Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Washington, 19 June 1790

From George Washington

Saturday June 19th. 1790

The enclosed Letters and documents from Mr. Gouvr. Morris are sent for the perusal of the Secretary of State.

The private letters from the Marquis de la Fayette and Mr. Payne he also gives Mr. Jefferson a sight of; because there are some ideas in the latter which are new, and in the former, general information respecting the Affairs of France, which, by being compar’d with other Accounts may (though not of very late date, but from the respectibility of the authority) enable one to form a better judgment of the situation of things in that Country, than they could do from any single relation of them.

RC (DLC). Not recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Gouverneur Morris to Washington, 1 May 1790, printed below with notes of its enclosures. (2) Lafayette to Washington, 17 Mch. 1790, delayed by being transmitted to London in Paine’s care, reporting that “Our revolution is getting on as well as it can with a Nation that has swallowed up liberty all at once, and is still liable to mistake licentiousness for freedom” that they were “still pestered by two parties, the Aristocratic that is panting for a counter revolution, and the factious which aims at the division of the Empire, and destruction of all authority and perhaps of the lifes of the reigning branch” but that they had made “an admirable, and almost incredible destruction of all abuses, prejudices, etc. etc. that every thing not directly useful to, or coming from the people has been levelled—that in the topographical, moral, political situation of France we have made more changes in ten month than the most sanguine patriot could have imagined—that our internal troubles and anarchy are much exagerated—and that upon the whole this Revolution, in which nothing will be wanting but energy of governement just as it was in America, will propagate implant liberty and make it flourish throughout the world” (text printed in Letters of Lafayette to Washington, 1777–1799, ed. Louis Gottschalk, privately printed, New York, 1944, p. 347–8). With this letter Lafayette transmitted a picture of the Bastille “just as it looked a few days after I had ordered its demolition, with the main kea of that fortress.” These he offered in tribute “as a son to my adoptive father, as an aid de camp to my General, as a Missionary of Liberty to its Patriarch.” (3) Thomas Paine to Washington, London, 1 May 1790, transmitting the key to the Bastille and drawing of it from Lafayette as the “early trophy of the Spoils of Despotism and the first ripe [fru]its of American principles transplanted into [Eur]ope.” Paine added: “When he mentioned to me the present he intended you my heart leaped with Joy. It is something so truly in Character that no remarks can illustrate it, and is more happily expressive of his remembrance of his American friends than any letters can convey. That the principles of America opened the Bastile is not to be doubted, and therefore the Key comes to the right place.” Paine urged Washington to congratulate the king and queen of France and the National Assembly on the example being given Europe, and added: “I returned from France to London about five Weeks ago, and I am engaged to return to Paris when the Constitution shall be proclaimed and to carry the American Flag in the procession. I have not the least doubt of the final and compleat success of the French Revolution. Little Ebbings and flowings, for and against the natural companions of revolutions, sometimes appear, but the full current of it, is, in my opinion, as fixed as the Gulph Stream.—I have manufactured a Bridge (a single Arch) of one hundred and ten feet span, and five feet high from the Cord of the Arch. It is now on board a vessel coming from Yorkshire to London, where it is to be erected. I see nothing yet to dissapoint my hopes of its being advantageous to me. It is this only which keeps me [in] Europe, and happy shall I be when I shall have it in my power to return to America.—I have not heard of Mr. Jefferson since he sailed except of his arrival” (RC in DLC: Washington Papers; addressed and endorsed).

The announcement of the presentation of the key of the Bastille “as a glorious token of triumphant liberty over despotic oppression” was published in the (N.Y.) Daily Advertiser, 14 June 1790, from a London paper, but the key itself was brought later and formally presented to Washington early in Aug.; New-York Journal, 13 Aug. 1790; Washington to Paine, 10 Aug. 1790; to Lafayette, 11 Aug. 1790; Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 80, 85. At a dinner given to Washington at Baltimore on his return home the 12th toast was: “May the keys of all tyrannic prisons follow that of the Bastile” ([N.Y.] Daily Advertiser, 17 Sep. 1790).

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