JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as U.S. Secretary of State, to Sir John Sinclair, Philadelphia, 24 August 1791. 1 full page, 4to (9½ x 7½ in.), recipient's docket on verso, small chip at left-hand margin affecting several letters of a line written vertically along the margin (see illustration), otherwise in fine condition. Matted and in a fine giltwood frame.
"SO BEAUTIFUL A REVOLUTION": THE AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE EXTOLLS THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, WITH THE HOPE THAT "REVOLUTION WILL BE ESTABLISHED & SPREAD THRO' THE WHOLE WORLD...FOR THE GOOD OF SUFFERING HUMANITY ALL OVER THE EARTH"
A remarkable letter. Writing in the wake of news of the thwarted flight of Louis XVI from Paris, Jefferson is boldly explicit in his endorsement of world-wide revolution. Jefferson had met John Sinclair (1754-1835) with John Adams in 1786, and they established a polite occasional correspondence largely devoted to agriculture, a joint interest. Jefferson, who ringingly proclaimed the credo of liberty in the Declaration of Independence, remained to the end of his public career a vocal advocate of world-wide republicanism and an acute observer of the trials faced by fledgling democratic movements. No other revolutionary movement so passionately engaged his hopes as did that of France. During his years in Paris as U.S. minister (1785-1789) he had listened hopefully to the debates in the Estates General, assisted Lafayette and Rabaut de St. Etienne in drafting the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen" and witnessed the storming of the Bastille. Like most Americans, Jefferson continued to speak approvingly of France's revolutionary movement throughout the turbulent period of 1790 and 1791. It was--more than any single event--the attempted flight of Louis XVI, his capture and subsequent detention which pointed toward the future excesses which would shake Europe to its foundation and create a critical split in American opinion between Federalists and Jeffersonians.
Here, Jefferson acknowledges receipt of Sinclair's two letters and "the pamphlets which accompanied them," and observes that "the Corn law, I perceive, has not passed in the form you expected. My wishes on that subject were nearer yours than you imagined. We both in fact desired the same thing for different reasons, respecting the interests of our respective countries..." Sinclair, Jefferson explains "wished the bill so moulded as to encourage strongly your national agriculture. The clause for warehousing foreign [foreign-grown] corn tended to lessen the confidence of the farmer in the demand for his corn. I wished the clause omitted that our corn might pass directly to the country of the consumer, & save us the loss of an intermediate deposit, which it can ill bear."
In regard to the conspicuous lack of commercial treaties between the U.S. and Great Britain, a full eight years after the end of the war for American Independence, Jefferson chides Sinclair, pointing out that the deficiency "cannot be imputed to us. The proposition has surely been often enough made, perhaps too often. It is a happy circumstance in human affairs that evils which are not cured in one way, will cure themselves in some other..." Jefferson points out the restrictive British trade and maritime policies which limited American trade with the mother country and with her colonies in the West Indies. As Jefferson's biographer notes "it was a contemptuous policy, based on the assumption of American weakness" (Malone, Jefferson and the Rights of Man, p.52).
Then, reacting with elation to news from France, he adds that "we are now under the first impression of the news of the King's flight from Paris, & his recapture. It would be unfortunate were it in the power of any one man [the King] to defeat the issue of so beautiful a revolution. I hope & trust it is not, & that for the good of suffering humanity all over the earth, that revolution will be established & spread thro' the whole world." He closes with effusive salutations and good wishes.
Louis XVI was restored to his throne in September, after taking an oath to support the new constitution, but both Austria and Prussia declared war on France. The following year, in the wake of France's victory at Valmy, the National Convention proclaimed France a republic and in January 1793, the King was executed. Through it all, Jefferson continued to voice his powerful support for France's revolutionary cause, vowing that "rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is" (M. Peterson, Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation, p.480). With the King's excution and the formation of the First Coalition against republican France, the deep divisions between Federalists and Jefferson became manifest and Jefferson was drawn inexorably into what would become a bitter and protracted struggle against the currents of counter-revolution in his own nation.