Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Vaughan, 25 December 1802

From John Vaughan

Philad: Dec. 25. 1802

Dear Sir

Under present circumstances I do not concieve myself authorised not to send you an extract of a letter from a common & much respected friend—he wishes his name may not be used, because he thinks it probable “in the course of human Events, that the French may find it perfectly convenient to take possession of this quondam apendage to Louisiana,” in which case the avowal of such sentiments might materially injure him—I do not concieve it improbable he may have written directly to yourself—but as an important fact was communicated, & as possibly some weight may be attached to his opinions with you, I have resolved to send it—I subjoin two other extracts not relative to this subject & remain with the greatest respect

Your friend & Servt.

Jn Vaughan

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Pt. of US”; endorsed by TJ as received 29 Dec. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: extracts of a letter from an unidentified correspondent (William Dunbar—see below), dated 8 Nov., reporting a widely held belief that the actions of the intendant at New Orleans foretell the treatment that Americans can expect once the French take control of Louisiana; a vessel arriving from Bordeaux two days before the intendant issued his proclamation brought news that “troops destined for Louisiana,” reportedly 10,000 in number, were to embark in France in September; it is widely believed that the intendant’s actions are “a french Machination” to deprive Americans of the right of deposit on the eve of the arrival of French soldiers; the United States will then no longer have recourse through the “pusilanimous Govt. of Spain,” and the “imperious minions of Buoanaparte” will say that they are simply maintaining the policies that were in place when they took control of the colony; the U.S. will then have to negotiate for the right of deposit upon terms that “will divert the course” of our commerce “from a British into a French channel”; although some Americans will not consider this a matter of great importance, others “will always spurn the idea of bending the will to any Earthly foreign power”; it would be bad policy to do anything to strengthen the power of France at sea, for France is “the most powerful nation on Earth” by land, and the only limits on its “devouring ambition” are set by Great Britain at sea; in 100 years the United States will be powerful enough to defy France, but until then the best policy is to keep Britain and France in rivalry; a few years previously, “our Brethren of Kentucky were extremely partial to the French,” and it seemed likely that Kentuckians would break away from the United States rather than go to war against France; such “is not the case now—They only wait the orders of Govt. & in the twinkling on an Eye New Orleans would be ours”; if the United States and France come into conflict, it will be of critical importance to send immediately a force of 4,000 to 5,000 men to protect the Mississippi Territory “& keep in awe the Savages who are still much attached to the French”; otherwise “this prosperous Colony would be cut up root & branch”; the “Spaniards do not yet presume to refuse us the navigation of the river,” but without the right of deposit, loads must be transferred directly from river boats to ships (Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 124:21504–5; in Vaughan’s hand; at head of text: “Extracts”). For other enclosure, see below.

As is clear from the second set of extracts, the much respected friend was William Dunbar. For another occasion on which Vaughan sent TJ passages from Dunbar’s communications, see Vol. 37:431, 434n. In this period, Dunbar refrained from commenting directly to TJ on political topics (Dunbar to TJ, 10 June 1803). quondam apendage to louisiana: the Natchez district where Dunbar resided.

two other extracts: Vaughan enclosed, in addition to the passages from Dunbar’s 8 Nov. letter relating to Louisiana, four paragraphs of extracts on scientific topics (Tr in DLC: TJ Papers, 124:21506; in Vaughan’s hand). Vaughan took those extracts, which he did not date or identify, from a letter written by Dunbar at Natchez on 22 Oct., a fragmentary text of which appears in Mrs. Dunbar Rowland (Eron Rowland), ed., Life, Letters and Papers of William Dunbar of Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland, and Natchez, Mississippi: Pioneer Scientist of the Southern United States (Jackson, Miss., 1930), 117–18. A brief paragraph of comments by Vaughan separates the four paragraphs of extracted material into two sections. “Mr Michaux had not on 8 Novr. arrived at Natchez,” Vaughan wrote—a reference to François André Michaux, the son of André Michaux. The younger Michaux made a journey through the western states collecting botanical specimens in 1802, but he traveled overland from Nashville to Charleston, South Carolina, and did not go to Natchez (Henry Savage, Jr., and Elizabeth J. Savage, André and François André Michaux [Charlottesville, 1986], 246–54; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ). Vaughan continued his comments: “D Coxe has in Poulson of Fryday, has communicated a method of preserving the Vaccine Virus, from Soaking the Vaccine Crust of the Pock in Water—It will no Doubt be republished” (see John Redman Coxe to TJ, 5 Jan. 1803). In the first of the extracts, Dunbar—referring to a grant of £10,000 from Parliament to Edward Jenner (DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends )—expressed regret that the British had “conferred so paltry a recompence upon Dr Jenner for his noble discovery, published in the true Spirit of Philanthropy for the benefit of mankind.” Dunbar hoped that other European nations and Congress would also recognize Jenner’s achievement. In the next extract, Dunbar reported that the “portion of the Cranium & horn of an animal of the Ox kind” had passed through Natchez and down the Mississippi River before he could see it. From what he had learned of the horn he did not believe the animal was a mammoth, although it was “a most Stupendous animal” that must have weighed 40,000 pounds (see Vaughan to TJ, 21 July). In the first of the quoted extracts following Vaughan’s comments, Dunbar stated that he had obtained “two tolerably complete Vocabularies of two Indian tongues from the west side of the Mississippi with some particulars of the history & religious Opinions of those Tribes,” along with information on fossil bones from the same region, “all which I am preparing to Send to Mr Jefferson” (see Dunbar to TJ, 5 Jan. 1803). In the final extract copied by Vaughan, Dunbar commended the resolution of the Pennsylvania General Assembly that made the state’s telescope available to Andrew Ellicott (see Vol. 37:446, 447n). He also reported that a telescope he had ordered for himself from London, “a Gregorian reflector of 5½ or 6 feet length in the great Tube with 9 Inches aperture, possessing 6 magnifying powers from 100 to 525,” would soon arrive, enabling him “to cooperate in the prosecution of objects so interesting to Science.” The area where he lived, Dunbar observed, sometimes had “a Sky of such peculiar transparency as seems to have given additional Splendour to the Heavenly bodies.”

Index Entries