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TALLEYRAND Charles Maurice - Autograph Letter Signed 1795 a letter of introduction for Aaron Burr's stepson

  • £1,450.00

Charles Maurice TALLEYRAND (1754-1838)

Autograph Letter Signed (“tall.”) to Emmanuel Sieyes [better known as the Abbé Sieyès], a letter of introduction for a young American, M. Prevost, stepson of the New York senator Aaron Burr.
1 page 4to in French with integral address leaf, New York, 3 July 1795. 
Trans: “I like to give letters of introduction to you, my dear friend, to Americans of the better sort, that is to say those who are emphatically opposed to that treaty, so insulting to France, which America has just ratified with England. The bearer of this letter is M. Prevost, a young man of wit and prospects. His step-father, Col. Burr, one of the Senators for the state of New York, is a man of the highest distinction in this country; he loves liberty, he has much wit, much erudition, he is rather enamoured of your beloved metaphysics and has the refined tastes which lead him to wish to spend a few years in France You will see him there, I think, within a year. Have the goodness to see his son occasionally and introduce him to acquaintances who will be agreeable and useful to him. Adieu, remain my friend, my own friendship for you will only end with my life.”
In a postscript he adds: “send me what you have had published [literally: printed] over the past 6 months, and among the pamphlets any that are worth reading. If you give them to M. Prevost he will get them to me.”
The trade treaty between the United States and Great Britain, generally known as the Jay Treaty, had been ratified by the Senate less than a fortnight earlier. In view of the fact that Britain and France had been at war for over two years following the execution of Louis XVI, and that France had badly depleted its finances in assisting the American colonies in the struggle for independence from the British, one can understand that the French felt particularly aggrieved by this treaty.
Talleyrand, one of the most skillful diplomats who ever lived, fully realized that the United States would always retain close ties with Britain, even at the cost of alliances with other European powers. Shortly before leaving the United States, he wrote to Lord Shelburne, the former Prime Minister, saying that “they [Americans] will be more useful to England than to any other Power”, a premonition of what become known as the “special relationship”.
However, as a Frenchman, he could not help but object to the treaty, especially as it came at a time when the political situation in France had improved markedly since the fall of Robespierre and his allies a year earlier. Talleyrand was, at the time, engaged in pulling strings through all his friends in France to have his name removed from the dreaded list of émigrés, so that he could safely return to France and resume his political activities there. This was finally achieved in November 1795, though he delayed his return journey to Europe until the spring of the following year.
Interestingly, soon after his arrival in the United States, Talleyrand had met and become friendly with a man who was to be one of the main supporters of the Jay Treaty, Alexander Hamilton. It seems likely that Talleyrand and Hamilton shared similar tastes and temperament, though there is no indication that the upright Hamilton would have approved of Talleyrand’s rather relaxed views on political bribery. Thomas Jefferson opposed the treaty, as did the man who would later serve as his vice-president, Aaron Burr, described here as the Senator from New York.
Talleyrand’s correspondent, the Abbé Sieyès, was, like Talleyrand, a clerical gentleman who paid scant attention to religion and pursued his political interests. Talleyrand swiftly emigrated to Britain at the start of the September massacres in Paris in 1792, and when Frenchmen of any background were no longer welcome in Britain, he moved to the United States. Sieyès remained in France, indeed as a member of the National Assembly he even voted for the execution of Louis XVI, but his behavior during the the Revolution can best be described as “keeping his head down”, which he did so successfully that he survived the Revolution without accusations ever being levelled against him.
When Napoleon staged his coup d’état in November 1799, Talleyrand was among those who plotted and planned with him, and the Abbé Sieyès was one of the three consuls appointed, along with Napoleon and Roger Ducos, in its aftermath. Although Sieyès’ ideas – some of them possibly among those published in the works which Talleyrand requests – underpinned the Consulate, he and Ducos wre swiftly overshadowed and superseded by the more dynamic Napoleon.
Talleyrand was to negotiate again with the United States in 1803 when, as Napoleon’s Foreign Secretary, he was involved in the Louisiana Purchase. Talleyrand opposed this, as he felt that it was against the interests of France. From the French point of view, he was probably right, and one can but speculate as to how the world would look today had his advice prevailed.
The young man mentioned in this letter, M. Prevost, was the son of Aaron Burr’s first wife by her previous marriage. She had had five children – three daughters and two sons – by her first husband, and Burr treated them as his own children.. It is unclear which of the two boys travelled to France with Talleyrand’s recommendation.
There is a tear on the address leaf where the seal has been broken, but the letter is otherwise in excellent condition.


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