Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson

But there was another amendment of which none of us thought at the time and
in the omission of which lurks the germ that is to destroy this happy
combination of National powers in the General government for matters of
National concern, and independent powers in the states for what concerns
the states severally. In England it was a great point gained at the
Revolution, that the commissions of the judges, which had hitherto been
during pleasure, should thenceforth be made during good behavior. A
Judiciary dependent on the will of the King had proved itself the most
oppressive of all tools in the hands of that Magistrate. Nothing then could
be more salutary than a change there to the tenure of good behavior; and
the question of good behavior left to the vote of a simple majority in the
two houses of parliament. Before the revolution we were all good English
Whigs, cordial in their free principles, and in their jealousies of their
executive Magistrate. These jealousies are very apparent in all our state
constitutions; and, in the general government in this instance, we have
gone even beyond the English caution, by requiring a vote of two thirds in
one of the Houses for removing a judge; a vote so impossible where10 any
defence is made, before men of ordinary prejudices & passions, that our
judges are effectually independent of the nation. But this ought not to be.
I would not indeed make them dependant on the Executive authority, as they
formerly were in England; but I deem it indispensable to the continuance of
this government that they should be submitted to some practical & impartial
controul: and that this, to be imparted, must be compounded of a mixture of
state and federal authorities. It is not enough that honest men are
appointed judges. All know the influence of interest on the mind of man,
and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this
bias add that of the esprit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed
that “it is the office of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction,” and
the absence of responsibility, and how can we expect impartial decision
between the General government, of which they are themselves so eminent a
part, and an individual state from which they have nothing to hope or fear.
We have seen too that, contrary to all correct example, they are in the
habit of going out of the question before them, to throw an anchor ahead
and grapple further hold for future advances of power. They are then in
fact the corps of sappers & miners, steadily working to undermine the
independant rights of the States, & to consolidate all power in the hands
of that government in which they have so important a freehold estate. But
it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their
distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country
already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do
for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do
than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each
to take care of what lies within it’s local bounds; each county again into
townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms,
to be governed each by it’s individual proprietor. Were we directed from
Washington when to sow, & when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by
this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to
particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good
and prosperity of all. I repeat that I do not charge the judges with wilful
and ill-intentioned error; but honest error must be arrested where it’s
toleration leads to public ruin. As, for the safety of society, we commit
honest maniacs to Bedlam, so judges should be withdrawn from their bench,
whose erroneous biases are leading us to dissolution. It may indeed injure
them in fame or in fortune; but it saves the republic, which is the first
and supreme law. In the impeachment of judge Pickering of New Hampshire, a
habitual & maniac drunkard, no defence was made. Had there been, the party
vote of more than one third of the Senate would have acquitted him.

Among the debilities of the government of the Confederation, no one was
more distinguished or more distressing than the utter impossibility of
obtaining, from the states, the monies necessary for the payment of debts,
or even for the ordinary expenses of the government. Some contributed a
little, some less, & some nothing, and the last furnished at length an
excuse for the first to do nothing also. Mr. Adams, while residing at the
Hague, had a general authority to borrow what sums might be requisite for
ordinary & necessary expenses. Interest on the public debt, and the
maintenance of the diplomatic establishment in Europe, had been habitually
provided in this way. He was now elected Vice President of the U. S. was
soon to return to America, and had referred our bankers to me for future
councel on our affairs in their hands. But I had no powers, no
instructions, no means, and no familiarity with the subject. It had always
been exclusively under his management, except as to occasional and partial
deposits in the hands of Mr. Grand, banker in Paris, for special and local
purposes. These last had been exhausted for some time, and I had fervently
pressed the Treasury board to replenish this particular deposit; as Mr.
Grand now refused to make further advances. They answered candidly that no
funds could be obtained until the new government should get into action,
and have time to make it’s arrangements. Mr. Adams had received his
appointment to the court of London while engaged at Paris, with Dr.
Franklin and myself, in the negotiations under our joint commissions. He
had repaired thence to London, without returning to the Hague to take leave
of that government. He thought it necessary however to do so now, before he
should leave Europe, and accordingly went there. I learned his departure
from London by a letter from Mrs. Adams received on the very day on which
he would arrive at the Hague. A consultation with him, & some provision for
the future was indispensable, while we could yet avail ourselves of his
powers. For when they would be gone, we should be without resource. I was
daily dunned by a company who had formerly made a small loan to the U S.
the principal of which was now become due; and our bankers in Amsterdam had
notified me that the interest on our general debt would be expected in
June; that if we failed to pay it, it would be deemed an act of bankruptcy
and would effectually destroy the credit of the U S. and all future
prospect of obtaining money there; that the loan they had been authorized
to open, of which a third only was filled, and now ceased to get forward,
and rendered desperate that hope of resource. I saw that there was not a
moment to lose, and set out for the Hague on the 2d. morning after
receiving the information of Mr. Adams’s journey. I went the direct road by
Louvres, Senlis, Roye, Pont St. Maxence, Bois le duc, Gournay, Peronne,
Cambray, Bouchain, Valenciennes, Mons, Bruxelles, Malines, Antwerp,
Mordick, and Rotterdam, to the Hague, where I happily found Mr. Adams. He
concurred with me at once in opinion that something must be done, and that
we ought to risk ourselves on doing it without instructions, to save the
credit of the U S. We foresaw that before the new government could be
adopted, assembled, establish it’s financial system, get the money into the
treasury, and place it in Europe, considerable time would elapse; that
therefore we had better provide at once for the years 88. 89. & 90. in
order to place our government at it’s ease, and our credit in security,
during that trying interval. We set out therefore by the way of Leyden for
Amsterdam, where we arrived on the 10th. I had prepared an estimate showing


there would be necessary for the year 88 — 531,937 — 10
89 — 538,540
90 — 473,540
Total, 1,544,017 — 10 Flor.

to meet this the bankers had in hand 79,268 — 2 — 8
& the unsold bonds would yield 542,800
622,068 — 2 — 8

we proposed then to borrow a million yielding… 900,000

which would leave a small deficiency of….. 1,949 — 7 — 4

Mr. Adams accordingly executed 1000. bonds, for 1000. florins each, and
deposited them in the hands of our bankers, with instructions however not
to issue them until Congress should ratify the measure. This done, he
returned to London, and I set out for Paris; and as nothing urgent forbade
it, I determined to return along the banks of the Rhine to Strasburg, and
thence strike off to Paris. I accordingly left Amsterdam on the 30th of
March, and proceeded by Utrecht, Nimeguen, Cleves, Duysberg, Dusseldorf,
Cologne, Bonne, Coblentz, Nassau, Hocheim, Frankfort, & made an excursion
to Hanau, thence to Mayence and another excursion to Rudesheim, &
Johansberg; then by Oppenheim, Worms, and Manheim, and an excursion to
Heidelberg, then by Spire, Carlsruh, Rastadt & Kelh, to Strasburg, where I
arrived Apr. 16th, and proceeded again on the 18th, by Phalsbourg,
Fenestrange, Dieuze, Moyenvie, Nancy, Toul, Ligny, Barleduc, St. Diziers,
Vitry, Chalons sur Marne, Epernay, Chateau Thierri, Meaux, to Paris where I
arrived on the 23d. of April; and I had the satisfaction to reflect that by
this journey our credit was secured, the new government was placed at ease
for two years to come, and that as well as myself were relieved from the
torment of incessant duns, whose just complaints could not be silenced by
any means within our power.

A Consular Convention had been agreed on in 84. between Dr. Franklin and
the French government containing several articles so entirely inconsistent
with the laws of the several states, and the general spirit of our
citizens, that Congress withheld their ratification, and sent it back to me
with instructions to get those articles expunged or modified so as to
render them compatible with our laws. The minister retired unwillingly from
these concessions, which indeed authorized the exercise of powers very
offensive in a free state. After much discussion it was reformed in a
considerable degree, and the Convention was signed by the Count Montmorin
and myself, on the 14th. of Nov. 88 not indeed such as I would have wished;
but such as could be obtained with good humor & friendship.

On my return from Holland, I had found Paris still in high fermentation as
I had left it. Had the Archbishop, on the close of the assembly of
Notables, immediately carried into operation the measures contemplated, it
was believed they would all have been registered by the parliament, but he
was slow, presented his edicts, one after another, & at considerable
intervals of time, which gave time for the feelings excited by the
proceedings of the Notables to cool off, new claims to be advanced, and a
pressure to arise for a fixed constitution, not subject to changes at the
will of the King. Nor should we wonder at this pressure when we consider
the monstrous abuses of power under which this people were ground to
powder, when we pass in review the weight of their taxes, and inequality of
their distribution; the oppressions of the tythes, of the tailles, the
corvees, the gabelles, the farms & barriers; the shackles on Commerce by
monopolies; on Industry by gilds & corporations; on the freedom of
conscience, of thought, and of speech; on the Press by the Censure; and of
person by lettres de Cachet; the cruelty of the criminal code generally,
the atrocities of the Rack, the venality of judges, and their partialities
to the rich; the Monopoly of Military honors by the Noblesse; the enormous
expenses of the Queen, the princes & the Court; the prodigalities of
pensions; & the riches, luxury, indolence & immorality of the clergy.
Surely under such a mass of misrule and oppression, a people might justly
press for a thoro’ reformation, and might even dismount their rough-shod
riders, & leave them to walk on their own legs. The edicts relative to the
corvees & free circulation of grain, were first presented to the parliament
and registered. But those for the impot territorial, & stamp tax, offered
some time after, were refused by the parliament, which proposed a call of
the States General as alone competent to their authorization. Their refusal
produced a Bed of justice, and their exile to Troyes. The advocates however
refusing to attend them, a suspension in the administration of justice took
place. The Parliament held out for awhile, but the ennui of their exile and
absence from Paris begun at length to be felt, and some dispositions for
compromise to appear. On their consent therefore to prolong some of the
former taxes, they were recalled from exile, the King met them in session
Nov. 19. 87. promised to call the States General in the year 92. and a
majority expressed their assent to register an edict for successive and
annual loans from 1788. to 92. But a protest being entered by the Duke of
Orleans and this encouraging others in a disposition to retract, the King
ordered peremptorily the registry of the edict, and left the assembly
abruptly. The parliament immediately protested that the votes for the
enregistry had not been legally taken, and that they gave no sanction to
the loans proposed. This was enough to discredit and defeat them. Hereupon
issued another edict for the establishment of a cour pleniere, and the
suspension of all the parliaments in the kingdom. This being opposed as
might be expected by reclamations from all the parliaments & provinces, the
King gave way and by an edict of July 5. 88 renounced his cour pleniere, &
promised the States General for the 1st. of May of the ensuing year: and
the Archbishop finding the times beyond his faculties, accepted the promise
of a Cardinal’s hat, was removed [Sep. 88] from the ministry, and Mr.
Necker was called to the department of finance. The innocent rejoicings of
the people of Paris on this change provoked the interference of an officer
of the city guards, whose order for their dispersion not being obeyed, he
charged them with fixed bayonets, killed two or three, and wounded many.
This dispersed them for the moment; but they collected the next day in
great numbers, burnt 10. or 12. guard houses, killed two or three of the
guards, & lost 6. or 8. more of their own number. The city was hereupon put
under martial law, and after awhile the tumult subsided. The effect of this
change of ministers, and the promise of the States General at an early day,
tranquillized the nation. But two great questions now occurred. 1. What
proportion shall the number of deputies of the tiers etat bear to those of
the Nobles and Clergy? And 2. shall they sit in the same, or in distinct
apartments? Mr. Necker, desirous of avoiding himself these knotty
questions, proposed a second call of the same Notables, and that their
advice should be asked on the subject. They met Nov. 9. 88. and, by five
bureaux against one, they recommended the forms of the States General of
1614. wherein the houses were separate, and voted by orders, not by
persons. But the whole nation declaring at once against this, and that the
tiers etat should be, in numbers, equal to both the other orders, and the
Parliament deciding for the same proportion, it was determined so to be, by
a declaration of Dec. 27. 88. A Report of Mr. Necker to the King, of about
the same date, contained other very important concessions. 1. That the King
could neither lay a new tax, nor prolong an old one. 2. It expressed a
readiness to agree on the periodical meeting of the States. 3. To consult
on the necessary restriction on lettres de Cachet. And 4. how far the Press
might be made free. 5. It admits that the States are to appropriate the
public money; and 6. that Ministers shall be responsible for public
expenditures. And these concessions came from the very heart of the King.
He had not a wish but for the good of the nation, and for that object no
personal sacrifice would ever have cost him a moment’s regret. But his mind
was weakness itself, his constitution timid, his judgment null, and without
sufficient firmness even to stand by the faith of his word. His Queen too,
haughty and bearing no contradiction, had an absolute ascendency over him;
and around her were rallied the King’s brother d’Artois, the court
generally, and the aristocratic part of his ministers, particularly
Breteuil, Broglio, Vauguyon, Foulon, Luzerne, men whose principles of
government were those of the age of Louis XIV. Against this host the good
counsels of Necker, Montmorin, St. Priest, altho’ in unison with the wishes
of the King himself, were of little avail. The resolutions of the morning
formed under their advice, would be reversed in the evening by the
influence of the Queen & court. But the hand of heaven weighed heavily
indeed on the machinations of this junto; producing collateral incidents,
not arising out of the case, yet powerfully co-exciting the nation to force
a regeneration of it’s government, and overwhelming with accumulated
difficulties this liberticide resistance. For, while laboring under the
want of money for even ordinary purposes, in a government which required a
million of livres a day, and driven to the last ditch by the universal call
for liberty, there came on a winter of such severe cold, as was without
example in the memory of man, or in the written records of history. The
Mercury was at times 50;dg below the freezing point of Fahrenheit and 22;dg
below that of Reaumur. All out-door labor was suspended, and the poor,
without the wages of labor, were of course without either bread or fuel.
The government found it’s necessities aggravated by that of procuring
immense quantities of fire-wood, and of keeping great fires at all the
cross-streets, around which the people gathered in crowds to avoid
perishing with cold. Bread too was to be bought, and distributed daily
gratis, until a relax-ation of the season should enable the people to work:
and the slender stock of bread-stuff had for some time threatened famine,
and had raised that article to an enormous price. So great indeed was the
scarcity of bread that from the highest to the lowest citizen, the bakers
were permitted to deal but a scanty allowance per head, even to those who
paid for it; and in cards of invitation to dine in the richest houses, the
guest was notified to bring his own bread. To eke out the existence of the
people, every person who had the means, was called on for a weekly
subscription, which the Cures collected and employed in providing messes
for the nourishment of the poor, and vied with each other in devising such
economical compositions of food as would subsist the greatest number with
the smallest means. This want of bread had been foreseen for some time past
and M. de Montmorin had desired me to notify it in America, and that, in
addition to the market price, a premium should be given on what should be
brought from the U S. Notice was accordingly given and produced
considerable supplies. Subsequent information made the importations from
America, during the months of March, April & May, into the Atlantic ports
of France, amount to about 21,000 barrels of flour, besides what went to
other ports, and in other months, while our supplies to their West-Indian
islands relieved them also from that drain. This distress for bread
continued till July.

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