Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson


The Count de Vergennes had died a few days before the meeting of the
Assembly, & the Count de Montmorin had been named Minister of foreign
affairs in his place. Villedeuil succeeded Calonnes as Comptroller general,
& Lomenie de Bryenne, Archbishop of Thoulouse, afterwards of Sens, &
ultimately Cardinal Lomenie, was named Minister principal, with whom the
other ministers were to transact the business of their departments,
heretofore done with the King in person, and the Duke de Nivernois, and M.
de Malesherbes were called to the Council. On the nomination of the
Minister principal the Marshals de Segur & de Castries retired from the
departments of War & Marine, unwilling to act subordinately, or to share
the blame of proceedings taken out of their direction. They were succeeded
by the Count de Brienne, brother of the Prime minister, and the Marquis de
la Luzerne, brother to him who had been Minister in the United States.

May 24. A dislocated wrist, unsuccessfully set, occasioned advice from my
Surgeon to try the mineral waters of Aix in Provence as a corroborant. I
left Paris for that place therefore on the 28th. of Feb. and proceeded up
the Seine, thro' Champagne & Burgundy, and down the Rhone thro' the
Beaujolais by Lyons, Avignon, Nismes to Aix, where finding on trial no
benefit from the waters, I concluded to visit the rice country of Piedmont,
to see if anything might be learned there to benefit the rivalship of our
Carolina rice with that, and thence to make a tour of the seaport towns of
France, along it's Southern and Western coast, to inform myself if anything
could be done to favor our commerce with them. From Aix therefore I took my
route by Marseilles, Toulon, Hieres, Nice, across the Col de Tende, by
Coni, Turin, Vercelli, Novara, Milan, Pavia, Novi, Genoa. Thence returning
along the coast by Savona, Noli, Albenga, Oneglia, Monaco, Nice, Antibes,
Frejus, Aix, Marseilles, Avignon, Nismes, Montpellier, Frontignan, Cette,
Agde, and along the canal of Languedoc, by Bezieres, Narbonne, Cascassonne,
Castelnaudari, thro' the Souterrain of St. Feriol and back by
Castelnaudari, to Toulouse, thence to Montauban & down the Garonne by
Langon to Bordeaux. Thence to Rochefort, la Rochelle, Nantes, L'Orient,
then back by Rennes to Nantes, and up the Loire by Angers, Tours, Amboise,
Blois to New Orleans, thence direct to Paris where I arrived on the 10th.
of June. Soon after my return from this journey to wit, about the latter
part of July, I received my younger daughter Maria from Virginia by the way
of London, the youngest having died some time before.

The treasonable perfidy of the Prince of Orange, Stadtholder & Captain
General of the United Netherlands, in the war which England waged against
them for entering into a treaty of commerce with the U. S. is known to all.
As their Executive officer, charged with the conduct of the war, he
contrived to baffle all the measures of the States General, to dislocate
all their military plans, & played false into the hands of England and
against his own country on every possible occasion, confident in her
protection, and in that of the King of Prussia, brother to his Princess.
The States General indignant at this patricidal conduct applied to France
for aid, according to the stipulations of the treaty concluded with her in
85. It was assured to them readily, and in cordial terms, in a letter from
the Ct. de Vergennes to the Marquis de Verac, Ambassador of France at the
Hague, of which the following is an extract.

"Extrait de la depeche de Monsr. le Comte de Vergennes a Monsr. le Marquis
de Verac, Ambassadeur de France a la Haye, du 1er Mars 1786.

"Le Roi concourrera, autant qu'il sera en son pouvoir, au succes de la
chose, et vous inviterez de sa part les patriotes de lui communiquer leurs
vues, leurs plans, et leurs envieux. Vous les assurerez que le roi prend un
interet veritable a leurs personnes comme a leur cause, et qu'ils peuvent
compter sur sa protection. Ils doivent y compter d'autant plus, Monsieur,
que nous ne dissimulons pas que si Monsr. le Stadhoulder reprend son
ancienne influence, le systeme Anglois ne tardera pas de prevaloir, et que
notre alliance deviendroit unetre de raison. Les Patriotes sentiront
facilement que cette position seroit incompatible avec la dignite, comme
avec la consideration de sa majeste. Mais dans le cas, Monsieur, ou les
chefs des Patriotes auroient a craindre une scission, ils auroient le temps
suffisant pour ramener ceux de leurs amis que les Anglomanes ont egares, et
preparer les choses de maniere que la question de nouveau mise en
deliberation soit decide selon leurs desirs. Dans cette hypothese, le roi
vous autorise a agir de concert avec eux, de suivre la direction qu'ils
jugeront devoir vous donner, et d'employer tous les moyens pour augmenter
le nombre des partisans de la bonne cause. Il me reste, Monsieur, il me
reste Monsieur, de vous parler de la surete personelle des patriotes. Vous
les assurerez que dans tout etat de cause, le roi les prend sous sa
protection immediate, et vous ferez connoitre partout ou vous le jugerez
necessaire, que sa Majeste regarderoit comme une offense personnelle tout
ce qu'on entreprenderoit contre leur liberte. Il est a presumer que ce
langage, tenu avec energie, en imposera a l'audace des Anglomanes et que
Monsr. le Prince de Nassau croira courir quelque risque en provoquant le
ressentiment de sa Majeste."

This letter was communicated by the Patriots to me when at Amsterdam in
1788. and a copy sent by me to Mr. Jay in my letter to him of Mar. 16.

The object of the Patriots was to establish a representative and republican
government. The majority of the States general were with them, but the
majority of the populace of the towns was with the Prince of Orange; and
that populace was played off with great effect by the triumvirate of Harris
the English Ambassador afterwards Ld. Malmesbury, the Prince of Orange a
stupid man, and the Princess as much a man as either of her colleagues, in
audaciousness, in enterprise, & in the thirst of domination. By these the
mobs of the Hague were excited against the members of the States general,
their persons were insulted & endangered in the streets, the sanctuary of
their houses was violated, and the Prince whose function & duty it was to
repress and punish these violations of order, took no steps for that
purpose. The States General, for their own protection were therefore
obliged to place their militia under the command of a Committee. The Prince
filled the courts of London and Berlin with complaints at this usurpation
of his prerogatives, and forgetting that he was but the first servant of a
republic, marched his regular troops against the city of Utrecht, where the
States were in session. They were repulsed by the militia. His interests
now became marshalled with those of the public enemy & against his own
country. The States therefore, exercising their rights of sovereignty,
deprived him of all his powers. The great Frederic had died in August 86.5
He had never intended to break with France in support of the Prince of
Orange. During the illness of which he died, he had thro' the Duke of
Brunswick, declared to the Marquis de la Fayette, who was then at Berlin,
that he meant not to support the English interest in Holland: that he might
assure the government of France his only wish was that some honorable place
in the Constitution should be reserved for the Stadtholder and his
children, and that he would take no part in the quarrel unless an entire
abolition of the Stadtholderate should be attempted. But his place was now
occupied by Frederic William, his great nephew, a man of little
understanding, much caprice, & very inconsiderate; and the Princess his
sister, altho' her husband was in arms against the legitimate authorities
of the country, attempting to go to Amsterdam for the purpose of exciting
the mobs of that place and being refused permission to pass a military post
on the way, he put the Duke of Brunswick at the head of 20,000 men, and
made demonstrations of marching on Holland. The King of France hereupon
declared, by his Charge des Affaires in Holland that if the Prussian troops
continued to menace Holland with an invasion, his Majesty, in quality of
Ally, was determined to succor that province.6 In answer to this Eden gave
official information to Count Montmorin, that England must consider as at
an end, it's convention with France relative to giving notice of it's naval
armaments and that she was arming generally.7 War being now imminent, Eden
questioned me on the effect of our treaty with France in the case of a war,
& what might be our dispositions. I told him frankly and without hesitation
that our dispositions would be neutral, and that I thought it would be the
interest of both these powers that we should be so; because it would
relieve both from all anxiety as to feeding their W. India islands. That
England too, by suffering us to remain so, would avoid a heavy land-war on
our continent, which might very much cripple her proceedings elsewhere;
that our treaty indeed obliged us to receive into our ports the armed
vessels of France, with their prizes, and to refuse admission to the prizes
made on her by her enemies: that there was a clause also by which we
guaranteed to France her American possessions, which might perhaps force us
into the war, if these were attacked. "Then it will be war, said he, for
they will assuredly be attacked."8 Liston, at Madrid, about the same time,
made the same inquiries of Carmichael. The government of France then
declared a determination to form a camp of observation at Givet, commenced
arming her marine, and named the Bailli de Suffrein their Generalissimo on
the Ocean. She secretly engaged also in negotiations with Russia, Austria,
& Spain to form a quadruple alliance. The Duke of Brunswick having advanced
to the confines of Holland, sent some of his officers to Givet to
reconnoitre the state of things there, and report them to him. He said
afterwards that "if there had been only a few tents at that place, he
should not have advanced further, for that the King would not merely for
the interest of his sister, engage in a war with France." But finding that
there was not a single company there, he boldly entered the country, took
their towns as fast as he presented himself before them, and advanced on
Utrecht. The States had appointed the Rhingrave of Salm their
Commander-in-chief, a Prince without talents, without courage, and without
principle. He might have held out in Utrecht for a considerable time, but
he surrendered the place without firing a gun, literally ran away & hid
himself so that for months it was not known what had become of him.
Amsterdam was then attacked and capitulated. In the meantime the
negotiations for the quadruple alliance were proceeding favorably. But the
secrecy with which they were attempted to be conducted, was penetrated by
Fraser, Charge des affaires of England at St. Petersburg, who instantly
notified his court, and gave the alarm to Prussia. The King saw at once
what would be his situation between the jaws of France, Austria, and
Russia. In great dismay he besought the court of London not to abandon him,
sent Alvensleben to Paris to explain and soothe, and England thro' the D.
of Dorset and Eden, renewed her conferences for accommodation. The
Archbishop, who shuddered at the idea of war, and preferred a peaceful
surrender of right to an armed vindication of it, received them with open
arms, entered into cordial conferences, and a declaration, and counter
declaration were cooked up at Versailles and sent to London for
approbation. They were approved there, reached Paris at 1 o'clock of the
27th. and were signed that night at Versailles. It was said and believed at
Paris that M. de Montmorin, literally "pleuroit comme un enfant," when
obliged to sign this counter declaration; so distressed was he by the
dishonor of sacrificing the Patriots after assurances so solemn of
protection, and absolute encouragement to proceed.9 The Prince of Orange
was reinstated in all his powers, now become regal. A great emigration of
the Patriots took place, all were deprived of office, many exiled, and
their property confiscated. They were received in France, and subsisted for
some time on her bounty. Thus fell Holland, by the treachery of her chief,
from her honorable independence to become a province of England, and so
also her Stadtholder from the high station of the first citizen of a free
republic, to be the servile Viceroy of a foreign sovereign. And this was
effected by a mere scene of bullying & demonstration, not one of the
parties, France England or Prussia having ever really meant to encounter
actual war for the interest of the Prince of Orange. But it had all the
effect of a real and decisive war.

Our first essay in America to establish a federative government had fallen,
on trial, very short of it's object. During the war of Independance, while
the pressure of an external enemy hooped us together, and their enterprises
kept us necessarily on the alert, the spirit of the people, excited by
danger, was a supplement to the Confederation, and urged them to zealous
exertions, whether claimed by that instrument, or not. But when peace and
safety were restored, and every man became engaged in useful and profitable
occupation, less attention was paid to the calls of Congress. The
fundamental defect of the Confederation was that Congress was not
authorized to act immediately on the people, & by it's own officers. Their
power was only requisitory, and these requisitions were addressed to the
several legislatures, to be by them carried into execution, without other
coercion than the moral principle of duty. This allowed in fact a negative
to every legislature, on every measure proposed by Congress; a negative so
frequently exercised in practice as to benumb the action of the federal
government, and to render it inefficient in it's general objects, & more
especially in pecuniary and foreign concerns. The want too of a separation
of the legislative, executive, & judiciary functions worked
disadvantageously in practice. Yet this state of things afforded a happy
augury of the future march of our confederacy, when it was seen that the
good sense and good dispositions of the people, as soon as they perceived
the incompetence of their first compact, instead of leaving it's correction
to insurrection and civil war, agreed with one voice to elect deputies to a
general convention, who should peaceably meet and agree on such a
constitution as "would ensure peace, justice, liberty, the common defence &
general welfare."

This Convention met at Philadelphia on the 25th. of May '87. It sate with
closed doors and kept all it's proceedings secret, until it's dissolution
on the 17th. of September, when the results of their labors were published
all together. I received a copy early in November, and read and
contemplated it's provisions with great satisfaction. As not a member of
the Convention however, nor probably a single citizen of the Union, had
approved it in all it's parts, so I too found articles which I thought
objectionable. The absence of express declarations ensuring freedom of
religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person under the
uninterrupted protection of the Habeas corpus, & trial by jury in civil as
well as in criminal cases excited my jealousy; and the re-eligibility of
the President for life, I quite disapproved. I expressed freely in letters
to my friends, and most particularly to Mr. Madison & General Washington,
my approbations and objections. How the good should be secured, and the ill
brought to rights was the difficulty. To refer it back to a new Convention
might endanger the loss of the whole. My first idea was that the 9. states
first acting should accept it unconditionally, and thus secure what in it
was good, and that the 4. last should accept on the previous condition that
certain amendments should be agreed to, but a better course was devised of
accepting the whole and trusting that the good sense & honest intentions of
our citizens would make the alterations which should be deemed necessary.
Accordingly all accepted, 6. without objection, and 7. with recommendations
of specified amendments. Those respecting the press, religion, & juries,
with several others, of great value, were accordingly made; but the Habeas
corpus was left to the discretion of Congress, and the amendment against
the reeligibility of the President was not proposed by that body. My fears
of that feature were founded on the importance of the office, on the fierce
contentions it might excite among ourselves, if continuable for life, and
the dangers of interference either with money or arms, by foreign nations,
to whom the choice of an American President might become interesting.
Examples of this abounded in history; in the case of the Roman emperors for
instance, of the Popes while of any significance, of the German emperors,
the Kings of Poland, & the Deys of Barbary. I had observed too in the
feudal History, and in the recent instance particularly of the Stadtholder
of Holland, how easily offices or tenures for life slide into inheritances.
My wish therefore was that the President should be elected for 7. years &
be ineligible afterwards. This term I thought sufficient to enable him,
with the concurrence of the legislature, to carry thro' & establish any
system of improvement he should propose for the general good. But the
practice adopted I think is better allowing his continuance for 8. years
with a liability to be dropped at half way of the term, making that a
period of probation. That his continuance should be restrained to 7. years
was the opinion of the Convention at an early stage of it's session, when
it voted that term by a majority of 8. against 2. and by a simple majority
that he should be ineligible a second time. This opinion &c. was confirmed
by the house so late as July 26. referred to the committee of detail,
reported favorably by them, and changed to the present form by final vote
on the last day but one only of their session. Of this change three states
expressed their disapprobation, N. York by recommending an amendment that
the President should not be eligible a third time, and Virginia and N.
Carolina that he should not be capable of serving more than 8. in any term
of 16. years. And altho' this amendment has not been made in form, yet
practice seems to have established it. The example of 4 Presidents
voluntarily retiring at the end of their 8th year, & the progress of public
opinion that the principle is salutary, have given it in practice the force
of precedent & usage; insomuch that should a President consent to be a
candidate for a 3d. election, I trust he would be rejected on this
demonstration of ambitious views.

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