James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 11 May 1785

From Thomas Jefferson

Paris May 11. 1785.

Dear Sir

Your favor of Jan. 9. came to my hands on the 13th. of April. The very full and satisfactory detail of the proceedings of assembly which it contained, gave me the highest pleasure. The value of these communications cannot be calculated at a shorter distance than the breadth of the Atlantic. Having lately made a cypher on a more convenient plan than the one we have used, I now transmit it to you by a Monsr. Dora-dour who goes to settle in Virginia. His family will follow him next year. Should he have occasion of your patronage I beg leave to solicit it for him. They yesterday finished printing my notes. I had 200 copies printed, but do not put them out of my own hands, except two or three copies here, & two which I shall send to America, to yourself & Colo. Monroe, if they can be ready this evening, as promised.1 In this case you will receive one by Monsr. Doradour. I beg you to peruse it carefully because I ask your advice on it & ask nobody’s else. I wish to put it into the hands of the young men at the college, as well on account of the political as physical parts.2 But there are sentiments on some subjects which I apprehend might be displeasing to the country perhaps to the assembly or to some who lead it. I do not wish to be exposed to their censure, nor do I know how far their influence, if exerted, might effect a misapplication of law to such a publication were it made. Communicate it then in confidence to those whose judgments & information you would pay respect to: & if you think it will give no offence I will send a copy to each of the students of W. M. C. and some others to my friends & to your disposal. Otherwise I shall only send over a very few copies to particular friends in confidence & burn the rest. Answer me soon & without reserve. Do not view me as an author, & attached to what he has written. I am neither. They were at first intended only for Marbois. When I had enlarged them, I thought first of giving copies to three or four friends. I have since supposed they might set our young students into a useful train of thought, and in no event do I propose to admit them to go to the public at large. A variety of accidents have postponed my writing to you till I have no further time to continue my letter. The next packet will sail from Havre. I will then send your books & write more fully, but answer me immediately on the preceding subject. I am with much affection Dr. Sir Your friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC). Cover missing. Docketed by JM.

1The heavy involvement of France in American affairs prompted the secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, François Marbois, to send a questionnaire related to the vital statistics and other particular information about each of the thirteen states to important delegates in Congress some time in 1780. Joseph Jones received the questions concerning Virginia and relayed them to Governor Thomas Jefferson. The subject matter well suited Jefferson’s natural spirit of inquiry, but it took him months to gather the information, and much longer to turn the facts over in his mind and then write an answer to the queries. The result was a book which Jefferson took to France on his diplomatic mission in 1784. Printing costs in America, along with Jefferson’s fears that the manuscript might be vulnerable to attack from critics of his tenure as governor, limited Jefferson’s interest in an American edition. From his Parisian vantage point, however, the American minister found his interest rekindled, and a small printed edition was not beyond his means. The volume, titled Notes on the State of Virginia, bore no author’s name on the title page. Two hundred copies were printed in May 1785, with the erroneous date of 1782 left uncorrected by the proofreader as the publication date. The story is fully related in Jefferson, Notes (Peden ed.), xi–xxv.

2JM advised Jefferson not to distribute the book to college students. He told Jefferson the Notes had been delivered by Comte Doradour and that both he and George Wythe believed presentation of copies to William and Mary students might be thought “an indiscriminate gift” (JM to Jefferson, 15 Nov. 1785).

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