Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 26 January 1799

To Elbridge Gerry

Philadelphia Jan. 26. 1799.

My dear Sir

Your favor of Nov. 12. was safely delivered to me by mr ——,1 but not till Dec. 28. as I arrived here only three days before that date. it was recieved with great satisfaction. our very long intimacy as fellow-labourers in the same cause, the recent expressions of mutual confidence which had preceded your mission, the interesting course which that had taken, & particularly & personally as it regarded yourself, made me anxious to hear from you on your return. I was the more so too, as I had myself during the whole of your absence, as well as since your return, been a constant butt for every shaft of calumny which malice & false-hood could form, & the presses, public speakers, or private letters disseminate. one of these too was of a nature to touch yourself; as if, wanting confidence in your efforts, I had been capable of usurping powers committed to you, & authorising negociations private & collateral to yours. the real truth is that though Dr. Logan, the pretended missionary,2 about 4. or 5. days before he sailed for Hamburgh, told me he was going there, & thence to Paris, & asked & recieved from me a certificate of his citizenship, character, & circumstances of life, merely as a protection should he be molested on his journey in the present turbulent & suspicious state of Europe, yet3 I had been led to consider his object as relative to his private affairs; and tho’ from an intimacy of some standing, he knew well my wishes for peace, and my political sentiments in general, he nevertheless4 recieved then no particular declaration of them, no authority to communicate them to any mortal, nor to speak to any one in my name, or in any body’s name, on that, or any other subject what ever;5 nor did I write by him a scrip of a pen to any person what ever. this he has himself honestly & publicly declared since his return; & from his well known character & every other6 circumstance, every candid man must percieve that his enterprize was dictated by his own enthusiasm, without consultation or communication with any one; that he acted in Paris on his own ground, & made his own way. yet to give some colour to his proceedings which might implicate the republicans in general, & myself particularly,7 they have not been ashamed to bring forward a supposititious paper drawn by one of their own party in the name of Logan, & falsely pretended to have been presented by him to the government of France; counting that the bare8 mention of my9 name therein would connect that in the eye of the public with this transaction. in confutation of these & all future calumnies, by way of anticipation, I shall make to you a profession of my political faith; in confidence that you will consider every future imputation on me of a contrary complexion as bearing on it’s front the mask of falsehood & calumny.

I do then with sincere zeal wish an inviolable preservation of our present federal constitution, according to the true sense in which it was adopted10 by the states, that in which it was advocated by it’s friends, & not that which it’s enemies apprehended, who therefore became it’s enemies: and I am opposed to the monarchising it’s features by the forms of it’s administration, with a view to conciliate a first transition to a President & Senate for life, & from that to a hereditary tenure of these offices, & thus to worm out the elective principle. I am for preserving to the states the powers not yielded by them to the Union,11 & to the legislature of the Union it’s constitutional share in the division of powers: and I am not for transferring all the powers of the states to the general government, & all those of that government to the Executive branch. I am for a government rigorously frugal & simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt: and not for a multiplication of officers & salaries merely to make partizans, & for increasing, by every device, the public debt, on the principle of it’s being a public blessing. I am for relying, for internal defence, on our militia solely till actual invasion, and for such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbours from such depredations as we have experienced: and not for a standing army in time of peace which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy which by it’s own expences and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burthens, & sink us under them. I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, & little or no12 diplomatic establishment: and I am not for linking ourselves, by new treaties13 with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their14 balance, or joining in the confederacy of kings to war against the principles of liberty. I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another:15 for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence by force & not by reason16 the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents. and I am for encouraging the progress of science in all it’s branches; and not for raising a hue and cry against the sacred name of philosophy, for awing17 the human mind, by stories of rawhead & bloody bones, to a distrust of it’s own vision & to repose implicitly on that of others; to go backwards instead of forwards to look for improvement, to believe that government, religion, morality & every other science were in the highest perfection in ages of the darkest ignorance, and that nothing can ever be devised more perfect than what was established by18 our forefathers. to these I will add that I was a sincere wellwisher to the success of the French revolution, and still wish it may end in the establishment of a free & well ordered republic:19 but I have not been insensible under the atrocious depredations they have committed on our commerce. the first object of my heart is my own country. in that is embarked my family, my fortune, & my own existence. I have not one farthing of interest, nor one fibre of attachment out of it, nor a single motive of preference of any one nation to another but in proportion as they are more or less friendly to us. but though deeply feeling the injuries of France, I did not think war the surest mode of redressing them. I did believe that a mission sincerely disposed to preserve peace, would obtain for us a peaceable & honourable settlement and retribution; & I appeal to you to say whether this might not have been obtained, if either of your collegues had been of the same sentiment with20 yourself.—these my friend are my principles; they are unquestionably the principles of the great body of our fellow citizens,21 and I know there is not one22 of them which is not yours also. in truth we never differed but on one ground, the funding system; and as from the moment of it’s being adopted by the constituted authorities, I became religiously principled in the sacred discharge of it to the uttermost farthing, we are now united even on that single ground of difference.

I turn now to your enquiries. the inclosed paper will answer one of them. but you also ask for such political information as may be possessed by me & interesting to yourself in regard to your embassy. as a proof of my entire confidence in you I shall give it fully & candidly. when Pinckney, Marshal, and Dana were nominated to settle our differences with France, it was suspected by many, from what was understood23 of their dispositions, that their mission would not result in a settlement of differences; but would produce circumstances tending to widen the breach, and to provoke our citizens to consent to a war with that nation, & union with England. Dana’s resignation, & your appointment gave the first gleam of hope of a peaceable issue to the mission. for it was believed that you were sincerely disposed to accomodation: & it was not long after your arrival there before symptoms were observed of that difference of views which had been suspected to exist.—In the mean time however24 the aspect of our government towards the French republic25 had become so ardent that the people of America generally took the alarm. to the Southward their apprehensions were early excited. in the Eastern states also they at length began to break out. meetings were held in many of your towns, & addresses to the government agreed on in opposition to war. the example was spreading like wild fire. other meetings were called in other places, & a general concurrence of sentiment against the apparent inclinations of the government was imminent, when, most critically for the government, the dispatches of Oct. 22. prepared26 by your collegue Marshall with a view to their being made public,27 dropped into their laps. it was truly a God-send to them, & they made the most of it. many thousands of copies were printed & dispersed gratis at the public expence; & the zealots for war co-operated so heartily that there were instances of single individuals who printed & dispersed 10, or 12,000 copies at their own expence. the odiousness of the28 corruption supposed29 in those papers excited a general & high indignation among the people. unexperienced30 in such maneuvres, they did not permit themselves even to suspect that the turpitude of private swindlers might mingle itself unobserved, & give it’s own hue to the communications31 of the French government, of whose participation there was neither proof nor probability. it served however, for a time, the purpose intended. the people in many places gave a loose to the expressions of their warm indignation, & of their honest preference of war to dishonour. the fever was long & succesfully kept up, and in the mean time war measures as ardently crouded.—still however as it was known that your collegues were coming away, & yourself to stay, though disclaiming a separate power to conclude a treaty, it was hoped by the lovers of peace that32 a project of treaty would have been prepared, ad referendum,33 on principles which would have satisfied our citizens, & overawed any bias of the government towards a different policy. but the expedition of the Sophia, and, as was supposed, the suggestions of the person charged with your dispatches, & his probable misrepresentations34 of the real wishes of the American people, prevented these hopes. they had then only to look forward to your return for such information either through the Executive, or from yourself, as might present35 to our view the other side of the medal. the dispatches of Oct. 22. 97. had presented one face. that information, to a certain degree, is now recieved; & the public will see from your correspondence with Taleyrand that France, as you testify, ‘was sincere & anxious to obtain a reconciliation, not wishing us to break the British treaty, but only to give her equivalent stipulations, and in general was disposed to a liberal treaty.’36 and they will judge whether mr Pickering’s report shews37 an inflexible determination to believe no declarations the French government can make, nor any opinion which you, judging on the spot & from actual view, can give of their sincerity, and to meet their designs of peace with operations of war. the alien & sedition acts have already operated in the South as powerful sedatives of the XYZ. inflammation. in your quarter where violations of principle are either less regarded or more concealed, the direct tax is likely to have the same effect, & to excite enquiries into the object of the enormous expences & taxes we are bringing on. and your information supervening that we might have a liberal accomodation if we would, there can be little doubt of the reproduction of that general movement which had been changed for a moment by the dispatches of Oct. 22. and tho’ small checks & stops, like Logan’s pretended embassy, may be thrown in the way from time to time, & may a little retard it’s motion, yet the tide is already turned and will sweep before it all38 the feeble obstacles of art. the unquestionable republicanism of the American mind will break through the mist under which it has been clouded, and will oblige it’s agents to reform the principles & practices of their administration.39

You suppose that you have been abused by both parties, as far as has come to my knowledge you are misinformed. I have never seen or heard a sentence of blame uttered against you by the republicans, unless we were so to construe their wishes that you had more boldly cooperated in a project of a treaty, and would more explicitly state whether there was in your collegues that flexibility which persons earnest after peace would have practised? whether, on the contrary, their demeanor was not cold, reserved and distant at least, if not backward? and whether, if they had yielded to those informal conferences which Taleyrand seems to have courted, the liberal accomodation you suppose might not have been effected, even with their agency? your fellow citizens think they have a right to full information in a case of such great concernment to them. it is their sweat which is to earn all the expences of the war, and their blood which is to flow in expiation of the causes of it. it may be in your power to save them from these miseries by full communications and unrestrained details,40 postponing motives of delicacy to those of duty. it rests with you to come forward independantly, to take your stand on the high ground of your own character, to disregard calumny, and to be borne above it on the shoulders of your grateful fellow citizens, or to sink into the humble oblivion to which the Federalists (self-called)41 have secretly condemned you, and even to be happy if they will indulge you with oblivion while they have beamed on your collegues meridian splendor.42 pardon me, my dear Sir, if my expressions are strong. my feelings are so much more so, that it is with difficulty I reduce them even to the tone I use. if you doubt the dispositions towards you, look into the papers on both sides for the toasts which were given through all the states on the 4th. of July. you will there see whose hearts were with you, and whose were ulcerated against you. indeed as soon as it was known that you had consented to stay in Paris, there was no measure observed in the execrations of the war-party, they openly wished you might be guillotined, or sent to Cayenne, or any thing else: and these expressions were finally stifled43 from a principle of policy only, & to prevent you from being urged to a justification of yourself. from this principle alone proceeds the silence, & cold respect they observe towards you. still they cannot prevent at times the flames bursting from under the embers, as mr Pickering’s letters, report, & conversations testify as well as the indecent expressions respecting you indulged by some of them in the debate on these dispatches. these sufficiently shew that you are never more to be honoured or trusted by them, & that they wait to crush you for ever only till they can do it without danger to themselves.44

When I sat down to answer your letter, but two courses presented themselves. either to say nothing or every thing; for half-confidences are not in my character. I could not hesitate which was due to you. I have unbosomed myself fully; & it will certainly be highly gratifying if I recieve a like confidence from you. for even if we differ in principle more than I believe we do, you & I know too well the texture of the human mind, & the slipperiness of human reason, to consider differences of opinion otherwise than differences of form or feature. integrity of views, more than their soundness, is the basis of esteem. I shall follow your direction in conveying this by a private hand; tho’ I know not as yet when one worthy of confidence will occur:45 & my trust in you leaves me without a fear that this letter, meant as a confidential communication46 of my impressions, may ever go out of your own hand, or be suffered in any wise to commit my name.47 indeed, besides the accidents which might happen to it even under your care, considering the accident of death to which yourself are liable, I think it safest to pray you, after reading it as often as you please to destroy at least the 2d. & 3d. leaves. the 1st. contains principles only, which I fear not to avow; but the 2d. & 3d contain facts stated for your information, and which though sacredly conformable to my firm belief, yet would be galling to some, & expose me to illiberal attacks. I therefore repeat my prayer to burn the 2d. & 3d. leaves. and did we ever expect to see the day when, breathing nothing but sentiments of love to our country & it’s freedom & happiness, our correspondence must be as secret as if we were hatching it’s destruction! Adieu, my friend, and accept my sincere & affectionate salutations. I need not add my signature.48

RC (NNPM); endorsed by Gerry: “Philozette His Exy Mr Jefferson 26 Jany 1799 & copies of Answers 15 & 20 of Jany 1801.” PrC (DLC); with enclosure letter-pressed on last leaf (see below). Dft (same); heavily emended, with the most significant emendations and variations recorded in notes below; variations in paragraphing not recorded.

Gerry did not reply to this letter until January 1801. recent expressions of mutual confidence between TJ and Gerry preceding the latter’s journey to France included nine letters they exchanged between 27 Mch. and 6 July 1797 (see Vol. 29:326–7, 355–6, 361–6, 387, 398–9, 402, 448–9, 475–6). Their last previous correspondence had been a letter from TJ to Gerry of 26 Feb. 1793.

See 4 June 1798 for TJ’s certificate for George Logan.

For Francis dana’s resignation as envoy to France, or more properly his declining the nomination, and Adams’s appointment of Gerry in his place, see Senate Resolution on Appointment of Charles C. Pinckney, [5 June 1797]. The dispatches of Oct. 22. prepared by your collegue Marshall were the reports from Marshall, Pinckney, and Gerry, dated 22 Oct. 1797 through 8 Jan. 1798, released to Congress in April 1798 (see TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 11 Apr., and Monroe to TJ, 4 May 1798).

Person charged with your dispatches: Clement Humphreys.

‘Was sincere & anxious … disposed to a liberal treaty’: what TJ depicted as a consolidated quotation is actually his paraphrasing of language in Gerry’s correspondence with Talleyrand recently conveyed to Congress and published (see TJ to Monroe, 23 Jan. 1799). The intention of France to reconcile sincerely appears in item no. 14 of that correspondence, Talleyrand’s letter to Gerry of 10 June 1798, and no. 23, Talleyrand’s of 12 July. Gerry reported Talleyrand’s declaration that France did not expect the U.S. to break the Jay Treaty in his covering letter to Pickering of 1 Oct. 1798. The term “liberal” or “liberality” with regard to France’s intent for a new treaty with the United States appeared in that cover letter as well as in no. 23 and no. 24, Gerry’s reply to Talleyrand on 20 July (ASP, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends Foreign Relations, 2:206, 207, 212, 219, 221).

The 2d. & 3d. leaves of the MS contain all of the text beginning with the paragraph that opens “I turn now to your enquiries” and continuing to the end of the letter.

1PrC: “Binney,” which TJ almost entirely erased in RC and replaced with a series of flourishes shown here as a dash. Dft: “Binney.”

2Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

3Here in Dft TJ canceled “not a word.”

4In Dft TJ interlined the preceding eight words in place of “yet he.”

5Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft.

6Preceding six words and ampersand interlined in Dft in place of “every.”

7In Dft TJ interlined the preceding passage beginning with “the republicans” in place of “me,” and “the republicans in general” is a substitution for “republican party.”

8In Dft TJ interlined the passage from “a supposititious” to this point in place of “a forgery committed by one of their own party, as if presented to the French government by Taleyrand, and the sentiments of which are so evidently different from their own that nothing but could have induced it’s being made use of but that it.”

9Foot of page in MS. TJ wrote the remainder of the paragraph in the margin.

10In Dft TJ interlined the remainder of this passage to the colon in place of “& which I know to have been highly republican.”

11TJ interlined the preceding seven words in Dft in place of “left them by the constitution, and for.”

12In Dft TJ interlined preceding three words and ampersand in place of “and the reduction of […] expensive & mischief making.”

13Three words interlined in Dft.

14Word underlined in Dft and in ink on PrC.

15Preceding nine words interlined in Dft in place of “on religious establishments.”

16Preceding five words and ampersand interlined in Dft.

17Word interlined in Dft in place of “deterring.”

18Two words interlined in Dft in place of “known to.” In Dft TJ wrote the passage following this sentence, from “to these I will add” through “same sentiment with yourself,” in the margin and keyed it for insertion in the body of the text.

19Word interlined in Dft in place of “government.”

20Preceding five words interlined in Dft in place of “as earnest in it as.”

21Preceding thirteen words interlined in Dft.

22Foot of page in MS. TJ wrote the remainder of the paragraph in the margin.

23In Dft TJ interlined preceding seven words in place of “believed by the republicans generally, from a knolege.”

24In Dft TJ first wrote the long passage that follows—beginning “the aspect of our government” and ending “war measures as ardently crouded—farther below in the letter, preceding “the alien & sedition acts have already operated in the South.” He subsequently marked the passage for transposition to this point.

25Preceding four words interlined in Dft in place of “to a war with France.”

26In Dft TJ interlined the preceding phrase in place of “story of W.X.Y.Z. cooked up.”

27Here in Dft TJ interlined but canceled: “as is known to me, but I believe not to you,” enclosing the insertion in square brackets.

28Here in Dft TJ canceled “attempt at bribery.”

29Word interlined in Dft in place of “presented.”

30Prefix of word interlined in Dft in place of “your town meetings were arrested, or took a contrary turn; which concealed from their minds, not.”

31In Dft, passage from “might mingle itself” through this word is an interlineation in place of “was played. off on their credulity for that.”

32Preceding six words interlined in Dft.

33Two words interlined in Dft in place of “for the consideration of government.”

34In Dft TJ first wrote “& misrepresenting to you that a momentary delusion” before altering the the clause to read as above.

35In Dft, the passage beginning with this word and running through “operations of war. the alien &” is on a piece TJ affixed to the original page. The passage superseded by the new text reads in part: “believed that these alone have retarded your determination: but […] never will consent to remain under the cloud they have drawn over […] while they have beamed on your collegues meridian splendour. it is the less […] because in doing justice to yourself, you will perform a duty to your fellow citizens; who in all cases of such high concernment have a right to judge their agents, & to controul by the expressions of the public sentiments any bias eminently injurious to them. you observe that you have been abused by both parties. in this, as far as has come to my knolege, you are misinformed. I have never seen a sentence of blame uttered against you by the republicans, unless we were so to construe their wishes that you had been bolder. I shall state to you some facts, which having taken place while you were absent may not have become known to you.” In Dft this passage, portions of which TJ incorporated later in the text, immediately precedes the large block that he transposed to a position earlier in the text (see note 24 above).

36After “in general” TJ canceled “to have.” In Dft he first wrote: “in general to have concurred liberally in a treaty” before altering the passage to read as above.

37Here in Dft TJ canceled “them equally that our admn is invincible.”

38TJ here canceled “artificial.”

39Here in Dft TJ canceled: “and it rests with yourself, my dear,” and in Dft the text that follows, from “You Suppose” through “meridian splendor” below (see note 42), is on a piece that TJ attached to the sheet.

40Preceding three words interlined in Dft in place of “if there be any thing yet untold, and by.”

41Words in parentheses lacking in Dft.

42In Dft remainder of paragraph is partially obscured by the piece attached to the larger sheet as described in note 39 above.

43Word interlined in Dft in place of “hushed up.”

44Preceding two sentences interlined in Dft in place of “but the known frame of your mind will prevent your being ever more troubled or honoured by them.”

45In Dft TJ wrote the succeeding passage, through “commit my name,” as an interlineation continued in the margin.

46Dft: “explanation.”

47The text that follows, through “I therefore repeat my prayer to burn the 2d. & 3d. leaves. and,” is lacking in Dft, which continues here: “but did we ever expect <to live> to see the day.”

48Final sentence lacking in Dft.

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