fairly impotent state so as to retain the new power more easily within the orbit of French influence. Moustier’s dispatches of the spring of 1788 showed a faithful desire to execute his instructions, but at the same time the riot in New York, the treatment of French consuls in Virginia and elsewhere, the “absolument inerte” condition of Congress, its inability to give any weight to recommendations or requisitions, and a growing personal disaffection for the manners and customs of the people caused Moustier to hint that it would be worse to have thirteen weak sovereignties to deal with than one central government. In analyzing the views of those who supported and those who opposed the new Constitution, Moustier left little doubt of his own feelings of sympathy: “La crainte du peu de sureté dans leurs proprietés agite tous ceux qui en possédent; l’avidité d’en acquerir ou de s’affranchir de leurs dettes excite un grand nombre d’opposans à la nouvelle Constitution. Ceux qui forment ce parti trouvent dans le papier monnoye un moyen de se liberer ou de s’enrichir, en forçant à accepter cette monnoye ideale, qu’ils créent et annulent à volonté, lorsqu’ils peuvent dominer dans les Legislatures des Etats. Ainsi l’on peut compter parmi les federalistes la plûpart des proprietaires et parmi les Antifederalistes les Banqueroutiers, les gens de mauvaise foi, les necessiteux et des hommes qui ne pourroient exercer un pouvoir quelconque dans leurs Etats, qu’autant qu’il n’existeroit pas de Gouvernement général. Le commun du peuple se partage entre ses chefs. Il paroit jusqu’à present plus de moderation dans les federalistes que dans leurs adversaires. Mais il devient chaque jour plus embarassant de juger quelle sera l’issue de cette contention de pouvoir.” It would be possible, he concluded, that a solid, united, durable government would be created, and equally possible that even the shadow of a body such as Congress would be dissipated. One could thus only speculate on one or the other of two hypotheses—that Congress would dissolve or that it would experience a new surge of life. “Vous jugerés d’apres celà, Monseigneur,” he advised Montmorin, “que la partie n’est pas egale entre nous et quel avantage a M. Jefferson, qui peut toujours demander et solliciter, mais qui ne peut positivement rien promettre. Ce ministre est sans doute un excellent citoyen Americain et du nombre de ceux qui croyent qu’il est de l’interêt de sa nation d’etre très unie avec la notre, ce que je pense ainsi que lui, mais comme les faits prouvent que cette opinion n’est pas à beaucoup près généralement établie en Amerique, il me semble qu’il ne peut point y avoir de motif d’accorder aux Americains avec trop de facilitié, ni de quelque tems, aucune faveur ulterieure purement gratuite.—Si le nouveau Gouvernement s’etablit nous pourrons traiter avec lui a ce que je presume avec sûreté et avantage. Si le Congres se dissout où qu’il reste dans l’etat de foiblesse, où il est, je crois que nous serons obligés de traiter particulierement avec chaque Etat sur les objets de Commerce, puisque chacun s’avise de faire des loix à cet egard sans consulter ni ecouter le Congrès. Il est impossible dans les circonstances actuelles de rien entreprendre avec ce corps absolument inerte. En attendant je fais valoir, tant que je puis, les faveurs accordées par le Roi, les bonnes intentions de S.M., l’attachement de notre nation pour les Etats unis et j’entretiens de mon mieux les dispositions favorables, que je remarque dans quelques Americains” (Moustier to Montmorin, 8, 14, 15, 27 Feb.; 16, 25 Mch.; 20, 21 Apr. 1788; Arch. Aff. Etr., Paris, Corr. Pol., E.-U., Vol. xxxiii; transcripts in DLC).

These dispatches showing the difficulties of negotiating with a foreign power whose executive and legislative heads were all but non-existent coincided with the steadily-augmenting news arriving in Europe in late spring of 1788 to the effect that the new Constitution would be adopted. A reassessment of policy was required, and the ministry furnished Moustier with one: “Ce Seroit, M[onsieur], se livrer à une discution inutile que d’examiner si le changement qu’amena cette constitution nous conviendra ou non, et si nous devons faire ou non des demarches pour le prévenir dans l’etat où sont les choses. Nous devons nous en tenir au resultat, qui est: que si la nouvelle constitution est introduite, la confédération Américaine aquerrera une force et une énergie qu’elle n’a pas eues et qu’elle n’a pû avoir jusqu’à present; et que si la constitution ancienne est maintenüe la Rep. des 13. Etats-unis ne sera qu’un phantome, le congrès qu’un être de raison, et, comme vous l’observez, nous serons forcés de traiter de nos intérets avec chaque Etat en particulier.—La reserve qui vous a été prescrite sur cette matiére … a pour but la resolution invariable du Roi de ne point s’immicer dans les affaires intérieures des Etats-unis: cette reserve est un hommage que sa Mté. <doit> rend a leur independance, et non une preuve d’indifférence de sa part. Si, comme je n’en doute pas, vous vous êtes expliqué, dans ce sens avec Mr. Jay, vous l’aurez sûrement fait revenir de l’erreur où il vous a paru être.” Montmorin was not surprised that Jay’s views of Vergennes were not friendly, for Jay had always been suspected of having “un reste d’anglomanie, ou du moins peu d’affection pour la France, et son sentiment prédominant étoit sa jalousie contre Mr. Franklin.” But the king and council had been “singulièrement étonnés” at Jay’s opinion that the alliance between France and the United States no longer existed. This was an opinion, Montmorin added, that needed to be corrected: the alliance was perpetual, the king had granted an accumulation of favors to American commerce, he had always taken and would not cease to take an interest in American prosperity, he would continue to contribute to it so far as possible without prejudice to his own interests. “Voila, M[onsieur], la doctrine que vous devez faire germer et que le conseil du Roi a été surpris de voir si mal établie. Quant à la nouvelle constitution vous vous abstiendrez de l’aprécier: mais vous pourrez dire que le Roi verra avec satisfaction toutes les dispositions qui seront propres a assûrer et consolider l’existence politique, la tranquilité et le bonheur des Etats-unis” (same). This reassessment of policy respecting the new constitution represented a considerable modification of that of the preceding autumn. The ministry might still wish to see the old system preserved, but by mid-year it became increasingly apparent that the new Constitution would be adopted; hence the directions to Moustier to correct Jay’s ideas about the alliance and the need for continued caution in expressing views about the new government. This reassessment of policy was drafted by Rayneval on 23 June 1788. On the next day, the official organ of the ministry, the Gazette de France, published the news about chaotic conditions in America and about the discouraging prospects for the new Constitution—a report that Luzac felt obliged to publish as a counterweight to the optimistic account that had appeared in Supplément Nos. xlix and lii, the latter certainly having been furnished by TJ. In view of these circumstances, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the anonymous debate carried on in Suppléments xlix, lii, liii, and lix was in effect a newspaper discussion between TJ and the ministry, and that both were aware of the fact.

On this general subject of the French ministry’s attitude toward the adoption of the Constitution, see C. A. Duniway, “French Influence on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution,” Am. Hist. Rev., ix (1904), 304–9. See also notes to TJ to Montmorin, 30 July 1788, and TJ to Dumas, 31 July 1788.

1FC reads: “tirée de la Gazette de Fce.”

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