Front Page Titles (by Subject) OBSERVATIONS ON THE ARTICLE ÉTATS-UNIS PREPARED FOR THE ENCYCLOPÉDIE 1 - The Works, vol. 5 (Correspondence 1786-1789)
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OBSERVATIONS ON THE ARTICLE ÉTATS-UNIS PREPARED FOR THE ENCYCLOPÉDIE 1 - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 5 (Correspondence 1786-1789) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 5.
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OBSERVATIONS ON THE ARTICLE ÉTATS-UNIS PREPARED FOR THE ENCYCLOPÉDIE1
[June 22, 1786.]
1. II. 17. 29. Pa 8. The Malefactors sent to America were not sufficient in number to merit enumeration as one class out of three which peopled America. It was at a late period of their history that this practice began. I have no book by me which enables me to point out the date of it’s commencement. But I do not think the whole number sent would amount to 2000 & being principally men, eaten up with disease, they married seldom & propagated little. I do not suppose that themselves & their descendants are at present 4000, which is little more than one thousandth part of the whole inhabitants.
Indented servants formed a considerable supply. These were poor Europeans who went to America to settle themselves. If they could pay their passage it was well. If not, they must find means of paying it. They were at liberty therefore to make an agreement with any person they chose, to serve him such a length of time as they agreed on, on condition that he would repay to the master of the vessel the expenses of their passage. If being foreigners unable to speak the language, they did not know how to make a bargain for themselves the captain of the vessel contracted for them with such persons as he could. This contract was by deed indented, which occasioned them to be called indented servants. Sometimes they were called Redemptioners, because by their agreement with the master of the vessel they could redeem themselves from his power by paying their passage, which they frequently effected by hiring themselves on their arrival as is before mentioned. In some states I know that these people had a right of marrying themselves without their master’s leave, & I did suppose they had that right everywhere. I did not know that in any of the states they demanded so much as a week for every day’s absence without leave. I suspect this must have been at a very early period while the governments were in the hands of the first emigrants, who being mostly labourers, were narrow-minded and severe. I know that in Virginia the laws allowed their servitude to be protracted only two days for every one they were absent without leave. So mild was this kind of servitude, that it was very frequent for foreigners who carried to America money enough, not only to pay their passage, but to buy themselves a farm, it was common I say for them to indent themselves to a master for three years, for a certain sum of money, with a view to learn the husbandry of the country. I will here make a general observation. So desirous are the poor of Europe to get to America where they may better their condition, that, being unable to pay their passage, they will agree to serve two or three years on their arrival there, rather than not go. During the time of that service they are better fed, better clothed, and have lighter labour than while in Europe. Continuing to work for hire a few years longer, they buy a farm, marry, and enjoy all the sweets of a domestic society of their own. The American governments are censured for permitting this species of servitude which lays the foundation of the happiness of these people. But what should these governments do? Pay the passage of all those who chuse to go into their country? They are not able; nor, were they able, do they think the purchase worth the price? Should they exclude these people from their shores? Those who know their situations in Europe & America, would not say that this is the alternative which humanity dictates. It is said that these people are deceived by those who carry them over. But this is done in Europe. How can the American governments prevent it? Should they punish the deceiver? It seems more incumbent on the European government, where the act is done, and where a public injury is sustained from it. However it is only in Europe that this deception is heard of. The individuals are generally satisfied in America with their adventure, and very few of them wish not to have made it. I must add that the Congress have nothing to do with this matter. It belongs to the legislatures of the several states.
P 26.1 “Une puissance, en effet, devoit statuer, en dernier resort, sur les relations que pouvoient suvire ou servir au sien general,” &c. The account of the settlement of the colonies, which precedes this paragraph, shows that that settlement was not made by public authority, or at the public expence of England; but by the exertions & at the expence of individuals. Hence it happened that their constitutions were not formed systematically but according to the circumstances which happened to exist in each. Hence too, the principles of the political connection between the old & new countries were never settled. That it would have been advantageous to have settled them is certain; and particularly to have provided a body which should decide in the last resort all cases wherein both parties were interested. But it is not certain that that right would have been given, or ought to have been given to the parliament; much less that it resulted to the parliament without having been given to it expressly. Why was it necessary that there should have been a body to decide in the last resort? Because, it would have been for the good of both parties. But this reason shews it ought not to have been the parliament, because that would have exercised it for the good of one party only.
Page 105. As to the change of the 8th article of Confederation for quotaing requisitions of money on the states.
By a report of the Secretary of Congress dated Jan 4, 1786, eight states had then acceded to the proposition, to wit, Massachus., Connect., N. York, N. Jersey, Pennsylva, Maryland, Virginia, & N. Carolina.
Congress, on the 18th of Apr, 1783, recommended to the states to invest them with a power, for 25 years to levy an impost of 5 per cent, on all articles imported from abroad. N Hamp. Mass. Conn. N Jer. Pensa, Delaware, Virga. N Cara. S Cara. had complied with this before the 4th of Jan, 1786. Maryland had passed an act for the same purpose; but by a mistake in referring to the date of the recommendation of Congress, the act failed of it’s effect. This was therefore to be rectified. Since the 4th of January, the public papers tell us that Rhode island has complied fully with this recommendation. It remains still for N York & Georgia to do it. The exportations of America, which are tolerably well known, are the best measure for estimating the importations. These are probably worth about 20 millions of dollars annually. Of course this impost will pay the interest of a debt to that amount. If confined to the foreign debt, it will pay the whole interest of that, and sink half a million of the capital, annually. The expenses of collecting this impost will probably be 6. per cent on it’s amount, this being the usual expense of collection in the U S. This will be 60.000 dollars.
On the 30th of April 1784 Congress recommended to the states to invest them with a power for 15 years to exclude from their ports the vessels of all nations not having a treaty of commerce with them; and to pass as to all nations an act on the principles of the British navigation act. Not that they were disposed to carry these powers into execution with such as would meet them in fair and equal arrangements of commerce; but that they might be able to do it against those who should not. On the 4th of Jan, 1786, N Hamp. Mass. Rho. isld. Connect. N York, Pensa. Maryld. Virga. & N. Carola had done it. It remained for N Jers, Delaware, S Carola, & Georgia to do the same.
In the meantime the general idea has advanced before the demands of Congress, and several states have passed acts for vesting Congress with the whole regulation of their commerce, reserving the revenue arising from these regulations to the disposal of the state in which it is levied. The states which, according to the public papers have passed such acts, are N. Hamp. Mass. Rho. isld. N Jers. Del. and Virga: but, the assembly of Virga, apprehensive that this disjointed method of proceeding may fail in it’s effect, or be much retarded, passed a resolution on the 21st of Jan. 1786, appointing commissioners to meet others from the other states whom they invite into the same measure, to digest the form of an act for investing Congress with such powers over their commerce as shall be thought expedient, which act is to be reported to their several assemblies for their adoption. This was the state of the several propositions relative to the impost, & regulation of commerce at the date of our latest advices from America.
Pa 125. The General assembly of Virginia, at their session in 1785, have passed an act declaring that the District, called Kentucky shall be a separate & independent state, on these conditions. 1. That the people of that district shall consent to it. 2. That Congress shall consent to it & shall receive them into the federal union. 3. That they shall take on themselves a proportionable part of the public debt of Virginia. 4. That they shall confirm all titles to lands within their district made by the state of Virginia, before their separation.
Page 131. “Et sur six assemblées à peine trouvet-on” &c. Jusques à’elles feront un meilleur choix. Page 132. I think it will be better to omit the whole of this passage for reasons which shall be explained in conversation.
Page 139. It was in 1783, & not in 1781, that Congress quitted Philadelphia.
Page 140. “Le Congres qui se trouvoit à la portée des rebelles fut effrayé.” I was not present on this occasion, but I have had relations of the transaction from several who were. The conduct of Congress was marked with indignation & firmness. They received no propositions from the mutineers. They came to the resolutions which may be seen in the journals of June 21, 1783, then adjourned regularly and went through the body of the mutineers to their respective lodgings. The measures taken by Dickinson, the president of Pennsylvania, for punishing this insult, not being satisfactory to Congress, they assembled 9. days after at Princeton in Jersey. The people of Pennsylvania sent petitions declaring their indignation at what had past, their devotion to the federal head, and their dispositions to protect it, & praying them to return; the legislature, as soon as assembled, did the same thing; the Executive whose irresolution had been so exceptionable made apologies. But Congress were now removed; and to the opinion that this example was proper, other causes were now added sufficient to prevent their return to Philadelphia.
Pa. 153. l. 8. ‘400,000 millions,’ should be, ‘400, millions.’
Pa 154. l. 3. From the bottom omettez ‘plus de,’ and l. 2. c’est a dire plus d’un milliard.’
Pa 155. l. 2. Omit “la dette actuelle, &c.
And also, “Les details de cette espece,” &c., &c., &c., to the end of the paragraph “celle des Etats Unis,” page 156. The reason is that these passages seem to suppose that the several sums emitted by Congress at different times, amounted nominally to 200 millions of dollars, had been actually worth that at the time of emission, & of course, that the souldiers & others had received that sum from Congress. But nothing is further from the truth. The souldier, victualler or other persons who received 40 dollars for a service at the close of the year 1779, received in fact no more than he who received one dollar for the same service in the year 1775 or 1776; because in those years the paper money was at par with silver; whereas by the close of 1779 forty paper dollars were worth but one of silver, & would buy no more of the necessaries of life. To know what the monies emitted by Congress were worth to the people at the time they received them, we will state the date & amount of every several emission, the depreciation of paper money at the time, and the real worth of the emission in silver or gold. [See page 41.]
Thus it appears that the 200 millions of Dollars emitted by Congress were worth to those who received them but about 36 millions of silver dollars. If we estimate at the same value the like sum of 200 millions, supposed to have been emitted by the states, and state the Federal debt, foreign & domestic,
at about 43 millions, and the state debts, at about 25 millions, it will form an amount of 140. millions of Dollars, or 735 millions of livres Tournois, the total sum which the war has cost the inhabitants of the U. S. It continued 8. years from the battle of Lexington to the cessation of hostilities in America. The annual expense then was about 17,500,000 Dollars, while that of our enemies was a greater number of guineas.
It will be asked How will the two masses of Continental & of State money have cost the people of the U. S. 72 millions of dollars, when they are to be redeemed now with about six millions? I answer that the difference, being 66. millions has been lost on the paper bills separately by the successive holders of them. Every one, thro whose hands a bill passed, lost on that bill what it lost in value, during the time it was in his hands. This was a real tax on him; & in this way the people of the United States actually contributed those 66 millions of dollars during the war, and by a mode of taxation the most oppressive of all, because the most unequal of all.
Pa. 157. l. 2. from bottom, ‘cinquantieme,’ this should be ‘dixieme.’
Pa. 158. l. 8. Elles ont fait des reductions,’ they have not reduced the debt, but instead of expressing it in paper money, as formerly, they express it by the equivalent sum in silver or gold, being the true sum it has cost the present creditor, and what therefore they are bound in justice to pay him. For the same reason strike out the words ‘ainsi reduites’ second line from the bottom.
Pa. 161. l. 8. ‘Point de remboursements en 1784,’ except the interest.
Pa 166, bottom line. “Et c’est une autre economie,” &c. The reason of this is that in 1784, purchases of land were to be made of the Indians which were accordingly made. But in 1785. they did not propose to make any purchase. The money desired in 1785, 5000 dollars was probably to pay agents residing among the Indians, or balances of the purchase of 1784. These purchases will not be made every year; but only at distant intervals as our settlements are extended; and it may be taken for a certainty that not a foot of land will ever be taken from the Indians without their own consent. The sacredness of their right, is felt by all thinking persons in America as much as in Europe.
Pa 170. Virginia was quotaed the highest of any state in the Union. But during the war, several states appear to have paid more, because they were free from the enemy, whilst Virginia was cruelly ravaged. The requisition of 1784, was so quotaed on the several states, as to bring up their arrearages so that when they should have paid the sums then demanded all would be on equal footing. It is necessary to give a further explanation of this requisition. The requisitions of 1.200,000 Dollars, of 8. millions & 2 millions had been made during the war as an experiment to see whether in that situation the states could furnish the necessary supplies. It was found they could not. The money was thereupon obtained by loans in Europe; & Congress meant by their requisition of 1784, to abandon the requisitions of 1.200.000 & of 2. millions, and also one half of the 8. millions. But as all the states almost had made some paiments in part of that requisition, they were obliged to retain such a proportion of it, as would enable them to call for equal contributions from all the others.
Pa 170. I cannot say how it has happened that the debt of Connecticut is greater than that of Virginia. The latter is the richest in productions, and perhaps made greater exertions to pay for her supplies in the course of the war.
172. “Les Americains si vantés apres une banqueroute, &c. The objections made to the U. S. being here condensed together in a short compass, perhaps it would not be improper to condense the answers in as small a compass, in some such form as follows. That is, after the words “aucun espoir,” add, “but to these charges it may be justly answered that those are no bankrupts who acknoledge the sacredness of their debts in their just & real amount, who are able within a reasonable time to pay them, & who are actually proceeding in that paiment; that they furnish actually the supplies necessary for the support of their government; that their officers & souldiers are satisfied, as the interest of their debt is paid regularly, and the principals are in a course of paiment; that the question whether they fought ill, should be asked of those who met them at Bunker’s hill, Bennington, Stillwater, King’s mountain, the Cowpens, Guilford and the Eutaw. And that the charges of ingratitude, madness, infidelity, and corruption are easily made by those to whom falsehoods cost nothing; but that no instances in support of them have been produced or can be produced.”
Pa 187. “Les officiérs et les soldats ont eté payés” &c. The balances due to the officers & souldiers have been ascertained, & a certificate of the sum given to each; on these the interest is regularly paid; and every occasion is seized of paying the principals by receiving these certificates as money, whenever public property is sold, till a more regular & effectual method can be taken, for paying the whole.
Pa 191. “Quoique la loi dont nous parlons, ne s’observe plus en Angleterre.” Blackstone B. 1. c. 10. pa. 372. “An alien born may purchase lands or other estates; but not for his own use; for the king is thereupon entitled to them.” “Yet an alien may acquire a property in goods, money & other personal estate, or may hire a house for his habitation for this is necessary for the advancement of trade.”—“Also an alien may bring an action concerning personal property, & may make a will & dispose of his personal estate.” “When I mention these rights of an alien, I must be understood of alien friends only, or such whose countries are in peace with ours; for alien enemies have no rights, no privileges, unless by the king’s special favour, during the time of war.” “An alien friend may have personal actions, but not real; an alien enemy shall have neither real, personal, or mixt actions. The reason why an alien friend is allowed to maintain a personal action is, because he would otherwise be incapacitated to merchandise, which may be as much to our prejudice as his.” Cunningham’s law dict. voce, aliens. The above is the clear law of England, practiced from the earliest ages to this day, & never denied. The passage quoted by M. de Meusnier from 2 Blackstone, ch. 26, is from his chapter “of title to things personal by occupancy.” The word “personal,” shews that nothing in this chapter relates to lands, which are real estate, and therefore this passage does not contradict the one before quoted from the same author B. 1 c. 10 which sais that the lands of an alien belong to the king. The words “of title by occupancy” shew that it does not relate to debts, which being a moral existence only, cannot be the subject of occupancy. Blackstone in this passage B. 2. c. 26. speaks only of personal goods of an alien which another may find and seize as prime occupant.
Pa 193. “Le remboursement presentera des difficultés des sommes considerables” &c. There is no difficulty nor doubt on this subject. Every one is sensible how this is to be ultimately settled. Neither the British creditor, nor the state will be permitted to lose by these paiments. The debtor will be credited with what he paid according to what it was really worth at the time he paid it, and he must pay the balance. Nor does he lose by this: for if a man, who owed 1000 dollars to a British merchant, paid 800 paper dollars into the treasury when the depreciation was at 8 for 1. it is clear he paid but 100 real dollars, & must now pay 900. It is probable he received those 800 dollars for 100 bushels of wheat, which were never worth more than 100 silver dollars. He is credited therefore the full worth of his wheat. The equivoque is in the use of the word “dollar.”
Pa. 223. l. 6. ‘Le comité charge de cette revision a publée son travail.’ Rather say ‘the committee charged with this work reported it in the year 1779 to the assembly, who ordered it to be printed for consideration in the year 1781—and who in their session of 1785–6: passed between 30. & 40. of the bills, meaning to resume it at their successive sessions till they shall have gone thro’ the whole.’
Pa 225. ‘Mais elle y acté insereé depuis.’ Rather say ‘but they prepared an amendment with an intention of having it proposed at the time the bill should be under discussion before the assembly. Selon cette amendment les enfans des esclaves demeurevoient’ &c.
Page 226. l. 11. “Qu’on abolisse les privileges du clergé.” This privilege originally allowed to the clergy, is now extended to every man, & even to women. It is a right of exemption from capital punishment for the first offence in most cases. It is then a pardon by the law. In other cases the Executive gives the pardon. But when laws are made as mild as they should be, both those pardons are absurd. The principle of Beccaria is sound. Let the legislators be merciful but the executors of the law inexorable. As the term “privileges du clergé” may be understood by foreigners, perhaps, it will be better to strike it out here, & to substitute the word “pardon.”
Pa. 238. ‘Plongés dans la mer. . .’ The English word ‘ducked’ means to ‘plunge the party into water’ no matter whether of the sea, a river, or pond.
Pa 239. “Les commissaries veulent &c. Manslaughter is the killing a man with design, but in a sudden gust of passion, and where the killer has not had time to cool. The first offence is not punished capitally, but the second is. This is the law of England & of all the American states; & is not a new proposition. Those laws have supposed that a man whose passions have so much dominion over him as to lead him to repeated acts of murder, is unsafe to society: that it is better he should be put to death by the law, than others more innocent than himself on the movements of his impetuous passions.
Ib. l. 12. “Mal-aisé d’ indiquer la nuance precise &c. In forming a scale of crimes & punishments, two considerations have principal weight. 1. The atrocity of the crime. 2. The peculiar circumstances of a country which furnish greater temptations to commit it, or greater facilities for escaping detection. The punishment must be heavier to counterbalance this. Was the first the only consideration, all nations would form the same scale. But as the circumstances of a country have influence on the punishment, and no two countries exist precisely under the same circumstances, no two countries will form the same scale of crimes & punishments. For example in America, the inhabitants let their horses go at large in the uninclosed lands which are so extensive as to maintain them altogether. It is easy therefore to steal them & easy to escape. Therefore the laws are obliged to oppose these temptations with a heavier degree of punishment. For this reason the stealing of a horse in America is punished more severely than stealing the same value in any other form. In Europe where horses are confined so securely that it is impossible to steal them, that species of theft need not be punished more severely than any other. In some countries of Europe, stealing fruit from trees is punished capitally. The reason is that it being impossible to lock fruit trees up in coffers, as we do our money, it is impossible to oppose physical bars to this species of theft. Moral ones are therefore opposed by the laws. This to an unreflecting American, appears the most enormous of all the abuses of power; because he has been used to see fruits hanging in such quantities that if not taken by men they would rot: he has been used to consider it therefore of no value, as not furnishing materials for the commission of a crime. This must serve as an apology for the arrangements of crimes & punishments in the scale under our consideration. A different one would be formed here; & still different ones in Italy, Turkey, China, &c.
Pa. 240. “Les officiers Americains &c. to pa 264. “qui le meritoient.” I would propose to new-model this Section in the following manner. 1. Give a succinct history of the origin & establishment of the Cincinnati. 2. Examine whether in its present form it threatens any dangers to the state. 3. Propose the most practicable method of preventing them.
Having been in America during the period in which this institution was formed, and being then in a situation which gave me opportunities of seeing it in all it’s stages, I may venture to give M. de Meusnier materials for the 1st branch of the preceding distribution of the subject. The 2d and 3d he will best execute himself. I should write it’s history in the following form.
When, on the close of that war which established the independance of America, it’s army was about to be disbanded, the officers, who during the course of it had gone thro the most trying scenes together, who by mutual aids & good offices had become dear to one another, felt with great oppression of mind the approach of that moment which was to separate them never perhaps to meet again. They were from different states & from distant parts of the same state. Hazard alone could therefore give them but rare & partial occasions of seeing each other. They were of course to abandon altogether the hope of ever meeting again, or to devise some occasion which might bring them together. And why not come together on purpose at stated times? Would not the trouble of such a journey be greatly over-paid by the pleasure of seeing each other again, by the sweetest of all consolations, the talking over the scenes of difficulty & of endearment they had gone through? This too would enable them to know who of them should succeed in the world, who should be unsuccessful, and to open the purses of all to every labouring brother. This idea was too soothing not to be cherished in conversation. It was improved into that of a regular association with an organized administration, with periodical meetings general & particular, fixed contributions for those who should be in distress, & a badge by which not only those who had not had occasion to become personally known should be able to recognize one another, but which should be worn by their descendants to perpetuate among them the friendships which had bound their ancestors together. Genl. Washington was at that moment oppressed with the operation of disbanding an army which was not paid, and the difficulty of this operation was increased by some two or three of the states having expressed sentiments which did not indicate a sufficient attention to their paiment. He was sometimes present when his officers were fashioning in their conversations their newly proposed society. He saw the innocence of it’s origin, & foresaw no effects less innocent. He was at that time writing his valedictory letter to the states, which has been so deservedly applauded by the world. Far from thinking it a moment to multiply the causes of irritation, by thwarting a proposition which had absolutely no other basis but of benevolence & friendship, he was rather satisfied to find himself aided in his difficulties by this new incident, which occupied, &, at the time soothed the minds of the officers. He thought too that this institution would be one instrument the more for strengthening the federal bond, & for promoting federal ideas. The institution was formed. They incorporated into it the officers of the French army & navy by whose sides they had fought, and with whose aid they had finally prevailed, extending it to such grades as they were told might be permitted to enter into it. They sent an officer to France to make the proposition to them & to procure the badges which they had devised for their order. The moment of disbanding the army having come on before they could have a full meeting to appoint their president, the General was prayed to act in that office till their first general meeting which was to be held at Philadelphia in the month of May following. The laws of the society were published. Men who read them in their closets, unwarmed by those sentiments of friendship which had produced them, inattentive to those pains which an approaching separation had excited in the minds of the institutors, Politicians, who see in everything only the dangers with which it threatens civil society, in fine the labouring people, who, shielded by equal laws, had never seen any difference between man and man, but had read of terrible oppressions which people of their description experience in other countries from those who are distinguished by titles & badges, began to be alarmed at this new institution. A remarkable silence however was observed. Their sollicitudes were long confined within the circles of private conversation. At length however a Mr. Burke, chief justice of South Carolina, broke that silence. He wrote against the new institution; foreboding it’s dangers very imperfectly indeed, because he had nothing but his imagination to aid him. An American could do no more: for to detail the real evils of aristocracy they must be seen in Europe. Burke’s fears were thought exaggerations in America; while in Europe it is known that even Mirabeau has but faintly sketched the curses of hereditary aristocracy as they are experienced here, and as they would have followed in America had this institution remained. The epigraph of Burke’s pamphlet was “Blow ye the trumpet in Zion.” It’s effect corresponded with it’s epigraph. This institution became first the subject of general conversation. Next it was made the subject of deliberation in the legislative assemblies of some of the States. The governor of South Carolina censured it in an address to his Assembly. The assemblies of Massachusetts, Rhode island and Pennsylvania condemned it’s principles. No circumstance indeed brought the consideration of it expressly before Congress, yet it had sunk deep into their minds. An offer having been made to them on the part of the Polish order of divine providence to receive some of their distinguished citizens into that order, they made that an occasion to declare that these distinctions were contrary to the principles of their confederation. The uneasiness excited by this institution had very early caught the notice of General Washington. Still recollecting all the purity of the motives which gave it birth, he became sensible that it might produce political evils which the warmth of these motives had masked. Add to this that it was disapproved by the mass of citizens of the Union. This alone was reason strong enough in a country where the will of the majority is the law, & ought to be the law. He saw that the objects of the institution were too light to be opposed to considerations as serious as these; and that it was become necessary to annihilate it absolutely. On this therefore he was decided. The first annual meeting at Philadelphia was now at hand. He went to that, determined to exert all his influence for it’s suppression. He proposed it to his fellow officers, and urged it with all his powers. It met an opposition which was observed to cloud his face with an anxiety that the most distressful scenes of the war had scarcely ever produced. It was canvassed for several days, & at length it was no more a doubt what would be it’s ultimate fate. The order was on the point of receiving it’s annihilation by the vote of a very great majority of it’s members. In this moment their envoy arrived from France, charged with letters from the French officers accepting with cordiality the proposed badges of union, with sollicitations from others to be received into the order, & with notice that their respectable sovereign had been pleased to recognize it, & permit his officers to wear it’s badges. The prospect now changed. The question assumed a new form. After the offer made by them, & accepted by their friends, in what words could they clothe a proposition to retract it which would not cover themselves with the reproaches of levity & ingratitude? which would not appear an insult to those whom they loved? Federal principles, popular discontent, were considerations whose weight was known & felt by themselves. But would foreigners know & feel them equally? Would they so far acknowledge their cogency as to permit without any indignation the eagle & ribbon to be torn from their breasts by the very hands which had placed them there? The idea revolted the whole society. They found it necessary then to preserve so much of their institution as might continue to support this foreign branch, while they should prune off every other which would give offence to their fellow citizens; thus sacrificing on each hand to their friends & to their country. The society was to retain it’s existence, it’s name, it’s meetings, & it’s charitable funds: but these last were to be deposited with their respective legislatures; the order was to be no longer hereditary; a reformation which had been pressed even from this side of the Atlantic; it was to be communicated to no new members; the general meetings instead of annual were to be triennial only. The eagle & ribbon indeed were retained; because they were worn, & they wished them to be worn, by their friends who were in a country where they would not be objects of offence; but themselves never wore them. They laid them up in their bureaus with the medals of American Independance, with those of the trophies they had taken & the battles they had won. But through all the United States no officer is seen to offend the public eye with the display of this badge. These changes have tranquillized the American states. Their citizens do justice to the circumstances which prevented a total annihilation of the order. They feel too much interest in the reputation of their officers, and value too much whatever may serve to recall to the memory of their allies the moments wherein they formed but one people. Tho they are obliged by a prudent foresight to keep out everything from among themselves which might pretend to divide them into orders, and to degrade one description of men below another, yet they hear with pleasure that their allies whom circumstances have already placed under these distinctions, are willing to consider it as one to have aided them in the establishment of their liberties & to wear a badge which may recall to their remembrance; and it would be an extreme affliction to them if the domestic reformation which has been found necessary, if the censures of individual writers, or if any other circumstance should discourage the wearing their badge, or lessen it’s reputation.
This short but true history of the order of the Cincinnati, taken from the mouths of persons on the spot who were privy to it’s origin & progress, & who knew it’s present state, is the best apology which can be made for an institution which appeared to be, & was really, so heterogeneous to the governments in which it was erected.
It should be further considered that, in America, no other distinction between man & man had ever been known, but that of persons in office exercising powers by authority of the laws, and private individuals. Among these last the poorest labourer stood on equal ground with the wealthiest millionnaire, & generally on a more favoured one whenever their rights seem to jar. It has been seen that a shoemaker, or other artisan, removed by the voice of his country from his work bench into a chair of office, has instantly commanded all the respect and obedience which the laws ascribe to his office. But of distinction by birth or badge they had no more idea than they had of the mode of existence in the moon or planets. They had heard only that there were such, & knew that they must be wrong. A due horror of the evils which flow from these distinctions could be excited in Europe only, where the dignity of man is lost in arbitrary distinctions, where the human species is classed into several stages of degradation, where the many are crushed under the weight of the few, & where the order established can present to the contemplation of a thinking being no other picture than that of God almighty & his angels trampling under foot the hosts of the damned. No wonder then that the institution of the Cincinnati should be innocently conceived by one order of American citizens, could raise in the other orders only a slow, temperate, & rational opposition, and could be viewed in Europe as a detestable parricide
The 2d & 3d branches of this subject, no body can better execute than M. de. Meusnier. Perhaps it may be curious to him to see how they strike an American mind at present. He shall therefore have the ideas of one who was an enemy to the institution from the first moment of it’s conception, but who was always sensible that the officers neither foresaw, nor intended the injury they were doing to their country.
As to the question then, whether any evil can proceed from the institution as it stands at present, I am of opinion there may. 1. From the meetings. These will keep the officers formed into a body; will continue a distinction between the civil & military which it would be for the good of the whole to obliterate as soon as possible; & the military assemblies will not only keep alive the jealousies & the fears of the civil government, but give ground for these fears & jealousies. For when men meet together, they will make business if they have none; they will collate their grievances, some real, some imaginary, all highly painted; they will communicate to each other the sparks of discontent; & this may engender a flame which will consume their particular, as well as the general, happiness. 2. The charitable part of the institution is still more likely to do mischief, as it perpetuates the dangers apprehended in the preceding clause. For here is a fund provided of permanent existence. To whom will it belong? To the descendants of American officers of a certain description. These descendants then will form a body, having sufficient interest to keep up an attention to their description, to continue meetings, & perhaps, in some moment, when the political eye shall be slumbering, or the firmness of their fellow-citizens realized, to replace the insignia of the order & revive all its pretensions. What good can the officers propose which may weigh against these possible evils? The securing their descendants against want? Why afraid to trust them to the same fertile soil, & the same genial climate which will secure from want the descendants of their other fellow citizens? Are they afraid they will be reduced to labour the earth for their sustenance? They will be rendered thereby both honester and happier. An industrious farmer occupies a more dignified place in the scale of beings, whether moral or political, than a lazy lounger, valuing himself on his family, too proud to work, & drawing out a miserable existence by eating on that surplus of other men’s labour which is the sacred fund of the helpless poor. A pitiful annuity will only prevent them from exerting that industry & those talents which would soon lead them to better fortune.
How are these evils to be prevented? 1. At their first general meeting let them distribute the funds on hand to the existing objects of their destination, & discontinue all further contributions. 2. Let them declare at the same time that their meetings general & particular shall henceforth cease. 3. Let them melt up their eagles & add the mass to the distributable fund that their descendants may have no temptation to hang them in their button holes.
These reflections are not proposed as worthy the notice of M. de Meusnier. He will be so good as to treat the subject in his own way, & no body has a better. I will only pray him to avail us of his forcible manner to evince that there is evil to be apprehended even from the ashes of this institution, & to exhort the society in America to make their reformation complete; bearing in mind that we must keep the passions of men on our side even when we are persuading them to do what they ought to do.
Pa. 268. “Et en effet la population” &c. 270. “Plus de confiance.”
To this we answer that no such census of the numbers was ever given out by Congress nor ever presented to them: and further that Congress never has at any time declared by their vote the number of inhabitants in their respective states. On the 22d of June 1775 they first resolved to remit paper money. The sum resolved on was 2. millions of dollars. They declared then that the 12 confederate colonies (for Georgia had not yet joined them) should be pledged for the redemption of these bills. To ascertain in what proportion each state should be bound, the members from each were desired to say as nearly as they could what was the number of the inhabitants of their respective states. They were very much unprepared for such a declaration. They guessed however as well as they could. The following are the numbers, as they conjectured them, & the subsequent apportionment of the 2. millions of dollars.
Georgia having not yet acceded to the measures of the other states, was not quotaed; but their numbers were generally estimated at about 30,000 & so would have made the whole 2,448,000 persons of every condition. But it is to be observed that tho Congress made this census the basis of their apportionment, yet they did not even give it a place on their journals; much less publish it to the world with their sanction. The way it got abroad was this. As the members declared from their seats the number of inhabitants which they conjectured to be in their state, the secretary of Congress wrote them on a piece of paper, calculated the portion of 2 millions of dollars accordingly & entered the sum only in the journals. The members however for their own satisfaction and the information of their states, took copies of this enumeration & sent them to their states. From thence they got into the public papers: and when the English newswriters found it answered their purpose to compare this with the numeration of 1783, as their principle is “to lie boldly that they may not be suspected of lying” they made it amount to 3,137,809 and ascribed it’s publication to Congress itself.
In April 1785, Congress being to call on the states to raise a million & a half of dollars annually for 25 years, it was necessary to apportion this among them. The states had never furnished them with their exact numbers. It was agreed too that in this apportionment 5 slaves should be counted as 3 freemen only. The preparation of this business was in the hands of a Committee. They applied to the members for the best information they could give them of the numbers of their states. Some of the states had taken pains to discover their numbers. Others had done nothing in that way, & of course were now where they were in 1775 when their members were first called on to declare their numbers. Under these circumstances, & on the principle of counting three-fifths only of the slaves, the Committee apportioned the money among the states & reported their work to Congress. In this they had assessed S. Carolina as having 170,000 inhabitants. The delegate for that state however prevailed on Congress to assess them on the footing of 150,000 only, in consideration of the state of total devastation in which the enemy had left their country. The difference was then laid on the other states, and the following was the result.
Still however Congress refused to give the numeration the sanction of a place on their journals, because it was not formed on such evidence as a strict attention to accuracy & truth required. They used it from necessity, because they could get no better rule, and they entered on their journals only the apportionment of money. The members, however, as before, took copies of the numeration which was the groundwork of the apportionment, sent them to their states, & thus this second numeration got into the public papers, & was by the English ascribed to Congress, as their declaration of the present numbers. To get at the real numbers which this numeration supposes, we must add 20.000 to the number on which S. Carolina was quotæed; we must consider that 700.000 slaves are counted but as 420.000 persons, & add on that account 280.000. This will give us a total of 2.639.300 inhabitants of every condition in the 13 states, being 221.300 more than the numeration of 1775, instead of 798.509 loss, which the English papers asserted to be the diminution of numbers in the United States according to the confession of Congress itself.
Pa. 272. “Comportera peut etre une population de thirty millions.”
The territories of the United States contain about a million of square miles, English. There is in them a greater proportion of fertile lands than in the British dominions in Europe. Suppose the territory of the U. S. then to attain an equal degree of population with the British European dominions, they will have an hundred millions of inhabitants. Let us extend our views to what may be the population of the two continents of North & South America supposing them divided at the narrowest part of the isthmus of Panama. Between this line and that of 50° of north latitude the northern continent contains about 5 millions of square miles, and South of this line of division the Southern continent contains about 7 millions of square miles. I do not pass the 50th degree of northern latitude in my reckoning, because we must draw a line somewhere, & considering the soil & climate beyond that, I would only avail my calculation of it, as a make weight, to make good what the colder regions within that line may be supposed to fall short in their future population. Here are 12 millions of square miles then, which at the rate of population before assumed, will nourish 1200 millions of inhabitants, a number greater than the present population of the whole globe is supposed to amount to. If those who propose medals for the resolution of questions, about which nobody makes any question, those who have invited discussions on the pretended problem Whether the discovery of America was for the good of mankind? if they, I say, would have viewed it only as doubling the numbers of mankind, & of course the quantum of existence & happiness, they might have saved the money & the reputation which their proposition has cost them. The present population of the inhabited parts of the U. S. is of about 10. to the square mile; & experience has shown us, that wherever we reach that the inhabitants become uneasy, as too much compressed, and go off in great numbers to search for vacant country. Within 40 years the whole territory will be peopled at that rate. We may fix that then as the term beyond which the people of those states will not be restrained within their present limits; we may fix it too as the term of population, which they will not exceed till the whole of those two continents are filled up to that mark, that is to say, till they shall contain 120 millions of inhabitants. The soil of the country on the western side of the Mississippi, it’s climate, & it’s vicinity to the U. S. point it out as the first which will receive population from that nest. The present occupiers will just have force enough to repress & restrain the emigrations to a certain degree of consistence. We have seen lately a single person go & decide on a settlement in Kentucky, many hundred miles from any white inhabitant, remove thither with his family and a few neighbors, & though perpetually harassed by the Indians, that settlement in the course of 10 years has acquired 30.000 inhabitants, it’s numbers are increasing while we are writing, and the state of which it formerly made a part has offered it independance.
Pa. 280. line five. “Huit des onze etats” &c. Say “there were ten states present. 6. voted unanimously for it, 3 against it, and one was divided: and seven votes being requisite to decide the proposition affirmatively, it was lost. The voice of a single individual of the state which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, & heaven was silent in that awful moment! But it is to be hoped it will not always be silent & that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail. On the 16th of March 1785 it was moved in Congress that the same proposition should be referred to a Committee, & it was referred by the votes of 8 states against 3. We do not hear that anything further is yet done on it.”
Pa. 280. Note (a). I would wish this note to be omitted.
Pa. 281. “L’ acte federatif lui donne le droit de prononcer sur tout ce qui a rapport, au bien general de l’union, & line 6 the word ’ainsi.” It is better to omit these words, the passage stands right without them, & they would give a false idea not only of the principle on which Congress proceeded, but of their general powers.
Pa. 283. line 4. from bottom. “8 per cent, excepté en Virginie ou il etoit de 6 per cent” say “5 per cent in most, if not in all the states & still continues the same.”
Pa. 286. “L’autorité du Congrés etoit necessaire.” The substance of the passage alluded to in the Journ of Congr., May 26th. 1784, is, “that the authority of Congress to make requisitions of troops during peace is questioned, that such an authority would be dangerous, combined with the acknoledged one of emitting or borrowing money, and that a few troops only being wanted to guard magazines & garrison the frontier posts, it would be more proper at present to recommend than to require.”
Pa. 287. ‘Nous n’osons nous permettre &c.—ce n’est pas tout’ in the fourth line of the next page. I think all this passage had better be left out. It will alarm the states & damp their dispositions to strengthen the hands of Congress.
Pa. 291. l. 8. from the bottom. ‘Tous les terreins qui se trouvent en deca.’ Say ‘toute la territoire de Kentucky qui est en deca.’
Pa. 291. l. 6 from bottom. After ‘appartenoient’ add ‘au celle des Montagnes Alleghanies.’
Pa. 296. ‘Consentement unanimé,’ the words in the original are the ‘joint consent of Congress & of the particular state’ on the part of Congress the vote need not be unanimous. Seven states will suffice. This observation shews that the passage ‘on sera peutetre surpris’—to ‘dont nous parlous’ should be omitted.
Pa. 301. ‘Environ’ the word ‘probablement’ might be better, because it is probable that the cessions of Georgia will be such as will make up the number of new states 16.
Pa. 301, l. 3 from bottom. ‘Huit ou dix ans.’ It would be safer to say ‘peu d’années.
Pa, 302. ‘40.000’ should not this be ‘32.000’? Also pa. 304.
Pa. 304. ‘Canne à sucre’ is a mistaken translation of the English word ‘cane,’ which means a reed i.e. canne, ou roseau. It is the Arundo phragmitis of the botanists. By ‘Coffee tree’ the author must mean some tree bearing berries which are used as coffee. There can certainly be no coffee tree in that latitude.
Pa. 307. Omit the note (a). It has been before observed that Virginia has consented to the independance of Kentucky, but the consent of Kentucky itself & of Congress are still wanting.
Pa. 323. Between line 7. & 8. I can make a communication to M. de Meusnier which I dare say he will be glad to give an account of at this place.
Pa. 334. ‘150.000.’ I am of opinion that the proportion of persons to warriors among the Indians may be greatly estimated at about 10 to 3. Consequently we must not reckon that nations of Indians containing 25.000 warriors have more than about 80.000 persons.
Pa. 334. line 2. from bottom. ‘11 degrees,’ say 12 or 15 degrees.’
Finished June 22. 1786.
Mr. Jefferson presents his compliments to M. de Meusnier & sends him copies of the 13th, 23d, & 24th articles of the treaty between the K. of Prussia & the United States.
In the negociation with the Minister of Portugal at London, the latter objected to the 13th article. The observations which were made in answer to his objections Mr. Jefferson incloses. They are a commentary on the 13th article. Mr. de Meusnier will be so good as to return the sheet on which these observations are as Mr. Jefferson does not retain a copy of it.
If M. de Meusnier proposes to mention the facts of cruelty of which he & Mr. Jefferson spoke yesterday, the 24th article will introduce them properly, because they produced a sense of the necessity of that article. These facts are 1. The death of upwards of 11,000 Americans in one prison ship (the Jersey) and in the space of 3. years. 2. General Howe’s permitting our prisoners taken at the battle of Germantown and placed under a guard in the yard of the Statehouse of Philadelphia to be so long without any food furnished them that many perished with hunger. Where the bodies laid, it was seen that they had eaten all the grass round them within their reach, after they had lost the power of rising, or moving from their place. 3. The 2d fact was the act of a commandg officer; the 1st of several commanding officers, & for so long a time as must suppose the approbation of government. But the following was the act of government itself. During the periods that our affairs seemed unfavourable & theirs successful, that is to say, after the evacuation of New York, and again after the taking of Charlestown in South Carolina, they regularly sent our prisoners taken on the seas & carried to England to the E. Indies. This is so certain, that in the month of Novemb. or Decemb. 1785, Mr. Adams having officially demanded a delivery of the American prisoners sent to the East Indies, Ld. Cærmarthen answered officially “that orders were issued immediately for their discharge.” M. de Meusnier is at liberty to quote this fact. 4. A fact not only of the government, but of the parliament, who passed an act for that purpose in the beginning of the war, was the obliging our prisoners taken at sea to join them and fight against their countrymen. This they effected by starving & whipping them. The insult on Capt. Stanhope, which happened at Boston last year, was a consequence of this. Two persons, Dunbar & Lorthrope, whom Stanhope had treated in this manner (having particularly inflicted 24 lashes on Dunbar), meeting him at Boston, attempted to beat him. But the people interposed & saved him. The fact is referred to in that paragraph of the declaration of independence which sais “he has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends & brethern, or to fall themselves by their hands.” This was the most afflicting to our prisoners of all the cruelties exercised on them. The others affected the body only, but this the mind—they were haunted by the horror of having perhaps themselves shot the ball by which a father or a brother fell. Some of them had constancy enough to hold out against half allowance of food & repeated whippings. These were generally sent to England & from thence to the East Indies. One of these escaped from the East Indies and got back to Paris, where he gave an account of his sufferings to Mr. Adams, who happened to be then at Paris.
M. de Meusnier, where he mentions that the slave-law has been passed in Virginia, without the clause of emancipation, is pleased to mention that neither Mr. Wythe nor Mr. Jefferson were present to make the proposition they had meditated; from which people, who do not give themselves the trouble to reflect or enquire, might conclude hastily that their absence was the cause why the proposition was not made; & of course that there were not in the assembly persons of virtue & firmness enough to propose the clause for emancipation. This supposition would not be true. There were persons there who wanted neither the virtue to propose, nor talents to enforce the proposition had they seen that the disposition of the legislature was ripe for it. These worthy characters would feel themselves wounded, degraded, & discouraged by this idea. Mr. Jefferson would therefore be obliged to M. de Meusnier to mention it in some such manner as this. “Of the two commissioners who had concerted the amendatory clause for the gradual emancipation of slaves Mr. Wythe could not be present as being a member of the judiciary department, and Mr. Jefferson was absent on the legation to France. But there wanted not in that assembly men of virtue enough to propose, & talents to vindicate this clause. But they saw that the moment of doing it with success was not yet arrived, and that an unsuccessful effort, as often happens, would only rivet still closer the claims of bondage, and retard the moment of delivery to this oppressed description of men. What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment & death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment be deaf to all those motives whose power supported him thro’ his trial, and inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose. But we must await with patience the workings of an overruling providence, & hope that that is preparing the deliverance of these, our suffering brethren. When the measure of their tears shall be full, when their groans shall have involved heaven itself in darkness, doubtless a god of justice will awaken to their distress, and by diffusing light & liberality among their oppressors, or at length by his exterminating thunder, manifest his attention to the things of this world, and that they are not left to the guidance of a blind fatality.”
[1 ]In preparing an article for the Encyclopédie Politique, M. Meusnier applied to Jefferson for information (cf. ante p. 3). On the proofs of that article, Jefferson prepared the above notes. This article was separately printed, and for Jefferson’s comments upon it, see his letters of August 25 and 27, 1786, post.
[1 ]A note is omitted here, because the press copy is so faded that it is impossible to make it out. It refers to page 18.