JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as Secretary of State, TO THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE (1757-1834), Philadelphia, 16 June 1792. 2 pages, 4to, 9 3/16 x 7 in.), integral blank. In particularly fine, crisp condition.
"EXTERMINATING THE MONSTER ARISTOCRACY": JEFFERSON BLUNTLY SPELLS OUT HIS ANTIPATHY TO THE NEW ENGLAND FEDERALISTS, WHO THINK "OUR NEW CONSTITUTION, NOT AS A GOOD & SUFFICIENT THING"; FORTUNATELY, THOUGH, "...OUR PEOPLE ARE FIRM AND CONSTANT IN THEIR REPUBLICAN PURITY"
A most revealing letter discussing the course of France's revolution and Lafayette's role, methods to deal with the recent revolt of Negro slaves in Haiti and the perceived threat of the Federalists to the new American Constitution. Jefferson had served as Minister to France during the early phases of the Revolution, witnessed the storming of the Bastille and aided Lafayette in drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (presented to the National Assembly by the Marquis in June 1789, adopted six weeks later). Events had moved swiftly since Jefferson's return to the U.S. in November 1789 to become Secretary of State in Washington's administration: in June 1791 King Louis XVI attempted to flee, was detained and forced to endorse France's new Constitution and the government of the Legislative Assembly (see lot 27). Lafayette was named commander of the new National Guard and led an army into the field against the invading armies of Prussia and Austria. Jefferson is unusually outspoken in confessing his growing unease over New England Federalism, especially certain "stock-jobbers and King-jobbers," a quasi-monarchial faction, Jefferson believed, who intended ultimately to pervert or overthrow the most basic principles of the American experiment in government.
The Secretary of State opens in an unexpectedly jocular tone: "Behold you then, dear friend, at the head of a great army, establishing the liberties of your country against a foreign enemy, May heaven favor your cause, and make you the channel thro' which it may pour its favors. While you are exterminating the monster aristocracy, and pulling out the teeth and fangs of its associate monarchy, a contrary tendency has been discovered in some here. A sect has shown itself among us, who declare they espoused our new constitution, not as a good and sufficient thing itself, but only as a step to an English constitution [i.e., a constitutional monarchy], the only thing good and sufficient in itself, in their eye. It is happy for us that these are preachers without followers, and that our people are firm and constant in their republican purity. You will wonder to be told that it is from the Eastward chiefly that these champions for a king, lords and commons come. They get some important associates from New York, and are puffed off by a tribe of Agioteurs [agitators] which have been hatched in a bed of corruption made up after the model of their beloved England. Too many of these stock jobbers and King-jobbers have come into our legislature, or rather too many of our legislators have become stock-jobbers and king-jobbers. However the voice of the people is beginning to make itself heard, and will probably cleanse their seats at the ensuing election." As Jefferson hints, he and his supporters in the newborn Democratic-Republican Party had already launched efforts to oppose and defeat Federalist candidates in the coming Congressional elections, to which he alludes.
Commenting on continuing unrest on the Northwest frontier and the skulduggery of Engish agents there, he observes that "The machinations of our old enemies are such as to keep us still at bay with our Indian neighbors." The Secretary of State then delicately inquires about the policies of France's new rulers towards French colonial possessions, especially in light of the recent revolt of the free blacks and negro slaves in St. Dominique (Haiti), and offers advice on the management of the colony's large Negro populations: "What are you doing for your colonies? They will be lost if not more effectually secured. Indeed no future efforts you can make will ever be able to reduce the blacks. All that can be done in my opinion will be to compound them [house them in secure facilities] as has been done formerly in Jamaica." [Jefferson alludes to the case of Jamaica, where, in 1739, a remote part of the island had been set aside as a refuge for fugitive slaves whom British forces could not subdue.] We have been less zealous in aiding them [the colonies], lest your government should feel any jealousy on our account. But in truth we as sincerely wish for their restoration, and their connection with you, as you do yourselves. We are satisfied that neither your justice nor their distresses will ever again permit their being forced to seek at dear and distant markets those first necessities of life which they may have at cheaper markets placed by nature at their door, and formed by her for their support..."
He inquires about mutual friends, Madame de Tessy and Madame de Tott, who had fled revolutionary France for Switzerland, though "I think they would have done better to have come and reposed under the poplars of Virginia. Pour into their bosoms the warmest effusions of my friendship and tell them they will be warm and constant unto death. Accept them also for Mde. de la Fayette and your dear children--but I am forgetting that you are in the fields of war and they I hope in those of peace. Adieu my good friend! God bless you all...."
By this date Lafayette had fallen into disfavor with the Jacobins in the government and was forced in August to flee to Belgium. Captured by the Austrians, he was turned over to the Prussians and spent the next five years as a prisoner. Published in Papers, ed. J. Catanzariti, 24:85-86.
Provenance: Whitelaw and Ogden R. Reid (sale, Sothebys, 16 April 1988, lot 83).