Our Collection

At the Institute’s core is the Gilder Lehrman Collection, one of the great archives in American history. More than 70,000 items cover five hundred years of American history, from Columbus’s 1493 letter describing the New World to soldiers’ letters from World War II and Vietnam. Explore primary sources, visit exhibitions in person or online, or bring your class on a field trip.

Gates, Horatio (1728-1806) to Robert Livingston

High-resolution images are available to schools and libraries via subscription to American History, 1493-1943. Check to see if your school or library already has a subscription. Or click here for more information. You may also request a pdf of the image from us here.

Log in
or
subscribe to see this thumbnail image

Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC06611 Author/Creator: Gates, Horatio (1728-1806) Place Written: New York, New York Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 12 February 1803 Pagination: 4 p. ; 24.5 x 20.2 cm.

Summary of Content: Revolutionary War general Horatio Gates, replying to a letter from Livingston, American minister to France, discusses the Haitian Revolution, the Louisiana Purchase, Napoleon, and other French notables. Writes, "I greedily devour every line that comes from your Pen, & View with anxiety the predictions you make upon the present appearance of the political conduct of The Great Man" (referring to Napoleon). Discusses Napoleon's intentions to conquer the seas and all nations, noting "This no friend to Civil Liberty can wish to see accomplished." Relates that James Monroe, Plenipotentiary to France, will deliver this letter. Declares, "The St. Domingo business is what will most seriously engage the attention of The First Consul; for by accounts from thence of a very short date we are credibly informed, that all is upon the point of being lost for the present to France..." Mentions the Louisiana "business" (possibly referring to the Louisiana Purchase). Calls for the withdrawal of troops after France reinstates government on Haiti, noting "This is a large Pill for Government to Swallow... will the high spirit of Bonaparte submit to this?" Wishes Horatio (possibly a son or other relative) had gone to France with Livingston: "you know that without being perfect in the French Language, it is in Vain to attempt being of the First Consequence in the Bustle of this Modern World..." Claims the Americans had no scientific engineer in the Revolution until a French engineer assisted the cause. Mentions Talleyrand, Liancourt, Lafayette, and several other French notables. Refers to Rufus King, ambassador to England (1796-1803), and recommends that Livingston travel in England. The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), an extended series of slave revolts, culminated in the defeat of French forces in 1803. The former French colony of Santo Domingo (Saint Domingue) thus became the first modern republic led by people of African descent. The French defeat was due to a number of factors, including Napoleon's loss of interest in the Western Hemisphere following the sale of Louisiana to the United States.

Background Information:

Full Transcript: New York 12 th. Febay 1803. -
Dear Sir
Your kind Letter of the 13th: of May last was near five Months coming to my Hands, but it arrived at last, and ...I believe unopened. I was obligingly indulged in the reading of most of the Letters you sent to your Family here; which described your passage by Sea, Journey by Land to Paris, and some Details upon your first coming there; these are all Lodged with Mrs: Armstrong, & will one day be a precious Merceau [sic] to your Decendants. I greedily devour every line that comes from your Pen, & View with anxiety the predictions you make upon the present appearance of the political conduct of The Great Man; as to His intention of establishing a new Dynasty in His House; would his Ambition would stop there; but I think I clearly discover that his great Objects are to raise The Fleet, Commerce, & Wealth of France, so as to be able Successfully to contend with Great Britain for the Empire of The Sea. That obtain'd, the Nations of The Earth must all submit to His Enormous Power. This no friend to Civil Liberty can wish to see accomplished; For all Nations are overbearing in Prosperity. The wish of the European World must be, to preserve a Balance of Power; and though England has an Animosity to Us, so far as Her Commercial Interest is not concerned; she is this moment the only Barrier we have between Us, & the rising Power of The Great Nation; -
This will be delivered to you by your Old acquaintance Mr. Monroe, Ambassador, & Plenipotentiary Extraordinary to Spain, & France; The reasons for his appointment you are already acquainted with. - you are to be concerned in the Management of this Negotiation, [inserted: &] I trust it will terminate in that which is most [2] Beneficial to this Country.
The St. Domingo business is, what will most Seriously engage the attention of The First Consul; for by accounts from thence of a very short date, we are credibly informed, that all is upon the point of being lost for the present, to France! The Cape, the the [sic] only Sconce held upon the Island, is [inserted: so] closely invested by the Enemy, that it is apprehended, it [inserted: is] in immediate danger of falling into their Hands! After so large an Armament failing to subdue the Revolters, (for Mr. Windham said in the House of Commons,) it was the largest ever floated across the Atlantic; what can be done to reinstate The French Government; If Congress is persisted in, I think the Louisiana Business must Sleep; for Hispaniola will Swallow up all that can be sent from France; If Conciliation takes place; & Tous Saint is sent back, with full power to resume the Government, and the Revolters are to be considered as Subjects, under restriction to send all The Produce to France; in this case, Peace should forthwith be Proclaimed; and no more Troops, than is necessary, to Garrison the Principal Sea Ports on the Islands, should be ordered to remain there; This is a large Pill for Government to Swallow! but I believe it [inserted: is the] best Dose for them to take in the Existing Circumstances; - will the high Spirit of Bonaparte submit to this? Heros will sometimes eke out the Lions Skin, with the Fox's Tail; He himself did so, when he left his Army in Egypt, to place himself at the Head of The Great Nation. and the Wisest Heros Antient [sic], and Modern, never attempt that, in which to succeed is Impossible. The Blacks, in this Many Years Successfull War they have waged, are become veterans; and there is no making good Soldiers, with Arms in their Hands, [3] submit to be Cowskin'd, and to the Tyranny, of that most cruel of all Bipeds, A Flogger of Slaves: -
Mrs. Montgomery was here lately; she said, all your numerous Family were well; & Armstrong has gone with his Family to Esopus, where he has found a Clergyman, that He, who is so good a Judge says, is exactly [inserted: the] Man fit for the Education of His Children, The parsons Head is of course well stuffed with Greek, & Latin. - I wish Horatio had gone with you to Paris, and been put to the best Military School there during your Embassy; He would then have known what was the Foundation of the 1st Consuls Fame, & through a Similar Education, have rais'd himself to Eminence here; you know, that without being perfect in the French Language; it is in Vain to attempt being of the First Consequence in the Bustle of this Modern World; & you have known for a long time, what a Scientific Engineer would have been worth; in our Contest with England; for until the French Army came, we had no such Man; I believe the Jealousy of such a Man prevented our having Him; & a speech that was made upon De Coudrays death is Evidence of The Fact! - When you see Messrs Tallayrand Liancourt, La Fayette, & [Houterine], present my respects to them; - I think to write a short Letter to my Old Friend Kuscuiusco; -
Having sated yourself with The Pomp, Pride, & Vanity of the Old World, are you not Tired of it? & do you not hamper after Claremont, & your dear Associates there? I am sure at Times You do. but I would feign have you make the same Observations in England, that you have done in France; & wish you may incline to do so; King, comes away soon; & I suppose, you [4] might reinstate Him at London; if you desired it; You will there receive infinite pleasure and Information, by Travelling through England. - Their Civil, & Military Government; Their [Arts], Manufactures, & Commerce; are worthy your inquisitive Eye; and Your Patriotism, will irresistibly force you to these Observations, impelled by the Future Benefit this Country might receive by your Judicious Remarks.
I hear Monsr: Barbe de Marbois is high up in the Department of The Finances; I am rejoiced at it; for the Terrible sufferings he underwent in his Deportation to So America deserved the greatest recompense; I shall be obliged to you to present my respects him, If Capt Bank is still in Activity, I shall be Glad to be remember'd to Him; & to know what he [inserted: is] doing in the Bustling World. -
My Mary & I entreat you will make Our kindest remembrance to Mrs: Livingston, & all, & singular your own Family. I hope to live to take you by the Hand upon your return to Your Native Lands; This Winter has pulled me down considerably, it has been so damp, and Raw. very little Snow, but much Falling Weather, we have not had one day that Sleds could Travel;
With the Sincerest Attachments to You, & the purest regard to Your Prosperity, & Health;
I am My dear Sir
Your Faithfull Friend,
& Obedient Servant
Horatio Gates -
His Excellency
Robert Livingston
See More

People: Gates, Horatio, 1728-1806
Livingston, Robert R., 1746-1813
Napoleon I, Emperor of the French, 1769-1821
Monroe, James, 1758-1831
Toussaint Louverture, 1743?-1803
Egremont, George O’Brien Wyndham, Earl of, 1751-1837
Talleyrand-Perigord, Charles Maurice de, prince de Benevent, 1754-1838
La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt
Francois-Alexandre-Frederic, duc de, 1747-1827
Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, marquis de, 1757-1834
King, Rufus, 1755-1827

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Revolutionary War GeneralMilitary HistoryHaitian RevolutionCaribbeanFranceLouisiana PurchaseWestward ExpansionLand TransactionNapoleonic WarsGlobal History and CivicsForeign AffairsSlave RebellionRebellionAfrican American HistorySlavery

Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison

Order a Copy Citation Guidelines for Online Resources