Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 3 February 1803

To Robert R. Livingston

Washington Feb. 3. 1803.

Dear Sir

My last to you was by mr Dupont. since that I have recieved yours of May 22. mr Madison supposes you have written a subsequent one which has never come to hand.   A late suspension by the Intendant of N. Orleans of our right of deposit there, without which the right of navigation is impracticable has thrown this country into such a flame of hostile disposition as can scarcely be described. the Western country was peculiarly sensible to it as you may suppose. our business was to take the most effectual pacific measures in our power to remove the suspension, and at the same time to persuade our countrymen that pacific measures would be the most effectual and the most speedily so. the opposition caught it as a plank in a shipwreck, hoping it would enable them to tack the Western people to them. they raised the cry of war, were intriguing in all quarters to exasperate the Western inhabitants to arm & go down on their own authority & possess themselves of New Orleans, and in the mean time were daily reiterating, in new shapes, inflammatory resolutions for the adoption of the House. as a remedy to all this we determined to name a minister extraordinary to go immediately to Paris & Madrid to settle this matter. this measure being a visible one, and the person named peculiarly popular with the Western country, crushed at once & put an end to all further attempts on the legislature. from that moment all has become quiet; and the more readily in the Western country, as the sudden alliance of these new federal friends had of itself already began to make them suspect the wisdom of their own course. the measure was moreover proper from another cause. we must know at once whether we can acquire N. Orleans or not. we are satisfied nothing else will secure us against a war at no distant period: and we cannot pass this season without beginning those arrangements which will be necessary if war is hereafter to result. for this purpose it was necessary that the negotiators should be fully possessed of every idea we have on the subject, so as to meet the propositions of the opposite party, in whatsoever form they may be offered, and give them a shape admissible by us, without being obliged to await new instructions hence. with this view we have joined mr Monroe to yourself at Paris, & to mr Pinkney at Madrid, altho’ we believe it will hardly be necessary for him to go to this last place. should we fail in this object of the mission, a further one will be superadded for the other side of the channel. on this subject you will be informed by the Secretary of State, and mr Monroe will be able also to inform you of all our views and purposes. by him I send another letter to Dupont, whose aid may be of the greater service as it will be divested of the shackles of form. the letter is left open for your perusal, after which I wish a wafer stuck in it before it be delivered. the official and the verbal communications to you by mr Monroe will be so full and minute, that I need not trouble you with an inofficial repetition of them. the future destinies of our country hang on the event of this negotiation, and I am sure they could not be placed in more able or more zealous hands. on our parts we shall be satisfied that what you do not effect cannot be effected. Accept therefore assurances of my sincere & constant affection and high respect.

Th: Jefferson

P.S. Feb. 10. your letters of May 4. & Oct. 28. never came to my hands till last night. I am sincerely sorry for the misunderstanding therein explained. as mr Sumpter has long since asked and recieved permission to retire from his office, it cannot be necessary for me to say any thing on the subject but that I hope the dispositions to conciliate therein manifested, will be cherished and carried into effect by both.

RC (NNMus); at foot of first page: “Chancellr. Livingston”; endorsed by Livingston. PrC (DLC).

my last to you was by mr dupont: the letter carried by Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours was dated 5 May 1802. TJ had written to Livingston twice since then: once on 10 Oct., conveyed by Louise d’Egremont Brongniart, and again on 20 Nov. regarding books for the congressional library. TJ received Livingston’s letter of 22 May on 5 Aug. (Vol. 37:484n).

inflammatory resolutions: see the Editorial Note to TJ to the House of Representatives, 30 Dec.

Madison wrote to Livingston about Monroe’s mission on 23 Feb. “The negotiation to be opened will bring the disposition and views of the French Government to a test,” the secretary of state declared in that dispatch. Madison also drew up detailed instructions for Livingston and Monroe jointly. He signed that document on 2 Mch. but evidently had composed it by 31 Jan. The instructions included a plan for a treaty by which France would cede all territory east of the Mississippi River to the United States in return for a payment of 30 million livres tournois. The proposal, framed in the form of seven articles, incorporated some of the points of the projected treaty of four articles that Du Pont had sent to TJ on 4 Oct. The “overtures committed to you,” Madison informed Livingston and Monroe, “coincide in great measure with the ideas of the person thro’ whom the letter from the President of April 30th. 1802 was conveyed to Mr. Livingston, and who is presumed to have gained some insight into the present sentiments of the French cabinet.” TJ had written to Du Pont on 30 Apr. and 5 May about the possible purchase of New Orleans and the Floridas, asking Du Pont to share the information with Livingston (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 33 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 9 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:343–5, 364–79; Vol. 37:365–7, 418–19, 421–2).

another letter to dupont: 1 Feb.

Livingston wrote on 4 May 1802 about the misunderstanding between him and Thomas Sumter, Jr., but, thinking the matter would be resolved by Sumter’s resignation, he did not send that letter and its several enclosures to TJ until October (Vol. 37:410–16; Livingston to TJ, 28 Oct., first letter).

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