Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO JAMES MADISON - The Works, vol. 4 (Notes on Virginia II, Correspondence 1782-1786)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO JAMES MADISON - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 4 (Notes on Virginia II, Correspondence 1782-1786) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 4.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
TO JAMES MADISON
Paris, 8 December, 1784.
* * * I thank you very much for the relation of the proceedings of assembly. It is the most grateful of all things to get those details when one is so distant from home. I like to see a disposition increasing to replenish the public coffers, and so far approve of the young stamp act. But would it not be better to simplify the system of taxation rather than to spread it over such a variety of subjects, and pass the money through so many new hands? Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual, but I do not see that the sale of his land is an evidence of his ability to spare. One of my reasons for wishing to centre our commerce at Norfolk was that it might bring to a point the proper subjects of taxation and reduce the army of tax-gatherers almost to a single hand. The simplest system of taxation yet adopted is that of levying on the land and the labourer. But it would be better to levy the same sums on the produce of that labour when collected in the barn of the farmer; because then if through the badness of the year he made little, he would pay little. It would be better yet to levy only on the surplus of this product above his own wants. It would be better too to levy it not in his hands, but in those of the merchant purchaser; because tho’ the farmer would in fact pay it, as the merchant purchaser would deduct it from the original price of his produce yet the farmer would not be sensible that he paid it. This idea would no doubt meet its difficulties & objections when it should come to be reduced to practice: yet I suspect it would be practical & expedient. Our tax-gatherers in Virginia cost as much as the whole civil list besides. What a comfort to the farmer to be allowed to supply his own wants before he should be liable to pay anything, & then only pay on his surplus—The proposition for a Convention has had the result I expected. If one could be obtained I do not know whether it would not do more harm than good. While Mr. Henry lives another bad constitution would be formed & forever on us. What we have to do I think is devotedly to 252.746. for his death in the meantime to 203. 925. 243. 719 the 896.755 that the present is but an 851 & to 268. 661. the 872. of the 312. 730. 737. I am glad the 1005. 83 953. 735. 380. 945 have again shewn their teeth & fangs. The 777.400 had almost forgotten them.
I still hope something will be done for Paine. He richly deserves it; and it will give a character of littleness to our state if they suffer themselves to be restrained from the compensation due for his services by the paltry consideration that he opposed our right to the western country. Who was there out of Virginia who did not oppose it? Place this circumstance in one scale, and the effect his writings produced in uniting us in independence in the other, and say which preponderates. Have we gained more by his advocation of independence than we lost by his opposition to our territorial right? Pay him the balance only. I look anxiously to the approaching and improving the navigation of the Potomac and Ohio; the actual junction of the Big Beaver and Cuyahoga by a canal; as also that of Albemarle Sound and Elizabeth through the Dismal. These works will spread the field of our commerce westwardly and southwardly beyond anything ever yet done by man.
I once hinted to you the project of seating yourself in the neighborhood of Monticello, and my sanguine wishes made me look on your answer as not absolutely excluding the hope. Monroe is decided in settling there, and is actually engaged in the endeavor to purchase. Short is the same. Would you but make it a “partie quarrée,” I should believe that life had still some happiness in store for me. Agreeable society is the first essential in constituting the happiness, and, of course, the value of our existence. And it is a circumstance worthy great attention when we are making first our choice of a residence. Weigh well the value of this against the difference in pecuniary interest, and ask yourself which will add most to the sum of your felicity through life. I think that, weighing them in this balance, your decision will be favorable to all our prayers. Looking back with fondness to the moment when I am again to be fixed in my own country, I view the prospect of this society as inestimable. I find you thought it worth while to pass the last summer in exploring the woods of America, and I think you were right. Do you not think the men and arts of this country would be worth another summer? You can come in April, pass the months of May, June, July, August, and most of September here, and still be back to the commencement of real business in the assembly following, which I would not have you absent from. You shall find with me a room, bed, and plate, if you will do me the favor to become one of the family; as you would be here only for the summer season, I think your outfit of clothes need not cost you more than 50 guineas, and perhaps the attendance on the theatres and public entertainments, with other small expenses, might be half a guinea or three quarters a day. Your passage backward and forward would, I suppose, be 60 or 70 guineas more. Say that the whole would be 200 guineas. You will for that have purchased the knowledge of another world. I expect Monroe will come in the spring, and return to congress in the fall. If either this object, or the one preceding, for settling you near Monticello, can be at all promoted by the use of the money which the assembly have given me for my share in the revisal, make use of it freely, and be assured it can in no other way be applied so much to my gratification. The return of it may wait your perfect convenience. * * *