Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790)
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TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XI (1785-1790) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XI (1785-1790).
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TO THE COUNT DE MOUSTIER.
Mount Vernon, 17 August, 1788.
In the letter I did myself the honor to address to your Excellency on the 26th of last March, I intimated that as soon as I should have obtained more particular information concerning the commercial intercourse between France and the United States, I would most willingly communicate the result. Ill prepared as I still am to treat of a subject so complicated in its nature, and so extensive in its consequences, I will now hazard a few facts and general observations, without confining myself strictly to your questions, to which, however, you may find there will be a constant allusion.
Respecting the utility or hurtfulness of the tobacco contract between Mr. Morris and the Farmers-General, I have heard so many specious arguments on one side and the other, that I find myself embarrassed in making a fair judgment. In ordinary cases I know that all exclusive privileges and even partial monopolies are pernicious. How far in this instance the contract has been only a transference of the business from the foreign agents, (English or Scottish,) who used to conduct it, into other hands, and whether the same exportations in quantity would have been made directly to France through more advantageous channels, I cannot pretend to determine. A free competition in the purchase of that article here, as well as in the sale at the place of market, it seems reasonable to conclude, would be mutually beneficial to both nations, however it might be inconvenient to individuals. Though the present contract will soon expire of course, and leave an equal field of speculation on this side of the Atlantic, I have been taught to believe, that the Farmers-General will not so readily give up their share in the monopoly on the other. So the business must in all probability revert to its original channel.
In reply to your second, third, and fourth questions, I would only briefly observe, that we are yet scarcely sufficiently acquainted with the coarse French woollens, and their lowest prices, to determine how far they can come in rivalship with those of Britain. The prevailing opinion is in[favor of] the latter; but I see no reason why the former, when calculated for the particular purpose, may not be made equally cheap and good. As to other articles of importation directly from France, they might consist in superfine broadcloths, (particularly blue which can be afforded cheaper and better than from England,) glass, gloves, ribbons, silks, cambrics, plain lawns, linens, printed goods, wine, brandy, oil, fruit, and in general every thing necessary for carrying on the Indian trade; from the Islands, sugar and coffee, in addition to the molasses and rum, which alone are permitted to be exported to the United States at present. Our produce in return to Europe might comprehend tobacco (as the staple from this State), and from the States aggregately wheat, rice, other grain, bread, flour, fish, fish oil, potashes, pearlashes, skins, furs, peltry, indigo, madder, different dyeing woods, lumber, naval stores, iron, coals, and ships ready built; to the Islands, lumber, bar iron, coals, live stock, and provisions of all kinds.
It may be mentioned here as a first principle of extending the intercourse, and as a theory which will be found incontestably true in experiment, that, in proportion as France shall increase the facility of our making remittances, in the same ratio shall we increase the consumption of her produce and manufactures. Common sense and sound policy speak thus on our part: “We can furnish new materials of great value, and our ability to do it will augment with our population every day; we want no money for them, and we desire no credit may be given to us; we cannot manufacture fine articles so cheaply as we can import them, and must, while we continue an agricultural people, be supplied from some quarter; we offer you the preference, and will take in different goods to the amount received from us in our staple commodities.”
This doctrine has been already verified, so far as an opportunity has been afforded to observe the effect. The use of French brandy in common taverns, as well as private houses, has been substituted for two or three years past very much in the room of Jamaica rum. Probably not less than twenty-four thousand gallons have been imported into this State in one year. The consumption of French wines is also much greater than it has formerly been; and may, by a moderate calculation, amount to between one half and one third of all that is imported. The demand for both these articles might still be extended with the means of making remittances. Not much French salt is made use of for curing provisions in Virginia. The opinion is, that it is not so clean as that imported from other parts of Europe. If it was properly purified, it might and certainly would be brought out as ballast in great quantities, and find a ready market.
About half the exports from Virginia are carried in American bottoms, the remainder principally in British bottoms. There are, however, a number of other foreign vessels employed in the trade.
I know not of any other equivalents, than those to be derived by France from the extension of her commerce, which we can give for any new favors in your Islands.1 Under the present rigorous restrictions, it is thought that trade is unprofitable for us, and will decay or be disused as soon as other avenues for receiving our produce shall be gradually opened. The maritime genius of this country is now steering our vessels in every ocean; to the East Indies, the north-west coasts of America, and the extremities of the globe. I have the best evidence, that the scale of commerce, so long against us, is beginning to turn in our favor, and that, (as a new thing in our new world,) the amount of exports from one State last year exceeded that of the imports more than two hundred and thirty thousand pounds.
What change in systems, and amelioration in the general complexion of our affairs, are likely to be produced in consequence of the national government, which is on the eve of being established, I will not undertake to predict. I hope and trust the ties, which connect this nation with France, will be strengthened and made durable by it. In the mean time there are three things, which I flatter myself will counterbalance, on the side of the French commerce, the three advantages, of which I conceive the British merchants to be possessed. The circumstances to which I allude are, 1st, the increasing prejudices of this country against a commercial intercourse with England, occasioned by provocations and augmented by impositions on her part; 2ndly, the facility given in many instances by the French government for our making remittances in the staple commodities of this country; and, 3dly, the change of taste in favor of articles produced or manufactured in France, which may indeed in a great degree be attributed to the affection and gratitude still felt for her generous interposition in our favor.
I should be truly happy to learn, that this country and its inhabitants have become agreeable to your Excellency upon acquaintance. For you may be assured, Sir, no one can be more zealous than myself in promoting a friendly connexion between our nations, or in rendering your situation perfectly satisfactory, while the United States shall enjoy the benefit of your residence in them. With the highest consideration and respect, I have the honor to be, &c.1
[1 ]“I believe I told your Excellency before, I was so little conversant in commercial matters, that I desired but small stress might be placed upon my opinions. It may be necessary to repeat this observation as an apology for what I am about to say on the commerce between this country and the West India Islands. I have every reason to wish, that this trade might, if possible, be made reciprocally beneficial. Of that, however, I entertain some doubts; for hitherto I have thought it of much less importance to the United States, than people commonly imagine it to be. My reasons for this opinion were; first, because I could not learn upon inquiry, that it turned out much, if any, to the advantage of those concerned in it; and, secondly, because all or nearly all the produce imported from thence (cotton excepted) might be considered as articles of luxury, the use of which would in a great measure be dispensed with, if they were not so easily to be obtained. But my greatest reason for supposing the trade detrimental to us was, that rum, the principal article received from thence, is in my opinion the bane of morals and the parent of idleness.
[1 ]The general terms of this letter were dictated by a wish to say nothing that would be likely to embarrass Jefferson’s negotiations in France.