Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 42 Cold War with France

NEWS from France, however, was slow in coming. January and February of 1798 passed, and the packet boats brought nothing. The three plenipotentiaries seemed to have been swallowed up in the maelstrom of Europe, leaving no trace of their whereabouts.

Jefferson feared, nor so much war from the Directory, as a refusal to come to terms and a continuance of depredations "according to the English example." If only, he mused, France would invade and "republicanize" England; then "all will be safe with us, whatever mortifying things we may suffer in the meantime."1 He was certain that all our troubles with France stemmed from the exigencies of her struggle to the death with England. Once France had conquered, she would cease her arrogance and disregard for American rights.

As the weeks passed, and still no news came, his hopes rose. "This long silence (if they have been silent) proves things are not going on roughly," he wrote Madison. If they have not been silent, it proves their information, if made public, would check the disposition to arm."2

This comment of his raises several interesting points. For one, it throws a significant light on the relations between Jefferson, the Vice-President of the United States, and the administration of John Adams. Though ostensibly the second officer of the nation, he was persona non grata, neither consulted nor consulting, and knowing as little of administration affairs as the meanest citizen in the streets. For another, it discloses the steadfast belief of the Republicans that Adams was hot for war; and that news of a probable settlement would be withheld deliberately from the people.

Monroe considered the breach irremediable. Indignantly he exclaimed to Jefferson: "You did everything in your power to unite the people under his administration, & to give him in negotiation the aid of the republican character & interest to support the pretensions of our country & not without hazard to yourself. But this he spurned with a degree of wantonness of which there is no example. He would have none of his ranks but tried men, whose political creed corresponded with his own."3

Monroe's diatribe against Adams does not accord with the known facts. If Jefferson was the outsider, it was because he had voluntarily assumed that position. It is true that, in the first flush of election, he had offered cooperation to Adams; but Madison never forwarded the letter. When Adams consulted with him on relations with France, and offered to send either Jefferson or Madison to accompany Gerry, both gentlemen had declined.

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