From Thomas Jefferson
RC (LC: Madison Papers). At the bottom of the first of four pages Jefferson wrote “Honble James Madison.” Docketed by JM, “Ths. Jefferson. 14 Feb. 1783.” Also on the docket appears, in an unknown hand, “See passage relating to Mr. Adams.” The words italicized are those written by Jefferson in the cipher described in Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, ed. n. Unless otherwise noted, the decoding reproduces that which JM interlineated in the document.
Baltimore Feb. 14. 1783
Yours of the 11th.1 came to hand last night. from what you mention in yr.2 letter I suppose the newspapers must be wrong when they say that Mr. Adams3 had taken up his4 abode with5 Dr. Fr——.6 I am nearly at a loss to judge how he will act in the nego——n He hates Fr—— he hates Jay he hates the French he hates the English7 to whom will he adhere? his vanity is a liniament in his character wch. had entirely8 escaped me his want of taste I had observed notwithstandg all this he has a sound head on substantial points and I think he has integrity. I am glad therefore that he is of the commission & expect he will be useful in it. his dislike of all parties, and all men, by balancing his prejudices, may give the same fair play to his reason as would9 a general benevolence of temper at any rate honesty may be extracted even from poisonous weeds10
My11 stay here has given me opportunities of making some experiments on my ama[nu]ensis F—s,12 perhaps better than I may have in France he appears to have a good eno’ heart an understang somewhat better than common but too little guard over his lips, I have marked him particularly13 in the company of women14 where he loses all power over himself and becomes15 almost [a] fright16 his temperature would not be proof agst. their alluremts,17 were18 such to be employed as engines agst. him This is in some measure the vice of his age but it seems to be increased also by his peculiar constitution19
I wrote to the Chevalier de VilleBrun20 proposing his falling down to York or Hampton which was one of the measures I suggested in my letter to you, & was the most eligible except that of the flag,21 in my own opinion. his answer, dated Feb. 12. is in these words. ‘Je serois bien de l’avis proposé a votre Excellence d’aller mouiller a York ou Hampton pour etre a portee de profiter des premiers vents de Nord Ouest qui me mettroient loin de la côte dans la nuit, surtout si je n’avois pas de convoy a conserver. mais des batiments entrès aujourd’hui raportent avoir eté chassés par quatre fregates jusque sur la Cap Charles et avoir vu au mouillage de Linhaven bay un vaisseau et un fregate qui ont appareillés et pris un Brig qui navigoit avec eux. de plus York et Hampton n’ont pas un canon monté, si l’ennemi, tres superieur, entreprenoit de venir nous y forcer, il y auroit peu de sureté.
Peut etre conviendroit-il autant d’attendre, comme le propose M. de la Luzerne, jusqu’au Mois prochain, des nouvelles d’Europe, ou l’arrivée d’une division des Antilles promise par M. de Vaudreuil, ou bien encore quel’ennemi fatigué ne fut obligé de rentrer a New-York.’22 The last basket is relish23 and furnishes matter24 for doubt how far the departure of the Romulus25 is a decided measure it seems not unlucky26 so for a purpose wherein time is the most27 pressing circumstance The idea of going28 in her is to be abandoned.29 to go to Boston would be the most œconomical plan. but it would be five weeks from my leaving this place before I could expect to sail from thence.30 of course I may from here be in France by the time I should be sailing from Boston five weeks, in a crisis of negotiation31 may be much. should I accept of the Guadeloupe32 and she should be lost, it would under present circumstances draw censure. moreover in this or the former case, besides losing the vessel, what will be my situation? that of a prisoner certainly. from what has been done in Laurence’s case they would not release me; in expectation of a high exchange; or if they did, it would only be on parole, in which case I could neither act nor communicate.33 This plan would have in it’s favour œconomy and a possibility (a bare one) of dispatch. that of the flag still appears best.34 it is favoured by the circumstances of dispatch, safety, & the preservation of my papers, but when I think of the expence I feel myself annihilated in comparison with it.35 A vessel may be got here, but I question if for less than *a thousand or two thousand pounds.36 besides can a passport be obtained from New York without naming the vessel, the crew &c? if not it would take long to furnish these circumstances from hence. the Delaware would be more eligible in that case. otherwise this place is.37 if this should be adopted, what would be the extent of the protection of the flag to the papers I should carry? these, so far as this question would affect them, would be of three descriptions. 1. my own commission, instructions & other documents relative to my mission. 2. public letters to the Consuls, ministers & others on other business. 3. private letters. I have no means of satisfying myself on these points here. if therefore this measure should be adopted I should thank you for your opinion on them, as you can, where you are doubtful, make enquiry of others.38 I am exceedingly fatigued with this place, as indeed I should with any other where I had neither occupation nor amusement. I am very particularly indebted here to the politeness & hospitality of Genl. La Vallette39 who obliges me to take refuge in his quarters from the tedium of my own, the latter half of every day. you are indebted to him too as I should make my long letters much longer & plague you with more cypher were I confined at home all day. I beg you to be assured of my warmest wishes for your happiness.
Feb. 15. 9 o’clock P.M. after sealing up this letter I received yours of yesterday inclosing the King’s speech,40 for which I thank you much. the essential information conveyed to us by that is that the preliminary for our independence (which we before knew to have been agreed between the plenipos) has been provisionally ratified by him. I have thought it my duty to write the inclosed letter41 which after reading you will be so good as to stick a wafer in & deliver. I wish no supposed inclination of mine to stand in the way of a free change of measure if Congress should think the public interest required it. the argument of œconomy is much strengthened by the impossibility (now certain) of going but in an express vessel. the principal matters confided to me were. 1. the new instruction; which perhaps may have been sent by Count Rochambeau, or may yet be sent.42 2. the details of the financier’s department which mr Morri[s] not chusing to trust to paper had communicated verbally. these in the event of peace or truce may safely go in paper.43 3. the topics which supp[ort] our right to the fisheries, to the Western country, & the navigation of the Mis[sis]sipi.44 the first of these is probably settled: the two latter should only come into discussion in the Spanish negociation, and therefore would on[ly] have been the subject of private conversation with mr Jay,45 whose good sense & knolege of the subject will hardly need any suggestions.
I forgot to mention to you in my letter that mr Nash arrived her[e] the day before yesterday on his way to N. Carolina, and that mr Blunt is not yet arrived,46 but is weekly expected. I am yours affectionately,
2. Jefferson erroneously encoded “your” as 94.12., but JM, having started to write a word beginning with “b,” canceled it and correctly surmised that the cipher intended was 945.12.
3. In writing the symbol 949.12.’, Jefferson turned to the section of the Nugent dictionary of 1774 reserved for proper names and pluralized “Adam.” For a more cryptic reference to John Adams, see JM to Jefferson, 11 Feb. 1783, n. 10.
4. Here and in seven other instances in the present letter, Jefferson was ten lines off in indicating “his,” 408.36., or “hiss.” See Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, n. 10. The symbol here employed, 408.26., signified “hint.”
5. In seeking to symbolize “with,” Jefferson’s eye again strayed by ten lines, and he wrote 935.28. instead of the correct symbol, 935.38.
6. Although the two ciphers used by Jefferson stood, respectively, for “frank” and “line,” JM interlineated only the abbreviation. For Jefferson’s earlier attempt to indicate Benjamin Franklin, see Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, and nn. 6, 7.
Jefferson may have gleaned the misinformation concerning Adams from an item dated Paris, 3 November 1782, and reprinted in the Pennsylvania Packet of 6 February 1783. From 26 October 1782, when he arrived in Paris, until the end of that month, John Adams lodged at the Hôtel de Valois, Rue de Richelieu. Thereafter for nearly a year he occupied an “expensive and noisy” apartment in the Hôtel du Roi, in the “Place du Carrousel, between the Palais Royal and the Quai du Louvre” (L. H. Butterfield et al., eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, III, 37, 38, 39, n. 4). Benjamin Franklin resided in Passy (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 165, n. 6).
7. The succession of four “hates” is inserted by the present editors. In each instance, JM interlineated a meaningless “has,” even though Jefferson wrote 401.25., the symbol of “to hate.”
In his diary on 27 October 1782, Adams characterized both Franklin and John Jay as “subtle Spirits”—the former “malicious, the other I think honest.” “I shall have,” continued Adams, “a delicate, a nice, a critical Part to Act. F’s cunning will be to divide Us. To this End he will provoke, he will insinuate, he will intrigue, he will maneuvre. My Curiosity will at least be employed, in observing his Intervention and his Artifice. J. declares roundly, that he will never set his hand to a bad Peace” (L. H. Butterfield et al., eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, III, 38–39). See also ibid., III, 51–52, 93; IV, 62–63, 149–50, 157–58; JM to Jefferson, 11 Feb. 1783, and n. 11.
8. The word, symbolized as 459.11., is in the “I(J)” section of the dictionary, where it is spelled “intirely.”
10. Jefferson wrote only 926.39., the singular for “weed.”
11. Here and in his next intended use of “my” in the same sentence, Jefferson wrote 530.1., instead of the correct symbol, 531.1.
12. JM, in his letter of 18 Feb. to Jefferson (q.v.), had correctly encoded “amanuensis” by simply writing 29.18. Jefferson, perhaps being more security-minded than JM, laboriously contrived the word by writing 301.1. (“e”), 32.1. (“an”), 843.31. (“u”), 304.1. (“em”), 1070.4. (“Sis”)—“eanuemsis.” The last syllable was taken from the section of Nugent’s dictionary devoted to proper names. Sis was the name of the present-day Kozan, Turkey. “F——s.” or “Franks,” was David Salisbury Franks (Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, and n. 6).
13. Jefferson wrote 583.5., denoting “particular.”
14. Jefferson wrote 936.30., standing for “woman.”
15. The present editors have rendered the symbol 91.18. as Jefferson intended; JM interlineated only “become.”
16. The editors assume that JM’s failure to interlineate “fright,” symbolized by 369.9., reflected Jefferson’s omission of 1.1., standing for “a.” By “fright” Jefferson probably meant “grotesque” or “ridiculous” (Oxford English Dictionary, IV, [1933 ed.], 549).
17. Jefferson’s cipher 27.8. decodes as “allures” rather than as JM rendered it.
18. Again Jefferson combined ciphers to form a word—in this instance an intended pronoun with an intended column heading. He wrote 925.1., which should have been 926.1. (“we”), and 671.1., which should have been 661.1. (“RE”).
19. Jefferson was forty years of age and Franks was approximately two years older. Franks’s “peculiar constitution” is unknown to the present editors.
20. Jefferson to JM, 31 Jan. 1783, and n. 4; Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 236 n.
22. Except for variations in spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and accent marks, this extract from the Chevalier de La Villebrune’s letter of 12 February 1783 is accurate (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 236). “Indeed I would adopt your Excellency’s suggestion to proceed to an anchorage at York or Hampton where I could avail myself of the first northwest winds to take me at night far off the coast, especially if I would not have to protect a convoy. But several vessels arriving today report that they were pursued by four frigates even within Cape Charles and that a Brig in their company was captured by a vessel and frigate which had left and returned to their anchorage in Linhaven bay. Moreover, without a serviceable cannon at York or Hampton, we would have little security there, if the very much stronger enemy should try to approach and board us.
“Perhaps, as M. de La Luzerne advised, it would be better to wait until next month for news from Europe, or for the arrival from the West Indies of the fleet promised by M. de Vaudreuil, or, better still, for the wearied enemy to be obliged to return to New York.” For La Luzerne, see JM Notes, 1 Jan. 1783, and n. 2; for Vice Admiral the Marquis de Vaudreuil, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 347, n. 4; JM Notes, 3 Jan. 1783, n. 1. Lynnhaven Bay, in Princess Anne County, Va., is an anchorage a few miles southwest of Cape Henry. See also Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb. 1783, and nn. 3, 4, 8.
23. JM did not interlineate “basket,” which is symbolized by 80.15. With that noun supplied, Jefferson’s metaphor becomes clear: La Villebrune’s final suggestion was a condiment designed to conceal unpalatable facts.
24. To indicate “matter,” Jefferson wrote 503.30. but should have written 504.30.
26. JM did not interlineate “unlucky,” which is symbolized by 895.17. By using a double negative, Jefferson meant that “her departure seems left to chance.”
27. Jefferson wrote 524.34. to symbolize “most” but should have written 525.34.
28. Jefferson should have appended an “a” to his symbol 385.36., so as to signify “going” rather than “go.”
29. The meaning of the interlineation by JM would have been clearer if he had written, “It seems not unlucky, so for a purpose wherein time is the most pressing circumstance, the idea of going in her is to be abandoned.”
31. JM did not interlineate “negotiation,” which was symbolized by 535.17.
32. The editors have supplied the name of the ship. JM did not interlineate a decipherment of the mystifying symbols 394.19. and especially 928.9. In his letter to JM on 7–8 February (q.v.), Jefferson had twice misspelled “Guadeloupe” as “Guardaloupe.” The 394.19., signifying “guaranty,” suggests the first syllable of this name as he spelled it, but 928.9., meaning “searcher,” is unintelligible.
33. For Henry Laurens, his capture by the British, imprisonment in the Tower of London, and eventual liberation in exchange for the release of Earl Cornwallis from his parole as a prisoner of war, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , III, 232–33; 233, n. 1; V, index under Laurens, Henry, British release and exchange of; Jefferson to JM, 7–8 Feb. 1783, n. 12.
35. Jefferson probably meant that he doubted whether his value as a peace commissioner would offset the huge cost of chartering a flag-of-truce ship to take him to France.
36. JM interlineated none of the words symbolized, respectively, by 1.1. (“a”), 819.36. (“thousand”), 843.10. (“two”), and 819.36. again. Instead, he placed a matching asterisk in the left column and there wrote “see Dictionary F & English.”
37. That is, a passport from the British would have to be sought from their military headquarters in New York City.
39. For General de La Valette, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 6, n. 2.
40. The fact that Jefferson acknowledged the receipt of JM’s letter of 13 February (q.v.) makes clear that he should have dated this postscript “Feb. 14” rather than “15.” Jefferson probably had also seen the “Baltimore hand Bill’” in regard to “Peace,” mentioned by Governor Harrison in his dispatch of 15 February to the Virginia delegates (q.v., and n. 2).
41. Jefferson’s letter of 14 February 1783 to Robert R. Livingston, secretary for foreign affairs (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 238–39 and n.).
42. The Comte de Rochambeau, who sailed early in January 1783 for France by way of Cadiz, Spain, probably carried a copy of the instructions with regard to commerce directed to the American peace commissioners and adopted by Congress on 31 December 1782 (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 344, n. 7; 430, n. 5; 476, and nn. 2, 3; 477, and nn. 4, 5; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 192–93). Rochambeau was in Paris by 8 March 1783 (L. H. Butterfield et al., eds., Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, III, 110).
43. The “details” which Robert Morris, superintendent of finance, “communicated verbally” probably included those mentioned in his letters of February and March 1783 to Elias Boudinot, president of Congress, and to Washington (Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 266–67, 277–82, 308–11).
44. For these subjects, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, index under Fisheries; Jay, John, dispatches and instructions to; Mississippi River.
45. John Jay, a peace commissioner of the United States who had been minister plenipotentiary-designate at the court of Madrid since 27 September 1779 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XV, 1113).