William Short (American ambassador)

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Portrait of William Short

William Short (1759–1849) was Thomas Jefferson's private secretary when he was ambassador in Paris, from 1786 to 1789. Jefferson, later the third President of the United States, referred to Short as his "adoptive son."[why?] Short was an early member and president (1778–1781) of Phi Beta Kappa at the College of William & Mary.


William Short was born in 1759 to William Short Sr. and Elizabeth Skipwith at Spring Garden, Surry County, Virginia. He was the brother of Peyton Short.[1]

During his time in Paris serving under Thomas Jefferson, he was often nominated as charge d'affaires in Jefferson's absence. Later, in 1790, he succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Minister to France, and he provided Jefferson, back in Virginia, with detailed reports on the progress of the French revolution. Subsequently, Short was Minister to the Netherlands and to Spain. In one instance, Short attended, on behalf of Jefferson, the dedication of a bust of Lafayette arranged by Jefferson. It was a gift from the people of Virginia to the city of Paris. Jefferson was unable to attend due to one of his migraine-headache attacks.

Jefferson, as President, nominated Short via recess appointment to become Minister to Russia in 1808; however, the Senate later rejected his nomination, and Short never proceeded to the post.

Love Letters and Romance with Rosalie De La Rochefoucauld[edit]

William Short never acquired the fame or political prestige he sought after in life, notwithstanding his charm and intellect, his diplomatic assignments in Europe, or through his close relationship with Thomas Jefferson, whom he considered a second father.

But Short developed an extraordinary romance with Alexandrine Charlotte de Rohan-Chabot, casually known as Rosalie, the Duchess de la Rochefoucauld. She was passionate and beautiful, a woman of the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Rosalie witnessed firsthand the violence during the Reign of Terror, with the assassination of her husband and the execution of her brother.

William and Rosalie’s love affair was recorded in hundreds of letters which detailed these events, documenting the lovers' pains of separation and their frustration with social norms. Likewise, their words of devotion are especially poetic and moving. The love letters are an authentic literary contribution, and offer delightful personal insights into a turbulent era of world history.[2]

Though their affair was long and storied, she would eventually marry a kinsman, Boniface Louis Andre, Marquis de Castellane in 1810.[3]


  1. ^ Shackelford, p. 3
  2. ^ “William Short, Jefferson's Only "Son"” The North American Review, September 1926, p. 471-486
  3. ^ Shackelford, p. 160

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Thomas Jefferson
U.S. Minister to France
Succeeded by
Gouverneur Morris
Preceded by
Charles W.F. Dumas
U.S. Minister to the Netherlands
Succeeded by
John Quincy Adams
Preceded by
William Carmichael
U.S. Minister to Spain
Succeeded by
David Humphreys