William Short to John Jay
Paris March 29th. 1790
I make use of a private conveyance to London in order to send you the gazettes of France and Leyden to this date. You will recieve also at the same time the observations of Mr. Necker on the report of the committee of finance, the journals of the assembly, and a proposal of the Bishop of Autun for rendering uniform the standard of weights and measures. You will see that he proposes this standard to be taken from observations equally applicable to all countries. He thinks that these observations being solemnly made under the authority of two countries having such extensive connexions as France and England, would in time form a standard of universal usage. He asks me to forward to Congress his observations on this subject. As yet they have not been brought before the national assembly otherwise than by the distribution among the members of the pamphlet inclosed.
In No. 223. of the journals accompanying this letter, it is said that the Resident of the United States had been consulted relative to the abolition of the freedom of the Port of L’Orient. I suppose it useless to inform you Sir that I should never have taken on myself to have abandoned any thing relative to the United States without being authorized, and therefore that the member had misrepresented the circumstance. As I know however that it had no weight on the decision of the assembly, and that the abolition of the freedom of the port was a necessary consequence of the petitions on that subject, I have said nothing about it. It is only for my satisfaction with respect to yourself, that I add here that some months ago and before I knew that the freedom of the port would be brought before the assembly, a gentleman to whom I was then a stranger asked me if many American vessels came now to L’Orient merely as a free port. I answered that few vessels from the United States came there at present, and there our conversation ended. He tells me that he alluded to that conversation when he spoke of the Resident of the United States in the assembly, and thought he had consulted me on the subject. However it is certain that nothing could have prevented the abolition of the freedom of the port, and therefore it would have been wrong, had I known it was that day to be brought before the assembly, to have made an useless opposition.
I inclose you also the instructions which the assembly have voted for the guidance of their colonies in execution of their decree of the 8th. of this month. The assembly understand that the free negroes and mulattoes of the islands should be considered as citizens, but have not ventured to declare it in express terms. It is apprehended that this circumstance will occasion much disorder in the formation of their meetings. The deputies of the islands who are here think that the colonies will certainly ask for a liberty of commerce at least as far as regards supplies. Many of the members here are for granting it without hesitation. Others are for deciding that whenever provisions are above a fixed price they may open their ports to foreigners. I have no doubt however under the present aspect that the liberty of commerce as to supplies will be obtained. Precautions will be taken for confining the liberty to that article alone.
The assembly have at length come to deliberate on the judicial branch of government. They have decreed 1. that the ancient order shall be abolished. This obliges them to take up the subject from the beginning. I sent you some time ago the report of the committee of judicature. A member of the assembly yesterday proposed a plan quite different from that of the committee, and formed on the English system. The trial by jury both in civil and criminal cases is the leading and distinguishing feature. The opinions of the assembly are much divided. I shall lose no time in informing you of the result of this important deliberation. The judiciary system lately adopted by Congress has been read by some of the leading members and much admired by them. I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most perfect respect Sir Your most obedient humble servant,
PrC (DLC: Short Papers); at head of text: “No. 24” at foot of first page: “The Honble. Mr. Jay” complimentary close and signature supplied from Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD). Recorded in SJL as received 15 June 1790. Enclosures: (1) “Observations de M. Necker, sur le rapport fait au nom du comité des finances, à la séance de l’Assemblée Nationale du 12 Mars,” printed in Gazette Nationale, 28 and 29 Mch. 1790. (2) Proposal of the Bishop of Autun for a uniform system of weights and measures; see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 3761; TJ to Rittenhouse, 15 June 1790; and TJ’s report on weights and measures, 4 July 1790. (3) The current numbers of Assemblée Nationale, Journal des débats et des décrets. (4) “Instructions pour les colonies,” adopted 28 Mch. 1790 and printed in Gazette Nationale, 29 Mch. 1790.
No. 223. of the journals (p. 8) reads: “MM. de la Ville-le-Roux et de Bonnay ont répondu que les Ministres, le Résident des Etats-Unis avoient été consultés, et qu’ils avoient tous reconnu l’utilité de la suppression de cette franchise. Le projet de Décret a été mis aux voix, et adopté de la manière suivante: ’L’Assemblee Nationale, considérant que la franchise accordée à la ville de l’Orient par Arrêt du 14 Mai 1784, n’avoit pour l’objet que de procurer aux Etats-Unis de l’Amérique un entrepôt particulier, devenu inutile depuis l’Arrêt du 29 Décembre 1787, qui leur accorde un entrepôt dans tous les ports ouverts au Commerce des Colonies, et dont l’Orient fait partie, et que cette franchise, aussi fâcheuse pour les Habitans de cette Ville et des campagnes voisines, que nuisible aux manufactures nationales, est encore destructive des revenus de l’Etat, et occasionne pour son maintien une dépense qu’il est instant de faire cesser, a décrété ce qui suit:—Art. I. A compter de la publication du présent Décret, la ville et le port de l’Orient rentreront, quant au droit de traite, au même état où ils étoient avant l’Arrêt du 14 Mai 1784.—ii. Le Roi sera supplié de faire prendre des précautions suffisantes pour que les marchandises étrangères qui se trouveront dans la ville de l’Orient, ne puissent point entrer dans le Royaume, soit en contrebande, soit en fraude des droits.’”