Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. John Brown Cutting to Thomas Jefferson, 20 March 1790

II. John Brown Cutting to Thomas Jefferson

London 20 March 1790

Dear Sir

A relapse soon after I took leave of You at Cowes has compel’d me to waste the whole winter in Europe: the greater part of it I have pass’d at Bath. It is now probable that I shall not embark for New York before June, when Mr. Rutledge and myself will be companions of the voyage, so that I may receive any commands that you may wish me to execute here for You by the May Packet. Mr. Rutledge has been at Paris a few weeks past and is now waiting to receive from the Marquis La Fayette some dispatches for America which were not quite ready on thursday last.

Much political negotiation and many political events of importance have taken place in Europe since your departure. I inclose to Yourself to Mr. Adams and to Colonel Smith some pamphlets and english newspapers from the combined perusal of which information may be glean’d, if not useful, at least gratifying to curiosity. By the letter of Mr. Short you will perceive even if he has not informed you directly himself, that the political revolution in France is considered as secure and accomplish’d and that fiscal embarrassments alone remain to be borne or overcome. My own opinion is that the sale or mortgage of the church property will be sufficient without other aid to prevent aught like a national bankruptcy—perhaps even to re-establish public credit. You are not to be informed of the extent of the ecclesiastical revenues nor that a very great proportion of the buildings and much of the territory are in the most populous and opulent towns and cities in France. If the municipalities of these towns and cities in general follow the example set them by the municipality of the metropolis, it is hardly possible to calculate how great a stride towards the reestablishment of public credit may be made even within the year 1790.

[You will not fail to remark when you peruse the parliamentary debates of this nation how much the aristocracy1 dread the influence of a successful struggle for liberty in France on2 the people of Britain. There seems to be a complete combination of the nobility, gentry, clergy and crown officers to decry, stifle or calumniate every measure that has been pursued by the national assembly in France. Hence that bitter philipic pronounced by Mr. Burke in the debate concerning the army estimates, which no report has stated in terms acrid or angry enough to do justice to the sentiments he that day delivered and which extorted from his great political foe Mr. Pitt such warm eulogium, and has since been followed by the unanimous approbation of all those who are called the better sort of people.3 I listened on that occasion with utter astonishment being in the gallery of the commons from the beginning of the debate to the end of it. As soon as I came to my lodgings I took a minute from memory of the most exasperated portion4 of his anti-gallican eloquence.]5 It was in the same debate that Mr. Grenville, who is the mouth of Lord Hawksbury in the house of commons (that same Lord Hawksbury who is the commercial minister and dictates all measures relevant to the United States) declared rather angrily that altho Britain had ten thousand troops in America, it was requisite that more shou’d be sent out thither, but on reasons and motives of policy unfit to be then and there explain’d Debret’s report of that debate what Mr. Grenville said is not fully stated. I own at the time I was somewhat alarm’d at the seeming hostility with which he uttered himself; especially as he coupled in the same clause of his speech an assertion that a negotiation relevant to the western posts was then pending with the United States. But upon reflection I was tranquiliz’d, being quite persuaded that Britain neither cou’d nor wou’d go to war with us on any account whatever excepting always it were for an object that wou’d immediately reimburse the nation for every farthing of the military expence requisite to acquire or maintain it. Happily for the United States and perhaps for the peace of Europe she is so desperately in debt, that tho’ her manufactures flourish her trade prosper and her people wallow in opulence—her annual revenue is exceeded by her present annual expenditure nearly two millions sterling. The whole fabric of her greatness rests upon a single pillar—public credit. This pillar has hitherto prop’d by the nicest management, and sustain’d by the most exquisite mechanism. But the springs of each subsidiary machine are now wound up to their highest pitch. The present depression of France on the scale of Europe has doubtless given a proportional elation to the consideration of Britain. And the Ministers of the latter have been striving to avail themselves of the crisis. In all their efforts they have striven to accomplish each aim without being obliged to go to war. Before the late revolution in France the feebleness of her corrupt administration tempted that bold stroke to detach Holland in which they in conjunction with Prussia succeeded without a war successively. Subsequent events embolden’d them to proceed and engage more deeply in continental politics. Their next project was to dissolve the family compact, and at the same time check the growth of, and if possible bind in chains, the marine and the commerce of the United States of America. They began to tamper with Del Campo and procured him the grade of ambassador from his own court to this. Del Campo gave them assurances that his court was well disposed to enter into a treaty of commerce with them upon terms as good or better than those upon which the treaty with France was formed. Mr. Eden of fame immaculate in france was the instrument chosen. Under colour of a proceeding quite detach’d from politics, and merely and totally commercial, he made a proposal to the Spanish ministry full of plausibility, and which they took into serious consideration and seem’d inclin’d to listen to, which was “a mutual guarantee between the Courts of London and Madrid of all their respective colonial possessions.” Perhaps you are not to be informed what an alarm the knowledge that such a proposition had been made to and entertain’d by some of the Spanish administration, caused in the cabinet at Versailles. Every engine of policy was put in motion to frustrate this negotiation; for it was clearly perceived that such a guarantee must if entered into ipso facto dissolve the family compact; which in fact was the intention of Mr. Pitt, who clearly saw it wou’d have the same operation with respect to france, that the 6th article of the dutch treaty had, namely that of dissolving the political connexion of the two countries sub silentio, while it affected to repeal no existing treaty or compact whatever. The french cabinet soon succeeded in rendering Mr. Eden suspected, by authenticating the perfidy with which he had stained his own honor, pending his last negotiation with M. Montmorin: and finally defeated his aim, by the vote and influence of the Prince of Asturias. Eden left Madrid in a rage. Mr. Fitzherbert has since succeeded him, from the pre-eminence of whose talents no mighty feats can be hoped. Mr. Eden, now Lord Auckland, is at present at the Hague, which is a spot where much negotiation this spring and summer may be expected; I hope quite enough to occupy the british cabinet.

Since the death of the Emperor on the 20th of last month, there has been such a hurrying of couriers from court to court all over Europe, and so little of certainty in any account private or public that nothing but detach’d facts can be depended on. Among these may be reckon’d an unequivocal offer of the new Emperor Peter Leopold to the belgic revolters of complete indemnity, and a perfect restoration of their ancient rights, beside an offer of many new immunities, upon the condition of revesting their sovereignty in the head of the house of Austria. That aristocratic body of priests and nobles that has assumed this sovereignty, under the name of states, have it is said, already rejected this offer of the new Emperor. However from the present aspect of the people of Brabant, I mean the democratic part of the inhabitants who have lately discovered symptoms of manliness that may force them into political consideration, it is not quite certain that this rejection will prove decisive. Another credited fact is that a very considerable insurrection at Constantinople, which tho’ quel’d is not appeased, causes a delay of that vigourous preperation for another capital effort which the Turks have been making: and leaves some doubt whether the cession of Wallachia and Moldavia to the two imperial powers, will not put an end to the war upon their own terms, with the turks, in spite of the quadruple alliance of Poland, Prussia, Holland & Britain. In great haste I am compel’d to close this unfinish’d Scrawl, with an assurance that I am with equal attachment & respect Yours,

J. B. Cutting

RC (DLC); incorrectly endorsed as received 20 Mch. 1790. Recorded in SJL as received 28 Apr. 1790. PrC of Tr (DLC); in TJ’s hand, consisting only of the passage in square brackets (supplied) and having at the head of text: “Extract of a letter from a gentleman in London to his friend in New York, dated Mar.20” differs from RC in spelling and punctuation, and in alterations made by TJ as indicated in notes 1, 3, and 4 below. Text of extract, with its caption, was published in Gazette of the United States, 1 May 1790, and agrees precisely with TJ’s extract except in punctuation and capitalization and in one error made by the printer (see note 2). Enclosures: (1) Cutting’s “memorized” version of part of Edmund Burke’s speech in the house of commons, 9 Feb. 1790, Document iii. (2) The letter of Mr. Short, which was Short’s letter to Cutting, 17 Feb. 1790, also printed below. (3) Various unidentified newspapers and pamphlets, which evidently supplied TJ with some of the extracts noted below.

When the two letters of 20 Mch. 1790 “from a gentleman in London to his friend in New York” arrived on Wednesday, 28 Apr. 1790, the secretary of state lost no time in digesting the information and in drawing enough material therefrom to fill the entire first page and part of another in the issue of Fenno’s Gazette of the United States that appeared only three days later. TJ himself prepared the extract from the first of Cutting’s letters by way of introduction to the text of part of Burke’s speech, and in the process took more liberties with the phraseology of the former than with that of the latter, though he must have edited Burke slightly (see note 3 to the enclosure). Significantly, he made no public use on this or later occasions of Short’s communication to Cutting of 17 Feb. 1790 or of Short’s other private or public letters to himself. There were two obvious reasons for this. First, mails from London came regularly and quickly on the English packets, whereas, as TJ had cause to note in his correspondence with Short, dispatches from Paris arrived so late and so uncertainly as to be virtually useless. Second, Short was far less enthusiastic about the progress and objectives of the French revolution than was Cutting, a fact that may be observed by comparing the above letter and that from Short enclosed in it.

From the budget of newspapers sent by Cutting with this letter, TJ culled two other items that were published in the Gazette of the United States of 1 May 1790. The first of these was a communication from A Constant Reader “To the Editor of the Gazetteer” of London, reading: “Please to insert the following extract of a letter from Paris, dated February 25th, 1790. I pledge myself to you that it is genuine, and that the writer is a man of condition, and veracity.” The extract that followed was long enough to fill a column and a half of the Gazette, and read in part as follows: “I have the satisfaction to assure you, that notwithstanding what so many Editors of English newspapers surmise, or their correspondents affirm to the contrary, the revolution moves on rapidly to completion, and in a right line. Since my arrival, the Assembly have been much occupied in fixing what they have just now finished, the territorial and other divisions of the kingdom‥‥ It is only a few days since the Military Committee made their report … concerning the number of which the army ought to consist, and the mode of its appointment. The present pay of the troops it is said will be augmented. The peace establishment will not exceed one hundred and forty thousand men. To these, in time of war one hundred thousand are to be added. But arrangements are likewise taking to establish a well organized militia, who, if they be but tolerably trained in the use of arms, will probably compose a body of men formidable indeed on any emergency, especially for operations of internal defence. And this for the plainest of all possible reasons;—because, under the new constitution, they will habitually consider themselves as the free defenders of a country, in the government and welfare of which they really and bona fide participate. … I will … endeavour to procure for you an accurate copy of the entire constitution. Meanwhile you may rest satisfied, and may likewise assure our mutual friends in London, that the late commotions in some of the provinces were fomented, and accounts of what happened much misrepresented by the opposers of the present reform. Those tumults have now subsided into tranquillity, and wise measures are pursuing to prevent or punish all future disturbers of the public repose. As to Paris, I do assure you, I have seldom seen it so gay, and never more quiet. In a word, as I have too high an opinion of your benevolence not to believe that you, and indeed every good man, must wish well to a cause, which has for its object the happiness of three and twenty millions of people, so it affords me sincere pleasure to tell you, that the French Revolution proceeds better than you could reasonably expect, and, I had almost said, as well as you ought to wish: For if liberty be a gem of such vast value, that whatever a community barters for it, still they are great gainers if they get it, perhaps one ought not to desire to see that which is intrinsically inestimable obtained with facility, and at a price too cheap.—In perusing several of those constitutional decrees of the Assembly … I think it must strike you with surprize, to remark how many of them militate with the personal interests of a majority of the members. I myself know individuals of that body, who have manifested a zeal for measures, not only disinterestedly patriotic, but absolutely repugnant to that sort of selfishness, which in ordinary times, and in common cases, clings most closely to human nature. In the instances to which I allude, sinister and sordid views seem to have become dormant and extinct in an ardent pursuit of public prosperity; and different orders of citizens, in their career for the palm of pre-eminent patriotism, forgetful of private interest and separate aims, seem to have united in prefering the glory and happiness of their country, not merely as an object, but as the sole object of their ambition.—Since I came hither, I had frequent opportunities to see and converse with that truly great young man the Marquis de la Fayette. I did not think he could be so popular as I find he is. He is almost idolized by his countrymen. Nor is this admiration of him confined to persons of mean condition. Dining the other day in a large party, with the Count De E—[D’Estaing], the count began on a warm eulogium, on the courage, skill, and virtue, with which, he said, from the commencement of the Revolution, the Marquis had uniformly conducted, as well on common occasions as in situations the most trying and critical. I asked the Count if he knew how old the Marquis de la Fayette was? With that lively enthusiasm so natural to the French, he replied—’were we to calculate his years by his works, it might be asserted that he has lived centuries;—but, in fact, he is but three and thirty.’ A rare instance of character, in which the blooming vivacity of youth has been united to the ripe wisdom of experience!”

To select such an extract from a London paper, to juxtapose to Burke’s speech its defense of the French military arrangements at a time when fear of a standing army was growing in the United States, to bring out D’Estaing’s praise of Washington’s favorite, La Fayette, to point to disinterested policies in pursuit of liberty—this, surely, was fashioning a view of occurrences in France that the secretary of state could scarcely have improved had the words been his own. As customary, TJ had a particular audience and a particular object in view.

In the Gazette of the United States for 24 Apr. 1790, TJ’s selection from the Gazette de Leide and its Supplément of 1 Jan. 1790 included extracts of letters from the Ukraine, Warsaw, Dantzig, Berlin, Paris, Ghent, Brussels, and Liege—substantially the whole of the issue. But his treatment was highly selective within this general coverage, most of the space being given to news from Warsaw, Paris, and Ghent. His “translation” was at times fairly exact, as in the case of a quoted letter from the king of Prussia offering an alliance to the Polish diet as soon as it should form a constitution fixed and established, but even here TJ did not hesitate to include the view of “his Prussian Majesty … that he was well aware how difficult it is to introduce a new form of government in a monarchical country and how much more difficult still to remedy the vices of government in a republic.” At other times TJ judiciously edited the wording of the Gazette de Leide. Thus in the selection from the Berlin letter announcing the arrival of the Polish envoy, the Gazette de Leide reads: “Le premier objet de ses Négociations sera la conclusion d’un Traité, par lequel la Pologne se liera non seulement avec notre Cour, mais entrera aussi dans la grande Alliance, qui se forme sous les auspices de S.M. Prussienne.” This flat assertion, probably inspired officially, became in TJ’s version in the Gazette of the United States: “one object [of the envoy’s mission] seems to be an alliance with Poland and that it enter into the grand alliance forming under the auspices of his Prussian Majesty.” Also, in the same Berlin letter, occurs TJ’s most conspicuous condensation from this issue. His concluding “translation” reads: “Our preparations for war are no longer secret: our court has approved the conduct of Monsieur Dohm in the affairs of Liege.” This was TJ’s equivalent for the news of the Prussian court’s approval of the conduct of “Lieutenant-Général de Schlieffen à Maestricht … ainsi que celle de Mr. de Dohm” in a letter published in the Gazette de Leide for 29 Dec. 1789 (but not translated for the Gazette of the United States); and, in addition, for the reply of the Bishop of Liège to Dohm which, in almost two pages of fine type, condemned “le Despotisme exercé par les Insurgens depuis le moment de leur usurpation de la Régence” as a cause of overshadowing “les sentimens réels” of “la plus grande et principale partie de la Nation.” Under the news from Liège TJ summarized almost a page in the Gazette de Leide as “The revolution of this place wears a favorable aspect—not only his Prussian Majesty, but the Elector Palatine, as Duke of Juliers, seem disposed to protect it.” This was indeed a modification, for the Gazette reads in the pertinent part: “La Révolution de Liège … prend la tournure la plus favorable pour ses Auteurs.”

TJ’s economy of expression and respect for substantial accuracy in translation are shown clearly in his presentation of the rights demanded by the deputies of the towns from the Polish diet. TJ reduced this to the following from the Gazette de Leide of 1 Jan. 1790: “1. That the commons be restored to their antient rights. 2. That commoners and strangers be assured of personal protection. 3. That commoners be allowed to own lands. 4. That nobles and commoners may be made capable of mutually inheriting goods from each other. 5. That commoners be declared capable of all employments ecclesiastical, civil and military. 6. That the commoners be subject to public jurisdictions only. 7. That commoners be allowed to communicate to public bodies their ideas on commerce, &c. 8. That all the cities be allowed to send Nuncios to the diet, and to instruct them, and that the influence of the cities on the government be no more infringed, but amplified. 9. That commoners as well as nobles be chosen into the commissions of the Treasury and Palatinates. 10. That in the tribunals for the cities there be as many commoners as nobles.”

As presented in the Gazette de Leide, this passage reads:

“1°. Que tous les Droits et Privilèges, dont la Bourgeoisie a jouï avant la Diète d’Union, soient remis dans leur première vigueur par la décision de la présente Diète.

“2°. Qu’on garantisse la sûreté de toute Personne, soit Règnicole de l’Ordre de la Bourgeoisie, soit de tout Etranger, qui vient avec ses Biens ou Effets dans la Pologne.

“3°. Qu’il soit libre aux Bourgeois de posséder des Biens-fonds dans la Pologne, comme ils jouïssent déjà de ce droit en Lithuanie.

“4°. Que l’Ordre de la Noblesse ne regarde plus les Bourgeois avec mépris: Qu’un Noble ne déroge pas non plus aux droits de sa naissance, lorsque, pour subsister honnêtement, ou pour s’occuper utilement, il embrasse une profession Bourgeoise; mais que ces droits lui servent, tant après qu’avant, à ce que de raison, et qu’il puisse jouïr des avantages de Succession à des Families Bourgeoises, comme aussi en revanche que celles-ci puissent hériter de Nobles, lorsqu’une Portion Héréditaire leur appartient par Contrat de Mariage.

“5°. Qu’on casse les Constitutions nuisibles, qui excluent la Bourgeoisie de tout Emploi Ecclésiastique ou Militaire; et que non-seulement l’on renouvelle les anciens Priviléges, en vertu desquels les Bourgeois ont possédé tous Bénéfices dans l’Etat Ecclésiastique sans exception; mais qu’il y soit ajouté de plus, qu’ils peuvent s’avancer dans les Charges Civiles des Finances, comme dans le Militaire.

“6°. Que toutes les Villes soient nonseulement affranchies des Jurisdictions des Starosties, mais aussi de toutes autres, et que les Bourgeois soient uniquement justiciables au Tribunal de leurs Magistrats, comme ceux-ci aux Tribunaux Assessoriaux du Roi.

“7°. Qu’il soit libre à ceux de l’Ordre de la Bourgeoisie de communiquer leurs idées, relativement au Commerce et aux Magasins dans les Villes, à la Commission du Trésor et à la Députation des Affaires Etrangères; et que ce que celles-ci déclarent juste et raisonnable soit converti en Constitution.

“8°. Que non-seulement certaines Villes, mais toutes, chacune dans son Palatinat, aient le droit de choisir des Nonces à la Diète, et de les munir des Instructions nécessaires: Que les anciens Privilegès des Villes, qui leur assuroient une certaine influence dans le Gouvernement, lorsqu’ils auront été renouvellés, ne souffrent plus d’atteinte ni de diminution; mais qu’au contraire on les amplifie, particulièrement dans tout ce qui peut servir à perfectionner davantage la Forme de Gouvernement.

“9°. Que dans les Commissions du Tresor et des Palatinats, où il se présente des objets particuliers concernant le Commerce, qui exigent des connoissances mercantiles, il soit élu des Bourgeois en même terns que des Nobles.

“10. Qu’attendu que les Tribunaux Assessoriaux sont les Cours-Suprèmes pour les Villes, les Assesseurs soient élus en nombre égal d’entre les Nobles et la Bourgeoisie.”

TJ’s selections from the Gazette de Leide of 5 Jan. 1790 for the Gazette of the United States of 1 May 1790 were made up of extracts from letters from Madrid (14 Dec. 1789), Paris (28 Dec.), and St. Petersburg (11 Dec.). These selections and the manner of presentation reveal the same characteristics as those noted above. In the letter from Madrid, for example, the “translation” reads: “Government has been very attentive in preventing the circulation of any papers respecting the revolution in France—several however have been introduced into Spain, and some of them translated into Spanish. The Inquisition which has relaxed in persecuting heresy, now watches over the political orthodoxy of the nation, and has anathematized a number of their works.” The passage in the Gazette de Leide reads: “Depuis le commencement de la Révolution en France, le Gouvernement a été très-attentif à empêcher, que la contagion ne se répandit par la lecture des différents Ecrits, qui y sont relatifs. Cependant il en avoit été introduit plusieurs clandestinement en Espagne; l’on en avoit même traduit quelques-uns en Espagnol. L’Inquisition, moins occupée que jamais de l’extirpation de l’Hérésie par le feu et le fer, a cru devoir veiller aujourd’hui à l’Orthodoxie politique de la nation Espagnole; et elle vient de lancer un Anathème contre un nombre de ces Ouvrages, réclamant vigoureusement contre le principe si dangereux, qu’il n’y a point de préscription au monde à l’égard des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, et que des Millions d’Etres raisonnables ne sont pas nés pour servir l’ambition, l’orgueil, les voluptés, ou l’avarice de quelques Individus.”

1TJ underscored this word in PrC and it is italicized in the Gazette.

2Text in Gazette reads “or.”

3In PrC TJ underscored the words “the better sort of people,” and they are italicized in the Gazette.

4TJ altered “the most exasperated portion” to read in PrC “the following passage,” and this is the form that appears in the Gazette.

5The passage in brackets (supplied) is the extract that TJ copied for the Gazette.

Index Entries