Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Armstrong, Jr., 28 October 1807

Paris 28th. October 1807.

Dear Sir,

I have put off writing to you, not only to the last day, but litterally to the last hour of Dr. Bullus’s stay in Paris. By this delay, I expected to add something, if not to the interest, at least to the bulk of my intelligence; but as “the best laid schemes of mice and men” go often wrong, and are even defeated by the very means taken to promote them, so it has happened to mine; the day has gone by without producing anything new, and I now foresee very distinctly, that my letter will be shorter by a sheet, without being a whit more interesting than it would have been, had I began it this morning.

You will see by my public letters, that the Diaplomatic crust with which our business in England was covered up for nearly two months past, has done us some mischief here, and that the mode in which the secret has at last been presented to me, is not such, in itself, as would have any tendency to lessen the wit. I speak now of the conclusion, not of the premises, of Mess. Monro & Pinkney. The latter are clear enough; in short, they have in them nothing of doubt, for they state expressly, that “Mr. Monro’s remonstrances had failed to produce an arrangement of the interest in question” and of course, authorised me to say to this Govt. (as I have done) that “the reparation required by the U.S. had not been granted.” If on the other hand, I had thought & had stated that,—because G. B. proposed to send the negociation to America; that because she had refused to settle it in London; and that because she had neither communicated to our ministers, the name, nor the powers of this new negociator,—that “therefore, it was impossible to form a satisfactory opinion of the result of the measure”—I say—had I from these premises arrived at this conclusion, I certainly should have had an invitation to have gone home in the revenge. As to the proposition of renewing the negociation in another place—another time & by means of other agents—so far from keeping alive the paris negociation, it, in my opinion, puts an end to it forever;—it is a new insult—The first, was an affront to your authority—this, is an affront to your understanding. The motives for it are soon avowed in London. “Our ministers (says a very diligent enquirer & able man, in a letter of the 12 Octobr.) want time, to put Canada & Nova Scotia into a state of defense; to supply the wants of their W. India Islands;—to disinterest their own subjects in your national stock, to patch up their quarrel with Denmark; to fix the policy of Portugal (which is ballancing between us and France), and above all, to re-assure themselves, if possible, with Russia—I have points settled to-day—they will strike you to-morrow. You must see that Bonaparte’s fortunes & our own follies are fast driving us into a necessity for universal piracy, or a war with all the world. Under these circumstances, we cannot part with the right of taking our own Seamen, wherever we can find them, or even those of your country, if they be necessary to us.—and whether we settle our business favorably or unfavourable with Russia &c. our eventual policy with regard to you, will be the same In the mean time—a negociation is to be opened at Washington, not as stated above, to relinquish or even to qualify our practice of impresment—but to scatter doubts and—to sow dissentions,—to secure friends,—to conciliate enemies,—in a word to put your government in the wrong with its own people, and thus obtain a change of system. To this is coupled our every day policy of legal plunder—i.e. orders are secretly given to our vessels to make prizes—and Sir W.S. adjourns the Court of Admirality for two months to come, If the affair terminates pacifically—no harm is done,—if otherwise, there is a good stock of plunder in bank.” such are the opinions of one of the most consistent & zealous friends we have ever had in England & who regrets too sincerely the blunders of their ministers either to multiply or to magnify them. Taking these for granted, a rupture with England is inevitable, and our first duty is then to enquire, how is the War to be prosecuted? Is it to be conducted on, what the sycophants of our revolution used to call the Fabian principle?—or, are the U.S. to rise in their Majesty & strength & put an end to it (as far as expelling the British from the Continent will end it) in a single campaign? I hope the latter—not merely because it will be the best possible termination of the pending controversy, but because it will put down for ever any attempts from this side of the Atlantic to carry disturbances & war into the interior of our Country, or even to maintain small and insulated provinces within the stroke of our swords. In both points of view it is, I think, of the first importance, that you put forth a strength not merely competent to the object, but such as shall overwhelm all opposition. Such, by the way, is the secret of Napoleon, and it is just as practicable on your theatre, as it has been on his. Apply to every object of attack, double, or even quadruple the number necessary to it:—What are the consequences? You carry your point in less time, & with a smaller loss, & you establish a fame, which enables you to sleep as long as you will afterwards. Among the great variety of calculation with which we abound, you will no doubt have some, that will prefer a long & a moderate war,—nor, from the northern Character, it is improbable, but that Vermont & Masachusetts may even offer to take it by the job—but slight work and slow work are to be equally avoided.—What we do promptly, we ought also to do well, and this can only be done by a great national effort which shall give us a high military character among the nations,—a thing we have yet to acquire. As having some sort of connexion with this subject I cannot omit telling you, that Fayette & Kosciusko will, in the event of a war with G.B. consider themselves entirely at your disposal—and from the modesty & good sense of both, you will not have any difficulty in adjusting their relative pretensions. Fayette might be very usefully employed in Canada—Kosciusko every where. they are both well in point of health, and in all respects as equal to service, as they ever have been. The latter has a talent, which in a new-raised army, cannot be easily estimated—& that is, of inspiring every body about him with his own peculiar ardor.—But I forget that I speak of men whom you know as well as I do. You do me the honor to ask me, what should be the course of our Conduct if G.B. should seize the Floridas as a point d’appui?—I answer—take it from them—nay—if you can make out any tolerable proof of the intention—anticipate the policy—take possession of the Country and hold it in trust till a general peace. The Span. Govt. is by this time prepared for an event of this sort, and will be somewhat disappointed, if it does not take place. Care ought to be taken to give it all the appearance of a measure of meer precaution—& in this view it might be well, that the insurrection had taken place to a certain degree (say, to the disarming & sending away the Span. garrison) before your principal step was taken. Tis indeed true that the necessity for this step may not exist—and that England so far from giving you more points of attack, will be sufficiently employed in defending those she has got. This is my own creed, which however results rather from the principles which ought to govern her, than from those she appears to have adopted—We have even lately seen one of her generals expecting to derive additional strength, by dividing a corps of 5000 into three columns, out of the reach of each other—The same general might readily believe, that an attack on the Floridas, would be a fine diversion in favor of Canada. But to return—it is possible too that this necessity (as it applies to military force) may be done away by an amieable arrangement with Spain—the moment is certainly favorable—this Court is not indisposed &, if we can accomplish it without money, we have not waited in vain. You have seen & I hope you have approved the course I have taken in relation to this subject for some months past—it has been to press only for a declaration with regard to the Westn. boundary of Louisiana & to affect an indifference to the Floridas.—This course was imposed upon me by the evidence I had, that Spain was labouring, to bring down the bulk of Louisiana, as to make it no more than a reasonable equivalent for the Floridas, and that When, by any arrangement with France, she could have procured an opinion favorable to her object, she was to come forward & meet our proposition of submitting the whole subject to the decision of the Emperor. These views (which originated with Isquierdo) being Completely defeated, by the extent given to our rights by M. Champagny’s declaration, I begin to hope that she (Spain) may be induced to meet us on the very reasonable ground of the exchange proposed by the House of Representatives.

Being unable to support two establishments & the Court having been several weeks past at Fontainebleau, I have seen little of the Minister since he left Paris. The Emperor’s return is fixed for the 3d. of next month, when the Court returns with him, & when I shall immediately open the subject of your Wishes with respect to the trade of St. Domingo. My own persuasion is, however, that the application will fail. The Emperor is too well satisfied with the slow & silent but sure progress of his experience to wish a change on his own account, and to expect it because it would be convenient to us, is expecting more than a knowledge of his general policy will justify. The hint shall notwithstanding be faithfully made.

M. Bowdoin left Paris some days past. he kept up his ill-judged conduct to the last—two instances of which I cannot but add. 1st. he demanded a pass-port to the U.S. by the way of England. This was refused by two Ministers, He was at last obliged to take one to the U.S. without naming England—and 2d. when he got to Cherburg he demanded, that the Revenge should return to England with him. I know not what the issue of this will be;—I can but hope that Cap. Reed may refuse him—because I venture to predict that if he does not, he will not be permitted to enter any port of France. This last business is the more extraordinary as M. B. had the means of crossing the Channel, without compromitting the Revenge or himself by even an application of this sort.

There is another person of whom it is disagreeable for me to speak, but I owe both to you & to myself an exposition of the following facts—The enquiry of which I formerly sent you some extracts—went from step to step, untill the Council of State reported, 1st. that Mr. Skipwith’s complaints with respect to his own claims and with respect to the manner in which the Convention generally had been executed—were unfounded and Scandalous; and 2d. that M. Skipwith being unworthy of credit and confidence, ought to be deprived of his consular authorisations, and ought not to be permitted to exercise any office whatever, within the dominions of His Majesty the Emperor. This Report was taken Nem. contradie. You will have seen by my bills on the Treasury (in the case of M. Skipwith’s claims) and the late general list of payments—that the first part of this report has been acted upon and that the deductions, against which M. Skipwith complained, have been sufficed. The Emperor has not yet adopted the 2d. branch of the report—for reasons that will readily suggest themselves—He no doubt hopes to avoid the necessity of doing it.—It is merely delicacy towards you. The same determination was taken in the case of Kuhn viz: to leave it to you to remove him—but their persuasion of his being a spy and of carrying on a correspondence with the Ex-queen of Naples & the British army in Sicily, becoming stronger & stronger—they at last set aside all ceremony & sent him off. So much for these disagreeable affairs—to Which, pressed as I am for time, I can but add the new Assurances of my faithful attachment and profound respect.

John Armstrong.

Merry has been at Kiel, and has been most prodigal of promises—the Prince would listen to none of them. Accounts from Russia say, they have there shut their ports Against the B. Commerce. Laforest goes to Petersburgh as Ambassador of France. There is the most incredible indecision in the Court of Portugal. It is, of course, very doubtful, whether the House of Braganza will, or will not, emigrate?

Dr. Bullus has been here seven days—I could not but offer to this Govt. a conveyance of their dispatches to the U.S. This offer they accepted & their packets could but be made ready to:day.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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