To Thomas Jefferson
Philada 1st Dec. 1793.
Is there no clue to Mr Morriss meaning respecting Monsr Merlino?1 The next paragraph of his letter is enigmatical to me, from the want of my recollecting perfectly the subjects alluded to. What are the orders given him which he will implicitly obey, and which were, according to his acct, received so very opportunely?2 Has not a letter of his of subsequent date to that laid before me yesterday, acknowledged the receipt of the Plans of the Federal City.3
There can be no doubt since the information which has come to hand from our Ministers at Paris & London of the propriety of changing the expression of the Message as it respects the Acts of France.4 And if any bad consequences (which I declare 5 I see no cause to apprehend) are likely to flow from a public communication of matters relative to G. Britain it might be well to revise the thing again in your own mind, before it is sent in; especially as the Secretary of the Treasury has, more than once declared, and has offered to discuss & prov⟨e⟩ that we receive more Substantial benefits (favors are beside the question with any of them, because they are not intended as such) from British regulations with respect to the Commerce of this Country than we do from those of France; antecedant I mean, to those of very recent date. We should be very cautious if this be the case not to advance any thing that may recoil; or take ground we cannot maintain well.6 Yours always
ALS, DLC: Jefferson Papers; ADfS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters; LB, DNA: RG 59, George Washington’s Correspondence with His Secretaries of State. Jefferson docketed the ALS as received on 1 December.
1. GW’s questions refer to Gouverneur Morris’s letter to Jefferson of 25 June, which Jefferson had submitted to GW in a letter of 30 November. About Jean Marie François Merlino (1738–1805), who represented Ain as a delegate to the National Convention, Morris wrote: “In a Letter written long since I mention’d to you Sir that I was in Quest of Monsieur Merlino. I have since found him and convers’d with him. He is immensely rich but seems to have been the Father of his own Fortune, amass’d (as Fortunes frequently are) without rendering the Possessor respectable. If I can judge from his Countenance, the Enquiry was set on Foot in the Hope of negative Answers, and the Affirmative is of Course not pleasing. Certain it is that he shew’d no Inclination to spare to the Necessities of Nephews a Part of his own Abundance, but this is the less reprehensible in that he treats himself no better than his needy Relatives.” Jefferson, who wrote on Morris’s letter, “Who is Mr. Merlino?”, was unable to answer this question (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 , 26:364, 369).
2. GW’s question actually applies to the next two paragraphs of Morris’s letter, which read: “Your Favor of the twentieth of April reach’d me two Days ago and now I have those of the eighth of that Month and twelfth and fifteenth of March. To the Contents of the last mention’d Letter I shall pay all due Attention whatever Opportunities can be found or made for the Purpose. I am happy to find by what you say in the Begining of yours of the twelfth of March, that your Sentiments accord so entirely with those which I had the Honor to express in mine of the twenty second of August, and that the Conduct which I had thought it proper to pursue is thereby justified. My Correspondence with Mr. Short will have shewn you Sir that I have been very far from questioning the Principles which you state; And I perfectly agree that there is little Difficulty or Embarrassment in the application of clear Principles, when the Facts are clear. But while Events are doubtful the Feebleness of human Foresight may I hope be pardon’d for Hesitating where Things of vast Moment depend on Steps to be immediately taken. A Man of no little Eminence in the late Revolutions and who has since left France urg’d me much to go away, shortly after the tenth of August. As I had not (and have not) any Reason to question, either on my own Account or on that of my Country, the Sincerity of his advice I could only examine the Ground of his Judgment, which has always been esteemed a good one. We differed in Opinion but this Sentiment he express’d strongly. ‘In your Case, said he, I would go to England or Holland and from thence state the existing Facts, and ask my Court to decide at once on my Conduct, without waiting for future events.’ As it was clear from hence that his Reflections turn’d principally on my personal Situation, I told him that my Conduct would be influenced by Considerations totally different, and therefore conceiving it most conducive to the Interests of the United States I should stay.
“In the present Moment you will observe, Sir, by the public Papers, that a Majority of the Departments declare themselves against the Authority of the present Convention, after the Arrestment of their Fellow Members, just as in the Month of June last a similar Majority declar’d their Execration of the Attempts on Louis the sixteenth; but who will venture to tell us what August is to produce? No small Part of France is in open War with the Rest, and wherever the Insurgents arrive it appears that the whole Country is friendly to them; so that if one were to Judge by what passes in that quarter, France would be nearly unanimous in the ReEstablishment of Royalty should they come on in Force to Paris. Then the establish’d Principle of Administration would undoubtedly be, that all which has been done within the last Year was an abominable Usurpation &ca. &ca.; And without questioning our Principles of Government, they might dissent from the Application of them by a subtle Distinction between the Voice of a Nation and what would then be call’d the Voice of a Faction. Under Circumstances of this Sort I am particularly happy to have receiv’d your Orders, which I shall implicitly obey. Accept I pray you my sincere Thanks for having given them so opportunely” (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 , 26:364–65).
Jefferson replied to GW’s inquiry on 2 Dec. by enclosing the letters sent to Morris, of which the letter of 12 March contained the relevant “orders” about how Morris should respond to transition in the form of French government (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 , 25:367–70).
3. Jefferson had sent plans of the Federal City to Morris via London, probably early in January 1793 (see Jefferson to Morris, 12 March 1793, and Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 30 Dec. 1792, 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 , 25:367–70, 24:802–4). However, no acknowledgment of receipt by Morris has been identified.
4. GW was referring to Jefferson’s first draft for GW’s message to Congress on U.S. relations with the various powers of Europe (see GW to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 5 Dec., n.1; and Jefferson to GW, 30 Nov.).
5. Both the draft and the letter-book copy have “still declare.”
6. In the draft and the letter-book copy, this sentence ends with the words “cannot support.”