A rare invitation to visit Jefferson in Paris; The scholar was the future Director of the Bank of Pennsylvania.
After the end of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson was sent by the Congress to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams as ministers in Europe for negotiation of trade agreements with England, Spain, and France. With his young daughter Patsy and two servants, he departed in July 1784, arriving in Paris the...
After the end of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson was sent by the Congress to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams as ministers in Europe for negotiation of trade agreements with England, Spain, and France. With his young daughter Patsy and two servants, he departed in July 1784, arriving in Paris the next month. When Count de Vergennes, the French foreign minister, commented, “You replace Monsieur Franklin, I hear,” Jefferson replied, “’No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor.” Franklin resigned as minister in March 1785, and departed in July. Jefferson officially took over in mid May.
Thomas Ruston was a Pennsylvania physician practicing in London and Exeter, who had corresponded with Benjamin Franklin on the finances of the new country. He had taken a great interest in business since his marriage to a wealthy heiress and was, according to the later testimony of George Washington, “a warm Friend of the American cause.” Franklin himself on learning some of Ruston’s ideas, wrote, “I received and read with Pleasure your Thoughts on American Finance, and your Scheme of a Bank. I communicated them to the Abbé Morellet, who is a good Judge of the Subject, and he has translated them into French. He thinks them generally very just, and very clearly exprest. I shall forward them to a Friend in the Congress.”
Ruston wrote several treatises on American finances and planned a return to the US in 1785. But first he wanted to visit the US Ambassadors at the major courts in Europe. On April 7, he dined with John Adams, who was heading to England but was then at the house of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the Revolutionary War, in France. Adams wrote, “Dr. Ruston appears to be a man of learning; very well versed in English reading.”
Next he met with Thomas Jefferson.
Autograph note signed, April 16, 1785, with address panel, to “Monsier Ruston, Hotel d’Orleans, Palais Royal.” “Mr. Jefferson’s compliments to Mr. Ruston and begs the honor of his company to dinner on Tuesday next the 19th instant.”
What did they discuss? We know, because a record of this meeting exists in Ruston’s hand and docketed by Jefferson. It reads, in small part, “Question by Mr. Jefferson. If the people of America double their numbers in twenty five years, Query, How long will it take for the increase of the Duty upon Impost to extinguish the National Debt? In order to be able to answer this question fully three things are requisite. 1st: It is necessary to know the present state of population. 2ly: It is necessary to know the amount of the impost—and 3ly It is also necessary to know the amount of the interest to be paid on the national debt….”
While in France, Jefferson became a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette, and used his influence to procure trade agreements with France. As the French Revolution began, Jefferson allowed his Paris residence, the Hôtel de Langeac, to be used for meetings by Lafayette and other republicans; he was in Paris during the storming of the Bastille and consulted with Lafayette while the latter drafted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Later in the year Ruston moved with his family to Philadelphia, where he gained entry to the city’s elite by virtue of his wealth and became a director of the Bank of Pennsylvania, a member of the American Philosophical Society, a public advocate of a balanced national economy, and a partner with Tench Coxe and Robert Morris.
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