George Washington Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Conversation with Washington, 27 December 1792

Thomas Jefferson’s Conversation with Washington

[Philadelphia, 27 December 1792]

Thursday Dec. 27. 92. I waited on the President on some current business. after this was over, he observed to me he thought it was time to endeavor to effect a stricter connection with France & that G. Morris should be written to on this subject. he went into the circumstances of dissatisfaction between Spain, Gr. Brit. & us, & observed there was no nation on whom we could rely at all times but France, and that if we did not prepare in time some support in the event of rupture with Spain & England we might be charged with a criminal negligence. (I was much pleased with the tone of these observations. it was the very doctrine which had been my polar star, and I did not need the successes of the Republican arms in France lately announced to us, to bring me to these sentiments. for it is to be noted that on Saturday last (the 22d) I received mister Short’s letters of Oct. 9. & 12. with the Leyden gazettes to Oct. 13. giving us the first news of the retreat of the D. of Brunswic, and the capture of Spires & Worms by Custine, and that of Nice by Anselme.)1 I therefore expressed to the President my cordial approbation of these ideas: told him I had meant on that day (as an opportunity of writing by the British packet would occur immediately) to take his orders for removing the suspension of paiments to France which had been imposed by my last letter to G. Morris, but was meant as I supposed only for the interval between the abolition of the late constitution by the dethronement of the king and the meeting of some other body invested by the will of the nation with powers to transact their affairs. that I considered the national convention then assembled as such a body, and that therefore we ought to go on with the paiments to them or to any government they should establish.2 that however I had learned last night that some clause in the bill for providing reimbursement of the loan made by the bank to the U.S. had given rise to a question before the house of representatives yesterday which might affect these paiments; a clause in that bill proposing that the money formerly borrowed in Amsterdam to pay the French debt & appropriated by law (1790. Aug. 4. c.34.s.2.) to that purpose, lying dead as was suggested, should be taken to pay the bank, and the Presidt be authorized to borrow 2. millions of Dol. more out of which it should be replaced, and if this should be done the removal of our suspension of paiment as I had been about to propose, would be premature. he expressed his disapprobation of the clause abovementioned, thought it highly improper in the legislature to change an appropriation once made, and added that no one could tell in what that would end. I concurred, but observed that on a division of the house the ayes for striking out the clause were 27. the noes 26. whereon the Speaker gave his vote against striking out, which dividing the house, the clause for the disappropriation remained of course. I mentd suspicions that the whole of this was a trick to serve the bank under a great existing embarrasment. that the debt to the bank was to be repaid by instalments, that the 1st instalment was of 200,000 D. only, or rather 160,000 D. (because 40,000 of the 200,000 would be the U. States’ own dividend of the instalment) yet here were 2,000,000 to be paid them at once, & to be taken from a purpose of gratitude & honor to which it had been appropriated.3

AD, DLC: Jefferson Papers.

1For William Short’s letters to Jefferson of 9 and 12 Oct., written from The Hague and enclosing recent issues of the Gazette de Leide, see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 24:455–58, 474–76. After initial victories at Longwy on 23 Aug. and Verdun on 2 Sept., the allied armies of Prussia and Austria, under the command of the Duke of Brunswick, suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Valmy on 20 Sept. 1792. The subsequent retreat of the allied armies enabled French troops under Adam-Philippe, comte de Custine (1740–1793), to occupy the German cities of Speyer (Spires), Worms, Mainz, and Frankfort on the Main on 29 Sept., 4, 21, and 23 Oct., respectively, and French forces commanded by Jacques-Bernard-Modeste d’Anselme (1740–1812) in late September to capture Nice, a city in the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

2See Jefferson’s first letter to Gouverneur Morris, the U.S. minister to France, of 7 Nov., in which Jefferson, acknowledging the news that the French constitution had been suspended, wrote: “During the time of this supension, and while no legitimate government exists, we apprehend that we cannot continue the payments of our debt to France, because there is no person authorised to recieve it, and to give us an unobjectionable acquittal. You are therefore desired to consider the paiment as suspended until further orders” (Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 24:592–94). For background on recent events in France, including the abolition of the monarchy and the election of the National Convention in late September, see Morris to GW, 23 Oct., and source note.

On 30 Dec., Jefferson added the following paragraph beneath the text of his notes on his conversation with GW: “I took the occasion furnished by Pinckney’s letter of Sep. 19. asking instructions how to conduct himself (as to the French revolution,) to lay down the Catholic principle of republi[c]anism, to wit, that every people may establish what form of government they please, and change it as they please. the will of the nation being the only thing essential. I was induced to do this in order to extract the President’s opinion on the question which divided Hamilton & myself in the conversation of Nov. [ ] 92 and the previous one of the first week of Nov. on the suspension of paimts to France and if favorable to mine to place the principle of record in the letter books of my office. I therefore wrote the letter of Dec. 30. to Pinckney & sent it to the President, & he returned me his approbation in writing in his note of the same date. which see.” For GW’s approval of Jefferson’s letter to Thomas Pinckney, the U.S. minister to Great Britain, of 30 Dec., and for Jefferson’s inclusion of the “Catholic principle” of republicanism in his letter to Pinckney, see GW to Jefferson, 30 Dec., and note 1.

3In compliance with section 11 of “An Act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States,” 25 Feb. 1791, the federal government purchased $2 million of shares in the Bank of the United States with money from loans previously obtained to pay the public debt. The bank, in turn, advanced the government that sum to be used to reduce the public debt. The loan was “reimbursable in ten years, by equal annual instalments; or at any time sooner, or in any greater proportions, that the government may think fit” (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 196). See also “An Act making provision for the [payment of the] Debt of the United States,” 4 Aug. 1790, and “An Act making Provision for the Reduction of the Public Debt,” 12 Aug. 1790, (ibid., 138–44, 186–87). In compliance with those two acts, the United States had negotiated loans with bankers in Antwerp and Amsterdam (see William Short to Alexander Hamilton, 8 Nov. 1791, n.4, in Hamilton Papers, 9:481–82; Ratification of the Holland Loan, 1 Sept. 1791, and Ratification Statement, 5 Nov. 1792).

On 24 Dec. 1792 the House of Representatives began debate on a bill that would authorize the president to borrow an additional $2 million to reimburse the Bank of the United States for its loan. Debate resumed on 26 Dec. and ended later that day with a vote on a motion to reduce the amount of any new loan to $200,000. The motion was defeated by the vote cast by the Speaker of the House, Jonathan Trumbull. On 27 Feb. 1793 the House resumed its debate on the bill and approved a motion to strike out the entire section authorizing a new loan (see Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 2d Cong., 2d sess., 753–62, 897–98). The issue was settled with “An Act providing for the payment of the First Instalment due on a Loan made of the Bank of the United States” of 2 Mar. 1793, which authorized the president to make the first payment of $200,000 to the Bank of the United States from funds already borrowed for reducing the debt (1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 338).

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