New York, April 27, 1790

Dear Sir,

— J. Walker is appointed Senator in the room of Grayson, & arrived here with his family yesterday. It was carried in his favor against Monroe by a Majority of a single vote in council. Many think he may be dropped by the assembly. In my preceding letters I did not mention to whom you should address such of my things as are to go directly to Virginia. To Capt. Maxwell at Norfolk if you please, or Mr. James Brown Mercht. at Richmond, according to the destination of the vessel. On conversing with Mr. Hamilton yesterday, I find that the funds in the hands of the W. W. V. Stap. & Hub. are exhausted. Should the joint houses therefore make any difficulties about answering your bills for my purposes, I think the latter one will not: be so good as to assure them (in case it comes to that) that their advances for me shall be reimbursed as soon as made known. * * *

The management of the foreign establishment awaits the passage of a bill on the subject. One conversation only has taken place, but no resolutions reached are discernible. A minister will certainly be appointed, and from among the veterans on the public stage, if I may judge from the names mentioned. I will write you the moment I know it myself. I would advise you to pass some time in London in as high a circle as you can before you come over, in order to add the better knowledge of the country to your qualifications for future office.

We have London news to March 26. Paris news only to Feb. 10. Your note with a packet from Miss Botidour for my daughter is come to hand. You will see in the newspapers which accompany this, the details of Dr. Franklin’s death. The house of representatives resolved to wear mourning & do it. The Senate neither resolved it nor do it.—What is become of Rumsey & his steam-ship? Not a word is known here. I fear therefore he has failed. Adieu, my dear Sir, and believe me to be Your affectionate friend & servt.


April 24, 1790

Opinion on the Question whether the Senate has the right to negative the grade of persons appointed by the Executive to fill Foreign Missions.

The constitution having declared, that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate shall appoint, ambassadors, other public ministers, and consuls,” the president desires my opinion whether the senate has a right to negative the grade he may think it expedient to use in a foreign mission, as well as the person to be appointed.

I think the senate has no right to negative the grade.

The constitution has divided the powers of government into three branches, legislative, executive, and judiciary, lodging each with a distant magistracy. The legislative it has given completely to the senate and house of representatives; it has declared that “the executive powers shall be vested in the president,” submitting only special articles of it to a negative by the senate; and it has vested the judiciary power in the courts of justice, with certain exceptions also in favor of the senate.

The transaction of business with foreign nations is executive altogether; it belongs, then, to the head of that department, except as to such portions of it as are specially submitted to the senate. Exceptions are to be construed strictly; the constitution itself, indeed, has taken care to circumscribe this one within very strict limits; for it gives the nomination of the foreign agent to the president, the appointment to him and the senate jointly, and the commissioning to the president.

This analysis calls our attention to the strict import of each term. To nominate must be to propose; appointment seems the only act of the will which constitutes or makes the agent; and the commission is the public evidence of it. But there are still other acts previous to these, not specially enumerated in the constitution, — to wit, 1. The destination of a mission to the particular country where the public service calls for it, and, 2. The character or grade to be employed in it. The natural order of all these is, 1. destination, 2. grade, 3. nomination, 4. appointment, 5. commission. If appointment does not comprehend the neighboring acts of nomination or commission, (and the constitution says it shall not, by giving them exclusively to the president) still less can it pretend to comprehend those previous and more remote of destination and grade. The constitution, analyzing the three last, shows they do not comprehend the two first. The fourth is the only one it submits to the senate, shaping it into a right to say that “A or B is unfit to be appointed.” Now, this cannot comprehend a right to say that “A or B is indeed fit to be appointed, but the grade fixed on it is not the fit one to employ,” or “our connections with the country of his destination are not such as to call for any mission.” The senate is not supposed by the constitution to be acquainted with the concerns of the executive department. It was not intended that these should be communicated to them; nor can they, therefore, be qualified to judge of the necessity which calls for a mission to any particular place, or of the particular grade, more or less marked, which special and secret circumstances may call for. All this is left to the president; they are only to see that no unfit person be employed.

It may be objected, that the senate may, by continual negatives on the person, do what amounts to a negative on the grade, and so indirectly defeat this right of the president; but this would be a breach of trust, an abuse of the power confided to the senate, of which that body cannot be supposed capable. So, the president has a power to convoke the legislature, and the senate might defeat that power, by refusing to come. This equally amounts to a negative on the power of convoking, yet nobody will say they possess such a negative, or would be capable of usurping it by such oblique means. If the constitution had meant to give the senate a negative on the grade or destination, as well as the person, it would have said so in direct terms, and not left it to be effected by a sidewind. It could never mean to give them the use of one power through the abuse of another.


New York, April 20, 1790


Encroachments being made on the Eastern limits of the United States by settlers under the British government, pretending that it is the western and not the eastern river of the bay Passamaquoddy which was designated by the name of St. Croix, in the treaty of peace with that nation, I have to beg the favor of you to communicate any facts which your memory or papers may enable you to recollect, and which may indicate the true river the commissioners on both sides had in their view to establish as the boundary between the two nations. It will be of some consequence to be informed by what map they traced the boundary.
I have the honor to be, &c.

Thomas Jefferson.


New York, April 17, 1790

Dear Sir

An answer to your favor of the 5th has been delayed by my hourly expectation of hearing from Taylor. A few days ago he came to Town and I have had an interview and settlement with him. The balance with the interest at 7 per Ct. was 864 dollars. He has not however executed the conveyance for want of some chart which he could not get here, but has entered into bond to do so by August, with good security. As far as I can learn our bargain is a good one. Land in the vicinity has sold in small parcells at more than 20/. I am told. The present moment however it is said is not favorable to the market. By waiting I think it probable it may be sold to your profit or If you continue to be anxious to get rid of it immediately, I have no objection to taking the whole on myself. Before you decide I would recommend that you consult by letter some of your friends here who can judge better than I can do, and who have more leisure & opportunity for making the requisite enquiry into the prospect. Should you chuse to make me the sole proprietor, it will be most convenient that the deed be executed from Taylor to me. In that event also, I beg you to let me know the state in which the accts. between us was left, by your former advances for me, and my settlemts for your furniture &c.1 My papers on this subject are either not here or so concealed among others that I cannot find them.

The House of Representatives are still at the threshold of the Revenue business. The Assumption of the State debts is the great obstacle. A few days ago it was reconsidered & rejected by 31 agst 29. The measure is not however abandoned. It will be tried in every possible shape by the zeal of its patrons. The Eastern members talk a strange language on the subject. They avow, some of them at least, a determination to oppose all provision for the public debt which does not include this, and intimate danger to the Union from a refusal to Assume. We shall risk their prophetic menaces if we should continue to have a majority.

New York, April 13, 1790

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 4th ult by Col Lee was received from his hands on Sunday last. I have since recd that of the 3d Instant. The antecedent one from Alexandria, though long on the way, was recd. some time before. In all these, I discover strong marks of the dissatisfaction with which you behold our public prospects. Though in several respects they do not comport with my wishes, yet I cannot feel all the despondency which you seem to give way to. I do not mean that I entertain much hope of the Potomac; that seems pretty much out of sight; but that other measures in view, however improper, will be less fatal than you imagine.2

The plan of discrimination has met with the reception in Virginia on which I calculated. The towns would for obvious reasons disrelish it, and for a time they always set public opinion. The country in this region of America, in general, if I am not misinformed, has not been in unison with the cities, nor has any of the latter except this, been unanimous against the measure. Here the sentiment was in its full vigor, and produced every exertion that could influence the result.

I think with you that the Report of the Secretary of the Treasury is faulty in many respects; it departs particularly from that simplicity which ought to be preserved in finance, more than anything else. The novelty and difficulty of the Task he had to execute form no small apology for his errors, and I am in hopes that in some instances they will be diminished, if not remedied.

The proposed assumption of the State debts has undergone repeated discussions, and contradictory decisions. The last vote was taken yesterday in a Committee of the whole and passed in the negative 31 vs. 29. The minority do not abandon however their object, and tis impossible to foretell the final destiny of the measure. It has some good aspects, and under some modifications would be favorable to the pecuniary interests of Virginia, and not inconsistent with the general principle of justice. In any attainable form it would have neither of these recommendations, and is moreover liable to strong objections of a general nature. It would certainly be wrong to force an affirmative decision on so important and controvertible a point by a bare majority, yet I have little hope of forbearance from that scruple. Mass & S. Carolina with their allies of Connecticut & N. York are too zealous to be arrested in their project, unless by the force of an adverse majority.

I have recd your reflections on the subject of a public debt with pleasure; in general they are in my opinion just and important. Perhaps it is not possible to shun some of the evils you point out, without abandoning too much the re-establishment of public credit. But as far as this object will permit I go on the principle that a Public Debt is a Public curse, and in a Rep Govt a greater than in any other.

I have mentioned Mr Lee1 to Mr Jefferson who tells me that he found every place preoccupied, and that he has not thought proper to make changes where no special reasons existed; various applications have been made previous to that in behalf of your friend, several had passed through my hands, some of them from Virginia.

I never heard of the report you mention of the Vice Presdt. It is but justice to say that I cannot believe it to have originated in fact.

I lament with you the inability which impedes arrangements at the Great Falls, which would be of benefit in a Public as well as private view. The prospect of aid in this quarter does not strike me as it seems to do you. Money is destined to other projects at this juncture. Besides I am on no peculiar footing, that could favor an experiment, and could never make it less auspiciously than at present. It gives me much concern that it is not more in my power to forward our object.

Present me most respectfully to Mrs Lee & believe me
Affly yrs.

New York, April 4, 1790

Dear Sir

You will see by the papers herewith covered that the proposed assumption of the State debts continues to employ the deliberations of the House of Reps. The question seems now to be near its decision, and unfortunately, tho’ so momentous a one, is likely to turn on a very small majority, possibly on a single vote. The measure is not only liable to many objections of a general cast, but in its present form is particularly unfriendly to the interests of Virginia. In this light it is viewed by all her representatives except Col: Bland.

The American Revolution with its foreign and future consequences, is a subject of such magnitude that every circumstance connected with it, more especially every one leading to it, is already and will be more and more a matter of investigation. In this view I consider the proceedings in Virginia during the crisis of the Stamp-Act as worthy of particular remembrance, and a communication of them as a sort of debt due from her cotemporary citizens to their successors. As I know of no memory on which my curiosity could draw for more correct or more judicious information, you must forgive this resort to yours. Were I to consult nothing but my curiosity, my enquiries would not be very limited. But as I could not indulge that motive fully, without abusing the right I have assumed, my request goes no farther than that you will, as leisure & recollection may permit, briefly note on paper—by whom & how the subject commenced in the Assembly, where the resolutions proposed by Mr. Henry really originated; what was the sum of the arguments for and against them, and who were the principal speakers on each side; with any little anecdotes throwing light on the transaction, on the characters concerned in it, or on the temper of the Colony at the time.1

Begging pardon again for the tax I am laying on your benevolence, I remain Dear Sir
Your most affecte & hble Servt.

New York, April 2, 1790

Behold me, my dear friend, elected Secretary of State, instead of returning to the far more agreeable position which placed me in the daily participation of your friendship. I found the appointment in the newspapers the day of my arrival in Virginia. I had indeed been asked while in France whether I would accept of any appointment at home, & I had answered that without meaning to remain long where I was, I meant it to be the last office I should ever act in. Unfortunately this letter had not arrived at the time of arranging the new government. I expressed freely to the President my desire to return. He left me free, but still shewing his own desire. This, and the concern of others, more general than I had a right to expect, induced me after 3 months parleying, to sacrifice my own inclinations. I have been here then ten days harnessed in new geer. Wherever I am, or ever shall be, I shall be sincere in my friendship to you and to your nation. I think, with others, that nations are to be governed according to their own interest; but I am convinced that it is their interest, in the long run, to be grateful, faithful to their engagements even in the worst of circumstances, and honorable and generous always. If I had not known that the head of our government was in these sentiments, and that his national & private ethics were the same, I would never have been where I am. I am sorry to tell you his health is less firm than it used to be. However there is nothing in it to give alarm. The opposition to our new constitution has almost totally disappeared. Some few indeed had gone such lengths in their declarations of hostility that they feel it awkward perhaps to come over; but the amendments proposed by Congress, have brought over almost all their followers. If the President can be preserved a few years till habits of authority & obedience can be established, generally, we have nothing to fear. The little vautrien, Rhode island will come over with a little more time. Our last news from Paris is of the 8th of January. So far it seemed that your revolution had got along with a steady pace; meeting indeed occasional difficulties & dangers, but we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather-bed. I have never feared for the ultimate result, tho’ I have feared for you personally. Indeed I hope you will never see such another 5th & 6th of October. Take care of yourself, my dear friend, for tho’ I think your nation would in any event work out her salvation, I am persuaded were she to lose you, it would cost her oceans of blood, & years of confusion & anarchy. Kiss & bless your dear children for me. Learn them to be as you are a cement between our two nations. I write to Madame de la fayette so have only to add assurances of the respect & esteem of your affectionate friend & humble servant.


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