Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Madame Necker, 24 January 1789

To Madame Necker

Paris Jan. 24. 1789.

I have received, Madam, with a great deal of sensibility the letter of the 22d. instant, with which you were pleased to honor me, on the claims of Monsieur Klein against the United states; and immediately endeavored to inform myself of their foundation by an examination of the Journals of Congress. Congress consisting of many persons, can only speak by the organ of their records. If they have any engagements they are to be found there. If not found there they can never have existed. I proceeded to this examination with all the partialities which were naturally inspired by the interest you are so good as to take in his behalf, the desire of doing what will be agreeable to you, and a disposition to obtain for him the justice which might be his due. I have extracted literally from those journals every thing I find in them on his subject, and I take the liberty of inclosing you those extracts. From them, as well as from what I recollect of the ordinary train of business about the years 1778. and 1779. I presume the following to be very nearly the history of Monsieur Klein’s case.

Congress were generally desirous of adding to their army during the war. Among other methods attempted, it was usual for foreigners (multitudes of whom went to ask command) when they found there was no vacancy, to propose to raise troops themselves, on condition they should have commissions to command them. I suppose that Messieurs Klein, Fearer, and Kleinsmit (named in the resolution of Congress of 1778. and whom, from their names, I conjecture to be Germans) offered to enlist a body of men from among the German prisoners taken with General Burgoyne at Saratoga, on condition that Fearer and Kleinsmit should be captains over them, and Klein Lieutenant colonel. Three months seem to have been allowed them for raising their corps. However, at the end of 10 months it seems they had engaged but 24 men, and that all of these, except five, had deserted. Congress therefore put an end to the project June 21. 1779. (and not in July, 1780. as Monsr. Klein says) by informing him they had no further use for his service, and giving him a year’s pay and subsistence to bring him to Europe. He chose to stay there three years and a half longer, as he says, to sollicit what was due to him. Nothing could ever have been due to him but pay and subsistence for the ten months he was trying to enlist men, and the donation of a year’s pay and subsistence; and it is not probable he would wait three years and a half to receive these. I suppose he has staid in hopes of finding some other opening for emploiment. If these articles of pay and subsistence have not been paid to him, he has the certificates of the pay-master and Commissary to prove it; because it was an invariable rule, when demands could not be paid, to give the party a certificate to establish the sum due to him. If he has not such a certificate, it is a proof he has been paid. If he has it, he can produce it; and in that case I will undertake to represent his claim to our government, and will answer for their justice.

It would be easy to correct several inaccuracies in the letter of Monsieur Klein, such as that Congress engaged to give him a regiment; that he paid the recruiting money out of his own pocket; that his souldiers had nothing but bread and water; that Congress had promised him they would pay his souldiers in specie &c &c some of which are impossible, and others very improbable: but these would be details too lengthy, Madam, for you to be troubled with. Klein’s object is to be received at the Hospital of invalids. I presume he is not of the description of persons entitled to be received there, and that his American commission, and American grievances are the only ground he has whereon to raise a claim to reception. He has therefore tried to make the most of them. Few think there is any immorality in scandalising governments or ministers: and Mr. Klein’s distresses render this resource more innocent in him than it is in most others. Your commands, Madam, to give what information I could, have drawn this much from me. I would not wish to weaken the hopes he so justly rests on your known goodness and benevolence. On the contrary, the weaker his claims elsewhere, the stronger they will plead in your bosom to procure him relief: and whatever may be done for him here, I repeat it, that, if he has any just demand against the United states and will furnish me with proofs of it, I will sollicit it with zeal, and, I trust, with effect. To procure him justice will be one gratification, and a great additional one will be that he has procured me the occasion of offering you my portion of the general tribute so justly due for all the good you have done, and all you are perpetually endeavoring to do. Accept then, Madam, I pray you, this homage from one whose motives are pure truth and justice when he assures you of the sincerity of those sentiments of esteem and respect with which he has the honour to be Madam your most obedient and most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC). The enclosures have not been found, but if TJ extracted everything from the Journals of Congress pertaining to the matter on which William Klein based his claim, his manuscript must have included the following: (1) Resolution of 3 Sep. 1778 authorizing a new corps of troops to be raised “by the name of the German volunteers, to consist of such deserters from the foreign troops” in English service as may volunteer; (2) a resolution of the same date, on a report from the Board of War recommending Major William Klein as a suitable person to “superintend the recruiting, and to command the corps of German volunteers,” appointing him lieutenant-colonel of the corps; (3) a resolution of 5 Dec. 1778, on a report from the Board of War of 20 Oct. 1778, that the plan for raising the corps of German Volunteers “be for the present laid aside” and that Captains Führer and Kleinschmitt be informed that “it is inexpedient to employ them at this time” in accordance with the earlier resolution on the subject; (4) a resolution of 21 June 1779, on a report from the Board of War, that as “the plan of raising a corps of German deserters is laid aside,” and “there is no prospect of employing Lieutenant Colonel Klein with advantage to the United States,” he be informed that, “although Congress have a high sense of his zeal … he has permission to retire” from the service of the United States with “one year’s pay and subsistance, to enable him to return to Europe”; and (5) a record in the Journals that a memorial from “Lieutenant Colonel Klein was read, and dismissed,” on 3 Dec. 1779 (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937, 34 vols. description ends , xii, 866–7, 1192–3, 1210; xiv, 754–5; xv, 1344).

TJ could not have known from the entries in the Journals of Congress that the report of the Board of War of 20 Oct. 1778 was accompanied by a letter from Richard Peters explaining that the “late conduct of Mr. Juliat and the character of … Messrs. Führer and Kleinschmitt induce an opinion that it will be impolitic to trust them or to put the public at the expense of raising the Corps” of German Volunteers. Peters added that “Lt. Col. Klein is not under the like circumstances with the other Gentlemen. He is a very worthy man, and from all accounts a good Officer”; he also stated that Klein desired to retain his appointment so that if such a corps should be raised in future he could command it, and in the meantime he wished to serve in Pulaski’s legion. The report of the Board of War therefore included the proposal that Klein be “ordered to do duty as lieutenant colonel in General Pulaski’s Legion”; action on this recommendation was postponed by Congress on 5 Dec. 1778. The Board of War renewed its recommendation on 9 Dec. in even stronger terms, describing Klein as “an old officer [who] has seen much foreign service, [and] is by the dissolution of the corps of German Volunteers, at present, without a command”; but again Congress struck out the recommendation (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, 1904–1937, 34 vols. description ends , xii, 1192, note; 1210).

Madame Necker evidently responded to the above on 30 Jan. 1789, for a (missing) letter of that date, from Paris, is recorded in SJL as received on 31 Jan. 1789.

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