Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes of a Conversation with George Washington, 23 May 1793

Notes of a Conversation with George Washington

1793. May 23. I had sent to the President yesterday, draughts of a letter from him to the Provisory Exec. council of France, and of one from myself to Mr. Ternant, both on the occasion of his recall. I called on him to-day. He said there was a word in one of them which he had never before seen in any of our public communications, to wit ‘our republic.’ The letter prepared for him to the Council began thus ‘the citizen Ternant has delivered to me the letter wherein you inform me that, yielding &c. you had determined to recall him from his mission as your Min. plen. to our republic.’ He had underscored the words our republic. He said that certainly ours was a republican government, but yet we had not used that stile in this way: that if any body wanted to change it’s form into a monarchy he was sure it was only a few individuals, and that no man in the US. would set his face against it more than himself: but that this was not what he was afraid of: his fears were from another quarter, that there was more danger of anarchy being introduced. He adverted to a peice in Freneau’s paper of yesterday, he said he despised all their attacks on him personally, but that there never had been an act of the government, not meaning in the Executive line only, but in any line which that paper had not abused. He had also marked the word republic thus ✓ where it was applied to the French republic. [see the original paper]1 He was evidently sore and warm, and I took his intention to be that I should interpose in some way with Freneau, perhaps withdraw his appointment of translating clerk to my office, but I will not do it: his paper has saved our constitution which was galloping fast into monarchy, and has been checked by no one means so powerfully as by that paper. It is well and universally known that it has been that paper which has checked the career of the Monocrats, and the President, not sensible of the designs of the party, has not with his usual good sense, and sang froid, looked on the efforts and effects2 of this free press, and seen that tho some bad things had passed thro’ it to the public, yet the good had preponderated immensely.

MS (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand, with one sentence added at another time (see note 1 below); clipped at bottom, probably by TJ when he revised the “Anas” later in life, with possible loss of text; brackets in original. Recorded in SJPL under 24 May 1793 beneath entry for draft of George Washington to the Provisional Executive Council of France, 24 May 1793: “note on its being scored by the Presidt.” Included in the “Anas.”

For a discussion of the President’s objections to TJ’s wording of the draft of this letter, see note to George Washington to the Provisional Executive Council of France, 24 May 1793. The peice in Freneau’s paper was probably the intemperate article by “An Old Soldier” in the National Gazette of 22 May 1793 lauding the enthusiastic popular reception of Edmond Charles Genet in Philadelphia, attacking the Philadelphia merchants who had lately addressed Washington in support of the Proclamation of Neutrality as “the mercenary band, who bask in the sun-shine of courtfavour,” and giving thanks that in America “the sovereignty still resides with the People, and that neither proclamations, nor royal demeanor and state can prevent them from exercising it.”

1Preceding sentence interlined in a different ink.

2Preceding three words interlined in place of “proceedings.”

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