Front Page Titles (by Subject) ANSWERS TO THE QUERIES OF M. SOULÉS 1 - The Works, vol. 5 (Correspondence 1786-1789)
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ANSWERS TO THE QUERIES OF M. SOULÉS 1 - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 5 (Correspondence 1786-1789) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 5.
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ANSWERS TO THE QUERIES OF M. SOULÉS1
I am unable to say what was the number of Americans engaged in the affair of Bunker’s Hill. I am able however to set right a gross falsehood of Andrews. He says that the Americans there engaged were constantly relieved by fresh hands. This is entirely untrue. Bunker Hill, or rather Breed’s hill, whereon the action was, is a peninsular joined to the main land by a neck of land almost level with the water, a few paces wide, & between one & two hundred toises long. On one side of this neck lay a vessel of war, & on the other several gun boats. The body of our army was on the main land; & only a detachment had been sent into the peninsular. When the enemy determined to make the attack, they sent the vessel of war & gun boats to take the position before mentioned to cut off all reinforcements, which they effectually did. Not so much as a company could venture into the relief of the men engaged, who therefore fought thro’ the whole action & at length were obliged to retire across the neck thro’ the cross fire of the vessels before mentioned. Single persons passed along the neck during the engagement, particularly General Putnam.
On the fall of Montgomery & his aids at Quebec, there were present Colo. Campbell & Major Dubois. Campbell, tho’ having the rank of Colo. was only of the staff; Dubois was of the line. The usage of all nations therefore authorized the latter to take the command. But it was a case for which Congress had not yet provided. Campbell availed himself of this, & believing, on the sight of blood, that all was lost, ordered a retreat.
The speech to the Indians, in Andrews page 357 is a little altered & abridged. You will find the genuine one in the Journal of Congress of July 1775.
I do not distinctly enough recollect the anecdote of the Old man’s company related by Andrews, to affirm it in all it’s parts. I think I recollect in general that there was such a company.
The questions relative to General Thomas I could only have answered indistinctly from my own memory; but fortunately there came to Paris a few days ago, & will yet continue there a few days, a Colonel Blackden, an American officer of good understanding & of truth, & who was at the latter part of the affair of Quebec. He was at the surprise of Ticonderoga by Allen, & continued with the army until 1781. I have spoken with him on this subject, and find he possesses treasures of details which will be precious to M. Soulés. Any day that M. Soulés will do me the honour to come & take a famille soupe with me (after the 16th inst.) if he will give me notice in the morning, I will ask Colo. Blackden to meet him here, & will make them acquainted. He is perfectly disposed to give all the information in his power to M. Soulés, & whatever he gives may be relied on. To him then I shall refer M. Soulés for answers to his military questions, & will wait his orders, recommending despatch, as Colo. Blackden has not long to stay.
The Stamp act was passed in Feb, 1765.
What powers the Parliament might rightly exercise over us, & whether any, had never been declared either by them or us. They had very early taken the gigantic step of passing the navigation act. The colonies remonstrated violently against it, and one of them, Virginia, when she capitulated to the Commonwealth of England, expressly capitulated for a free trade. See the articles in the Notes on Virginia, p. 201. This capitulation however was as little regarded as the original right, restored by it, had been. The navigation act was re-enacted by Charles 2 & was enforced. And we had been so long in the habit of seeing them consider us merely as objects for the extension of their commerce, & of submitting to every duty or regulation imposed with that view, that we had ceased to complain of them. But when they proposed to consider us as objects of taxation, all the states took the alarm. Yet so little had we attended to this subject, that our advocates did not at first know on what ground to take their stand. Mr. Dickenson, a lawyer of more ingenuity than sound judgment, and still more timid than ingenious, not daring to question the authority to regulate commerce so as best to answer their own purpose, to which we had so long submitted, admitted that authority in its utmost extent. He acknoledged in his Farmer’s to Manufacture [illegible] that they could levy duties internal or external, paiable in Great Britain or in the States. He only required that these duties should be bonâ fide for the regulation of commerce, & not to raise a solid revenue. He admitted therefore that they might controul our commerce, but not tax us. This mysterious system took for a moment in America as well as in Europe. But sounder heads saw in the first moment that he who could put down the loom, could stop the spinning wheel, and he who could stop the spinning wheel could tie the hands which turned it. They saw that this flimsey fabric could not be supported. Who were to be judges whether duties were imposed with a view to burthen & suppress a branch of manufacture or to raise a revenue? If either party, exclusively of the other, it was plain where that would end. If both parties, it was plain where that would end also. They saw therefore no sure clue to lead them out of their difficulties but reason & right. They dared to follow them, assured that they alone could lead them to defensible ground. The first elements of reason showed that the members of Parliament could have no power which the people of the several counties had not. That these had naturally a power over their own farms, and collectively over all England. That if they had any power over counties out of England it must be founded on compact or force. No compact could be shown, & neither party chose to bottom their pretensions on force. It was objected that this annihilated the navigation act. True, it does. The navigation act therefore becomes a proper subject of treaty between the two nations. Or if Gr. Britain does not chuse to have it’s basis questioned let us go on as we have done. Let no new shackles be imposed, & we will continue to submit to the old. We will consider the restrictions on our commerce now actually existing as compensations yielded by us for the protections & privileges we actually enjoy, only trusting that if Great Britain on a revisal of these restrictions, is sensible that some of them are useless to her & oppressive to us, she will repeal them. But on this she shall be free. Place us in the condition we were when the king came to the throne, let us rest so, & we will be satisfied. This was the ground on which all the states very soon found themselves rallied, and that there was no other which could be defended.
I will now proceed with remarks on the history.
I do not find that M. Soulés mentioned the affair of the Cedars which happened in April, 1776. This was an affair of no small importance. A committee was appointed by Congress to institute inquiries concerning it, as may be seen by the journal of June 14, 1776. The report of that committee is inserted in the journal of July 10. and I can assure M. Soulés that the facts therein stated were proved incontestably to the committee by witnesses present at the transactions, & who were on watch. I have the originals of that inquiry in my possession in America. The Capt. Foster therein mentioned was afterwards taken with Burgoyne’s army, tho permitted to go at large on his parole, he was not received into any American company, nor did the British officers, his fellow prisoners, chuse to be seen in company with him—so detestable had been the transaction &c.
Vol. i., pa. 324. I have been very well informed, that during all the latter part of the defence, the garrison was obliged to return the cannon balls of the enemy, with which indeed the ground was covered, having none of their own left.
Pa. 325. “Il y eut un Serjent” &c. This particular truly related in Andrews.
Vol. 2. pa. 5. “Ils en vinrent le 10. de Juin à cette resolution que ces Colonies” &c. See the Journ of Congr that it was on that day put off to the 1st of July. This was done at the instance of the members opposed to it. The friends of the resolution objected that if it were not agreed to till the 1st of July they would after that have to frame a Declaration of Independance, & that more time would then be lost. It was therefore agreed between the two that the resolution should be put off till the 1st of July, & that a committee should be immediately appointed to draw a declaration of Independance conformable to the resolution, should it be adopted. A committee was accordingly appointed the next day. On the 1st of July the resolution was proposed, & when ready for a vote, a state required it to be put off till the next day. It was done, and was passed the next day, 2d of July. The declaration of Independance was debated during the 2d, 3d & 4th days of July & on the last of these was passed & signed.
Pa. 6. A “se retirerent ensuite du Congres.” I do not remember that the delegates of Maryland retired from Congress, & I think I could not have forgotten such a fact. On the contrary I find by the Journals of Congress that they were present & acting on the 11th, 12th, 17th, 18th & 24th of June.
Pa. 7. A “la plus grande partie.” It should rather be the most important parts.
Pa. 7, 6. “Les etats unis ferrient encore aujourdhui partie de l’empire Britannique.” M. Soulés may be assured that the submission of the states could not have been effected but by a long course of disasters, & such too as were irreparable in their nature. Their resources were great, & their determination so rooted that they would have tried the last of them. I am as satisfied, as I can be of anything, that the conjecture here stated would not have been verified by the event.
Pa. 14. “Provinces unis” should not this always be “etats-unis”?
Pa. 15. “Mais qu’on pouvoir aussi les interpreter” &c. His exact answer was that it was true the &c might include anything, but that might also include nothing.
Pa. 16. “Tant de confiance” &c. Their main confidence was in their own resources. They considered foreign aid as probable & desirable, but not essential. I believe myself, from the whole of what I have seen of our resources & perseverance. 1. That had we never received any foreign aid, we should not have obtained our independance, but that we should have made a peace with Great Britain on any terms we pleased, short of that, which would have been a subjection to the same king, an union of force in war &c. 2. That had France supplied us plentifully with money, suppose about 4 millions of guineas a year, without entering into the war herself at all, we should have established our Independance, but it would have cost more time, & blood, but less money. 3. That France, aiding us as she did, with money & forces, shortened much the time, lessened the expense of blood, but at a greater expense of money to her than would have otherwise been requisite.
Pa. 18. “L’extremité septentrional” &c. I think the word “çoté” would be better adapted than “extremité” to the form of the island.
Pa. 21. “3000 hommes,” inquire of Colo. Blackden.
Perhaps the proposition of Congress to the Hessians may be worth mentioning. See their Journals, 1776, Aug. 14.
I will make a general observation here on the events of Long Island, New York &c. at this time. The maxim laid down by Congress to their generals was that not a foot of territory was to be ceded to their enemies where there was a possibility of defending it. In consequence of these views, and against his own judgment, Genl. Washington was obliged to fortify & attempt to defend the city of New York. But that could not be defended without occupying the heights on Long Island which commanded the city of New York. He was therefore obliged to establish a strong detachment in Long island to defend those heights. The moment that detachment was routed, which he had much expected, his first object was to withdraw them, & his second to evacuate New York—he did this therefore immediately, and without waiting any movement of the enemy. He brought off his whole baggage, stores, & other implements, without leaving a single article except the very heaviest of his cannon & things of little value. I well remember his letter to Congress wherein he expresses his wonder that the enemy had given him this leisure, as, from the heights they had got possession of, they might have compelled him to a very precipitate retreat. This was one of the instances where our commanding officers were obliged to conform to popular views tho’ they foresaw certain loss from it. Had he proposed at first to abandon New York, he might have been abandoned himself. An obedience to popular will cost us an army in Charlestown in the year 1779.
Pa. 30. “Une fuite precipitée.” It was a leisurely retreat as I have before observed.
Pa. 41. “Que je n’ai prie obtener que d’un anglais.” Colo. Blackden can probably give M. Soulés good intelligence on this affair. I think I recollect the slaughter on Kniphausen’s side to have been very great.
Aug. 3, 1786.
Vo [lume] 3. “Si dans son institution chaque individue avoit droit au gouvernement de l’etat, a seulement ceux qui possedoient une certaine etendue de terre.”
This is a luminous idea and worthy of being a little more developed. It places the question between Gr Britain & America in the simplest form possible. No Englishman will pretend that a right to participate in government can be derived from any other source than a personal right, or a right of property. The conclusion is inevitable that he who had neither his person nor property in America could not rightfully assume a participation in it’s government.
Pa. 17. The seeds of the war are here traced to their true source. The tory education of the King was the first preparation for that change in the British government which that party never ceases to wish. This naturally ensured tory administrations during his life. At the moment he came to the throne and cleared his hands of his enemies by the peace of Paris, the assumptions of unwarrantable right over America commenced; they were so signal, and followed one another so close as to prove they were part of a system, either to reduce it under absolute subjection, & thereby make it an instrument for attempts on Britain itself, or to sever it from Britain, so that it might not be a weight in the whig scale. This latter alternative however was not considered as the one which would take place. They knew so little of America that they thought it unable to encounter the little finger of Great Britain. M. de Soulés has well developed this subject. He is best judge whether anything more need be said on this subject.
Pa. 43. “Se le ministere anglais avoit eu la patience d’attendre que ces merchandises fussent consommé” &c. Having seen and intimately known the positions of the Americans at that moment, I am certain that this conjecture would not have been verified. The determined resolution with which they met every effort of the ministry, whether made in the form of force, fraud, or persuasion, gives us a moral certainty they would have been equally immoveable, if tried in the way of privation here proposed.
Pa. 51. “Pour accorder quelque chose” &c. The substitution of Gage for Hutchinson was not intended as a favor, but by putting the civil government into military hands was meant to shew they would enforce their measures by arms. See pa 109, where Congress makes it one of their grievances.
Pa. 78. A grand jury cannot be fewer than 12. nor more than 24. Some authors say it cannot be fewer than 13 nor more than 23.
Pa 102. “Plusieurs criminels” &c. Notwithstanding the laws the English made, I think they never ventured to carry a single person to be tried in England. They knew that reprisals would be made and probably on the person of the governor who ventured on the measure.
Pa. 145. The fact that the English commenced hostilities at Lexington being proved beyond question by us, & even acknowledged by the English, justice requires it should be plainly asserted, & left clear of doubt. Few of the facts which history asserts & relies on, have been so well established.
Pa. 150. “L’humanité des Britons.” I doubt whether this is the character of the nation in general. But this history, and every one which is impartial must in it’s relation of this war shew in such repeated instances, that they conducted it, both in theory & practice, on the most barbarous principles, that the expression here cited will stand in contradiction to the rest of the work. As examples of their Theory recollect the act of parliament for constraining our prisoners taken on the sea to bear arms against their fathers, brothers &c. For their practice, recollect their exciting the savages against us, insurrections of our slaves, sending our prisoners to the East Indies, killing them in prison ships, keeping them on half rations and of the most unwholesome qualities, cruel murders of unarmed individuals of every sex, massacres of those in arms after they had asked quarters &c., &c.
Pa. 150. “A cé que l’on dit à 20,000 hommes.” It was of 22,000 men. I was in a situation to know the fact from genl. Washington’s own information.
158. l. 8. Strike out “ét probablement” & insert “mais veritablement.” I remember the fact well and the leading persons of Connecticut, and particularly their delegates in Congress made no secret that their object was to overawe N York into it’s duty.
159. “Il fut resolu de la reduire (i. e., nouvelle York) en cendre.” This was proposed and considered in Congress; but they refused to come to this resolution, nor do I recollect that any other body resolved it.
163. Doctor Franklin has been called by that title as early as 1760, within my own knowledge: I do not know how much longer.
His quality in France was that of Minister plenipotentiary, and not as ambassador. We have never appointed an ambassador. France offered to receive one.
Pa. 166. The English set fire to Charleston. Qu as to the number of their killed.
Pa. 180. 181. Gates was & still is an inhabitant of Virginia. He never lived in any other state.
Pa. 190. “M. Arnold avoit formé une enterprise” &c. I never understood that he formed this enterprise, nor do I believe he did. I heard and saw all General Washington’s letters on this subject. I do not think he mentioned Arnold as author of the proposition; yet he was always just in ascribing to every officer the merit of his own works; and he was disposed particularly in favor of Arnold. This officer is entitled to great merit in the execution, but to ascribe to him that of having formed the enterprise is probably to ascribe to him what belongs to Genl. Washington or some other person.
209. “Et qu’ il ne leur fut plus permis de lever la milice,” &c. They had formerly had a law on the subject of invasions & insurrections which was of a perpetual tenor. They altered this law by one which was to be in force for a certain term of years only. That term of years effluxed at this time, the altering law expired, & therefore the old one resumed it’s vigor. It was very imperfect; yet they chose to act under the colour of that rather than without any colour of law.
216. “Dont elles se plaignerent.” This seems to be the proper place to rectify a small error in the arrangement of facts, and to state the answer to the conciliatory proposition which was in truth the first work of the assembly. I have not here the journals of the assembly, but there are certain circumstances which render it impossible for my memory to lead me astray. I was under appointment to attend the General congress: but knowing the importance of the answer to be given to the conciliatory proposition, and that our leading whig characters were then with Congress, I determined to attend on the assembly, & tho’ a young member, to take on myself the carrying thro’ an answer to the proposition. The assembly met the 1st of June. I drew, and proposed the answer & carried it through the house with very little alteration, against the opposition of our timid members who wish to speak a different language. This was finished before the 11th of June, because on that day I set out from Williamsburg to Philadelphia, and was the bearer of an authenticated copy of this instrument to Congress. The effect it had in fortifying their minds, & in deciding their measures renders it’s true date important; because only Pennsylvania had as yet answered the proposition. Virginia was the second. It was known how Massachusetts would answer it; and the example of these three principal colonies would determine the measures of all the others, & of course the fate of the proposition. Congress received it therefore with much satisfaction. The assembly of Virginia did not deliver the answer to Ld. Dunmore till late in the session. They supposed it would bring on a dissolution of their body whenever they should deliver it to him, and they wished previously to get some important acts passed. For this reason they kept it up. I think that Ld. Dunmore did not quit the metropolis till he knew that the answer framed by the house was a rejection of the proposition, tho’ that answer was not yet communicated to him regularly.
Pa. 231. “Quelques certaines de blancs.” These were composed principally of Scotch merchants & factors, & some few English, who had settled in the country. I doubt whether there was a single native among them. If M. Soulés could therefore characterise more particularly who they were who joined Ld. Dunmore, it would be an agreeable act of justice to the natives.
Pa. 233. “Les Americains qui avoit joint Milord Dunmore.” The same observation applies to this.
Pa. 245. “Pendant l’eté le Congres general avoit eté occupé à dresser un plan pour former une confederation.” It is necessary to set to rights here a fact which has been mistaken by every person who has written on this subject. I will do it from a perfect recollection of facts, but my memory does not enable me to state the date exactly. I was absent from Congress from the beginning of January, 1776, to the middle of May. Either just before I left Congress, or immediately on my return to it (I rather think it was the former) Doctor Franklin put into my hands the draught of a plan of confederation, desiring me to read it & tell him what I thought of it. I approved it highly. He shewed it to others. Some thought as I did; others were revolted at it. We found it could not be passed, and the proposing it to Congress as the subject for any vote whatever would startle many members so much that they would suspect we had lost sight of reconciliation with Great Britain, & that we should lose much more ground than we should gain by the proposition. Yet that the idea that a more firm bond of union than the undefined one under which we then acted might be suggested & permitted to grow, Dr. Franklin informed Congress that he had sketched the outlines of an instrument which might become necessary at a future day, if the ministry continued pertinacious, and would ask leave for it to lay on the table of Congress, that the members might in the meantime be turning the subject in their minds, and have something more perfect prepared by the time it should become necessary. This was agreed to by the timid members, only on condition that no entry whatever should be made in the journals of Congress relative to this instrument. This was to continue in force only till a reconciliation with Great Britain. This was all that ever was done or proposed in Congress on the subject of a Confederation before June 1776, when the proposition was regularly made to Congress, a committee appointed to draw an instrument of Confederation, who accordingly drew one, very considerably differing from the sketch of Doctor Franklin.
Pa. 294. “Il est á croire qu’il y avoit quelque convention.” It is well known there was such a convention. It was never made a secret of on our part. I do not exactly recollect its terms, but I believe they were what M. Soulés states.
Pa. 301. “La petite verole.” I have been informed by officers who were on the spot, & whom I believe myself, that this disorder was sent into our army designedly by the commanding officer at Quebec. It conserved his purpose effectually.
[1 ]François Soulés wrote a work entitled Histoire des troubles de l’Amérique et Anglaise (Paris 1787), the MSS. or proof-sheets of which he submitted to Jefferson, who made the above comments. In sending them to the author he wrote him:
Paris Septemb. 13th, 1786.
—Before the receipt of your favor of the 11th inst. I had written the inclosed short notes on such parts of your work as I have been yet able to go over. You will perceive that the corrections are very trifling. Such as they are I will continue them, & forward them to you from time to time as I get along. I will endeavour also to answer such of the queries you propose in your letter as my memory will enable me to do with certainty. Some of them I shall be unable to answer, having left in America all my notes, memorandums, &c., which might have enabled me to give you the information you desire. I have the honour to be with the utmost esteem & respect, sir, Your most obedient humble servt.