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From the Congress, to which he was indebted for his preferment, and of which he does not disguise his contempt,
_“ little numerous, but very contentious”—Jefferson hastened away. Appointed envoy, on the motion of a colleague from Virginia, seconded by Gerry, on the seventh of May, he left his seat four days after, and though the session continued near a month, did not resume it, but sailed for Paris, on a summer sea, intent upon his project “ to emancipate commerce.”
The joint commission was opened with much solemnity on the thirteenth of August, 1784, and, soon after, its powers were announced to the different governments of Europe-France, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany, Prussia, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Saxony, the Sicilies, Sardinia, Tuscany, Genoa, Venice, Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, the Sublime Porte, and his holiness the Pope.
France received them with a smile ; England silenced the experiment by an inquiry as to the “real nature of the powers with which they were invested, whether they were merely commissioned by congress, or had received separate powers from the respective states.” The other nations stood aloof. Prussia alone formed a treaty embracing some of the principles of the report, but insisted upon reserving the right of prohibition and retaliation-rights which the American commissioners themselves claimed to reserve in their negotiations with Tuscany! The commission, thus baffled in all its expectations, ceased to act.
The introduction of a new power into the great family of nations, would seem to have been an event fraught with
the most important and immediate interest to the civilized world, and an American might have hoped to have seen her vast prospective greatness attracting the eyes of Europe, and commanding all its attention. But the impotence of the confederacy and the visionary objects of this commission defeated those hopes. From these causes a larger view of our foreign relations would seem unnecessary, were it not for the powerful influence which the policy of the great leading powers produced on the social condition of the American states.
Those with France, their ancient ally, first attract attention. Nothing is more obvious in all her policy than the sagacity of her statesmen, who foresaw that the moment her political influence over the confederacy ceased, every other connection would become a minor consideration. Hence her solicitude that all the American negotiations should be conducted near her court. But England and Spain were both unwilling that Paris should be the centre of political action. Great Britain insisted, as a previous condition to any negotiation, an embassy to London, “as more suitable to the dignity of either power." The Spanish minister declared, that in matters between its crown and any other power, " the custom of its court (the most regular and systematic of all others) was to regotiate between themselves, without availing themselves of a third place.” Franklin having resigned his seat in the commission, Adams, in consequence of these intimations, was accredited to the court of St. James ; Jefferson to that of Versailles ; and Spain appointed a sort of intermediate minister—a “plenipotentiary chargé d'affaires,” to reside at the seat of congress. Jefferson's object was attained.
While the force of habit formed during her colonial relations, similarity of language, laws, and manners, all attracted the American people to England, other causes operated as insuperable obstacles to an extensive commerce between the United States and France.
The poverty of the American people denied to them the luxuries of their ally. The inferior fabric and peculiar fashion of articles of primary necessity, prevented their being introduced into general use. For those which were sought, few American products would be received in exchange ; while the commercial system of France, yet in its infancy, charged the objects of commerce with such a multiplicity of duties, and those so oppressive, as to deter enterprise. The principal article of exchange was the subject of a monopoly, and charged with a duty to the crown, of too much value to be relinquished by a needy monarch. On other articles accumulated duties were levied, and these were partitioned among so many recipients, as placed it beyond the power of the financier to reduce them to one denomination ; while the political influence of the beneficiaries would not permit them to be diminished or suppressed. These were some of the embarrassments to a direct trade. The colonial trade had been long conducted under a most rigid system, and as the treaty of seventeen hundred and seventy-eight had secured to France the free admission of her manufactures into the United States, they had nothing to offer in the shape of immunities to open the sealed commerce of her islands.*
Soon after his return to Europe, La Fayette, at whose
* Compelled by necessity, France opened her colonial ports during the war, but at its close, by an arrêt, dated thirtieth of August, seventeen hundred and eighty-four, she permitted the importation into them only of a few articles of primary necessity, and confined the exports to rum, molasses, and goods brought from France, which paid the local duties with an ad valorem of one per cent. A discriminating duty was also imposed on salted beef and dried fish, to form a fund for the encouragement of the French fisheries.
instance, the free ports stipulated in the treaty of seventeen hundred and seventy-eight were designated, made strong representations to his court of the benefits to be anticipated from enlarging the commercial intercourse of the two countries. The representations were renewed by Jefferson often and with much detail, but the progress of the negotiation was slow-indicative of the altered temper of Vergennes, from his failure to control the definitive treaty with England—and attended with circumstances not a little wounding to American pride.
The first letter addressed to that minister received no other answer than that it had been transmitted to the comptroller-general. To subsequent communications it was replied, “ that not a sufficient dependence could be placed on arrangements taken with us;" and an act of one of the states, by which a discrimination of duties was made between natives and foreigners, became the subject of a letter from the premier, which, after reproaching the American minister with a disregard of reciprocity in our navigation laws and commercial regulations, closed with a threat, “ that the king will be under the necessity, contrary to his wishes, to fall upon such means as will tend to put matters upon a perfect equality."*
These complaints were referred to the secretary of foreign affairs, whose report admitted that the French merchants enjoyed fewer privileges than the merchants of the United States did in France, and that the act of Massachusetts “ had deviated both from the letter and spirit of the treaty.”+ While the impotence of the confederation thus subjected it to the just reproach of a breach of faith towards their ally, it also gave rise to reclamations for individual claims, the justice whereof could not be denied, and which there were no means to discharge. The disappointments that followed produced great irritation among the French residents in the United States, which extended to her legation, and drew from them remonstrances, wherein the respect due to an independent government was often forgotten.
* 2 D. C. 488.
+ 1 D. C. 243.
In vain did congress renew their assurances of eventual payment, founded on the good faith of the states. Discriminations in the provision for the interest on their debts, from which provision foreigners were expressly excluded by some of the states, were pointed out, and the very ground on which the delay of justice was excused, the inability to compel the collection of taxes, gave rise to the taunting inquiry, “ Is there one, or are there eleven republics ?”
It being a leading maxim in Jefferson's politics “ to multiply the points of contact and connection" with France, it will be seen, that he used every means to promote intercourse with a people whose habits, manners, tastes, and morals he decried, yet admired, and copied.
The insufficient provision for the interest and instalments then due of the debt to France, led to a proposition to purchase it. The terms of this proposition are found in the secret journal of congress of the second of October, seventeen hundred and eighty-seven, giving an extract of a letter from Jefferson to the secretary of foreign affairs :“That a proposition has been made to Monsieur de Calonne, minister of the finances of France, by a company of Dutch merchants, to purchase the debt due from the United States to the crown of France; giving for the said debt, amounting to twenty-four millions of livres, the sum of twenty millions of livres. That information of this proposition has been given to him by the agent of the said company, with the view of ascertaining whether the proposed negotiation would be agreeable to congress. That the said minister suggests, " that if there is a danger