Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Report of the Diplomatic Committee of the National Assembly of France, 2 June 1791

Report of the Diplomatic Committee of the
National Assembly of France


You have been made acquainted with the sentiments of the Americans, and their expressions of grateful respect and particular good will towards you.1

The honesty and upright moral character of that people are to us the best pledges of their sincerity and affection.

Our interests and theirs must in future be considered the same; and we are reciprocally attached to each other by every tie of duty and regard.

We have assisted them in repulsing their enemies and vindicating themselves into freedom. In return they have taught us a just and humane spirit of toleration, to respect the obligation of oaths, to pay obedience to the Laws, to honour in man the dignity of his species, and even to undervalue the brilliancy of genius, whether displayed in Legislation or successful warfare, when set in competition with the horrors of sanguinary contests and brutal violence. They have also taught us how to pay a proper regard to the lives and honours of our fellow creatures, as well as their fortunes, and lastly they have set us the example in a quiet submission to lawful authority.

A Nation actuated by such ideas can boast of being more than the conquerors of a world. They are at once our great example and support. Into their ports and marts of trade then, to the peaceable and happy country they inhabit, should it be our great endeavour, in preference to all others, to introduce our Merchants to inform themselves in the Nature of their Commerce and imbibe the virtues which alone can cause it to flourish, that is to say, œconomy, simplicity, purity of morals, integrity, and honesty.

From the foregoing considerations it is the opinion of the Committee; that the National Assembly should use every possible Means to cherish and encourage a reciprocal commercial intercourse between France and America.

Lewis the Sixteenth having gained the title of Restorer of the Liberties of France may with no less justice lay claim to that of Benefactor of the New World. So far then are you from infringing his Royal Prerogative in being the first to notify him of your intentions on this head, that, on the contrary your views and his perfectly co-incide and co-operate in the glorious plan which he has so much at heart, to draw closer than ever those ties of connexion which unite the French Nation to the brave citizens of the United States of America, whose uniform and generous spirit of equity, next to the justice of their cause, the energy of their exertion, and their invincible courage, was heretofore, as it is at this day, the only firm support and the surest pledge of their Independence.

Decree of the National Assembly, June 2d. 1791

The National Assembly having heard a Letter read from the Minister of the United States of America, that was addressed to their President signed “Jefferson”; and also another letter from the Representatives of the State of Pennsylvania, dated the 8th of April last, and by them addressed to the President of the Assembly, together with the report of their official Committee,

Ordered, that the two Letters abovementioned be printed and inserted in the Journals of the session.

The President is requested to answer the Letter from the Representatives of the State of Pennsylvania, and to inform the Minister of the United States of America, that it is the earnest desire of the National Assembly to strengthen more and more the ties of friendship and brotherly affection which at this day constitute a bond of union between the two Nations.

Decreed, finally, that the King be prayed to cause to be negociated with the United States, a New Treaty of Commerce that may tend to strengthen those mutual relations of friendship and good understanding, so highly beneficial to them both.

Besse, Curate of St. Aubin


Ricard Dep[uté] de Toulon

Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD); in the hand of Freneau, who translated it from the French. RC (same); in French, in clerk’s hand except for the signatures, one of which was not included in Freneau’s translation, perhaps because of its difficult handwriting (see note 2 below); endorsed by TJ as received 9 Aug. 1791 and so recorded in SJL. Dupl (same); in French, in another hand except for the three signatures.

Surprisingly for so gifted a writer as Freneau, his translation of Fréteau Saint Just’s report does not do justice either to its style or to its sentiments. It is understandable that he should have omitted Huot Goncourt’s all but illegible signature, but his rendition of the text was at times loose, awkward, and even imprecise. It is a fair presumption, based on a number of examples that might be cited, that a translation by TJ himself would have been more faithful to the original both in its substance and in its elevated style. (See, for example, TJ’s translation of Condorcet’s letter and its enclosure at 3 May 1791.) It is difficult to imagine TJ rendering the brief and forceful “Nos intérêts vont désormais se confondre, et des devoirs plus étroits vont nous unir” as “Our interests and theirs must in future be considered the same; and we are reciprocally attached to each other by every tie of duty and regard.” Nor is it likely that he would have translated “ils nous instruisent à leur tour à être tolerans, justes et humaines” as “In return they have taught us a just and humane spirit of toleration.” Certainly he could not have put into English “à préférer à toutes les qualités brillantes, même aux dons du Génie dans la politique, et aux faveurs du sort dans les Combats, l’horreur du Sang et de la violence, le respect pour la vie et l’honneur de nos Semblables, et pour les propriétés, enfin la Soumission aux autorités légitimes” such a long and confused version as Freneau rendered in the corresponding passage above. In view of the importance TJ attached to this timely document as indicated by his authorizing Freneau to make it public, it is surprising that he did not add to its force by providing a more adequate version of the original. Perhaps he felt that the essential part of the message was not its official expression of friendship for the American people, which would have been discounted in any case by those preferring stronger ties with England, but its announcement of the decree of the National Assembly calling for a new treaty of commerce. That, strengthened by the arrival of Ternant, would not likely be dismissed as mere rhetoric. TJ knew that the decree had been adopted at Lafayette’s suggestion to palliate the effect of the tobacco and other decrees because various French interests were too powerful to permit a modification of them (Short to TJ, 6 June 1791). But he made the most of the report by releasing it to the press.

1Fréteau-Saint-Just’s report to the National Assembly included TJ’s letter to the President, 8 Mch. 1791, and the address of the Pennsylvania legislature, 8 Apr. 1791, to which this passage alludes, but Bureaux Pusy naturally omitted these in the text sent TJ.

2Huot-Goncourt’s signature appears in RC but is here supplied because Freneau omitted it in his Tr.

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