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Parisian Spring

February 13, 2012

August 30, 1787 – September 16, 1787

“…all tongues in Paris (and in France as it is said) have been let loose, and never was a license of speaking against the government exercised in London more freely or more universally” – TJ to JA

Live from Paris covering the Parisian Spring, this is ace reporter Thomas Jefferson. Embedded here in the Hotel de Longeac along the Seine, I’m seeing mobs of up to thirty thousand people surrounding the parliament house. Some have broken in and stolen horses of the wealthiest members, and the government has responded with force. Guards have been multiplied, patrols sent into the neighborhoods, and social gatherings are banned. The mobs have ceased for now, although this may be due in part to parliament having recessed.

I don’t know if this is ironic, exactly, but the letters during this time are an odd look at history “on the ground” in Europe from the perspective of two of the most important American founding fathers (the italics back there was a creative paraphrase, just to be clear). Back in Philadelphia, the Constitutional Convention is wrapping up, and these two all-stars are not only absent from that momentous gathering, they’ve heard nothing about it the entire time. TJ and JA only hint now and then at what they’re thinking regarding the convention, which makes sense, I suppose, considering that it isn’t their job. They are focused on securing trade deals, military alliances, and financial credit for their new country, i.e. ensuring the survival of the world’s newest republic. At least we do know TJ wasn’t happy with the convention’s famous secrecy (but pretty pleased with everything else).

TJ to JA: “I have news from America as late as July 19. Nothing had then transpired from the Federal convention. I am sorry they began their deliberations by so abominable a precedent as that of tying up the tongues of the members. Nothing can justify this example but the innocence of their intentions, and ignorance of the value of public discussions. I have no doubt that all their other measures will be good and wise. It is really an assembly of demigods.”

AA mentions the convention here too. AA to JT: “We have not any thing from Mr. Jay later than 4th of july. There was not any congress then, or expected to be any untill the convention rises at Philadelphia.” I assume “rises” means “adjourns” in this context. And speaking of context, at this time John Jay was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (1784-89). This would make him JA’s and TJ’s boss, of sorts.

Now for a contextless quote for adaptation in your daily conversations, this from Abigail Adams: “The ferment and commotions in Massachusetts [or insert the latest 2012 presidential debate venue] has brought upon the surface abundance of Rubbish; but still there is some sterling metal in the political crusible.”

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