Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 12 October 1806

Washington Oct. 12. 06

Dear Sir

On my arrival here I found your letter of Sep. 27. with an accumulation of business which has prevented my answering till now. the paper it inclosed I have destroyed as you desired. it’s contents shall now be answered with that frankness which has always existed between us, and an entire confidence that the whole subject will remain confined to ourselves alone. the two facts on which the paper is grounded, being taken from the newspapers, are, like every thing else found in newspapers, entirely groundless, to wit, 1. that our negociation at Paris has failed. 2. that Yrujo is recommissioned. as to the latter I conclude it false because his former commission not having been invalidated, a new one would be too great a folly even for Spain, & because he has given us no intimation of such a re-credence. I know indeed that his government has fully approved of his conduct, & therefore that it is possible it may be left for us to right ourselves; which we shall do without ceremony, as soon as our greater interests shall be settled. but I rather believe his successor is named, & is now in the country. as to the first fact Spain had named her negociator at Paris, who was on the spot, and within 2. or 3. days of the date of our last advices they were to enter on business. and I have little doubt that a treaty is signed before this time, and consequently that an additional commissioner would now be too late. altho’ this answers the immediate proposition, yet I cannot let pass the occasion it has presented, & which I have long wished, of opening my bosom to you on this subject. the relation in which we have always stood justifies you in the expectation, & myself in the exercise of a candid explanation, and tho’ it cannot be without feeling on both sides yet we are both too reasonable not to be sensible that facts have in this case controuled the dictates of friendship. my recapitulation of these must commence very far back.

you remember, no doubt, while we were together in Paris, my advising to you to return to Virginia, to get into the public councils, & I have raised up a character on the foundation of your own talents & qualifications which would in due time make you every thing you wished to be. you had concluded to come, when the necessity of my visit home, then intended to be temporary, led to your stay during my absence. my return however became permanent; you were appointed Chargé des affaires at Paris, & afterwards Minister resident at the Hague & then a special minister to Spain. this was while I was secretary of state, & shews that there was no want of confidence in you, nor of disposition to advance you on my part. the French revolution was then in the plenitude of it’s favor in America, & wishes for & against it’s success constituted the distinction of that day between republicans & federalists, democrats & aristocrats. it appeared from your letters that you very early became disgusted with the conduct of the revolution, before we saw any thing in it but what proceeded from the necessity of their situation. this disgust you manifested in every letter. I read your letters always to the President, & long without his making any remarks on this feature in them. I did not chuse to be the first in doing so. at length some very strong expressions on your part occasioned him to open with warmth on the subject, & to desire that I would communicate to you his entire disapprobation of it. I asked leave to do it in a private letter, & not in a public one which would place it on the records. to which he assented. you may remember recieving such a letter from me. here the matter would have rested, confined for ever to his breast & mine, but that during your negociation of the loan in Holland, you had, in your letters to Hamilton, indulged yourself in the same expressions of disgust towards the revolution of France. altho’ this was in Unison with his own sentiments, yet he would not lose the opportunity of ruining one whom he considered as an object peculiarly of my friendship. on the occasion therefore of a call from the Senate, for some information respecting the Dutch loan, on pretense of a want of time to cull it from your letters, he sent the whole bundle of them into the Senate. they were all read; their counterrevolutionary spirit was communicated in conversations to the members of the other house, & by both to their constituents through the whole of the states. you were immediately branded through all the states as a counter-revolutionary aristocrat; of which you yourself saw evidences. an absence of near 20. years from our country & a rumor that you did not mean to become again a resident of it, added to former impressions, had increased their effect. on many occasions have mr Madison & myself, when at a loss for proper characters to fulfill our wishes abroad, lamented that the public prejudices deprived us of your assistance. in a government like ours the first duty of an Executive magistrate is to inspire the mass of his fellow-citizens with full confidence in his disinterestedness and impartiality as well as in his understanding. without this he cannot unite their energies into one mass on the great occasions where their good may require it. most especially must such persons be named to the great offices as are favorably known to the public & possess their confidence. it was for this reason that, since your return, I have so often recommended to you the passing your winters here. I do believe that, could you have found this convenient, your intercourse with the members of Congress would have rectified their opinions & their dispositions towards you, & that on a favorable occasion, the Senate might have approved of your nomination. how far the single winter of your remaining stay passed here might still place you rectus in cunâ can only be known by the experiment; but it is certain that at present the Senate would negative your nomination & place you farther from the object than you now are. to possess the confidence of the public functionaries you must be known to them, & know them. the reading the debates of Congress in Philadelphia, gives no more knolege of that body than the reading them in London or Paris. they should be known in their persons, their manners, their sentiments & spirit. they may be considered as presenting the nation itself in abridgment, and where opportunities are wanting of studying the nation at large, their representatives, as the only models should become the subject of inspection & observation.

Altho’ this statement is of facts not at all within my power, yet the pain of making it has hitherto prevented my doing it. indeed I did imagine you might have become sensible of it yourself, and that it could be remedied only by yourself the appointments you recieved, while I was Secretary of state, quite as much as your years would at that time justify prove if proof could be wanting, my dispositions to avail the public of your services, & you of their favors, at a time when nothing had happened to affect you in their sight. the superseding you at Madrid by mr Pinckney took place after I was out of office, and was an appendage of the Jay mission in which I had no agency. I repeat what in substance I have before observed, that in a government like ours, the power is not really & solely where it is ostensibly; and that whenever it runs counter to the public sentiment, it will be made to feel it’s superior controul. it is better for all parties that that conflict be not risqued. it has required all the zeal of my friendship to express so unreservedly this naked state of things, and I fear it will require all yours to recieve it with that indulgence to which the motives inducing it are entitled. if I know you however, I think you will, and that you will consider it as one of the strongest proofs of that friendship which is sincere & unalterable.

Th: Jefferson

MHi: Coolidge Collection.

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