Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Madame de Bréhan and Moustier, 29 December 1788

From Madame de Bréhan and Moustier

Newyork December the 29th 1788.

Since a long time, Sir, I wish’d to find an opportunity to recall myself to your remembrance, but our travels into the interior part of your country, the suppression of our packets, the want of information when some vessels were going to France (for the most time we learn it at the very moment of their departure;) all these reasons have deprived me of the pleasure of giving you new assurances of my tender friendship. I regret sincerely, your society here, every body in the United States does not think like you, in general they are not fond of candor, simplicity and goodness; I had but those qualifications to offer them, they were not sufficient. You thought that I would be loved by your countrymen—how much you have been deceived! I see very few Gentlemen and still less Ladies. They have been too exigents for my health. I am not able to spend my life in paying visits; it is not possible. Two, or three Ladies are more indulgent and come sometimes without keeping accounts. When Mr. Madisson is in Newyork, he comes in a friendly way to visit us, but I do not know if we shall see him in the new Congress; he has not been chosen for one of the Senators; not because he is not the proper man and wanting merits, to be elected, but because he is a federalist; an excellent reason to which there is no reply.

We have had the pleasure to see Gal. Washington at Mountvernon, it is not necessary to tell you, Sir, how much we have been pleased with his person and his settlement, every thing there, is enchanting. In going to Virginia, we had formed a plan to see Monticello, the naturel bridge, and Richmond; but the season was too far advanced, and we had so much suffer’d from the cold in going, that we were obliged to return quickly. We are in hopes to be able to pay a second visit to Virginia next year and to see all the curiosities of that country.

I pray you, Sir, to give me some particulars about yourself when you will have an opportunity to write to our new world; we are without news from your old one, since eight months; this privation is very distressing. I expect from you some pity and the continuation of your esteem and friendship.

Will you permit me, Sir, to send to Mr. Short, my best compliments?

I hope your lovely children are in good health.

Though I am not so clever in the practice of English as my Sister is, I will venture, Sir, a few lines after what she has written to you. You may conceive what progress she might have made, if the turn of Society of this City, combined with the difficulties which arise from her delicate constitution, had not in a certain way isolated her in a country, where she would have been happy to find manners of a social turn, instead of formalities, pretensions, and foppery, which are the remains of English rust. Notwithstanding the difficulties which I undergo on my side, I am not dispirited from going towards the aim which I had in view when I sollicited my present Legacy, which is to forward measures useful to both our nations. My design will certainly be filled with time, because nature has disposed things for it, but there are more stones in the way than I thought. I, by this oportunity, propose to my court schemes which I hope might greatly help to remove them. In fine I am still a wellwisher to United America though I have received unexpected disgust. I am besides peculiarly attached to those who are like you worthy of being the models of their misguided countrymen.

RC (DLC); the first letter, written on the first three pages of a folded sheet, is in the hand of Madame de Brehan; the second, on the fourth page, is in the hand of Moustier; both letters are unsigned; endorsed by TJ: “Brehan Moustier.” Recorded in SJL as received 24 Feb. 1789.

For a comment on what the exigeant Ladies had to say about Madame de Bréhan, see Madison to TJ, 8 Dec. 1788. The minister and his consort may have been lacking in discretion, as Madison pointed out, but Moustier was not without astuteness: the Schemes that he proposed to the ministry are described in his dispatch to Montmorin of 25 Dec. 1788. These were three in number: (1) an analysis of the probable consequences of the establishment of the “revolution qui s’est operée dans la forme du Gouvernement des Etats unis,” so far as these respected the domestic affairs of the nation; (2) a consideration, on the basis of the foregoing, of the relations of the new government of the United States to foreign powers; and (3) a memoire on the debt owed by the United States to France. Moustier concluded that “Le nouveau Congrès regardera infailliblement comme un des principaux moyens d’affermir son authorité une alliance intime avec quelque Nation Europeenne, qui lui offrira le plus de ressources. Il n’y en a que deux qui sous ce point de vue puissent fixer son attention: la France et l’Angleterre: et il peut arriver des evenemens qui le forcent d’opter entre ces deux Puissances. S’il se determinoit pour nos rivaux, l’objet de la guerre que nous n’avons entreprise que pour detacher les Etats unis de la Grande Bretagne seroit entierement manqué et les Americains libres deviendroient pour nous des Ennemis beaucoup plus dangereux que ne l’ont jamais été les Americains colons. En secondant la revolution Americaine nous aurions travaillé contre nous mêmes.” On the other hand, if the United States were linked with strong bonds to France, inestimable advantages would result, a theme which Moustier developed in his second memoire. The minister thought it likely that, if events forced the United States to make a choice between the two great powers, it would be too late for France to take advantage of the opportunity when war came: it was therefore, he wrote Montmorin, “dans la plus ferme persuasion de l’utilité, de l’importance et même de la necessité la plus indispensable de nous devouer entièrement le corps collectif des Etats unis,” that he offered these proposals (Moustier to Montmorin, 25 Dec. 1788; Arch. Aff. Etr., Corr. Pol., E.-U., XXXIII; Tr in DLC). But there was another alternative available to the United States, and TJ was one of those who had long been convinced of its wisdom—that is, a policy of neutrality.

Moustier’s unfamiliarity with the English language is shown in his use of legacy for legation.

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