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Tag: Paris

Jefferson in Paris: The Constitution, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is the Senior Registrar in the Exhibits Division.

“It is impossible to increase taxes, disastrous to keep on borrowing, and inadequate to merely to cut expense.”

This is not a quote from the 2012 American  elections or the current fiscal cliff debate.  These are the words of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, finance minister of France, describing the financial conditions of his country in 1786 to his king, Louis XVI.

The French monarchy was deep in debt due to continuous war expenditures, most recently from the American Revolution, when France supplied monies, ships, soldiers, and arms to the the struggling United States, not to mention its own naval engagements with the British Navy. The French people were poor and hungry, and there was great inequality among the classes. Attempts at reform failed, setting the stage for the bloody civil rupture known as the French Revolution, beginning with democratic ideas and ending in Napoleonic despotism.

With his experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia behind him, Thomas Jefferson continued his practical education in world affairs in pre-revolutionary France. Across the Atlantic, the fledgling American government had its own problems, which though different, were … [ Read all ]

In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes make peace (IId)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

Shortly after the diplomatic break between John Adams and Count de Vergennes, Adams left for Amsterdam. Once there, he worked diligently to obtain loans from Dutch bankers in the hope of making the United States less dependent on France, a task that took almost two years. Meanwhile, the Adams-Vergennes controversy was playing out in Congress.

Upon instruction from Vergennes, the French ambassador Luzerne appealed to Congress for Adams’s recall. Different factions in Congress also demanded the recall of Adams and Franklin. Fortunately for them, they also had their supporters and they retained their positions. Congress named Adams, Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson as co-commissioners and issued the following instructions on June 15, 1781:

. . .you are to make the most candid & confidential communications to the ministers of our generous Ally the King of France to undertake nothing in the Negotiations for Peace or truce without their knowledge & concurrence & ultimately to govern yourselves by their advice & opinion endeavouring in your whole Conduct to make them sensible how much we rely upon his majestys influence for effectual support in every Thing that may be

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In their own words: Adams, Franklin, and Vergennes (part IIc)

In the last post, we brought the Adams-Vergennes story up to their abrupt break in late July 1780. Adams departed for the Netherlands, where he hoped to raise additional funds for the United States war effort and make the United States less dependent on France.

Meanwhile, Vergennes appealed to Franklin and through Franklin to Congress, requesting that Adams be relieved of his ambassadorial duties. Vergennes supplied Franklin with the Adams correspondence, and Franklin forwarded it to Congress. Vergennes also made France’s wishes known to Congress through Ambassador Anne-Cesar, Chevalier de la Luzerne, in Philadephia.

In this letter, Franklin makes clear to Vergennes that Adams was not speaking for him or Congress:

It was indeed with very great Pleasure that I received the Letter . . . communicating that of the President of Congress and the Resolutions of that Body relative to the Succours then expected: For the Sentiments therein express’d are so different from the Language held by Mr Adams, in his late Letters to your Excellency as to make it clear that it was from his particular Indiscretion alone, and not from any Instructions received by him, that he has given such just Cause of Displeasure, and that it is impossible his Conduct therein should be approved by his Constituents. I am glad he has not admitted me to any Participation in those

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In their own words: Franklin, Adams, and Vergennes (part IIb)

John Adams arrived in Paris arrived to find Benjamin Franklin being showered with attention (Ben Franklin at the Court of Versailles, ARC 518217)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

In the last post, we introduced the story of Adams and Franklin coming into conflict over the handling of U.S. relations with France. More specifically, Adams’s unsubtle and sometimes contentious conversations and correspondence with the French Foreign Minister, the Count de Vergennes, who was dealing with problems with his own government and a troublesome Spain.

Vergennes had little time for advice and questions, but Adams’s commission authorized him to enter upon peace and trade talks with Great Britain, and he felt it was within his authority to do so on his own. Vergennes argued the time would not be right until the military position of the U.S. and France was stronger. The Adams-Vergennes correspondence from February to July of 1780 came to an abrupt halt with this crushing letter from Vergennes:

I have received, sir, the letter which you did me the honor to write on the 27th of this month. When I took upon myself to give you a mark of my confidence by informing you

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In their own words: Thomas Jefferson and the Storming of the Bastille

This post is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in Exhibits.

On July 14, 1789, the U.S. Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, was a witness to the events of  a day in Paris that is commonly associated with the beginning of the French Revolution. Jefferson recorded the events of the day in a lengthy and detailed letter to John Jay, then Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

The American Revolutionary War began as a conflict between the colonies and England. In time, what began as a civil disturbance turned into a world war drawing France, Spain, and the Netherlands into the hostilities. France would send troops, ships, and treasure to support the American effort.   During the war, one of the first priorities of the French government and its allies was to raise funds to fight the war.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, France was virtually broke and on the edge of social catastrophe, the result of decades of war with England and other countries. The poor suffered hunger and privation. By 1789, revolution would come to France.

In 1785, Thomas Jefferson arrived in Paris to replace Benjamin Franklin, who was retiring as ambassador to France. At the age … [ Read all ]