Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from the President of the National Assembly, 6 June 1791

From the President of the National Assembly

Paris le six Juin 1791.

L’Assemblée Nationale de France, Monsieur, qui avait reçu avec la plus vive sensibilité la réponse du Président du Congrès des Etats unis d’Amérique, à la communication qui lui avoit été fait des dernieres marques d’honneurs décernés par les représentans d’un peuple libre à votre illustre compatriote Benjamin Franklin, n’a pas été moins touchée des nouveaux témoignages d’amitié fraternelle que vous lui adressés au nom du Congrès.

Elle m’a chargé de vous faire part du Décret qu’elle a rendu sur le rapport de son Comité Diplomatique. Il sera pour les Etats unis d’Amérique la preuve du vif desir de l’Assemblée nationale de voir se resserrer par tous les moyens de bienveillance, d’affection et d’utilité reciproque les liens qui doivent à jamais unir deux peuples qui, nés à la liberté l’un par l’autre, semblent destinés à vivre en communauté d’interrêts comme de principes.

Je m’applaudis, Monsieur, d’être dans cette occasion l’organe de l’Assemblée, nationale et de pouvoir transmettre l’expression de ses sentimens à un homme qui a concouru si essentiellement a la révolution et à la législation de son pays, et qui, après avoir contemplé dans le nôtre le berceau de notre liberté naissante, nous a quittés en emportant l’amitié des Français dont il avoit depuis longtems la considération et l’estime.

Par ordre de l’Assemblée nationale de France

J.X. Bureaux-Pusy

RC (DNA: RG 59, NL); at foot of text: “M. Jefferson Ministre du Congrès des Etats unis d’Amérique”; endorsed by Remsen: “Letters &c. from the National Assembly of France”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Aug. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure printed below.

On 2 June 1791, Fréteau-Saint-Just, reporting to the National Assembly for the Diplomatic Committee, read to that body TJ’s letter of 8 Mch. 1791 to the accompaniment of “Applaudissements à gauche.” Referring to Washington’s letter of 27 Jan. 1791, also addressed to the President of the Assembly, he explained that this second letter had been written by the Secretary of State at the direction of Congress in order to give “une nouvelle preuve des sentiments de fraternité qui l’unissent à ce royaume” and to express their desire to continue in peace and unity with France—scarcely an exact statement either for the authority for TJ’s letter or for the sentiments of Congress. Fréteau-Saint-Just then read the address of the Pennsylvania legislature of 8 Apr. 1791 (for comment on the political context of these and related documents, see Editorial Note and texts of documents relating to the death of Franklin under 26 Jan. 1791). After the reading of the Pennsylvania address, several members of the National Assembly called for it to be printed. Another suggested that a copy be sent to Abbé Raynal, who two days earlier had outraged the Assembly with a letter very critical of its proceedings (see Short to TJ, 6 June 1791). Several members then exclaimed that Fréteau-Saint-Just’s report had not been completed, whereupon, having read the two documents, the reporter stretched their meaning still further by declaring them to be the sentiments of the American people. Bureaux-Pusy did not include the text of the Pennsylvania address in the communication, though that, like TJ’s own letter, formed a part of the report of the Diplomatic Committee which preceded its comment upon their meaning and its recommendation that a new treaty of commerce be negotiated. In his communication of the same date to the Pennsylvania legislature, Bureaux-Pusy included TJ’s letter as a part of the report but naturally omitted the text of the Pennsylvania address. This letter and its enclosure, along with the text of the address itself, were published in Bache’s General Advertiser, 29 Aug. 1791, as well as in other newspapers. When the communication was read in the House of Representatives two days earlier, it was first laid on the table and then, in an action which indicated that the divisions which had been manifested on the same subject during the debates of the previous session were still present, it was moved “and by special order … taken up for a second reading, and the original letter with the translation was ordered to be entered on the journals of the house” (same). A few days later Bache declared that the communication from the National Assembly “breathes a spirit of liberty which would do honor to the freest republican government. The reference … to our revolution, as being indirectly the cause of their regeneration, exhibits a degree of candor not very common with other European Courts. The wishes expressed, to be united to us by the closest commercial ties, is a favorable omen of benefits to be derived by an intercourse with that country, to the advantage of our commerce and agriculture” (General Advertiser, 1 Sep. 1791). The allusion to the want of candor in other courts was obviously directed toward that of England. Whether in publishing and commenting upon these documents Bache was influenced by TJ, who had tried to make his a balanced national newspaper, is not known.

But there can be no doubt that it was the Secretary of State who released to the press the copy of Fréteau-Saint-Just’s report which came with the above letter. TJ’s choice of newspaper as well as his timing was clearly calculated. He had received Bureaux-Pusy’s letter and its enclosure early in August and of course could have translated these himself and made them available to Bache even before the text was made public by the Pennsylvania legislature. Instead he held the report until November, after Congress had convened and after Ternant had arrived as the new French minister. It was at this session, too, that TJ expected to submit his report on commerce calling for a navigation act aimed at Great Britain, a proposal to which the friendly expressions of the National Assembly and the decree calling for a new treaty of commerce with the United States could only have given added strength. TJ perhaps would have waited for this favorable conjunction of events in any case. But just a few days before he received Bureaux-Pusy’s letter and its gratifying enclosure, Philip Freneau had announced to him his intention to establish a newspaper at the seat of government, as Madison and TJ had urged him to do (Freneau to TJ, 4 Aug. 1791). Within a few days Freneau also accepted appointment as translator to the Department of State. Thus what was perhaps the first translating assignment given the new departmental member became simultaneously one of the most gratifying and timely communications that the Secretary of State could make available to the newly established and favored National Gazette. Fréteau Saint Just’s report, including TJ’s letter of 8 Mch. 1791 to the President of the National Assembly, but not the address of the Pennsylvania legislature, appeared in the issue of 17 Nov. 1791. Bache’s General Advertiser carried an incomplete text of the report two days later.

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