George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Thomas Jefferson, 10 July 1785

From Thomas Jefferson

Paris July 10. 1785.

Dear Sir

Mr Houdon would much sooner have had the honour of attending you but for a spell of sickness which long gave us to despair of his recovery & from which he is but recently recovered.1 he comes now for the purpose of lending the aid of his art to transmit you to posterity. he is without rivalship in it, being employed from all parts of Europe in whatever is capital. he has had a difficulty to withdraw himself from an order of the Empress of Russia, a difficulty however which arose from a desire to shew her respect, but which never gave him a moment’s hesitation about his present voyage which he considers as promising the brightest chapter of his history. I have spoke of him as an Artist only; but I can assure you also that, as a man, he is disinterested, generous, candid, & panting after glory: in every circumstance meriting your good opinion, he will have need to see you much while he shall have the honour of being with you, which you can the more freely admit as his eminence and merit gives him admission into genteel societies here. he will need an interpreter. I supposed you could procure some person from Alexandria who might be agreeable to yourself to perform this office. he brings with him a subordinate workman or two, who of course will associate with their own class only.

On receiving the favour of your letter of Feb. 25 I communicated the plan for clearing the Patowmac, with the act of assembly, and an explanation of it’s probable advantages, to mr Grand, whose acquaintance & connection with the monied men here enabled him best to try it’s success. he has done so, but to no end. I inclose you his letter.2 I am pleased to hear in the mean time that the subscriptions were likely to be filled up at home. this is infinitely better, and will render the proceedings of the companies much more harmonious. I place an immense importance to my own country on this channel of connection with the new Western states. I shall continue uneasy till I know that Virginia has assumed her ultimate boundary to the Westward. the late example of the state of Franklin separated from N. Carolina increases my anxieties for Virginia.

The confidence you are so good as to place in me on the subject of the interest lately given you by Virginia in the Patowmac company is very flattering to me. but it is distressing also, inasmuch as, to deserve it, it obliges me to give my whole opinion. my wishes to see you made perfectly easy by receiving those just returns of gratitude from our country, to which you are entitled, would induce me to be contented with saying, what is a certain truth, that the world would be pleased with seeing them heaped on you, and would consider your receiving them as no derogation from your reputation. but I must own that the declining them will add to that reputation, as it will shew that your motives have been pure and without any alloy. this testimony however is not wanting either to those who know you or who do not. I must therefore repeat that I think the receiving them will not in the least lessen the respect of the world if from any circumstances they would be convenient to you. the candour of my communication will find it’s justification I know with you.3

A tolerable certainty of peace leaves little interesting in the way of intelligence. Holland & the emperor will be quiet. if any thing is brewing it is between the latter & the Porte. nothing in prospect as yet from England. we shall bring them however to decision now that mr Adams is received there. I wish much to hear that the canal thro the Dismal is resumed.4 I have the honour to be with the most perfect esteem & respect Dr Sir your most ob⟨edie⟩nt & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson


1Jefferson wrote GW on 10 Dec. 1784 of Houdon’s intended mission to Mount Vernon. In addition to this letter from Jefferson, Houdon brought with him to Mount Vernon on 2 Oct. 1785 letters from Lafayette and Joseph-François-Louis-Charles-César, comte de Damas d’Antigny. GW’s letter from Lafayette in Paris, dated 9 July 1785, reads: “My dear General, this letter Will Be delivered By the Celebrated M. Houdon who is Going for Your Statue to America—Nothing But the love of glory and His Respect for You Could induce Him to Cross the Seas, as His Business Here far Exceeds His leisure, and His Numerous and qualified friends make Him very Happy at Home—those Circumstances I mention—as a farther Recommendation to Your Attentions—as I am writing By the Same opportunity I will only add a tribute of the tender love, and Grateful Respect I Have the Honour to be With My dear General Your Lafayette” (PEL). Lafayette’s other letter to GW by Houdon is dated 14 July 1785.

The text of the undated letter from Damas reads: “I do myself the honour to take this opportunity to present my dutys to your Excellency. after having enjoyed your Kindness during the time I have been under your Command in America, I always remember it with the greatest pleasure and gratitude. give me leave to introduce and reccommend to your Excellency Mr houdon—the best Sculpter in Paris. the greatest Character of our age will welcome the most distinguished talent in its Kind. he Wishes to have the favour of making your bust. the most glorious employment of his parts shall be to have drawn a faithful picture of your Excellency, and to bring back to france his true image, where our hearts are grieved to be so far distant from the original that we will love and admire forever” (DLC:GW). GW acknowledged Damas’s letter from Mount Vernon on 5 Dec. 1785: “I had the honor to be favor’d with your letter by Mr Houdon, & thank you for your kind recollection of, & for the favorable sentiments you have expressed for me.

“The moments I spent with the army of France in this country, are amongst the most pleasing of my life, & I shall ever remember with grateful sensibility, the polite attentions of all the officers who composed it—& of none more than yours” (LB, DLC:GW).

2There is no translation in GW’s papers of the enclosed letter to Jefferson from Ferdinand Grand, the French banker for the United States in Paris, and it may be that GW remained ignorant of its content. Grand wrote from Paris on 8 July 1785: “Monsieur Je me Suis ⟨ouvré⟩ avec Empressement des moyens de trouver des fonds pour le projet dont vous m’aves fait part—relativement á La Potowmac, parce que jaurois été Infiniment flaté de pouvoir Contribuer en quelque Chose au Succés dun Etablissement qui doit ajoutet un nouveau rayon á la Gloire de Mr Wasington, mais malheureusement les Circonstances me favorisent si mal que je ne puis me permetre de Vous Laisser entrer en quelques Esperances, non Seulement par la repugnance quont toujours nos Capitalistes pour les ⟨placements loinestains⟩, mais aussy par une autre raison qui n’est pas trop bonne á dire mais il n’en est pas moins vray—qu’il sest ⟨illegible⟩ icy depuis quelques temps un Esprit de jeu qui sest Emparé de touttes les ⟨Tetes⟩ au point que Chacun veut faire fortun dans autant ⟨d heures⟩ que nos Peres y mettoyent d’⟨oeuvres⟩ on Se ⟨jette sur⟩ nos fonds ⟨oublies⟩ qui presént plus que tout autre Employ a La Cupidité, voila pourquois La moitie des Terres du Royaume Sont á vendre ⟨Linterett⟩ qu⟨ils⟩ rendent ne Suffit plus au Sence actuel Ion quitte ainsy le Sollide pour Courrir apre la fumée, cette Esquisse de nos Illusion ne doit pas passer en Amerique ou l’on nous prendroit pour de fols & n’est que pour vous faire voir qu’il faut tourner vos vues d’un autre Coté II Servit bien a souhaiter que LAmerique Seulle ⟨puit S⟩e Suffere á elle meme pour le projet; [ ] S’il me servit doux davoir des meilleures raisons á vous donner de Limpossibilité que je trouve à faire des E⟨mprunts icy⟩ à present, Il me le servit bien d’avantage de pouvoir faire quelque Chose d’agreable à monsr Wasington & á vous monsieur . . .” (DLC:GW).

3Well before Jefferson wrote this, GW had decided what to do about the gift of stocks in the James River and Potomac River companies. See, particularly, GW to William Grayson, 25 April, and to Nathanael Greene, 20 May.

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