Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Theodore Foster, 23 March 1801

From Theodore Foster

New York March 23d. 1801—

Dear Sir,

When I last had the Honor to be in Company with you, I took the Liberty to mention that I was personally acquainted with John M: Forbes Esqr. of this City, who was lately nominated, by President Adams, and with the Concurrence of the Senate was appointed Commercial Agent, for the United States at Havre, in France. I then proposed to write to your Excellency, on his case, upon my Arrival, in this City, where his Brother and Partner in Trade Mr. R. B. Forbes resides, to which you was pleased to consent.—

John M. Forbes Esq before named was born at Boston, in Massachusetts, and had a liberal Education at Harvard College at Cambridge in that State.—He graduated there about the Year 1787, after which he pursued the Study of the Law—was regularly admitted to the Bar, and was sometime in Practice in New England.—But his Brother of this City, being largely concerned in Commerce, particularly with France, and wanting a Partner to assist him in Business, they formed a Commercial Connexion, under the Form of John & Bennet Forbes when the former went to reside in France to transact the Concerns of the Company there.—He was there when the Controversy commenced between that Country and the United States, and was one of the Committee of the Citizens of the United States then in France, who presented an Address to Mr. Munroe Decr. 6th: 1796 published by him, near the Close of the Volume, respecting his Embassy to France. In Consequence of the Troubles between the Two Nations Mr. Forbes returnd to this, his Native Country.—But as Commercial Intercourse is again opened he proposes to return to France, and it will very acceptable to him to be continued, in his before mentioned Appointment.—

I have Reason to think that Mr. Forbes is much esteemed in France:—and that he possesses genuine, republican Principles, in Politicks.—And as he speaks the French Language,—Sustains an excellent Character,—possesses a well informed, comprehensive Understanding, with an engaging Deportment, and agreeable Manners, at a Period of Life, when his Judgment, ripened by Experience, will not be likely to be led astray, I am induced to beleive that Mr. Forbes’s Appointment, as Commercial Agent will give Satisfaction to all who know him, and that but few native Americans can be found to go to reside, in France, more capable, or more disposed honorably to discharge the Duties attachd to the Office.—

Mr. Forbes would prefer an Appointment to reside at Bourdeaux where he is well acquainted, to one at Havre.—But will be obliged by one to either Place, and in either will be disposed to render the American Government all the Services in his Power.—

I have the Honor to be, with great Esteem and Respect, your Excellencys most Obedient Servant

Theodore Foster

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at head of text: “To the President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Mch. and so recorded in SJL.

Theodore Foster (1752–1828), an attorney, judge, and antiquarian, was a U.S. Senator from Rhode Island from 1790 until March 1803. He was the brother of Dwight Foster and the son-in-law of Arthur Fenner (DAB. description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ) For earlier correspondence from Foster to TJ that has not been found, see Vol. 25:415n.

On a slip of paper filed with Foster’s letter TJ wrote: “Forbes. see Monroe’s lre Mar. 23. 1801.

a federalist

well enough.

named by mr A.”

On 18 Feb., John Adams had named John Murray Forbes to be commercial agent at Le Havre, France. The Senate confirmed the nomination on 24 Feb., but Forbes was one of the late-term appointees who did not receive a commission. TJ named another person to the post at Le Havre but appointed Forbes in February 1802 to succeed Joseph Pitcairn as U.S. consul at Hamburg (JEP, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States… to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends 1:381, 385, 402, 406–7).

Forbes’s brother, Ralph Bennet Forbes, wrote to TJ from New York on 20 Mch. 1801 to enclose a letter from Monroe in support of John Murray Forbes and to assert that his brother was, contrary to “gross misrepresentation,” a native of the United States, their family having lived in Boston and its vicinity “since the begining of the last Century.” On the subject of political alignments R. B. Forbes could say only that his brother was “no partizan and that his Americanism will bear the most rigid Scrutiny” (DNA: RG 59, LAR, at foot of text: “The President of the United States,” endorsed by TJ as received 25 Mch. and so recorded in SJL; enclosure: Monroe to TJ, 22 Feb. 1801, regarding which see Monroe’s letter of 23 Mch.). The brothers’ father, a Church of England clergyman born in Scotland, was for many years a resident and government official of British East Florida, but his wife was from Massachusetts, where they married (DAB, description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends 6:505–6). The letter of 20 Mch. is the only correspondence to or from R. B. Forbes recorded in SJL.

The address by U.S. citizens in Paris praised Monroe and expressed regret at his recall from the position of minister to France. John Murray Forbes and R. Bennet Forbes were among the 70 people who subscribed their names to the memorial (James Monroe, A View of the Conduct of the Executive, in the Foreign Affairs of the United States, Connected with the Mission to the French Republic, During the years 1794, 5, & 6 [Philadelphia, 1797], 401–2).

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