Thomas Jefferson Papers

Francis De Masson to Thomas Jefferson, 9 February 1815

From Francis De Masson

Paris, Rue neuve de Luxembourg No 20, 9 February 1815


In the second year of your first Presidency you were pleased to appoint me a member of the Corps of Engineers, in which capacity I was stationed for nine years at the Military Academy at West Point. That my services have not been totally useless I am inclined to believe from the repeated approbation1 and long friendship with which I was honored from that highly distinguished officer, Gen. Jon. Williams, who, during that period, commanded the Engineers, and from the gratifying observation that, in the late contest with England, every military man who formerly belonged to the institution at West Point, has made himself deservedly conspicuous. Nor have my leisure hours been entirely unemployed. Among several works of mine intended for the Military Philosophical Society to which I was recording secretary, one on the Military Constitution of Nations, was so particularly honored with your approbation that you deigned to have it printed and distributed among the members of Congress. To these pleasing recollections I must add that when I first set out from France to America, your sainted friend, the immortal Mr De Malesherbes, gave me for you the warmest letter of introduction, recommendation and credit. I transmitted to you this letter only seven years ago under cover to Gen. Jon. Williams; through some unaccountable accident2 it was lost at the Post office, but you were pleased to assure Gen. Williams of your wish to show your regard for Mr De Malesherbes by your readiness in obliging his friend whenever an opportunity would offer. After a stay of more than twenty years in the United States, a natural desire of seeing again my native country and friends has3 called me back to France, but even here I cannot forget the ties which, for so long a time, have bound me to America. I wish I could have it in my power to serve the American Government in Europe. Under that impression, emboldened by the circumstances above related, having long been a naturalized citizen of the United States, and married to an American lady,4 I take the liberty of applying to you, Sir, for an appointment either to any part of the American legation in Paris, or to the Consulate of the United States at Nantes.5 However, although one of these two appointments would be most agreeable, if they were already disposed of, any other of the same kind in one of the principal places6 either in France, England or Italy, would be gratefully received. My past services, the esteem I have long had the happiness of enjoying from Gen. Williams, Macomb, Swift, and many other distinguished characters7 in America, and the inclosed letter of recommendation from the Marquis De la Fayette,8 are pledges of the constant zeal with which I shall discharge the duties of those offices.

Be assured, Sir, of the gratitude which I shall always feel for your protection, and please to receive the homage of the profound respect with which I have the honor to be,

Sir, Your most obedient and most humble servant

Francis De Masson

Dupl (DLC: James Madison Papers); dateline beneath signature; at foot of text: “Th. Jefferson Esquire”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 May 1815 and so recorded in SJL; enclosed in TJ to Madison, 12 May 1815. RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17); dated 10 Jan. 1815; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esq.” The RC was apparently sent to Washington under the mistaken belief that TJ was secretary of state and never seen by its intended recipient (Masson to William H. Crawford, 20 Apr. 1816 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1809–17]). Enclosure: Lafayette’s Recommendation of Masson, La Grange, 11 Feb. 1815, which supports Masson’s candidacy for a consular appointment in France on the basis of his tenure at the United States Military Academy at West Point, his martial merits, and the respectability of his French relations (DLC: Madison Papers).

Francis De Masson (b. ca. 1774), a native of France whose family had moved to Saint Domingue, immigrated to the United States by 1792. He settled first in New York and then relocated to New Jersey. TJ selected Masson to teach French at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1803, an appointment which was submitted to and confirmed by the United States Senate the following year. During his tenure he also taught drawing and the art of fortification, wrote a number of articles, and was the recording secretary of the United States Military Philosophical Society. Masson returned to Europe on furlough in 1810 and resigned his post two years later. His bid for an American consulship failed, but he served as master of fortification at England’s Royal Military College at Sandhurst, 1815–34 (George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N. Y., 3d ed. [1891], 3:494–5, 516, 520, 529; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:696; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:467, 468 [24, 26 Mar. 1804]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 24:267–8; Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser., 2:177; Arthur P. Wade, “A Military Offspring of the American Philosophical Society,” Military Affairs 38 [1974]: 105; Roswell Park, A Sketch of the History and Topography of West Point and the U. S. Military Academy [1840], 54; Royal Military College Staff Register [Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, U.K.: Sandhurst Collection]).

Masson’s essay on the military constitution of nations was published anonymously both in the National Intelligencer & Washington Advertiser on 18 Nov. 1808 and, shortly thereafter, as a stand-alone monograph. After discussing the dangers of relying on either a professional standing army or a poorly trained militia, he proposed a compromise: “All the young men from eighteen to twenty-five years of age, with a few peculiar exceptions, should be divided into four classes, each of which would by turns spend three months dispersed in the different camps of instruction. Each class during its stay in the camps would form the standing army of the country, and as such receive the stated pay of the line. So that the permanent standing army would never amount to more than one-fourth of the youth between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, and every young man during the three-fourths of the year, would be enabled to follow his own particular avocations.” Men over the age of twenty-five were to be discharged from the service and embodied into the militia.

The letter of introduction, recommendation and credit by Malesherbes was dated 30 July 1792 and miscarried seven years ago on its way to TJ (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 24:267–8; Jonathan Williams to TJ, 20 Sept. 1808, and TJ to Williams, 28 Oct. 1808 [both DLC]).

1Dupl: “appobation.” RC: “approbation.”

2RC: “inconceivable misfortune.”

3RC here adds “lately.”

4Preceding six words not in RC.

5Dupl: “Nantz.” RC: “Nantes.”

6Preceding six words not in RC.

7Dupl: “caracters.” RC: “characters.”

8Preceding twelve words not in RC.

Index Entries

  • Army, U.S.; and militia search
  • Army, U.S.; opinions on standing army search
  • Congress, U.S.; and F. De Masson’s military writings search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; recommends F. De Masson to TJ search
  • Macomb, Alexander; as brigadier general search
  • Malesherbes, Chrétien Guillaume de Lamoignon de; introduces F. De Masson to TJ search
  • Masson, Francis De; and United States Military Philosophical Society search
  • Masson, Francis De; as instructor at United States Military Academy search
  • Masson, Francis De; identified search
  • Masson, Francis De; introduced to TJ search
  • Masson, Francis De; letter from search
  • Masson, Francis De; military writings of search
  • Masson, Francis De; pursues consular appointment search
  • military; United States Military Philosophical Society search
  • military; works on search
  • militia; F. De Masson on search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation to TJ search
  • Swift, Joseph Gardner; U.S. general search
  • United States Military Academy (West Point, N.Y.); faculty of search
  • United States Military Philosophical Society; papers communicated to search
  • Williams, Jonathan; and F. De Masson search