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Tobias Lear to Madison

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Tobias Lear to Madison

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One of Thomas Jefferson's first acts as president of the United States was to remove Edward Stevens from his post as consul to Saint Domingue and to appoint Tobias Lear in his place. Stevens had maintained a close, mutually respectful relationship with General Toussaint L'Ouverture. The position was only Lear's second in government; previously he had been George Washington's personal secretary. Lear landed in Saint Domingue on the 4th of July, 1801, and presented his credentials to the commander-in-chief of the island nation.

On July 17, Lear wrote to Secretary of State James Madison: "I handed my Commission to the General [Toussaint], who asked me if I had not a letter for him from the President, or from the Government. I told him I had not.... He immediately returned my Commission without opening it, expressing his disappointment and disgust in strong terms, saying that his Colour was the cause of his being neglected, and not thought worthy of the Usual attentions."

Lear's explanation of "the nature of the Appointment as not requiring those particular introductions which are given to Diplomatic Characters" confirmed Toussaint's suspicion that Jefferson had no intention of regarding him as an equal, nor of supporting the sovereignty of the new state.

The next day, though he "appeared to be much hurt ," Toussaint accepted Lear's commission, expressing for the first of several times "his sincere desire to preserve harmony and a good understanding with the United States," at that time the only other colony in the western hemisphere to throw off European rule and proclaim independence.

Lear's letter also carried news that had not yet been printed for the public, that "[a] Constitution has been formed for the Government of this Island" that "declare[d] Genl. Toussaint Louverture Governor for life, with the power of naming his successor."

Image Credit: The National Archives, Record Group 59, Miscellaneous Letters

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Related Entries:
The Haitian Revolution
Toussaint L'Ouverture
Thomas Jefferson by Peale
Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia
Douglas Egerton on the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture, and Jefferson
Julius Scott on John Brown Russworm and the Haitian Revolution

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