Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Short, 14 June 1790

From William Short

Paris June the 14th. 1790

Dear Sir

I received three days ago the first letters which have come to my hands from you since your arrival at New-York. That of the latest date was April 30th. It contained a copy of that of April 6th. together with the newspapers sent.

I delivered today to M. de Montmorin the letter of the President to the King, and another directed to him containing one of leave for you and of credence for me. I presented to him at the same time my commission as Chargé des affaires and explained it to him. I communicated to him also the copy of the letter to M. de la Luzerne which he desired I would allow him to retain. He received with pleasure the information of the Resolution respecting the foreign debt. For some time past there has been no danger of the minister’s disposing of their claims on the United States, for the reasons mentioned in some of my former letters which you must have received soon after the date of your last.—Mr. Necker has frequently spoken with me on this subject. He hopes that orders will be given to the bankers of the United States to pay into his hands the amount of the loan which they have made although unauthorized by Congress. I have taken care to keep him well informed of the dispositions which Congress have manifested at different times during the present session relative to the support of their credit. I called on him yesterday to communicate to him in person the resolution of which you inclosed me a copy. As I did not see him, I shall either call again to-morrow or send it to him.

Since the abolition of the gabelle I have renewed the subject of the importation of salted provisions with Mr. Necker. I inclose you a letter which Mr. Lambert the Controller general has written me relative thereto. It would be well perhaps if a beginning could be given to this business by the city of Paris contracting for certain supplies at a fixed price. I mentioned this to Mr. Necker and he seemed desirous that something of the sort should be done, but said it was necessary first to examine the subject under all its circumstances. I have no doubt of being able soon to put this matter in a train which will be equally advantageous to the two countries.

The locks which you desire to be sent are already ordered. The workman says that three weeks will be necessary to complete them. They shall be forwarded without loss of time agreeably to your directions.

[The affair of our captives I fear will never be arranged in the present chanel.]1 You will recollect the little hope which you had of its success before your departure. As soon as I received the bills of exchange from Amsterdam I gave notice of it to the General of the Mathurins. But I have as yet had no information of any steps being taken by him: so that the affair remains now as when you left this place, except that the money has been received and lodged in the hands of Mr. Grand. I kept the bills some time in my possession agreeably to your wishes. But when the term of their payment arrived I sent them to Mr. Grand not thinking it safe to keep the money here. [Immediately on the receipt of your letter I wrote to the General of the Mathurins to let him know how much you had this affair at heart, and to beg he would inform me how it stood at present. He was gone into the country, but I suppose I shall hear from him in a few days.]1

I shall employ Dupré to execute the medal you mention, after having consulted with the Abbé Barthelemi respecting those parts which are left undecided; and no time shall be lost in forwarding the business.

The committee of impositions, or at least a majority of them, are still for continuing the farm of tobacco nearly in its present condition. You will easily believe there are necessary inducements to this system when you learn that Dupont contrary to his well known uniform opinions, is one of the most zealous supporters of it. I have had several conversations with him on the subject as well as other members of the committee. They have had communication also of your letter to Count Vergennes on the subject.—The reasons with them for continuing the farm of tobacco is that the topographical situation of France renders it absolutely impossible to raise the present revenue on it by an impost. Importations would take place by land where it would be impossible to avoid smuggling—besides Lorraine and Alsace where considerable quantities are made, being now to be taken within the barriers of France would increase the cultivation of this article as it would not be subjected to the duties of importation. The southern provinces would do the same. They add that the object most to be desired is the abolition of the gabelle, that in order to replace that tax they have been obliged so to augment the direct taxes as to render their collection difficult and even doubtful, that there is no other means of replacing the farm of tobacco but by augmenting still the direct taxes, and that therefore it is impossible at present to hazard so important a branch of the public income, which is raised for the most part on the rich, and in a manner imperceptible. You will easily concieve that the advantages which might be expected from extending their commerce with us, and of recieving raw in exchange for manufactured articles, being distant, have not their full weight with those whose fullest occupation is the search of present relief. It is impossible however that the commerce of this article should not be rendered free as soon as a fixed revenue shall have put government somewhat at its ease. This is the firm persuasion and wish of every member of the committee of impositions with whom I have spoken on the subject: insomuch that when they first began to deliberate on it, they were fully disposed to have immediately abolished the farm. The solicitude of Mr. Necker and the considerations mentioned above are the causes of their suspending it.

In several parts of France different bodies of gardes nationales have assembled in order to form a federation in support of the present constitution. They have in general been nothing more than a kind of patriotic feast, with a renewal of the civic oath (d’étre fideles à la loi, à la nation et au Roi) and an address of adhesion to the national assembly and their decrees. These assemblies have given rise to an idea in the Municipality of Paris to invite deputations from all the gardes nationales in the Kingdom, and from the several regiments of regular troops to assemble at Paris on the anniversary of the taking of the bastille (14th. July). This idea has been presented by the municipality to the national assembly, and a decree has been accordingly passed regulating the mode of deputation. The marine, marechals of France and other general officers have been added: and it is supposed the whole will be between ten and twelve thousand. The King and national assembly are to be present. What is to be the object of this meeting, and what its event is uncertain. The proposers of the plan have certainly no bad intentions: but it is suspected that the original movers of it are those who are considered as the leading members of a popular faction in the assembly. Their party being now evidently the weakest, they will endeavour to strength it by external support. Their plan is believed to be to render the deputations of the gardes nationales who shall assemble here, a deliberating body, for the purpose or pretext of ratifying the constitution or of petitioning against certain parts of it, and of proposing others with a resolution not to separate until their petition shall be granted. These are at present the well grounded suspicions of the designs of a few of the demagogues of the assembly. In the present effervescence of the times it is impossible to calculate what will be the effect produced by this meeting, and serious apprehensions of ill are entertained by those who are best informed.

On the news of Dr. Franklin’s death being received here the national assembly decreed that they would go in mourning for three days, and that their President should write to Congress to notify to them the part they take in the melancholy event. A kind of enthusiasm has spread also through the different parts of the capital—different societies and bodies have shewn their adhesion to the sentiments of the national assembly in different ways.

The King and Royal family are now at St. Cloud, and if we may judge of the effect which this circumstance has produced on the minds of the Aristocratical party we may conclude that they consider it as a proof that he is determined to give no opposition to the constitution. He has besides issued a proclamation censuring severely the conduct of those who continue their opposition and enjoining all to wear its badge, the national cockade, as he does it himself. He has given orders also to the Herald’s office to receive no longer the genealogical titles which were formerly necessary to enable a person to be presented at court. Under these circumstances of good humour, between the court and the national assembly the civil list has been settled. They referred the sum entirely to the King who proposed twenty-five millions per ann. and to secure to the Queen in the case of her surviving him, a dower of four millions per ann. This was adopted unanimously. I am with most perfect respect & esteem, Dear Sir, Your most obedient & most humble Servant,

W Short

PrC (DLC: Short Papers); at head of text: “No.33” at foot of first page: “Mr. Jefferson Secretary of State.” Recorded in SJL as received 25 Oct. 1790. Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD). Extract of that part indicated in note 1, below, misdated 4 June 1790, exists in three Trs (PrC in DLC and in DNA: RG 59, MLR; FC in same, SDR). See report on Algerine captives, 28 Dec. 1790.

Short’s letter … to the general of the Mathurins (Chauvier), was written 14 June 1790, and informed him that TJ, despite the discouraging letter received by Chauvier from Perrin in Aix-en-Provence (see enclosure, TJ to Jay, 19 Sep. 1789), had left funds to be used for the prisoners’ redemption and that these funds would be available in the hands of the banker for the United States if he thought it practicable to make use of them for this purpose (DLC: Short Papers).

The dispirited manner in which Short reported upon events in Paris in this first dispatch written after he had received the disappointing communications of 6 and 27 Apr. 1790 from TJ is evidenced in the contrast between it and his private letter to John Brown Cutting, 9 June 1790. Cutting, knowing nothing of the nature of Short’s official dispatches and evidently desiring to give TJ as speedy a narrative of French affairs as possible, forwarded this letter to him—thus unintentionally providing TJ with a more convincing proof of Short’s lack of sympathy with the extremists among the revolutionists. This letter reads in part as follows: “The riots which I mentioned in my letter to Rutledge were certainly a combined system and gave real alarm to all good citizens. It was feared also that they were intended as a battery against the popularity—perhaps against the life of the Marquis de la fayette, who begins to be considered as the guardian angel of the capital (this is the expression of one of the most enlightened and able members of the assembly). Fortune who has never yet abandoned the Marquis, has turned these schemes in his favor or at least averted them. The riots have subsided, after having served no other purpose than that of giving the Marquis an opportunity of displaying the utmost coolness and personal courage and a determined resolution to preserve a perfect obedience to the law, which has acquired him enthusiasts in a class where he hitherto had only enemies. The popular faction in the assembly which began to be alarming seem already to have lost favor even among the lower classes of people. The national guards who it was feared had some kind of attachment, or at least some among them, to the principles supported by this faction, have lately exhibited and pronounced in the most positive manner contrary sentiments. They presented an address to their general in which they renew the assurances of their attachment to him and the principles he professes. They say they consider as an insult offered to them any hint which may be given that they had concieved an idea of changing these sentiments. This address was delivered on account of a letter written to the Marquis by one of the demagogues of the assembly and who it had been reported, was intriguing to supplant him. The letter had been considered as a means of feeling the pulse of the guards. If so, the address is an answer which will fully satisfy the doubtful and effectually annihilate any pretensions which might have been entertained by the popular factions. This party underwent another defeat two days ago in the assembly. The member of that body to whom they are most opposed is the Abbé Sieyes who has been so much distinguished in this revolution. The Marquis de la fayette’s party proposed him as President. The party headed by La Meth, Barnave &c., fearing, being even sure, that they could not carry to the fautueil any one of their own body in opposition to the Abbé Sieyes, proposed a member of the Noblesse who had long been an aristocrat, and who is not now a member of the club of Jacobins. They hoped that the Aristocrats and themselves both voting for this member that he would be made President. It turned out however the reverse. The Abbé Sieyes had a great majority, and left the party opposed to him not only the mortification of the defeat, but that of having discovered that they preferred even a member of the noblesse, under severe suspicions of aristocracy, to one of the present prevailing party which has the confidence of the people. In general the Speech of a President on coming to the chair is merely a thing of course. The Abbé Sieyes however in his speech of yesterday, united other subjects to that of meer form and gave it a character which belongs only to the productions of great men. You will certainly have it in the English newspapers. Of course it is useless to send it to you. I advise you to read it as containing some masterly strokes, representing the progress of the assembly, as well as its delay on several occasions.—It is rather to give you a trait of French national character, rather of national politics, that I subjoin here, that I passed yesterday evening in company with this President and [a bi]shop formerly President of the same assembly. I will not leave you to guess how the after supper was passed, as you could never divine it, but I will tell you right cut, it was at blind mans buff, and as the two Presidents were far from being the most active of the company, they were the most often the blind man without excepting even the ladies. What will you say when I add that this party was at the house of the most able mathematician and greatest philosopher of France, and member of all the academies in the Kingdom? What would John Bull say if such a party of blind mans buff had been played in London. Would he not have sent them all to Bedlam? From whence comes this difference between two people separated only by a narrow stream?” (RC in DLC; postmarked “JU 14” an entry in SJL for 28 Aug. 1790 records the receipt of a letter from Cutting of 11 June; this was probably only a cover of later date for Short’s letters of 9 and 11 June 1790 to Cutting; that of 11 June informed Cutting of the receipt of TJ’s letters “so long expected” both are in DLC; see also Short to TJ, 23 May 1790, note).

1The matter in brackets (supplied) constitutes that part of the text embraced in the extract noted above.

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