Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 4 November 1803

To Robert R. Livingston

Washington Nov. 4. 1803.

Dear Sir

A report reaches us this day from Baltimore (on probable, but not certain grounds) that Mr. Jerome Bonaparte, brother of the first Consul, was yesterday married to miss Patterson of that city.** the effect of this measure on the mind of the first Consul, is not for me to suppose: but as it might occur to him, primâ facie, that the Executive of the US. ought to have prevented it, I have thought it adviseable to mention the subject to you, that, if necessary, you may by explanations set that idea to rights. you know that by our laws, all persons are free to enter into marriage if of 21. years of age, no one having a power to restrain it, not even their parents: and that, under that age, no one can prevent it but the parent or guardian. the lady is under age, and the parents, placed between her affections which were strongly fixed, and the considerations opposing the measure, yielded with pain & anxiety to the former. mr Patterson is the President of the bank of Baltimore, the wealthiest man in Maryland, perhaps in the US. except mr Carroll, a man of great virtue & respectability: the mother is the sister of the lady of Genl. Saml. Smith;1 and consequently the station of the family in society is with the first of the US. these circumstances fix rank in a country where there are no hereditary titles.2

Your treaty has obtained nearly a general3 approbation. the Federalists spoke & voted against it, but they are now so reduced in their numbers as to be nothing. the question on it’s ratification in the Senate was decided by 24. against 7. which was 10. more than enough. the vote in the H. of R. for making provision for it’s execution was carried by 89. against 23. which was a majority of 66. and the necessary bills are going through the houses by greater majorities. Mr. Pichon, according to instructions from his government, proposed to have added to the ratificn a protestation against any failure in time or other circumstance of execution on our part. he was told that in that case we should annex a counter-protestation, which would leave the thing exactly where it was. that this transaction had been conducted from the commencement of the negotiation to this stage of it with a frankness & sincerity honorable to both nations, & comfortable to the heart of an honest man to review: that to annex to this last chapter of the transaction such an evidence of mutual distrust, was to change it’s aspect dishonorably for us both, and contrary to truth as to us; for that we had not the smallest doubt that France would punctually execute it’s part; & I assured mr Pichon that I had more confidence in the word of the First Consul, than in all the parchment we could sign. he saw that we had ratified the treaty, that both branches had past by great majorities one of the bills for execution, & would soon pass the other two; that no circumstance remained that could leave a doubt of our punctual performance, & like an able & an honest minister (which he is in the highest degree) he undertook to do, what he knew his employers would do themselves were they here spectators of all the existing circumstances, and exchanged the ratifications purely and simply: so that this instrument goes to the world as an evidence of the candor & confidence of the nations in each other, which will have the best effects. this was the more justifiable as mr Pichon knew that Spain had entered with us a protestation against our ratification of the treaty grounded 1st. on the assertion that the First Consul had not executed the conditions of the treaties of cession:4 & 2ly. that he had broken a solemn promise not to alienate the country to any nation. we answered that these were private questions between France & Spain, which they must settle together; that we derived our title from the First Consul & did not doubt his guarantee of it: and we, four days ago, sent off orders to the Governor of the Missisipi territory & General Wilkinson to move down with the troops at hand to New Orleans to recieve the possession from mr Laussat. if he is heartily disposed to carry the order of the Consul into execution, he can probably command a voluntary force at New Orleans, and will have the aid of5 ours also if he desires it6 to take the possession & deliver it to us. if he is not so disposed, we shall take the possession, & it will rest with the government of France, by adopting the act as their own, & obtaining the confirmation of Spain, to supply the non-execution of their stipulation to deliver, & to entitle themselves to the compleat execution of our part of the agreements. in the mean time the legislature is passing the bills, and we are preparing every thing to be done on our part towards execution, and we shall not avail ourselves of the three months delay after possession of the province allowed by the treaty for the delivery of the stock, but shall deliver it the moment that possession is known here, which will be on the 18th. day after it has taken place.

I take the liberty of putting under this cover, some letters to my friends who are known to you. that to Mde. de Corny has a small box accompanying it (of about 8. or 9. I. cube) containing a complement of tea to her. the address on the top is to you; but there is nothing in it but the tea. the whole are sent to the care of mr Vale at Lorient, and will probably be taken on by the French gentleman who is the bearer, from mr Pichon, of the ratification of the treaty. Accept my affectionate salutations & assurances of my constant esteem & respect.7

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNMus); author’s note written perpendicularly in margin of first page; addressed: “His Excellency Robert R. Livingston M.P. of the US. Paris”; endorsed by Livingston. PrC (DLC). Dupl (NNMus); at head of text: “Duplicate”; consisting only of first paragraph with some additional text (see notes 2 and 7 below); endorsed by Livingston. Enclosures: (1) TJ to Madame de Tessé, 31 Oct. (2) TJ to Madame de Corny, 1 Nov. (3) TJ to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, 1 Nov. (4) TJ to Lafayette, 4 Nov. Enclosed in TJ to Aaron Vail, 4 Nov.

married to miss patterson: on 25 Oct., during his brief visit to Washington, Jerome Bonaparte surprised Louis André Pichon by announcing his intention to marry 18-year-old Elizabeth Patterson. Madison was aware of the pending marriage by 28 Oct., writing on that day to advise Livingston about it, and Pichon dined at the President’s House on the 29th. Jerome invited Pichon to attend the wedding in Baltimore on 3 Nov., but after consulting his copies of French laws and paging through issues of the Moniteur for recent information, the diplomat concluded that the young man was not of legal age and the union would not be valid in France. Pichon refused to take any part in the ceremony. Carlos Martínez Irujo, however, and his wife, the former Sally McKean of Philadelphia, encouraged the couple to go ahead with their plans. Pichon shared his information about French matrimonial law with the prospective bride’s family, including her father, William Patterson, and her uncle by marriage, Samuel Smith. Although Jerome, who turned 19 in mid-November, claimed that his commission as a lieutenant de vaisseau in the French navy proved him to be at least 21 years of age, Pichon advised Patterson that under current law in France, a person must be at least 25 to marry without parental consent. In addition, the bride’s family received information about liaisons between Jerome and several women. Patterson put an end to the wedding plans and sent his daughter away to visit relatives. Jerome, too, left Baltimore, making an excursion to New York. Yet Elizabeth, supported by some members of her family, wanted the marriage. In December, she and Jerome were both back in Baltimore and she prevailed on her parents to sanction the wedding. Her father hired Alexander J. Dallas to review the legal issues and craft a prenuptial agreement that Patterson hoped would protect his daughter’s interests. The couple wed in a Catholic ceremony in Baltimore on 24 Dec. (Edouard Dentu, ed., Mémoires et correspondance du roi Jérôme et de la reine Catherine, 7 vols. [Paris, 1861-66], 1:233-59; Helen Jean Burn, Betsy Bonaparte [Baltimore, 2010], 48-53; Charlene M. Boyer Lewis, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic [Philadelphia, 2012], 24-8; 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- , 35 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 5:586-7; 6:317).

Elizabeth Patterson’s mother was Dorcas Spear Patterson, the sister of Samuel Smith’s wife, Margaret Spear Smith (Lewis, Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, 13).

we answered: Madison to Irujo, 4 Oct., noted as Enclosure No. 23 to TJ to the Senate, 17 Oct.

The french gentleman whom Pichon chose to be the courier was perhaps M. A. F. P. Engrand; see his undated letter to TJ at [before 25 Sep.]. Late in October, the secretary of the navy informed Thomas Tingey that “Mr. Ingran” would sail to France on the vessel chartered to carry the ratification documents to Europe (Robert Smith to Tingey, 29 Oct., in DNA: RG 45, MLS).

1Dupl: “the mother of the young lady is the sister of mrs Smith, wife of Genl. Sam. Smith.”

2Dupl here continues and concludes: “in fact the grade of members in society among us is precisely what it now is in France, attached to the individual, not to his family. the scale of honours is always the same, but it is liable to mutations among those who occupy it’s different parts. Accept my friendly salutations and assurances of constant esteem & respect.”

3TJ here canceled “ratification.”

4Word interlined in place of “St. Ildefonso.”

5TJ first wrote “he can command a voluntary force at New Orleans, and is authorised to [act]” before altering the passage to read as above.

6Preceding four words interlined.

7TJ added two postscripts to the Dupl, the first reading “P.S. Nov. 8. it is now said the marriage did not take place on the 3d. but will this day” and the second reading “P.P.S. Dec. 31. immediately after the preceding date, mr Patterson refused his consent peremptorily to the marriage, which was believed then to be broken off. M. Bonaparte went to N.Y. and miss Patterson was sent to mr Nicholas’s on James river, in Virginia. it happened that she found his family just setting out on a visit to their friends in Baltimore, she returned with them. M. Bonaparte was quickly back, & their wishes were at length yielded to.”

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

º *Nov. 8. It is now said that it did not take place on the 3d. but will this day.

Index Entries