Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, 15 June 1804

To Alexander I, Emperor of Russia

Washington June 15. 1804.

Great and good Friend

Your friendly interposition for the relief of the crew of an American frigate, stranded on the coast of Tripoli has been recently made known to me. for this act of benevolence, and proof of your disposition to befriend our young1 republic, it’s Secretary of state conveys the official expression of it’s sensibility. but I should illy satisfy my own feelings, did I not add my individual acknolegements for a favor2 directly tending to facilitate the administration of the affairs of my country, with which I am personally charged.

To the Barbarians, whose habitual violations of the laws of nature have produced the occasion of this friendly office, we have sent expressions of very different feelings by the squadron which has just left our ports, destined for theirs. should the Commander find that, in consequence of your Imperial Majesty’s3 interposition, they shall already have done us voluntary justice, he will4 let them owe to your favor his abstinence from every act of force. otherwise he will endeavor, by the means he is furnished with, to convince them it will be their interest to injure us no more.

I see with great pleasure the rising commerce between our two countries. we have not gone into the policy, which the European nations have so long tried, and to so little good effect, of multiplying commercial treaties. in national, as in individual dealings more liberality will perhaps be found in voluntary regulations, than in those which are measured out by the strict letter of a treaty; which, whenever it becomes onerous, is made, by forced construction, to mean any thing or nothing, engenders disputes, and brings on war. but your flag will5 find, in our harbours, hospitality, freedom, and protection, and your subjects enjoy6 all the privileges of the most favored nation. the favorable7 reception of our Consul at St. Petersburg, and the friendly sentiments conveyed through your minister of foreign relations, are8 an earnest that our merchants also will meet due favor in your ports.

I avail myself of this occasion of expressing the exalted pleasure I have felt in observing the various acts of your administration, during the short time you have yet been on the throne of your country, and seeing in them manifestations of the virtue & wisdom from which they flow. what has not your country to hope from a career which has begun with such auspicious developments!9 sound principles, pursued with a steady step, dealing out good progressively as your people are prepared to recieve, and to hold it fast, cannot fail to carry them10 and yourself far in the improvement of their condition, during the course of your life. I pray to God that it may long continue for their happiness and your glory; and that he may always have you in his safe and holy keeping.

Th: Jefferson

RC (RuAVPRI; photostat in DNA: RG 353, USA-USSR). FC (DLC); a fair copy in TJ’s hand, signed; at foot of first page: “Alexander. Emperor of Russia.” Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 141:24459); undated, entirely in TJ’s hand; salutation: “Great & Excellent Emperor & friend.”

Alexander I (1777-1825) became emperor of Russia in 1801 following the assassination of his father, Paul I. His grandmother, Catherine II, provided the most formative influence on his early life and education, exposing Alexander to Enlightenment ideals and western cultural influences, especially through the medium of his long-time tutor and confidant, the Swiss educator Frédéric César de La Harpe. Limited reforms marked the early years of Alexander’s reign, and the emperor reportedly admired TJ and his administration. In turn, TJ believed Alexander’s ascent to be “one of the phaenomena which will distinguish the present epoch so remarkeable in the history of man.” Russia’s deepening involvement in the Napoleonic Wars, however, ended Alexander’s reform impulses, and repression would characterize the final decade of his reign (James R. Millar, ed., Encyclopedia of Russian History, 4 vols. [New York, 2004], 1:31-5; Vol. 38:xlix-l, 550-64, 598-600; Vol. 39:85-7).

recently made known to me: Madison to TJ, 19 Apr.

Madison conveyed the official expression of thanks in a 10 June letter to Russian foreign minister Aleksandr Romanovich Vorontsov. He enclosed the letter, along with TJ’s to Alexander, in a 26 June communication to Levett Harris, the American consul at St. Petersburg. Harris received the packet on 27 Aug. and handed the letters to Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, the deputy foreign minister (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 , 7:303-4, 374-5; 8:39; Vol. 39:540n).

1In Dft, word interlined above “infant.”

2Word interlined in Dft in place of “act.”

3Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

4Word interlined in Dft in place of “is instructed to.”

5In Dft, TJ here canceled “always.”

6Word interlined in Dft.

7Word interlined in Dft in place of “friendly.”

8Preceding 12 words interlined in Dft in place of “is.”

9In Dft, TJ first wrote “a career but just begun, the first developements of which have opened so much good?” before altering the passage to read as above.

10In Dft, TJ first wrote “will carry them” and then interlined “must or cannot fail to.”

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