Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Short, 22 June 1791

From William Short

Paris June 22. 1791.

Dear Sir

I have to communicate to you a very unexpected event which has taken place here and occupies the National assembly at present. The King with the Queen and Royal family retired from Paris without being observed the night before last. It is not yet known how they got out of the Chateau, in what manner they set off, nor whither they are gone. What renders this extraordinary circumstance the more remarkable is that the comité des recherches; the Municipality, and M. de la fayette were all warned of the intended flight, and had increased the guard and doubled their vigilance that night.

The event has so astonished every body and is so unaccountable in itself that no probable conjecture is formed of the manner in which it was effected. It became known between eight and nine o’clock in the morning of yesterday and expresses were sent off immediately to spread this information and stop the King or any part of the Royal family. As yet no intelligence of any kind whatever has been recieved of them.

It seems probable that the King counts on foreign aid and in that case he will endeavour to get out of the Kingdom for the present by the safest route. It is thought he will go through bye ways into the low countries or perhaps to Worms where he will find the Count D’Artois and Prince de Condé.

Previous to his departure he drew up an address à tons les Francois à sa sortie de Paris. He protests against the decrees he has sanctioned since Octob. 89. He forbids the ministers to sign any act in his name without further orders from him and commands the Garde du sceau to send him the seal of the State when he shall require it.

The National Assembly have taken provisionary measures for the exercise of the government during the King’s absence as you will see by their proceedings of yesterday which are inclosed in this letter and its copies which I shall send by several conveyances.

In consequence of their decrees M. de Montmorin has written a circular letter to the foreign ministers here. I inclose you a copy of that addressed to me. I subjoin also a copy of one I recieved yesterday from the Spanish Ambassador, since when I have heard nothing further from him.

It is surprizing that the King’s departure should have produced so little effect here.—There reigns the most perfect tranquillity and business goes on in almost the ordinary style. It is impossible to say how long this will continue. A few days however will probably shew more clearly the dispositions of all parties. The people murmured much against M. de la fayette, but his irreproachable character and known virtue saved him from their violence and he seems now to have fully their confidence, as he has certainly that of the National assembly.—I am with sentiments of sincere attachment & affection Dear Sir, your friend & servant,

W. Short

P.S. 10 o’clock p.m. An express has just arrived with intelligence that the King has been stopped at Varrennes near the frontier of Luxemburg. He was recognized by the postmaster of the village. He is now surrounded by thousands of gardes nationales who flocked in from all quarters and are escorting him here. The assembly will conduct themselves with moderation, but it is impossible to answer for the excesses of the people and particularly with respect to the Queen. The crisis is really tremendous and may have a disastrous issue.

PrC (DLC: Short Papers); at head of text: “No. 69.” Tr (DNA: RG 59, DD). Entries in SJL show, without identification, that RC, Dupl, and Tripl were received on 23 Aug., 20 Sep., and 22 Oct. 1791. Enclosures: (1) Montmorin to Short, 22 June 1791, informing him that the uncertainty caused by the King’s departure for an unknown refuge the night before last had caused the National Assembly to assure him of the will of the French nation to continue the friendly relationship existing between France and the United States (Tr in DNA: RG 59, DD). (2) Communication from the Spanish Ambassador to Short expressing his conviction that, in the existing critical and uncertain circumstances, it was advisable and even necessary for the honor and safety of the diplomatic corps to follow a uniform course in its conduct; that he had written to Montmorin to inquire what his intentions were in this respect; and that Montmorin had just answered his inquiry, saying he was then on his way to the National Assembly to receive orders he was confident would be appropriate in the cruel circumstances in which they found themselves (undated but written on 21 June 1791; Tr in DNA: RG 59, DD).

The Declaration of Louis XVI to the people of France, issued at Paris on 20 June 1791, explaining the reasons for his departure, forbidding his ministers to sign any order in his name without further instructions, and commanding the Keeper of the Seal to transmit it to him when directed to do so, was read the next day to the stunned members of the National Assembly (Archives Parlementaires, xxvii, 378–83). Under the compelling necessity of providing for the exercise of the powers of government in future and in order to validate all of the decrees it had adopted since 1789, the National Assembly could do no more than make provisional arrangements. Its action, followed by Montmorin’s communication to the diplomatic corps, was of course essential for the continuity of formal relations with other nations because each of its members was accredited to Louis XVI as sovereign. The ambassador from Spain was particularly sensitive to the implications of “les cruelles circonstances” because of the alliance of the Spanish and French Bourbons under the Family Compact.

Index Entries