Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 11 September 1789

To Henry Lee

Paris Sep. 11. 1789.

Dear Sir

Your favor of March 6. came duly to hand with the papers it inclosed, as also duplicates of the same by a later occasion. I entered on the business you were pleased to confide to me with all the zeal which a desire to be useful to you could inspire. My hopes however neither were nor are equal to my wishes for success. I had before had occasion to try the dispositions of this country towards speculations in ours, while the subscription for the opening the Patowmac was yet unfilled. General Washington sent me a copy of the act, detailed to me the nature of the undertaking and it’s prospects, and it was well calculated to take here, if any thing of the kind could take. It was supported too by his name, which was a capital encouragement of itself. I put it into the hands of one of the best agents possible to try among the monied men; but not a shilling could be obtained. The answer was universally that they could make from 6. to 11. per cent by employing their money in their own funds, that they were sure of receiving the profits every quarter, and that their business thus remained in their own hands and under their own management. I have proposed however your matter. But the answer is still the same; so that here I have no expectations of success unless an accidental adventurer were to occur, on which we have no right to count. I had a consultation on the subject with Mr. Gouverneur Morris and Daniel Parker. They are now both in London, and if any occasion should offer there, you will be availed of it. However the chance of success, if there be any in Europe, is in Holland. Mr. Parker goes there every now and then, and will try that chance. In the mean time I have proposed it here to Mr. Van Staphorst, who has promised attention to it. He is one of the Dutch refugees. These persons are still waiting in hopes of a favorable change in their government. Should any event prove these hopes desperate, many of them will go to America, will have great sums of money to invest there, and in that case your offer might very possibly suit some of them. This, Sir, is the situation of it at present and in this situation my approaching departure for America obliges me to turn it over to Mr. Short, who will do every thing in his power to forward it. It will rest on the success of his enquiries, of those of Mr. Morris, Mr. Parker, and Van Staphorst, and I shall be happy if some one of them should meet with an offer to your mind. In the mean while I shall hope to have the pleasure of seeing you in America, of conferring with you on the subject, and of repeating my own endeavors for you on my return. I have the honour to be with perfect esteem and attachment Dear Sir, Your most obedient humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC).

The duplicates … by a later occasion were enclosed in Madison to TJ, 13 June 1789. On 29 Apr. 1789 TJ received not only Lee’s favor of March 6 but also that from Washington of 13 Feb. 1789 (not that referred to above, which was Washington’s of 26 Sep. 1785). He acted promptly by showing both letters to Gouverneur Morris the very next day, when the latter recorded in his diary: “Mr. Jefferson comes in… . I explain to him the Business and he offers to be concerned with me in the one eighth mentioned by Colo. Lee to be disposed of to anyone here who will undertake the Business. That this eighth shall be in thirds (He, Short and I) or in fourths so as to take in Parker. I give it the go bye. He presses me much to speak to Messrs. Le Couteulx, which I promise to do. Take him to his House and at parting tell him that if I see Parker I will mention it to him.” Later in the day Morris called on Parker and told him of “Mr. Jefferson’s Affair, which he is determined to have nothing to do with except to give his Opinion which will be very discouraging.” On May 5th Morris and Parker visited TJ and again considered “Colo. H. Lee’s Proposition. Deficient in sundry Circumstances. Returning, Mr. Parker suggests an Idea on the Subject which may be worth pursuing by and bye. It is to open a Loan for a Sum, Part of which shall be employed in purchasing funded Debt to the whole Amount, and the Remainder in improving the Estate. This however must not yet be communicated to Mr. Jefferson nor to the others.” This secretiveness was far from unprecedented on the part of Parker and others who kept closely in touch with TJ (see Vol. 14: 193–4). A few days later, perhaps while visiting his business associate Laurent Le Couteulx at his estate, Morris made him “a Proposition … of a Share in the and of Colo. Lee.” On the 12th Morris called on TJ and told him that Le Couteulx “declines, as I had predicted he would do. Mr. Jefferson seems to consider the Affair as being at an End but I tell him that Time may work a considerable Change” (Morris, Diary, ed. B. C. Davenport, i, 58, 71, 76).

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