Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, 28 April 1792

To Gouverneur Morris

Philadelphia Apr. 28. 1792.

Dear Sir

My last letter to you was of the 10th. of March. The preceding one of Jan. 23. had conveyed to you your appointment as Minister Plenipotentiary to the court of France. The present will, I hope, find you there. I now inclose you the correspondence between the Secretary of the treasury and Minister of France on the subject of the monies furnished to the distresses of their colonies. You will perceive that the Minister chose to leave the adjustment of the terms to be settled at Paris between yourself and the king’s ministers. This you will therefore be pleased to do on this principle that we wish to avoid any loss by the mode of payment, but would not chuse to make a gain which should throw loss on them. But the letters of the Secretary of the treasury will sufficiently explain the desire of the government, and be a sufficient guide to you.—I now inclose you the act passed by Congress for facilitating the execution of the Consular Convention with France. In a bill which has passed the H. of Representatives for raising monies for the support of the Indian war, while the duties on every other species of wine are raised from one to three fourths more than they were, the best wines of France will pay little more than the worst of any other country, to wit between 6. and 7. cents a bottle and where this exceeds 40. per cent on their cost, they will pay but the 40. per cent. I consider this latter provision as likely to introduce in abundance the cheaper wines of France, and the more so as the tax on ardent spirits is considerably raised. I hope that these manifestations of friendly dispositions towards that country, will induce them to repeal the very obnoxious laws respecting our commerce, which were passed by the preceding National assembly. The present session of Congress will pass over without any other notice of them than the friendly preferences before mentioned. But if these should not produce a retaliation of good on their part, a retaliation of evil must follow on ours. It will be impossible to defer longer than the next session of Congress, some counter-regulations for the protection of our navigation and commerce. I must entreat you therefore to avail yourself of every occasion of friendly remonstrance on this subject. If they wish an equal and cordial treaty with us, we are ready to enter into it. We would wish that this could be the scene of negotiation, from considerations suggested by the nature of our government which will readily occur to you.—Congress will rise on this day sennight.—I inclose you a letter from Mrs. Greene who asks your aid in getting her son forwarded by the Diligence to London on his way to America. The letter will explain to you the mode and the means, and the parentage and genius of the young gentleman will ensure your aid to him. As this goes by the French packet, I send no newspapers, laws or other articles of that kind, the postage of which would be high. I am with great & sincere esteem Dear Sir, your most obedt. & most hble. servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNC); endorsed by Morris; enclosures: copies of Hamilton to Ternant, 8 Mch. 1792; Ternant to Hamilton, 10 Mch. 1792; and Hamilton to Washington, 19 Apr. 1792. PrC (DLC). FC (DNA: RG 59, DCI). Texts of the Hamilton letters are printed in Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961-1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 114–3;17, 122–3, 320. The act on the consular convention is in Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United StatesCompiled from Authentic Materials by Joseph Gales, Senior, Washington, Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The edition cited here has this caption on both recto and verso pages: “History of Congress.” Another printing, with the same title-page, has “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. Those using the latter printing will need to employ the date or, where it is lacking, to add approximately 52 to the page numbers of Annals as cited in this volume. description ends , iii, 1360–3.


TJ’s instructions to Morris were only one part of a two-pronged strategy that was designed to achieve his longstanding goal of strengthening the commercial ties between France and the United States in order to lessen American economic dependence on Great Britain. Three weeks before writing the above letter to the American minister to France, TJ had sought to enlist the support of the French minister to the United States in this cause. At that time TJ met with Ternant for two hours and stated that he and the President both believed that it was imperative for France and the United States to conclude a new commercial treaty before the next session of Congress. The situation was urgent, TJ explained, because the discriminatory measures the National Assembly had taken against American trade in 1791 made it impossible for him to recommend commercial concessions to France in the report on commerce he was preparing for Congress. They also threatened to enable the partisans of Britain in that body to secure passage of retaliatory laws against French trade that would only redound to the advantage of the British. Therefore, he argued, a new commercial treaty was necessary to prevent the outbreak of a trade war between France and the United States and to consolidate the economic and political ties between them. Ternant first responded by contrasting the concessions France had already made to American trade in the commercial treaty of 1778 and the royal decree of 1787 with the American failure to distinguish between French and British shipping in the tonnage laws of 1789 and 1790, but then offered to refer any American proposals for a new commercial treaty to the French government. TJ noted that the President had been expecting the French to propose terms for an agreement in consequence of a June 1791 decree of the National Assembly calling upon Louis XVI to negotiate a new treaty of commerce with the United States, but Ternant pointed out that this decree was not binding on the king, though he hastened to add that Louis was in favor of a new commercial treaty. TJ thereupon submitted a proposal for a new treaty of commerce that consisted of four terms. First, all French ports in Europe and America and all ports in the United States were to be open to ships of both nations. Second, each nation was to charge ships from the other the same admiralty and tonnage duties imposed on native ships. Third, each nation was to be free to export its own agricultural and manufactured products and to import the other’s agricultural and manufactured products subject to the payment of no higher duties than those imposed on domestic products. Fourth, American ships were to be free to export the products of American agriculture and fisheries to the French West Indies and to import therefrom commodities strictly for consumption in the United States while paying a slightly higher duty on the latter than the French. Ternant referred these terms to his superior in Paris as he had promised, but not before first satisfying himself that they represented the views of the President and the “principaux sénateurs” (Ternant to Lessart, 8 Apr. 1792, Turner, CFM description begins F. J. Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791-1797,” AHA, Ann. Rept., 1903, II description ends , p. 108–12). Having signified American wishes for

a new commercial treaty to the French government through the agency of the French minister to the United States, TJ sought to reinforce this message through the intermediation of the American minister to France. Following TJ’s instructions to the letter, Morris called the attention of French Foreign Minister Chambonas to the preferential treatment accorded imported French wines in the recently passed Act for Financing the Defense of the Frontiers and informed him of America’s wish for the repeal of the National Assembly’s discriminatory measures against American trade and the conclusion of a new treaty of commerce. Chambonas assured Morris that France was equally interested in a new treaty. But the ministerial instability attendant upon the increasing radicalization of the French Revolution made it impossible for the French government to agree on the terms for one until December 1792 when Citizen Genêt was authorized to negotiate a new trade treaty with the United States. By the time Genêt arrived in America, however, war had broken out between France and Great Britain, making a new treaty of commerce with France a less attractive alternative to a Washington administration determined to preserve American neutrality (Morris to TJ, 10 July, 1 Aug. 1792; Instructions to Genêt, December 1792, Turner, CFM description begins F. J. Turner, “Correspondence of French Ministers, 1791-1797,” AHA, Ann. Rept., 1903, II description ends , p. 207–11; DeConde, Entangling Alliance description begins Alexander DeConde, Entangling Alliance; Politics & Diplomacy under George Washington, Durham N.C., 1958 description ends , p. 161-3).

In compliance with Catherine Greene’s wishes, Morris arranged for the return of her son, George Washington Greene, to America (Gouverneur Morris, A Diary of the French Revolution, ed. Beatrix Cary Davenport [Boston, 1939], ii, 456n., 460, 462).

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