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Jefferson on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars
Digital History ID 224

Author:   Thomas Jefferson


The following letter by Jefferson offer insights into how a key American political leader and thinker viewed the critical events taking place across the seas: Napoleon's rise to power and the global war between France and Britain. Note the way Jefferson links his domestic concerns about a standing army, a large debt, and suppression of dissent to his assessment of the British-French struggles in Europe and Asia. Despite Napoleon's actions in Egypt, Jefferson sympathizes with the French as fellow republicans. Although he knows about the XYZ Affair, when French officials requested bribes before negotiating with American diplomats, Jefferson sees the flexibility of Minister Talleyrand in a positive light.


...The additional army to be raised (about 9000 men) will add 2 1/2 millions, & the additional navy proposed by the Secretary 3 millions, so that when they are complete there will be wanting for annual expenses 4 1/2 millions of dollars to be raised by new taxes to which add half a million nearly for the interest of the new loan. The existing taxes are 2 1/2 dollar a head on a population of four millions. With the future they will be 3 3/4 D[ollars] a head. We are now reading [Elbridge] Gerry's communication of what passed between him & Talleyrand after the departure of his colleagues. They show the most anxious desire & earnest endeavors of that government to prevent a breach with us, and Gerry gives it explicitly as his opinion that a just treaty could have been obtained from them [the French] at any time before his departure.... They have opened a loan for money to raise the army & build the navy of 5 millions at 8 percent. So it is that folly begets folly. Every newspaper kills Buonaparte in a different form but the news of London, Vienna & Constantinople is merely fabricated to keep up the spirits of their own people. The last rational accounts from Buonaparte, showed him in a very firm position. I do not believe he was destined to proceed further than Egypt. The London accounts of Irish affairs are thought equally fabulous [Here, Jefferson refers to reports that a French army was about to land in Ireland].

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Thomas Jefferson to John Eppes, his son-in-law

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