George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lafayette, 6 June 1791

From Lafayette

Paris June the 6th 1791

My dear General

I Most Heartly thank You for Your letter dated March the 19th, the more welcome to me, as I Had long lamented Your Silence, and was panting for News from You, My dear General, wherein I Could Be informed of every thing Respecting Your public and private Concerns—I Rejoice and Glory in the Happy Situation of American Affairs—I Bless the Restoration of Your Health, and wish I Could Congratulate You on Your Side of the Atlantick—But we are not in that State of tranquillity which may Admit of My absence—the Refugees Hovering about the fronteers—intrigues in most of the despotic and Aristocratic Cabinets—our Regular Army divided into tory officers, and Undisciplined Soldiers—licentiousness Among the people Not easily Repressed—the Capital that Gives the tone to the Empire tossed about By AntiRevolutionary or factious parties—the Assembly fatigued By Hard labour, and very unmanageable—the priests that Have taken the Oath, and those who Have not playing the devil. However, According to our popular Motto, Cà ira, it will do—we are introducing as fast as we can Relligious liberty—The Assembly Has put an end to Her existence By a New Convocation, Has Unfitted Her own Members for Immediate Reelection, or placed in the Executive—and is Now Reducing the Constitution to a few Principal Articles, leaving to the legislative Assemblies to Examine and mend the others, and Preparing Every thing for a Convention, as soon as our Machine will Have Had a fair trial1—I stand the Continual Check to all interior factions, and plots—By the Enclosed speech of mine, and the Giving up my Commission I Gave a spring to the power of law over licentiousness, and was I equally supported in Repressing it, as I would be Against Aristocratic exertions the people would soon Be Brought to a proper sense of liberty2—as to the Surrounding Governements they Hate our Revolution, But don’t know How to Meddle with it, so Affraïd they are to Catch the plague—we are Going to take Measures to discipline the Army, Both officers and soldiers—They will prepare to encamp and leave the Cities—Their Generals will Have the same power as in time of war—M. de Condé and His party will be summoned to explain themselves, and if they Continue Cabaling and enlisting declared traitors—to M. de ternant I defer for more particulars.3

M. Jefferson and Myself Had long thought that ternant was a very proper man to act as french Minister in America—He In a Great measure Belongs to Both Countries—He is Sensible, Honest, well informed, and Has a plain and decisive way of doing Bussiness which will be very Convenient—He Has long Been an officer Under Your Commands—feeling and acting in an American Capacity—He is personnally Much At’ached to you, and I Had in this Revolution many instances to Experience His friendship to me—He might Have Been a Minister in the Council, But was Rather Backward on the occasion, and Beháved like a prudent, not an Ambitious Man—so that I take Him to be fit to Answer Your purpose.

He will let you know what Has Past in the Assembly Respecting American affairs—the last transactions are an Undoubted proof of their Sentiments, and Show that their faux pas in the Regulation of duties are to Be Attributed to want of knowledge Or Sense, not of friendship—they Have Considered me as an American, who did only mind American profit, and did not know matters so well as a few mercantile men, Most of them on the Aristocratic Side of the House, who Presented foolish Calculations—and you know the difficulty to unmake our decrees But You May depend on this point, that Brotherly Measures to Unite the two Nations with the ties of Most intimate affection, of Common principles, and Common interest will Be Most Heartly Received in france, and on that Ground You may work Your plan, and Send it to france, with a private Copy for me. The United States and france Must Be one people, and so Begin the Confederation of all Nations who will assert their own Rights.

I Have, in the affair of the Black free men, Voted according to my Conscience, not to policy—Should the British take Advantage of My Honesty, I Hope You will influence the Colonies to Submit to a decre so Conformant to justice.4

M. Short who does the Business of the United States with all the zeal and ingenuity of a most patriotic and most Sensible man—who is Respected and loved in france in a manner equally useful to the public and Honourable to Himself Has writen to M. jefferson Respecting New orleans—france will do every thing in Her power to Bring Spain to Reason. But will Have a difficult, and probably Unsuccessful task—upon the whole that Navigation we must Have, and in Case the people of louïsiana wish to make a fifteenth State, who devil Can Help it, and who ought, Spaniards excepted, not Rejoice at it—Certainly I should’nt Be a Mourner.5

My Best Respects to Mrs Washington—My Compliments to the family—to my dear aid George and His family—Most Respectfully and Affectionately My Beloved General, Your filial friend6

Lafayette

ALS, PEL; ADf (in French), Lafayette Papers, La Grange, France, microfilm on deposit at DLC:GW.

1The National Constituent Assembly reorganized the Catholic church in France with the civil constitution of the clergy of 12 July 1790 and on 27 Nov. 1790 decreed that all priests swear an oath of fidelity to the nation, the law, the king, and the constitution; “refractory” or “non-juring” clergy who refused to take the oath were removed from public office the following spring. The assembly also passed a decree on 16 May 1791 prohibiting reelection of any of its current members to the Legislative Assembly to be created by the new national constitution that had been under consideration since 1789 (Archives parlementaires, description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868—. description ends 26:111–27). On 8 April 1791 William Short informed Thomas Jefferson that he did not think the assembly would end soon or voluntarily: “first because I am persuaded that a large majority wish to remain as long as possible, and secondly because I think that movements abroad or disorders at home, the one arising from the imprudence and folly of the Refugees and the other from an habitual state of anarchy, will furnish the pretext of their remaining” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 20:170–74). The Constituent Assembly did not complete work on the first French constitution until 3 September.

2On 25 April Short also sent Jefferson a copy of Lafayette’s speech of 22 April and described the events that precipitated it (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 20:256–62). The speech is printed in Lafayette, Mémoires, description begins Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de Lafayette. Mémoires, correspondance, et manuscrits du Général Lafayette, publiés par sa famille. 6 vols. Paris, 1837–38. description ends 3:67–69.

3Louis-Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé (1736–1818), immigrated to Turin in 1789 after having served in the Assembly of Notables and by February 1791 had assumed leadership of the émigrés. He established himself at Worms and organized an army that he led against French Revolutionary forces from 1792 to 1796. The National Assembly passed a decree on 11 June 1791 ordering him to return to France (Archives parlementaires, description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868—. description ends 27:130–32), and Short reported to Jefferson on 29 June that “the person sent by the King to the Prince de Condé with the decree of the assembly injoining his return, writes that he was at Worms the 22d., that he had been well recieved, and was to follow the Prince to Coblentz where he is to have his answer” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 20:584–88).

4Lafayette had earlier written to GW about his purchase of a plantation in the French colony of Cayenne on which he intended to free the slaves and have them work the land as tenant farmers. See Lafayette to GW, 14 July 1785 and note 3, and 6 Feb. 1786). On 11 May he spoke in the National Assembly in support of extending civil rights to free black men in the French colonies. The motion of 15 May, for which Lafayette voted, however, named only the sons of free blacks as citoyens actifs (Gazette Nationale ou le Moniteur Universel [Paris], 13 May, and Archives parlementaires, description begins J. Mavidal et al., eds. Archives Parlementaires de 1787 a 1860. 1st ser., 101 vols. to date. Paris, 1868—. description ends 25:753).

5For background to Lafayette’s involvement in the administration’s attempts to enlist French assistance in achieving American foreign policy objectives with Spain, see Jefferson to GW, 8 Aug. 1790, source note and note 6, 18 Mar. 1791, and Jefferson to Short, 12 Mar. 1791, Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends 19:527–28. Short’s dispatch to Jefferson regarding New Orleans was written this day (ibid., 20:528–37).

Index Entries