JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") as Secretary of State, TO THOMAS PINCKNEY (1750-1828), U.S. Minister to Great Britain, Philadelphia, 30 December 1792. 2¼ pages, 4to (9¼ x 7 5/8 in.), neatly matted.
JEFFERSON EXTENDS TO ALL NATIONS "THAT PRINCIPLE UPON WHICH OUR OWN WAS FOUNDED": "EVERY NATION HAS A RIGHT TO GOVERN ITSELF INTERNALLY UNDER WHAT FORMS IT PLEASES, AND TO CHANGE THESE FORMS AT ITS OWN WILL...WHETHER THAT BE A KING, CONVENTION, ASSEMBLY, PRESIDENT, OR WHATEVER...THE ONLY THING ESSENTIAL IS THE WILL OF THE NATION"
A letter of diplomatic instruction containing one of Jefferson's most explicit statements of the inherent right of all nations to determine, for themselves, their form of government. Jefferson passes on crucial diplomatic instructions in response to problems with British instransigence and specifies a "polar star" as a guide to American policy in the wake of the recent dramatic upheavals in France: "You express as wish...to be advised as to the tenor of your conduct in consequence of the late revolution in France." Jefferson notes that although "it is impossible to foresee the particular circumstances which may require you to decide and act on that question, but, principles being understood, their application will be less embarrassing. We certainly cannot deny to other nations that principle whereon our own government is founded, that every nation has a right to govern itself internally under what forms it pleases, and to change these forms at its own will: and externally to transact business with other nations thro' whatever organ it chuses, whether that be a king, convention, assembly, president, or whatever it be. The only thing essential is the will of the nation. Taking this as your polar star, you can hardly err." The "polar star" laid down by the Secretary of State is strikingly reminiscent of his famous passage in the Declaration of Independence, which, after defining the legitimate ends of government, proclaimed that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." Jefferson alludes to one of the thorniest problems in Anglo-British relations, the unresolved issue of military posts on the Northwest frontier which the British continued to hold in clear violation of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. On instructions from Washington, Jefferson had raised the issue with George Hammond, the British envoy, beginning in the Fall of 1791, holding out the prospect of a favorable trade treaty in return. Hammond complained that the U.S. had failed to comply with treaty provisions for the restitution of Tories, and repeatedly stalled, saying he lacked authority to negotiate matters of such consequence. Here, Jefferson reports to Pinckney that "we as yet get no answer from Mr Hammond on the general subject of the execution of the treaty. He says he is waiting for instructions. It would be well to urge in your conversations with the Minister the necessity of giving Mr. Hammond such instructions & latitude as will enable himself to proceed of himself. If on every move we are to await new instructions from the other side of the Atlantic," he notes wearily, "it will be a long business indeed."
Pinckney had been seeking European trained artisans for employment in the U.S. Mint, and Jefferson advises that "if you can get artists really eminent, and on the salaries fixed by the law, we shall be glad of them," but notes that "experience of the persons we have found here [in the U.S.?] would induce us to be content with them rather than take those who are not eminent, or who would expect more than the legal salaries." He describes problems in finding sufficient copper for the use of the Mint, and Rittenhouse, the Director, has "been advised that it might be had on advantageous terms from Sweden," so Jefferson forwards Pinckney a bill of exchange and asks Pinckney to procure "such a quantity of copper...as this bill will enable you. It is presumed that the commercial relations of London with every part of Europe will furnish ready means of executing this commission."
Finally, he promises to send "by the first vessel" a packet of "two dozen plans of the city of Washington in the Federal territory, which you are desired to display, not for sale, but for public inspection, wherever they may be most seen by those descriptions of people worthy & likely to be attracted to it, dividing the plans among the cities of London & Edinburgh chiefly, but sending some also to Glasgow, Bristol, Dublin &c..." (This is likely to refer to the recently engraved "Plan of the City of Washington in the District of Columbia." See, in this connection, notes to lots 17 and 18).
Provenance: New Jersey Historical Society (sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 26 October 1983, lot 64).