Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson

Here I discontinue my relation of the French revolution. The minuteness
with which I have so far given it’s details is disproportioned to the
general scale of my narrative. But I have thought it justified by the
interest which the whole world must take in this revolution. As yet we are
but in the first chapter of it’s history. The appeal to the rights of man,
which had been made in the U S. was taken up by France, first of the
European nations. From her the spirit has spread over those of the South.
The tyrants of the North have allied indeed against it, but it is
irresistible. Their opposition will only multiply it’s millions of human
victims; their own satellites will catch it, and the condition of man thro’
the civilized world will be finally and greatly ameliorated. This is a
wonderful instance of great events from small causes. So inscrutable is the
arrangement of causes & consequences in this world that a two-penny duty on
tea, unjustly imposed in a sequestered part of it, changes the condition of
all it’s inhabitants. I have been more minute in relating the early
transactions of this regeneration because I was in circumstances peculiarly
favorable for a knowledge of the truth. Possessing the confidence and
intimacy of the leading patriots, & more than all of the Marquis Fayette,
their head and Atlas, who had no secrets from me, I learnt with correctness
the views & proceedings of that party; while my intercourse with the
diplomatic missionaries of Europe at Paris, all of them with the court, and
eager in prying into it’s councils and proceedings, gave me a knolege of
these also. My information was always and immediately committed to writing,
in letters to Mr. Jay, and often to my friends, and a recurrence to these
letters now insures me against errors of memory.

These opportunities of information ceased at this period, with my
retirement from this interesting scene of action. I had been more than a
year soliciting leave to go home with a view to place my daughters in the
society & care of their friends, and to return for a short time to my
station at Paris. But the metamorphosis thro’ which our government was then
passing from it’s Chrysalid to it’s Organic form suspended it’s action in a
great degree; and it was not till the last of August that I received the
permission I had asked. – And here I cannot leave this great and good
country without expressing my sense of it’s preeminence of character among
the nations of the earth. A more benevolent people, I have never known, nor
greater warmth & devotedness in their select friendships. Their kindness
and accommodation to strangers is unparalleled, and the hospitality of
Paris is beyond anything I had conceived to be practicable in a large city.
Their eminence too in science, the communicative dispositions of their
scientific men, the politeness of the general manners, the ease and
vivacity of their conversation, give a charm to their society to be found
nowhere else. In a comparison of this with other countries we have the
proof of primacy, which was given to Themistocles after the battle of
Salamis. Every general voted to himself the first reward of valor, and the
second to Themistocles. So ask the travelled inhabitant of any nation, In
what country on earth would you rather live? – Certainly in my own, where
are all my friends, my relations, and the earliest & sweetest affections
and recollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.

On the 26th. of Sep. I left Paris for Havre, where I was detained by
contrary winds until the 8th. of Oct. On that day, and the 9th. I crossed
over to Cowes, where I had engaged the Clermont, Capt. Colley, to touch for
me. She did so, but here again we were detained by contrary winds until the
22d. when we embarked and landed at Norfolk on the 23d. of November. On my
way home I passed some days at Eppington in Chesterfield, the residence of
my friend and connection, Mr. Eppes, and, while there, I received a letter
from the President, Genl. Washington, by express, covering an appointment
to be Secretary of State. I received it with real regret. My wish had been
to return to Paris, where I had left my household establishment, as if
there myself, and to see the end of the Revolution, which, I then thought
would be certainly and happily closed in less than a year. I then meant to
return home, to withdraw from Political life, into which I had been
impressed by the circumstances of the times, to sink into the bosom of my
family and friends, and devote myself to studies more congenial to my mind.
In my answer of Dec. 15. I expressed these dispositions candidly to the
President, and my preference of a return to Paris; but assured him that if
it was believed I could be more useful in the administration of the
government, I would sacrifice my own inclinations without hesitation, and
repair to that destination; this I left to his decision. I arrived at
Monticello on the 23d. of Dec. where I received a second letter from the
President, expressing his continued wish that I should take my station
there, but leaving me still at liberty to continue in my former office, if
I could not reconcile myself to that now proposed. This silenced my
reluctance, and I accepted the new appointment.

In the interval of my stay at home my eldest daughter had been happily
married to the eldest son of the Tuckahoe branch of Randolphs, a young
gentleman of genius, science and honorable mind, who afterwards filled a
dignified station in the General Government, & the most dignified in his
own State. I left Monticello on the 1st of March 1790. for New York. At
Philadelphia I called on the venerable and beloved Franklin. He was then on
the bed of sickness from which he never rose. My recent return from a
country in which he had left so many friends, and the perilous convulsions
to which they had been exposed, revived all his anxieties to know what part
they had taken, what had been their course, and what their fate. He went
over all in succession, with a rapidity and animation almost too much for
his strength. When all his inquiries were satisfied, and a pause took
place, I told him I had learnt with much pleasure that, since his return to
America, he had been occupied in preparing for the world the history of his
own life. I cannot say much of that, said he; but I will give you a sample
of what I shall leave: and he directed his little grandson (William Bache)
who was standing by the bedside, to hand him a paper from the table to
which he pointed. He did so; and the Doctr. putting it into my hands,
desired me to take it and read it at my leisure. It was about a quire of
folio paper, written in a large and running hand very like his own. I
looked into it slightly, then shut it and said I would accept his
permission to read it and would carefully return it. He said, “no, keep
it.” Not certain of his meaning, I again looked into it, folded it for my
pocket, and said again, I would certainly return it. “No,” said he, “keep
it.” I put it into my pocket, and shortly after took leave of him. He died
on the 17th. of the ensuing month of April; and as I understood that he had
bequeathed all his papers to his grandson William Temple Franklin, I
immediately wrote to Mr. Franklin to inform him I possessed this paper,
which I should consider as his property, and would deliver to his order. He
came on immediately to New York, called on me for it, and I delivered it to
him. As he put it into his pocket, he said carelessly he had either the
original, or another copy of it, I do not recollect which. This last
expression struck my attention forcibly, and for the first time suggested
to me the thought that Dr. Franklin had meant it as a confidential deposit
in my hands, and that I had done wrong in parting from it. I have not yet
seen the collection he published of Dr. Franklin’s works, and therefore
know not if this is among them. I have been told it is not. It contained a
narrative of the negotiations between Dr. Franklin and the British
Ministry, when he was endeavoring to prevent the contest of arms which
followed. The negotiation was brought about by the intervention of Ld. Howe
and his sister, who, I believe, was called Lady Howe, but I may misremember
her title. Ld. Howe seems to have been friendly to America, and exceedingly
anxious to prevent a rupture. His intimacy with Dr. Franklin, and his
position with the Ministry induced him to undertake a mediation between
them; in which his sister seemed to have been associated. They carried from
one to the other, backwards and forwards, the several propositions and
answers which past, and seconded with their own intercessions the
importance of mutual sacrifices to preserve the peace & connection of the
two countries. I remember that Ld. North’s answers were dry, unyielding, in
the spirit of unconditional submission, and betrayed an absolute
indifference to the occurrence of a rupture; and he said to the mediators
distinctly, at last that “a rebellion was not to be deprecated on the part
of Great Britain; that the confiscations it would produce would provide for
many of their friends.” This expression was reported by the mediators to
Dr. Franklin, and indicated so cool and calculated a purpose in the
Ministry, as to render compromise hopeless, and the negotiation was
discontinued. If this is not among the papers published, we ask what has
become of it? I delivered it with my own hands into those of Temple
Franklin. It certainly established views so atrocious in the British
government that it’s suppression would to them be worth a great price. But
could the grandson of Dr. Franklin be in such degree an accomplice in the
parricide of the memory of his immortal grandfather? The suspension for
more than 20. years of the general publication bequeathed and confided to
him, produced for awhile hard suspicions against him: and if at last all
are not published, a part of these suspicions may remain with some.

I arrived at New York on the 21st. of Mar. where Congress was in session.

So far July 29. 21.

1See Girardin’s History of Virginia, Appendix No. 12, note.

2His ostensible character was to be that of a merchant, his real one that
of agent for military supplies, and also for sounding the dispositions of
the government of France, and seeing how far they would favor us, either
secretly or openly. His appointment had been by the Committee of Foreign
Correspondence, March, 1776.

3Vattel, L. 2, 156. L, 77. I. Mably Droit D’Europe, 86.

4The Crimea.

5lre to Jay Aug. 6. 87.

6My lre Sep. 22. 87.

7My lre to J. Jay Sep.24.

8lre to Carm. Dec. 15.

9My lre to Jay Nov. 3. lre to J. Adams, Nov. 13.

10In the impeachment of judge Pickering of New Hampsire, 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.

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