Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Lafayette, [25 August 1789]

From Lafayette

Tuesday [25 August 1789]

My dear friend

I Beg for liberty’s sake You will Breack Every Engagement to Give us a dinner to Morrow Wenesday. We shall Be some Members of the National Assembly—eight of us whom I want to Coalize as Being the only Means to prevent a total dissolution and a civil war. The dificulty Between them is the King’s veto. Some want it Absolute, others will Have no Veto, and the only way to Unite them is to find some Means for a suspensive Veto so strong as so Complicated as to Give the king a due influence. If they don’t agree in a few days, we shall Have no Great Majority in a favour of Any plan, and it must end in a war Because the discontented party will unite either with Aristocratic, or factious people. These gentlemen wish to Consult You and me, they will dine to morrow at your1 House as Mine is alwais full. I depend on you to receive us. Perhaps will they Be late but I shall Be precisely at three with you and I think this dinner of an immediate and Great importance. Adieu, My dear friend,

L: f.

RC (DLC) endorsed by TJ: “Fayette M. de la. Asking a dinner for himself and friends to confer on certain points”; undated but assigned to this date because an entry in SJL under 26 Aug. 1789 records a letter received from “Fayette M. de la. Aug. 25” (a date that fell on Tuesday in 1789).

In his Autobiography TJ notes his refusal of the request of the Archbishop of Bordeaux of 20 July 1789 to meet with the committee charged with the task of preparing the draft of a constitution, and at the same time indicates how closely he watched the proceedings and how disturbed he was when he received the present letter from Lafayette: “The features of the new constitution were thus assuming a fearful aspect [brought on by schisms that “broke the Patriots into fragments of very discordant principles,” in the face of an “Aristocracy … cemented by a common principle”], and great alarm was produced among the honest patriots by these dissensions in their ranks. In this uneasy state of things, I recieved one day a note from the Marquis de La Fayette, informing me he should bring a party of six or eight friends to ask a dinner of me the next day. I assured him of their welcome. When they arrived, they were La Fayette himself, [Adrien] Duport, [Joseph] Barnave, Alexander La Meth, Blacon [the Marquis de Blacons], [John Joseph] Mounier, Maubourg [the Marquis de Latour-Maubourg], and Dagout [the Comte d’Agoult]. These were leading patriots, of honest but differing opinions, sensible of the necessity of effecting a coalition by mutual sacrifices, knowing each other, and not afraid therefore to unbosom themselves mutually. This last was a material principle in the selection. With this view the Marquis had invited the conference, and had fixed the time and place inadvertently as to the embarrasment under which it might place me. The cloth being removed and wine set on the table, after the American manner, the Marquis introduced the objects of the conference by summarily reminding them of the state of things in the assembly, the course which the principles of the constitution was taking, and the inevitable result, unless checked by more concord among the patriots themselves. He observed that altho’ he also had his opinion, he was ready to sacrifice it to that of his brethren of the same cause: but that a common opinion must now be formed, or the Aristocracy would carry everything, and that whatever they should now agree on, he, at the head of the National force, would maintain. The discussions began at the hour of four, and were continued till ten oclock in the evening; during which time I was a silent witness to a coolness and candor of argument unusual in the conflicts of political opinion; to a logical reasoning, and chaste eloquence, disfigured by no gaudy tinsel of rhetoric or declamation, and truly worthy of being placed in parallel with the finest dialogue of antiquity, as handed to us by Xenophon, by Plato, and Cicero. The result was an agreement that the king should have a suspensive veto on the laws, that the legislature should be composed of a single body only, and that to be chosen by the people. This Concordat decided the fate of the constitution. The Patriots all rallied to the principles thus settled, carried every question agreeably to them, and reduced the Aristocracy to insignificance and impotence. But duties of exculpation were now incumbent on me. I waited on Count Montmorin the next morning, and explained to him with truth and candor how it had happened that my house had been made the scene of conferences of such a character. He told me he already knew every thing which had passed, that, so far from taking umbrage at the use made of my house on that occasion, he earnestly wished I would habitually assist at such conferences, being sure I should be useful in moderating the warmer spirits, and promoting a wholesome and practicable reformation only. I told him I knew too well the duties I owed to the king, to the nation, and to my own country to take any part in councils concerning their internal government, and that I should persevere with care in the character of a neutral and passive spectator; with wishes only and very sincere ones, that those measures might prevail which would be for the greatest good of the nation. I have no doubt indeed that this conference was previously known and approved by this honest minister, who was in confidence and communication with the patriots, and wished for a reasonable reform of the Constitution.” Others looked upon such violations of diplomatic propriety quite differently from the tolerant attitude that Montmorin undoubtedly exhibited toward TJ: the Spanish ambassador, Comte Fernan Nunez, for example, voiced sarcastic remarks on the use of Jefferson’s house as a rendezvous for radicals (Albert Mousset, Un temoin ignoré de la revolution, Paris, 1924).

1Lafayette first wrote “with you” and then altered the phrase to read as above.

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