Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson Volume II Part 14

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Nice, April 12, 1787,

Dear Sir,

At Ma.r.s.eilles, they told me I should encounter the rice fields of Piedmont soon after crossing the Alps. Here they tell me there are none nearer than Vercelli and Novara, which is carrying me almost to Milan. I fear that this circ.u.mstance will occasion me a greater delay than I had calculated on. However, I am embarked in the project, and shall go through with it. To-morrow, I set out on my pa.s.sage over the Alps, being to pursue it ninety-three miles to Coni, on mules, as the snows are not yet enough melted to admit carriages to pa.s.s. I leave mine here, therefore, proposing to return by water from Genoa. I think it will be three weeks before I get back to Nice. I find this climate quite as delightful as it has been represented. Hieres is the only place in France, which may be compared with it. The climates are equal. In favor of this place, are the circ.u.mstances of gay and dissipated society, a handsome city, good accommodations, and some commerce. In favor of Hieres, are environs of delicious and extensive plains, a society more contracted, and therefore more capable of esteem, and the neighborhood of Toulon, Ma.r.s.eilles, and other places, to which excursions may be made. Placing Ma.r.s.eilles in comparison with Hieres, it has extensive society, a good theatre, freedom from military control, and the most animated commerce. But its winter climate is far inferior. I am now in the act of putting my baggage into portable form for my bat-mule; after praying you, therefore, to let my daughter know I am well, and that I shall not be heard of again in three weeks, I take my leave of you for that time, with a.s.surances of the sincere esteem with which I am, Dear Sir, your friend and servant,

Th: Jefferson.



Ma.r.s.eilles, May 4, 1787.


I had the honor of receiving at Aix, your letter of February the 9th, and immediately wrote to the Count de Montmorin, explaining the delay of the answer of Congress to the King’s letter, and desired Mr. Short to deliver that answer, with my letter, to Monsieur de Montmorin, which he informs me he has accordingly done.

My absence prevented my noting to you, in the first moment, the revolution which has taken place at Paris, in the department of finance, by the subst.i.tution of Monsieur de Fourqueux in the place of Monsieur de Calonne; so that you will have heard of it through other channels, before this will have the honor of reaching you.

Having staid at Aix long enough to prove the inefficacy of the waters, I came on to this place, for the purpose of informing myself here, as I mean to do at the other seaport towns, of whatever may be interesting to our commerce. So far as carried on in our own bottoms, I find it almost nothing; and so it must probably remain, till something can be done with the Algerines. Though severely afflicted with the plague, they have come out within these few days, and showed themselves in force along the coast of Genoa, cannonading a little town and taking several vessels.

Among other objects of inquiry, this was the place to learn something more certain on the subject of rice, as it is a great emporium for that of the Levant, and of Italy. I wished particularly to know, whether it was the use of a different machine for cleaning, which brought European rice to market less broken than ours, as had been represented to me, by those who deal in that article in Paris. I found several persons who had pa.s.sed through the rice country of Italy, but not one who could explain to me the nature of the machine. But I was given to believe, that I might see it myself immediately on entering Piedmont. As this would require but about three weeks, I determined to go, and ascertain this point; as the chance only of placing our rice above all rivalship in quality, as it is in color, by the introduction of a better machine, if a better existed, seemed to justify the application of that much time to it. I found the rice country to be in truth Lombardy, one hundred miles further than had been represented, and that though called Piedmont rice, not a grain is made in the country of Piedmont. I pa.s.sed through the rice-fields of the Vercellese and Milanese, about sixty miles, and returned from thence last night, having found that the machine is absolutely the same as ours, and of course, that we need not listen more to that suggestion. It is a difference in the species of grain; of which the government of Turin is so sensible, that, as I was informed, they prohibit the exportation of rough rice, on pain of death. I have taken measures, however, which I think will not fail, for obtaining a quant.i.ty of it, and I bought on the spot a small parcel, which I have with me.

As further details on this subject to Congress would be misplaced, I propose, on my return to Paris, to communicate them, and send the rice to the society at Charleston for promoting agriculture, supposing that they will be best able to try the experiment of cultivating the rice of this quality, and to communicate the species to the two States of South Carolina and Georgia, if they find it answers. I thought the staple of these two States was ent.i.tled to this attention, and that it must be desirable to them, to be able to furnish rice of the two qualities demanded in Europe, especially, as the greater consumption is in the forms for which the Lombardy quality is preferred. The ma.s.s of our countrymen being interested in agriculture, I hope I do not err in supposing, that in a time of profound peace, as the present, to enable them to adapt their productions to the market, to point out markets for them, and endeavor to obtain favorable terms of reception, is within the line of my duty.

My journey into this part of the country has procured me information, which I will take the liberty of communicating to Congress. In October last, I received a letter, dated Montpelier, October the 2nd, 1786, announcing to me that the writer was a foreigner, who had a matter of very great consequence to communicate to me, and desired I would indicate the channel through which it might pa.s.s safely. I did so.

I received soon after, a letter in the following words, omitting only the formal parts. [_A translation of it is here given._]

‘I am a native of Brazil. You are not ignorant of the frightful slavery under which my country groans. This continually becomes more insupportable, since the epoch of your glorious independence; for the cruel Portuguese omit nothing which can render our condition more wretched, from an apprehension that we may follow your example. The conviction, that these usurpers against the laws of nature and humanity only meditate new oppressions, has decided us to follow the guiding light which you have held out to us, to break our chains, to revive our almost expiring liberty, which is nearly overwhelmed by that force, which is the sole foundation of the authority that Europeans exercise over America. But it is necessary that some power should extend a.s.sistance to the Brazilians, since Spain would certainly unite herself with Portugal; and in spite of our advantages for defence, we could not make it effectual, or, at least, it would be imprudent to hazard the attempt, without some a.s.surance of success. In this state of affairs, Sir, we can, with propriety, look only to the United States, not only because we are following her example, but, moreover, because nature, in making us inhabitants of the same continent, has in some sort united us in the bonds of a common patriotism. On our part, we are prepared to furnish the necessary supplies of money, and at all times to acknowledge the debt of grat.i.tude due to our benefactors. I have thus, Sir, laid before you a summary of my views. It is in discharge of this commission that I have come to France, since I could not effect it in America without exciting suspicion. It now remains for you to decide whether those views can be accomplished. Should you desire to consult your nation on them, it is in my power to give you all the information you may require.’

As by this time, I had been advised to try the waters of Aix, I wrote to the gentleman my design, and that I would go off my road as far as Nismes, under the pretext of seeing the antiquities of that place, if he would meet me there. He met me, and the following is the sum of the information I received from him. ‘Brazil contains as many inhabitants as Portugal. They are, 1. Portuguese. 2. Native whites. 3. Black and mulatto slaves. 4. Indians, civilized and savage. 1. The Portuguese are few in number, mostly married there, have lost sight of their native country, as well as the prospect of returning to it, and are disposed to become independent. 2. The native whites form the body of their nation.

3. The slaves are as numerous as the free. 4. The civilized Indians have no energy, and the savage would not meddle. There are twenty thousand regular troops. Originally these were Portuguese. But as they died off, they were replaced by natives, so that these compose at present the ma.s.s of the troops, and may be counted on by their native country. The officers are partly Portuguese, partly Brazilians: their bravery is not doubted, and they understand the parade, but not the science of their profession. They have no bias for Portugal, but no energy either for any thing. The priests are partly Portuguese, partly Brazilians, and will not interest themselves much. The n.o.blesse are scarcely known as such.

They will, in no manner, be distinguished from the people. The men of letters are those most desirous of a revolution. The people are not much under the influence of their priests, most of them read and write, possess arms, and are in the habit of using them for hunting. The slaves will take the side of their masters. In short, as to the question of revolution, there is but one mind in that Country. But there appears no person capable of conducting a revolution, or willing to venture himself at its head, without the aid of some powerful nation, as the people of their own might fail them. There is no printing press in Brazil. They consider the North American revolution as a precedent for theirs. They look to the United States as most likely to give them honest support, and, from a variety of considerations, have the strongest prejudices in our favor. This informant is a native and inhabitant of Rio Janeiro, the present metropolis, which contains fifty thousand inhabitants, knows well St. Salvador, the former one, and the _mines d’or_, which are in the centre of the country. These are all for a revolution; and, const.i.tuting the body of the nation, the other parts will follow them, The King’s fifth of the mines, yields annually thirteen millions of crusadoes or half dollars. He has the sole right of searching for diamonds and other precious stones, which yield him about half as much.

His income from those two resources alone, then, is about ten millions of dollars annually; but the remaining part of the produce of the mines, being twenty-six millions, might be counted on for effecting a revolution. Besides the arms in the hands of the people, there are public magazines. They have abundance of horses, but only a part of their country would admit the service of horses. They would want cannon, ammunition, ships, sailors, soldiers, and officers, for which they are disposed to look to the United States, it being always understood, that every service and furniture will be well paid. Corn costs about twenty livres the one hundred pounds. They have flesh in the greatest abundance, insomuch, that in some parts, they kill beeves for the skin only. The whale fishery is carried on by Brazilians altogether, and not by Portuguese; but in very small vessels, so that the fishermen know nothing of managing a large ship. They would want of us; at all times, shipping, corn, and salt fish. The latter is a great article, and they are at present supplied with it from Portugal. Portugal being without either army or navy, could not attempt an invasion under a twelvemonth.

Considering of what it would be composed, it would not be much to be feared, and if it failed, they would probably never attempt a second.

Indeed, this source of their wealth being intercepted, they are scarcely capable of a first effort. The thinking part of the nation are so sensible of this, that they consider an early separation inevitable.

There is an implacable hatred between the Brazilians and Portuguese; to reconcile which, a former minister adopted the policy of letting the Brazilians into a partic.i.p.ation of public offices; but subsequent administrations have reverted to the ancient policy of keeping the administrations in the hands of native Portuguese. There is a mixture of natives, of the old appointments, still remaining in office. If Spain should invade them on their southern extremities, these are so distant from the body of their settlements, that they could not penetrate thence; and Spanish enterprise is not formidable. The _mines d’or_ are among mountains, inaccessible to any army; and Rio Janeiro is considered the strongest port in the world after Gibraltar. In case of a successful revolution, a republican government in a single body would probably be established.’

I took care to impress on him, through the whole of our conversation, that I had neither instructions nor authority to say a word to any body on this subject, and that I could only give him my own ideas, as a single individual: which were, that we were not in a condition at present to meddle nationally in any war; that we wished particularly to cultivate the friendship of Portugal, with whom we have an advantageous commerce. That yet, a successful revolution in Brazil could not be uninteresting to us. That prospects of lucre might possibly draw numbers of individuals to their aid, and purer motives our officers, among whom are many excellent. That our citizens being free to leave their own country individually, without the consent of their governments, are equally free to go to any other.

A little before I received the first letter of the Brazilian, a gentleman informed me there was a Mexican in Paris, who wished to have some conversation with me. He accordingly called on me. The substance of the information I drew from him, was as follows. He is himself a native of Mexico, where his relations are, He left it about seventeen years of age, and seems now to be about thirty-three or thirty-four. He and characterizes the inhabitants of that country, as follows. 1. The natives of Old Spain, possessed of most of the offices of government, and firmly attached to it. 2. The clergy, equally attached to the government. 3. The natives of Mexico, generally disposed to revolt, but without instruction, without energy, and much under the dominion of their priests. 4. The slaves, mulatto and black; the former enterprising and intelligent, the latter brave, and of very important weight, into whatever scale they throw themselves; but he thinks they will side with their masters. 5. The conquered Indians, cowardly, not likely to take any side, nor important which they take. 6.

The free Indians, brave and formidable, should they interfere, but not likely to do so, as being at a great distance. I asked him the numbers of these several, but he could not give them. The first, he thought very inconsiderable; that the second formed the body of the freemen; the third equal to the two first; the fourth, to all the preceding: and as to the fifth, he could form no idea of their proportion. Indeed, it appeared to me, that his conjectures as to the others were on loose grounds. He said he knew from good information, there were three hundred thousand inhabitants in the city of Mexico. I was still more cautious with him than with the Brazilian, mentioning it as my private opinion (unauthorized to say a word on the subject, otherwise), that a successful revolution was still at a distance with them; that I feared they must begin by enlightening and emanc.i.p.ating the minds of their people; that as to us, if Spain should give us advantageous terms of commerce, and remove other difficulties, it was not probable that we should relinquish certain and present advantages, though smaller, for uncertain and future ones, however great. I was led into this caution by observing, that this gentleman was intimate at the Spanish amba.s.sador’s, and that he was then at Paris, employed by Spain to settle her boundaries with France, on the Pyrenees. He had much the air of candor, but that can be borrowed; so that I was not able to decide about him in my own mind.

Led by a unity of subject, and a desire to give Congress as general a view of the disposition of our southern countrymen, as my information enables me, I will add an article which, old and insulated, I did not think important enough to mention at the time I received it. You will remember, Sir, that during the late war, the British papers often gave details of a rebellion in Peru. The character of those papers discredited the information. But the truth was, that the insurrections were so general, that the event was long on the poise. Had Commodore Johnson, then expected on that coast, touched and landed there two thousand men, the dominion of Spain in that country would have been at an end. They only wanted a point of union, which this body would have const.i.tuted. Not having this, they acted without concert, and were are length subdued separately. This conflagration was quenched in blood; two hundred thousand souls, on both sides, having perished; but the remaining matter is very capable of combustion. I have this information from a person who was on the spot at the time, and whose good faith, understanding, and means of information leave no doubt of the facts. He observed, however, that the numbers above supposed to have perished were on such conjectures only as he could collect.

I trouble Congress with these details, because, however distant we may be, both in condition and dispositions, from taking an active part in any commotions in that country, nature has placed it too near us to make its movements altogether indifferent to our interests, or to our curiosity.

I hear of another _Arret_ of this court, increasing the duties on foreign stock-fish, and the premium on their own imported into their islands; but not having yet seen it, I can say nothing certain on it. I hope the effect of this policy will be defeated by the practice which, I am told, takes place on the Banks of Newfoundland, of putting our fish into the French fishing-boats, and the parties sharing the premium, instead of ours paying the duty.

I am in hopes Mr. Short will be able to send you the medals of General Gates by this packet. I await a general instruction as to these medals.

The academies of Europe will be much pleased to receive each a set.

I propose to set out the day after to-morrow for Bordeaux (by the ca.n.a.l of Languedoc), Mantes, L’Orient, and Paris.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the most perfect esteem and respect, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant,

Th: Jefferson.



Ma.r.s.eilles, May 6, 1787.


A desire of seeing a commerce commenced between the dominions of his Majesty, the King of Sardinia, and the United States of America, and a direct exchange of their respective productions, without pa.s.sing through a third nation, led me into the conversation which I had the honor of having with you on that subject, and afterwards with Monsieur Tallon at Turin, to whom I promised that I would explain to you, in writing, the substance of what pa.s.sed between us. The articles of your produce wanted with us are brandies, wines, oil, fruits, and manufactured silks: those with which we can furnish you are indigo, potash, tobacco, flour, salt-fish, furs and peltries, ships and materials for building them.

The supply of tobacco, particularly, being in the hands of government solely, appeared to me to offer an article for beginning immediately the experiment of direct commerce. That of the first quality can be had at first hand only from James river in Virginia; those of the second and third from the same place, and from Baltimore in Maryland. The first quality is delivered in the ports of France at thirty-eight livres the quintal, the second at thirty-six livres, the third at thirty-four livres, weight and money of France, by individuals generally. I send you the copy of a large contract, wherein the three qualities are averaged at thirty-six livres. They may be delivered at Nice for those prices.

Indeed, it is my opinion, that by making shipments of your own produce to those places, and buying the tobaccos on the spot, they may be had more advantageously. In this case, it would be expedient that merchants of Nice, Turin, and America, should form a joint concern for conducting the business in the two countries. Monsieur Tallon desired me to point out proper persons in America who might be addressed for this purpose.

The house of the most extensive reputation, concerned in the tobacco trade, and on the firmest funds, is that of Messrs. Ross and Pleasants at Richmond, in Virginia. If it should be concluded on your part to make any attempt of this kind, and to address yourselves to these gentlemen, or any others, it would be best to write them your ideas, and receive theirs, before you make either purchases or shipments. A more hasty conduct might occasion loss, and r.e.t.a.r.d, instead of encouraging, the establishment of this commerce. I would undertake to write, at the same time, to these or any other merchants whom you should prefer, in order to dispose them favorably, and as disinterestedly as possible, for the encouragement of this essay. I must observe to you, that our vessels are fearful of coming into the Mediterranean on account of the Algerines: and that if you should freight vessels, those of the French will be most advantageous for you, because received into our ports without paying any duties on some of those articles, and lighter than others on all of them. English vessels, on the other hand, are distinguished by paying heavier duties than those of any other nation. Should you desire any further information, or to pa.s.s letters with certainty to any mercantile house in America, do me the favor to address yourselves to me at Paris, and I shall do whatever depends on me for this object.

I have the honor to be, with sentiments of high esteem and respect, Sir, your most obedient, humble servant,

Th: Jefferson.


_Memoranda taken on a Journey from Paris into the Southern Parts of France, and Northern of Italy, in the year 1787_.

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