Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Armstrong of New York, 26 May 1804

To John Armstrong of New York

Washington May 26. 04

Dear Sir,

We find it of advantage to the public to ask of those to whom appointments are proposed, if they are not accepted, to say nothing of the offer, at least for a convenient time. the refusal cheapens the estimation of the public appointments and renders them less acceptable to those to whom they are secondarily proposed. the occasion of this remark will be found in a letter you will recieve from the Secretary of state proposing to you the appointment to Paris as successor to Chancellor Livingston. I write this private letter to remove some doubts which might perhaps arise in your mind. you have doubtless heard of the complaints of our foreign ministers as to the incompetency of their salaries. I believe it would be better were they somewhat enlarged. yet a moment’s reflection will satisfy you that a man may live in any country on any scale he pleases, and more easily in that than this because there the grades are more distinctly marked. from the Ambassador there a certain degree of representation is expected. but the lower grades of Envoy, Minister, resident, Chargé have been introduced to accomodate both the sovereign & missionary as to the scale of expence. I can assure you from my own knolege of the ground that these latter grades are left free in the opinion of the place to adopt any stile they please, & that it does not lessen their estimation or their usefulness. when I was at Paris two thirds of the diplomatic men of the 2d. and 3d. orders entertained nobody. yet they were as much invited out and honoured as those of the same grades who entertained. I suspect from what I hear that the Chancellor having always stood on a line with those of the first expence here has not had resolution enough to yield place there, & that he has taken up the Ambassadorial scale of expence. this procures one some sunshine friends who like to eat of your good things, but has no effect on the men of real business, the only men of real use to you, in a place where every man is estimated at what he really is. but this subject requires more detail than can be given but in conversation. if you accept, I think it will be necessary for you to come and pass some days here in reading the correspondence with the courts of Paris, London & Madrid, that you may be fully possessed of the state of things on that side the water so far as they concern us. the Chancellor being extremely urging in his last letters to be immediately relieved, we are obliged to ask all the expedition in departure which is practicable. the state of affairs between us & France as they respect St. Domingo is somewhat embarrassing & urgent. Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of great esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Genl. Armstrong.”

John Armstrong (1758-1843), a native of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, attended the College of New Jersey at Princeton for two years before joining the Continental Army in 1776. He served as an aide to Hugh Mercer and Horatio Gates with the rank of major and was the anonymous author or scribe of the document circulated in the camp at Newburgh, New York, in 1783 that expressed discontent with Congress and was the focal point of what is known as the Newburgh conspiracy. Returning to Pennsylvania after the war, he served as secretary of the state’s Supreme Executive Council and adjutant general (hence TJ’s practice of calling him General Armstrong). Following his 1789 marriage to a sister of Robert R. Livingston, Armstrong moved to New York to oversee his newly acquired Dutchess County estate. He remained active in politics, however, and aligned with the Democratic-Republican interest. He represented New York for two partial terms in the U.S. Senate from 1800 to 1802 and 1803 to 1804, resigning his seat to accept TJ’s appointment as minister to France. Returning to the United States in 1810, Armstrong served as secretary of war from 1813 to 1814. Retiring from public life, he focused his remaining years on writing and agricultural pursuits (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ).

from the secretary of state: a letter from Madison to Armstrong of 27 May, informing him of his appointment as minister to France and suggesting that he visit Washington for briefing, has not been found (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 39 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 11 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984- , 8 vols.; Ret. Ser., 2009- , 3 vols. description ends , 7:260, 272).

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