Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jay [Extract]
Jefferson, Thomas, 1742-1826
Volume 18, Pages 627-630
-------------------- page 627
EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM MR. JEFFERSON TO MR. JAY.
[From Executive Letter Book.]
27th May, 1786.
As to the Article of Tobacco, which had become an important Branch of Remittance to almost all the States, I had the Honor of communicating to you my proposition to the Court to abolish the monopoly of it in their Farm; that the Count de Vergennes was, I thought, thoroughly sensible of the expediency of this Proposition, and Disposed to befriend it; that the renewal of the Lease of the Farms had been Consequently suspended six months and was still in suspence, but that so powerful were the farmers general, &c., that I despaired of preventing the Renewal of the Farm at that time. Things were in this State when the Marquis de la Fayette returned from Berlin. On communicating to him what was on the Carpet, he proposed to me a Conference with some persons well acquainted with the commercial System of this Country; we met, they proposed endeavoring to have a Committee appointed to enquire into the Subject. The proposition was made to the Count de Vergennes who befriended it, and had the Marquis de la Fayette named a Member of the Committee, he became of course the Active and truly Zealous Member for the Liberty of Commerce, others tho' well disposed, not chosing to oppose the Farm openly. This committee, has met from time to time, it showed an early and decisive conviction that the Measure taken by the Farm to put the purchase of their Tobacco into monopoly on that side the Water, as the sale of it was on this, tended to the Annihilation of Commerce between the two Countries, various Palliatives were proposed from time to time. I confess that I met them all with Indifference; my object being a radical cure of the evil by discontinuing the Farm, and not a mere assuagement of it for the present Moment, which rendering it more bearable, might lessen the Necessity of removing it totally and perhaps prevent that removal. In the mean time the other branches of the Farm rendered the Renewal of the lease Necessary; and it being said to be too far advanced to have the Article of Tobacco Separated from it, it was Signed in the
-------------------- page 628
Month of March while I was in England, with a Clause which is usual, that the King may discontinue when he pleases, on certain Conditions. When I returned I found here a Memorial from the Merchants of L'Orient, complaining of their having 6,000 Hogsheads of Tobacco on hand, and of the distresses they were under from the loss of this Medium of remittance. I enclosed it to the Count de Vergennes, and asked his Interference. I saw him on the 23rd instant & spoke to him on the Subject, he told me there was to be a Committee held the next day at Berne, the Seat of the Comptroller General, and that he would attend to it himself to have something done. I asked him if I was to Consider the expunging that article from the Farm as desperate. He said that the difficulty of changing so ancient an Institution was immence, that the King draws from it a revenue of 29 millions of livres, that an interruption of this revenue at least if not a diminution, would attend a change, that their Finances were not in a Condition to bear even an interruption, &c. Incidents enough will arise to keep this Object in our View, & to direct the attention to it, as the only point on which the Interest and Harmony of the two Countries (so far as this Article of their Commerce may Influence) will ultimately find repose. The Committee met the next day, the Only Question Agitated was how best to relieve the Trade under its double Monopoly the Committee found themselves Supported by the Presence and Sentiments of the Count de Vergennes. They therefore Resolved that the Contract with Mr. Morris, if executed on his part, might not be annulled here, but that no Similar one should ever be made hereafter, that so long as it continued, the Farmers should be obliged to purchase from twelve to fifteen thousand Hogsheads of Tobacco a year over and above what they should receive from Mr. Morris, from such Merchants as should bring it in French or American Vessels, on the same Conditions contracted with Mr. Morris, providing, however, that when the Cargo shall not be Assorted, the prices shall be 381. 361. & 341. for the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Qualities of whichsoever the Cargo may Consist. In case of dispute about the Quality, Specimens are to be sent to the Council, who will appoint persons to examine & decide on it. This is indeed the least bad of all the palliatives which have been proposed, but it contains the seeds of perpetual Trouble. It is easy to foresee that
-------------------- page 629
the Farmers will Multiply difficulties and Vexations on those who shall propose to sell to them by force, and that these will be making perpetual complaint, so that both parties will be kept on the fret. If without fatiguing the friendly dispositions of the Ministry, this should give them just so much Trouble as may induce them to look to the Demolition of the Monopoly as a desirable point of rest, it may produce a permanent as well as a temporary Good; this determination of the Committee needs the King's Order to be carried into Effect. I have been in hourly Expectation of receiving official information, that it is ultimately confirmed by him, but as yet it is not yet come and the post will set out to-day, should it arrive in time I will enclose it. Should it not arrive, as I do not apprehend any danger of its being rejected, or even attend materially seeing that M. de Calonne acquiesced. I have supposed you would wish to be apprised of its Substance, for a Communication of which I am indebted to the M. de Fayette. Though you cannot publish it formally till you know it is confirmed by the King, yet an unauthoritative kind of Notice may be given to the Merchants to put them on their Guard, otherwise the Merchants here, having first Knowledge of it, may, by their Agents, purchase up all the Tobaccos they have on hand at a low price, and thus engross to themselves all the Benefit.
In the same Letter I mentioned that the Rice of Carolina compared with that of the Mediterranean, was better and dearer. This was on my own Observation, having examined both in the Shops here, where they are retailed. Further enquiry gives me reason to believe that the Rice of Carolina on its arrival is fouler and cheaper, and it is obliged to be cleaned here before it is saleable, that this advances the Rice, but at the same time the quality also, beyond that of the Mediterranean; whether the trouble of this operation discourages the Merchant or the Price the Consumer, or whether the Merchants of Carolina have not yet learnt the way to this Market, I cannot tell. I find in fact that but a small proportion of the Rice consumed here is from the American Market, but the consumption of this article here is immence. If the makers of American Rice would endeavor to adopt their preparation of it to the Taste of this Country so as to give it over the Mediterranean Rice the advantage of which it seems Susceptible, it would very much Increase the Quantity for which they may find sale; as far as I have
-------------------- page 630
been able to find, it is received here on a favorable footing. I have the Honor to enclose a Copy of the Contract with Mr. Morris, &c.