Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 5

Author: Thomas Jefferson

To the Marquis De La Fayette.

PARIS, July 17, 1786.

DEAR SIR,—I have now the honor of enclosing to you an estimate of the exports and imports of the United States. Calculations of this kind cannot pretend to accuracy, where inattention and fraud combine to suppress their objects. Approximation is all they can aim at. Neither care nor candor have been wanting on my part to bring them as near the truth as my skill and materials would enable me to do. I have availed myself of the best documents from the custom-houses, which have been given to the public, and have been able to rectify these in many instances by information collected by myself on the spot in many of the States. Still remember, however, that I call them but approximations, and that they must present some errors as considerable as they were unavoidable.

Our commerce divides itself into European and West Indian. I have conformed my statement to this division.

On running over the catalogue of American imports, France will naturally mark out those articles with which she could supply us to advantage; and she may safely calculate, that, after a little time shall have enabled us to get rid of our present incumbrances, and of some remains of attachment to the particular forms of manufacture to which we have been habituated, we shall take those articles which she can furnish, on as good terms as other nations, to whatever extent she will enable us to pay for them. It is her interest, therefore, as well as ours, to multiply the means of payment. These must be found in the catalogue of our exports, and among these will be seen neither gold nor silver. We have no mines of either of these metals. Produce, therefore, is all we can offer. Some articles of our produce will be found very convenient to this country for her own consumption. Others will be convenient, as being more commerciable in her hands than those she will give in exchange for them. If there be any which she can neither consume, nor dispose of by exchange, she will not buy them of us, and of course we shall not bring them to her. If American produce can be brought into the ports of France, the articles of exchange for it will be taken in those ports; and the only means of drawing it hither, is to let the merchant see that he can dispose of it on better terms here than anywhere else. If the market price of this country does not in itself offer this superiority, it may be worthy of consideration, whether it should be obtained by such abatements of duties, and even by such other encouragements as the importance of the article may justify. Should some loss attend this in the beginning, it can be discontinued when the trade shall be well established in this channel.

With respect to the West India commerce, I must apprise you that this estimate does not present its present face. No materials have enabled us to say how it stands since the war. We can only show what it was before that period. This is most sensibly felt in the exports of fish and flour. The surplus of the former, which these regulations threw back on us, is forced to Europe, where, by increasing the quantity, it lessens the price; the surplus of the latter is sunk, and to what other objects this portion of industry is turned or turning, I am not able to discover. The imports, too, of sugar and coffee are thrown under great difficulties. These increase the price; and being articles of food for the poorer class (as you may be sensible in observing the quantities consumed), a small increase of price places them above the reach of this class, which being very numerous, must occasion a great diminution of consumption. It remains to see whether the American will endeavor to baffle these new restrictions in order to indulge his habits, or will adopt his habits to other objects which may furnish employment to the surplus of industry formerly occupied in raising that bread which no longer finds a vent in the West Indian market. If, instead of either of these measures, he should resolve to come to Europe for coffee and sugar, he must lessen equivalently his consumption of some other European articles in order to pay for his coffee and sugar, the bread with which he formerly paid for them in the West Indies not being demanded in the European market. In fact, the catalogue of imports offer several articles more dispensable than coffee and sugar. Of all these subjects, the committee and yourself are the more competent judges. To you, therefore, I trust them, with every wish for their improvement; and, with sentiments of that perfect esteem and respect with which I have the honor to be, dear Sir, your most obedient, and most humble servant.

Louis. Louis. Louis.
Fish 107,000 50,000 157,000
Fish Oil 181,688 9,562 191,250
Fish Bones 8,400 8,400
Salted Meats 131,500 131,500
Live Stock 99,000 99,000
Butter, Cheese 18,000 18,000
Flour, Bread, 660,000 barrels .. 330,000 330,000 660,000
Wheat, 2,210,000 bushels 331,000 331,000
Indian Corn 30,000 61,000 91,000
Rice, 130,000 barrels 189,350 70,650 260,000

Louis. Louis. Louis.
Indigo 51,700 51,700
Tobacco, 87,000 hogsheads 1,306,000 1,305,000
Potash, 20,000 barrels 49,000 49,000
Peltry 184,900 184,900
Flax Seed 79,500 79,500
Hemp 21,000 21,000
Iron, Copper 84,000 6,000 90,0000
Turpentine, etc., 60,000 barrels. 29,410 1,800 31,250
Timber, Lumber 82,000 164,000 246,000
Hops, 300 216,500 216,500
Miscellanies 22,000 22,000
3,302,448 941,552 4,244,000


Woollen cloths of every description,
Linens of every description,
Hosiery, Hats,
Gloves, Shoes, Boots, Sadlery and other things of
Silks, Gold and Silver Lace, Jewelry, Millinery, Toys,
East India goods,
Porcelaine, Glass, Earthenware,
Silver, Copper, Brass, Tin, Pewter, Lead, Steel, Iron in Louis. l.s.
every form, 3,039,000 0 0
Upholstery, Cabinet Work, Painters’ Colors,
Cheese, Pickles, Confitures, Chocolate,
Wine, 2,000 tons, at 100 louis, 200,000 louis, Brandy,
Medicinal Drugs, Snuff, Bees’ Wax,
Books, Stationery, Mill Stones, Grind Stones, Marble,
Sail Cloth, Cordage, Ship Chandlery, Fishing-tackle,
Ivory, Ebony, Barwood, Dyewood,
Slaves, Salt, 521,225 bushels, at 24 sous, 26,061 louis
6 livres,
Louis l. s
Salt, 500,484 bushels, at 24 sous 25,020 4 16
Fruits 2,239 12
Cocoa, 576,589 lbs., at 12 sous 25,798 12
Coffee, 408,494 lbs., at 16 sous 15,249 14 8
Sugar, 10,232,432 lbs 168,007
Molasses, 3,645,464 gallons, at 24 sous. 186,281 19 4
Rum, 3,888,370 gallons, at 2 livres 14
sous 437,441 15 927,438 8 8
Ginger, Pimento ........ 1,395; 1 4
Cotton, 356,591 lbs., at 24 sous 17,829 13 4
Skins 7,870 6
Indigo, 4,352 lbs., at 5 livres 8 sous 979 4 16
Ivory, Turtle Shell 247 4 16
Lignum vitro, Sarsaparilla, Fustic,
Annotta 5,170
Logwood 13,624 21
Mahogany 23,280
3,966,438 8 8


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Chicago: Thomas Jefferson, "To the Marquis De La Fayette.," Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 5 in Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.371-375 Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZFBYA6ZAB2DEYH.

MLA: Jefferson, Thomas. "To the Marquis De La Fayette." Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 5, in Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.371-375, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZFBYA6ZAB2DEYH.

Harvard: Jefferson, T, 'To the Marquis De La Fayette.' in Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Volume 5. cited in , Thomas Jefferson, the Writings of Jefferson: Monticello Edition, Vol. 5 (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904-1905), Pp.371-375. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZFBYA6ZAB2DEYH.