DescriptionJohn Jay Historic Manuscript Letter Signed "John Jay," three pages, 7.25" x 9", front and verso. New York, September 17, 1789. To William Short, Chargé des Affaires of the United States at the Court of France. In full, "In this Office no new appointments have as yet been made, so that the Business of it could not be conducted in a regular official Manner since the Organization of the present Government, by which the Validity of former Commissions had in the Opinion of many been rendered at least questionable. On the 16th day of June last the President consented to Mr. Jefferson's Return, and nominated You to take charge of our Affairs during his Absence - the Senate concurred in this Nomination, and nothing has since restrained me from conveying to you the necessary Documents, but the before mentioned State of this Department.- It was not until very lately that all Doubts respecting the Seal of the United States were removed, and this Circumstance will account for the Ratification of the Consular Convention having been postponed until then. You will now receive it herewith enclosed, and it is the Desire of the President that you present it for Exchange to the Minister without Delay, and transmit the one you will receive on their Part by the first good Opportunity that as soon as it shall arrive, the Convention may be published and take Effect. I think it more than probable that my letter to Mr. Jefferson of the 19th day of June last, informing him of his Leave of Absence came so seasonably to his Hands, as that we may soon expect to have the pleasure of seeing him; especially as Copies of it were dispatched by different Vessels. I have since received from him Letters of the following dates, Viz. 9th and 12th May 1789. I take it for granted that before his Departure he had so explained Matters to the Minister, as that he will have no Difficulty in considering you as charged with our Affairs, and in treating with you accordingly; for as nothing but ere Formalities are wanting, it is not likely that Objections will be made on that Account. Some of the latest public Papers will be sent with this." Docketed on the blank fourth page, "Jay Sep 17/Nov. 19" indicating it was received by Short in France on November 19, 1789.
On September 15, 1789, two days before Jay wrote this letter, Congress passed and President Washington signed "An Act to provide for the safe keeping of the Acts, Records, and Seal of the United States, and for other purposes." This law changed the name of the Department of Foreign Affairs to the Department of State because certain domestic duties were now assigned to the agency including custody of the Great Seal of the United States and the preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of presidential appointees. On September 24, 1789, a week after this letter, Washington nominated John Jay to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and, the next day, Thomas Jefferson the first U.S. Secretary of State succeeding Jay who had served as Secretary for Foreign Affairs since 1784. Jefferson returned to the United States and assumed his duties on March 22, 1790. Until then, Chief Justice Jay continued to be in charge of foreign relations.
On June 16, 1789, President Washington had notified the U.S. Senate, "Mr. Jefferson, the present Minister of the United States at the Court of France, having applied for permission to return home for a few months, and it appearing to me proper to comply with his request, it becomes necessary that some person be appointed to take charge of our affairs at that Court during his absence. For this purpose I nominate William Short, Esquire, and request your advice on the propriety of appointing him." From the Senate Executive Journal of June 17, 1789: "Ordered, That Mr. Jay examine the translation of the Consular Convention, and report his opinion as to its fidelity; and that he lay before the Senate all the papers in his custody relative to the negotiation, and whatever official papers and information on the subject he may possess. Proceeded to consider the nomination of William Short, Esquire, to take charge of the affairs of the United States at the Court of Versailles, as contained in the President's message received the 16th." On June 18th, the U.S. Senate "Resolved, That the President of the United States be informed that the Senate advise and consent to his appointment of William Short, Esquire, to take charge of our affairs at the Court of France, during the absence of. the Minister Plenipotentiary at that Court." The Consular Convention, negotiated by Jefferson and signed by him and Le Comte de Montmorin in Versailles on November 14, 1788, was consented to by the Senate on July 29, 1789. It defined and established the functions and privileges of French consuls in the United States and American consuls in France. On April 20, 1790, William Short was appointed to succeed Jefferson as Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of France.
The letter has a narrow 5.5"-long strip of paper affixed in the blank left margin of the first page, possibly where the "public Papers" or the Consular Convention mentioned by Jay was attached. It is in very fine condition. A magnificent letter of historical importance, it elucidates the state of foreign affairs existing six months after the First Congress convened and four months after Washington was inaugurated as first President. "No new appointments have as yet been made" and "the validity of former commissions" that had been issued have "been rendered at least questionable." Even the ratification of the Consular Convention with France was postponed because of "doubts respecting the Seal of the United States." Written by Jay just two days after the creation of the Department of State and seven days before he is nominated to be the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, this letter would be the cornerstone of any collection of American autographs.
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