Little mention of Hungary, its people, or its culture can be found in Thomas Jefferson's letters. While in France, Jefferson discussed the possibility of a commercial treaty with the Holy Roman Empire with its ambassador, the Comte de Mercy-Argenteau. "In a commercial view no great good is to be gained by this," wrote Jefferson at the time, "but in a political one it may be expedient. Our national respect needs strengthening in Europe. It will certainly receive reinforcement by our being received into alliance by the second power and what will shortly be the first character in Europe."1 The American commissioners' powers expired before a treaty could be negotiated.
After his return to America, Jefferson was kept informed of the Empire and its involvement in the affairs of Europe. He left brief comments on the characters of the Emperors (referring to "the fevered head" of Joseph II and Leopold II's love of "peace and money" and his "decidedly pacific" character), but no comments can be found that relate in any way to the Emperor's Hungarian subjects.2
Jefferson owned at least one work of history on Hungary and had some travel books that included accounts of Hungary. He apparently had none of its literature.
One product of Hungary that Jefferson did have was its wine. From merchant-adventurer J. Erich Bollman, President Jefferson purchased an assortment of Hungarian wines at the highest price, per bottle, he ever paid for wine. Included were thirty-six bottles of the famous Tokay.3 Commenting on the prospects for successful wine production in the United States, Jefferson said that "the vine is congenial to every climate in Europe from Hungary to the Mediterranean, and will be bound to succeed in the same temperatures here wherever tried by intelligent vignerons."4
- Based on a Research Report by Lucia Stanton, 4/90
Primary Source References
1786 May 10. (Jefferson to James Monroe). "In a commercial view no great good is to be gained by this, but in a political one it may be expedient. Our national respect needs strengthening in Europe. It will certainly receive reinforcement by our being received into alliance by the second power and what will shortly be the first character in Europe."5
1804 December 6. "Recd. from bk. US. a draught on do. at N. York for 546.43. Inclosed the same to J. Erick Bollman for Hungary wines."6
Domokos Antal Ignacz Brenner. Histoire des Revolutions de Hongrie, ou l'on donne une idee juste de son Legitime Gouvernement. 1739. Sowerby, 1:111.
Johann Georg Keyssler. Travels through Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Switzerland, Italy, and Lorrain. 1770. Sowerby, 4:109-110.
Jan Chrzciciel Khomarzewski. "Cou-d’Oeil rapide sur les causes reelles de la Decadence de la Pologne." 1807. Sowerby, 1:111.
1. Jefferson to Monroe, May 10, 1786, in PTJ, 9:501. Transcription available at Founders Online.