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Jefferson to President Richard Henry Lee


(Private.) Paris, July 12, 1785.

Dear Sir,

Richard Henry Lee, President of Congress (courtesy, Library of Congress)

I was honored, two days ago, with yours of May the 16th, and thank you for the intelligence it contained, much of which was new to me. It was the only letter I received by this packet, except one from Mr. Hopkinson, on philosophical subjects. I generally write about a dozen by every packet, and receive sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes ne’er a one. You are right in supposing all letters opened which come either through the French or English channel, unless trusted to a passenger. Yours had evidently been opened, and I think I never received one through the post office which had not been. It is generally discoverable by the smokiness of the wax, and faintness of the re-impression. Once they sent me a letter open, having forgotten to re-seal it. I should be happy to hear that Congress thought of establishing packets of their own between New York and Havre; to send a packet from each port once in two months. The business might possibly be done by two packets, as will be seen by the following scheme, wherein we will call the two packets A and B.

January, A sails from New York, B from Havre. February. March. B sails from New York, A from Havre. April. May. A sails from New York, B from Havre. June. July. B sails from New York, A from Havre. August. September. A sails from New York, B from Havre. October. November. B sails from New York, A from Havre. December.

I am persuaded that government would gladly arrange this method with us, and send their packets in the intermediate months, as they are tired of the expense. We should then have a safe conveyance every two months, and one for common matters every month. A courier would pass between this and Havre in twenty-four hours. Could not the surplus of the post office revenue be applied to this? This establishment would look like the commencement of a little navy; the only kind of force we ought to possess. You mention that Congress is on the subject of requisition. No subject is more interesting to the honor of the States. It is an opinion which prevails much in Europe, that our government wants authority to draw money from the States, and that the States want faith to pay their debts. I shall wish much to hear how far the requisitions on the States are productive of actual cash. Mr. Grand informed me, the other day, that the commissioners were dissatisfied with his having paid to this country but two hundred thousand livres, of the four hundred thousand for which Mr. Adams drew on Holland; reserving the residue to replace his advances and furnish current expenses. They observed that these last objects might have been effected by the residue of the money in Holland, which was lying dead. Mr. Grand’s observation to me was, that Mr. Adams did not like to draw for these purposes, that he himself had no authority, and that the commissioners had not accompanied their complaints with any draft on that fund; so that the debt still remains unpaid, while the money is lying dead in Holland. He did not desire me to mention this circumstance; but should you see the commissioners, it might not be amiss to communicate it to them, that they may take any measures they please, if they think it proper to do any thing in it. I am anxious to hear what is done with the States of Vermont and Franklin. I think that the former is the only innovation on the system of April 23rd, 1784, which ought ever possibly to be admitted. If Congress are not firm on that head, our several States will crumble to atoms by the spirit of establishing every little canton into a separate State. I hope Virginia will concur in that plan as to her territory south of the Ohio; and not leave to the western country to withdraw themselves by force, and become our worst enemies instead of our best friends.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of great respect,

your Excellency’s most obedient

and most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson.