Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, 12 March 1793

To Gouverneur Morris

Philadelphia. Mar. 12. 1793.1

Dear Sir

Your Nos. 8. to 13. inclusive have been duly received. I am sensible that your situation must have been difficult during the transition from the late form of government to the reestablishment of some other legitimate authority, and that you may have been at a loss to determine with whom business might be done. Nevertheless when principles are well understood, their application is less embarrassing. We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own government is founded, that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases, and change these forms at it’s own will: and that it may transact it’s business with foreign nations through whatever organ it thinks proper, whether king, convention, assembly, committee, president or any thing else it may chuse. The will of the nation is the only thing essential to be regarded. On the dissolution of the late constitution in France, by removing so integral a part of it as the king, the National assembly, to whom a part only of the public authority had been delegated, appear to have considered themselves as incompetent to transact the affairs of the nation legitimately. They invited their fellow citizens therefore to appoint a national convention. In conformity with this their idea of the defective state of the national authority, you were desired from hence2 to suspend further payments of our debt to France till new orders, with an assurance however3 to the acting power that the suspension should not be continued a moment longer than should be necessary for us to see the reestablishment of some person or body of persons authorized to receive paiment and give us a good acquittal; (if you should find it necessary to give any assurance or explanation at all.) In the mean time we went on paying up the four millions of livres which had been destined by the last constituted authorities to the relief of St. Domingo. Before this was compleated we received information that a National assembly had met, with full powers to transact the affairs of the nation, and soon afterwards the Minister of France here presented an application for three millions of livres to be laid out in provisions to be sent to France. Urged by the strongest attachments to that country, and thinking it even providential that monies lent to us in distress could be repaid under like circumstances, we had no hesitation to comply with the application, and arrangements are accordingly taken for furnishing this sum at epochs accomodated to the demand and our means of paying it. We suppose this will rather overpay the instalments and interest due on4 the loans of 18. 6. and 10. millions to the end of 1792.:5 and we shall certainly use our utmost endeavors to make punctual payments of the instalments and interest hereafter becoming exigible, and to omit no opportunity of convincing that nation how cordially we wish to serve them. Mutual good offices, mutual affection and similar principles of government seem to destine the two nations for the most intimate communion: and I cannot too much press it on you to improve every opportunity which may occur in the changeable scenes which are passing, and to seize them as they occur, for placing our commerce with that nation and it’s dependancies, on the freest and the most encouraging footing possible.

Besides what we have furnished publicly for the relief of St. Domingo, individual merchants of the U.S. have carried considerable supplies thither, which have been sometimes purchased sometimes taken by force, and bills given by the administration of the colony on the minister here, which have been protested for want of funds. We have no doubt that justice will be done to these our citizens, and that without a delay which would be ruinous to them. We wish authority to be given to the minister of France here to pay the just demands of our citizens out of the monies he may recieve from us.

During the fluctuating state of the Assignats of France, I must ask the favor of you to inform me in every letter of the rate of exchange between them and coin, this being necessary for the regulation of our customhouses.

Congress closed it’s session on the 2d. instant. You will see their acts in the newspapers forwarded to you, and the body of them shall be sent as soon as the 8vo. edition is printed. We are to hold a treaty with the Western Indians in the ensuing month of May, but not under very hopeful auspices.

You will perceive by the newspapers a remarkeable fall in the price of our public paper. This is owing chiefly to the extraordinary demand for the produce of our country, and a temporary scarcity of cash to purchase it. The merchants holding public paper are obliged to part with it at any price to raise money.

The following appointment of Consuls has taken place. Nathanl. Cutting for Havre, Edward Fox for Falmouth, Joseph Yznardi for Cadiz, Robert Montgomery for Alicant, John Parish for Hamburg, Henry Cooper for Santa Cruz, Matthew Clarkson for St. Eustatius, Benjamin Hamnell Philips for Curaçoa, Samuel Cooper Johonnet for Demarara, Michael Murphy for Malaga, and James Greenleaf for Amsterdam.

I sent you by the way of London a dozen plans of the city of Washington in the Federal territory, hoping you would have them displayed to public view where they would be most seen by those descriptions of men worthy and likely to be attracted to it. Paris, Lyons, Rouen, and the seaport towns of Havre, Nantes, Bordeaux and Marseilles would be proper places to send some of them to. I trust to Mr. Taylor to forward you the newspapers by every direct occasion to France. These are rare at all times and especially in the winter: and to send them thro’ England would cost too much in postage. To these circumstances as well, probably as to some miscarriages, you must ascribe the length of interval sometimes experienced in the receipt of your papers.—I have the honor to be with great esteem & respect, Dear Sir, your most obedt. & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNC: Gouverneur Morris Papers); with altered date and other emendations, the most significant of which are noted below; addressed: “Monsieur Morris Ministre Plenipotentiaire des E.U. d’Amerique à Paris”; endorsed by Morris. PrC (DLC). FC (Lb in DNA: RG 59, DCI). Enclosure: Jean Baptiste Ternant to TJ, 7 Jan. 1793, and Enclosure No. 1.

This letter, which TJ submitted to Washington this day and received back the day after, authorized the resumption of payments on the American debt to France, which had been suspended since October 1792 because of the uncertainties attendant upon the overthrow of the French monarchy (see TJ to Morris, 15 Oct., 7 Nov. 1792; Washington, Journal description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797, Charlottesville, 1981 description ends , 856, 88). TJ had drafted a similar message to Morris on 30 Dec. 1792, but withheld it, choosing instead to use his letter to Thomas Pinckney of the same date to obtain Washington’s explicit approval of the policy of de facto diplomatic recognition (TJ to Morris, 30 Dec. 1792; Notes on the Legitimacy of Government, 30 Dec. 1792). The subsequent ten-week delay was caused by a vote in the House of Representatives in December 1792 to apply money set aside for payments on the French debt to pay the government’s debt to the Bank of the United States. This threat to the resumption of debt payments was defeated only on 28 Feb. 1793 when the House voted to pay the Bank with other funds (Notes of a Conversation with George Washington on French Affairs, 27 Dec. 1792, and note).

It is clear from the very similar and sometimes identical wording in his unsent text of 30 Dec. 1792 that TJ had the earlier version in front of him as he penned the present dispatch. His acknowledgment of letters received as late as 1 Feb. 1793 shows that he could not have begun it at an earlier date, and internal evidence demonstrates that he could not have finished it earlier than 2 Mch. 1793. All things considered, however, and despite TJ’s initial and inadvertent use of the 30 Dec. 1792 dateline (see note 1 below), the Secretary of State very likely prepared the dispatch on or about 12 Mch. 1793, although he could not have completed and sent it before the next day, when the President approved it and TJ made a final change (see Washington to TJ, 13 Mch. 1793; and note 5 below).

1TJ first wrote “Dec. 30. 1792.” and then altered the date to read as above. The alteration blurred the month and day in the PrC, where TJ canceled and rewrote them in ink above the line.

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Word interlined.

4Preceding two words interlined in place of “of.”

5Preceding five words interlined in light of a comment by the President (see Washington to TJ, 13 Mch. 1793).

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