Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the National Institute of France, 3 November 1802

To the National Institute of France

Washington Nov. 14. 1802.

Citizens President and Secretaries

I have recieved the letter wherein you have been pleased to announce to me that the National institute of sciences and arts1 had elected me a foreign associate for the class of moral and political sciences: and I recieve it with that sensibility which such an expression of respect from a body of the first order of science, is calculated to inspire.   Without pretensions to those qualifications which might do justice to the appointment, I accept it as an evidence of the brotherly spirit of Science, which unites into one family all it’s votaries of whatever grade, and however widely dispersed through the different quarters of the globe.

Accept, Citizens President and Secretaries, for yourselves and your associates, the assurance of my high consideration and respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (Max Thorek, Chicago, 1946). PrC (DLC). Recorded in SJL as to the National Institute with notation “President & Secretaries.” PrC (same); dated 3 Nov.; salutation: “Mr. President,” and so worded in final paragraph; with one other variation noted below. Recorded in SJL as to the National Institute with notation “Vincent Presidt of.”

TJ had received four signed copies of the letter of 26 Dec. 1801 in which François André Vincent, the president of the organization, and two of its secretaries, Noël Gabriel Luc de Villar and François Jean Gabriel de La Porte du Theil, informed him of his election to the National Institute (Vol. 36:208–9).

expression of respect: in March 1803, a text of TJ’s letter began to appear in American newspapers. Labeled “From a Paris Paper of February 1,” the published version was dated “March 14, 1802.” The text read: “I have received a letter, in which you have the goodness to announce to me, that the National Institute of the Arts and Sciences have elected me a foreign associate for the class of moral and political sciences. I receive this favor with a degree of sensibility equal to the respect which a body of savans of the highest character naturally inspires. Without pretending to any claim to the title of one of their colleagues, I accept it as a proof of the spirit of fraternity, which unites in one family all who cultivate science and letters, whatever part of the world they inhabit. Accept for yourselves, citizens president and secretaries, and for your colleagues, the assurance of my high consideration and respect” (New York Morning Chronicle, 28 Mch. 1803). Over the next several weeks, a number of newspapers throughout the country reprinted the text. Many editors published it without comment, but some Federalists used the occasion to mock TJ. The New-York Herald of 2 Apr., for example, called attention to the terms “savans” and “spirit of fraternity.” On 8 Apr., Samuel Harrison Smith’s National Intelligencer responded to the criticism of the letter “said to have been written by the President.” Suggesting that the false wording was the result of the translation of the original letter into French, then back into English, and declaring that it was now possible “to give a correct copy of the original,” the Intelligencer published the letter in the form in which TJ had written it. Other newspapers then began to reprint the corrected wording. Some Republican editors chided their counterparts at “distinguished federal prints” who had tried to turn a few expressions in a faulty text into a political issue. A comment in the New York American Citizen of 13 Apr. and in other papers noted that the authentic letter “contains not one of the phrases carped at.” On 18 Apr., the editors of the Gazette of the United States printed the corrected version but wondered why the president “would be at the pains of furnishing an authenticated copy of this letter,” since on other occasions he had refused to confirm or refute letters attributed to his pen (Baltimore Federal Gazette, 1 Apr.; Harrisburg, Pa., Oracle of Dauphin, 4 Apr.; Albany Centinel, 5 Apr.; Worcester, Mass., National Aegis, 6 Apr.; Washington Federalist, 6 Apr.; New Bedford Columbian Courier, 8 Apr.; Elizabethtown Maryland Herald, 13 Apr.; Richmond Virginia Argus, 13 Apr.; Providence Gazette, 16 Apr.; Charleston City Gazette, 16 Apr.; New York Republican Watch-Tower, 16 Apr.; Hudson, N.Y., Bee, 19 Apr.; Amherst, N.H., Farmer’s Cabinet, 21 Apr.; Portsmouth New Hampshire Gazette, 3 May 1803).

1Preceding four words lacking in 3 Nov. version.

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