Front Page Titles (by Subject) CORRESPONDENCE AND MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS 1789 - The Works, vol. 6 (Correspondence 1789-1792)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CORRESPONDENCE AND MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS 1789 - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 6 (Correspondence 1789-1792) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 6.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
CORRESPONDENCE AND MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS
TO JAMES MADISON
Paris September 6, 1789.
—I sit down to write to you without knowing by what occasion I shall send my letter. I do it because a subject comes into my head which I would wish to develope a little more than is practicable in the hurry of the moment of making up general despatches.
The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, “that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;” that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by any individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of its lands in severalty, it will be taken by the first occupants. These will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to his creditor. But the child, the legatee or creditor takes it, not by any natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject. Then no man can by natural right oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be reverse of our principle. What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of individuals. To keep our ideas clear when applying them to a multitude, let us suppose a whole generation of men to be born on the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age all together. Let the ripe age be supposed of 21. years, and their period of life 34. years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons who have already attained 21. years of age. Each successive generation would, in this way, come on and go off the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now. Then I say the earth belongs to each of these generations during it’s course, fully, and in their own right. The 2d. generation receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the 1st., the 3d. of the 2d. and so on. For if the 1st. could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not the living generation. Then no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of it’s own existence. At 21. years of age they may bind themselves and their lands for 34. years to come: at 22. for 33: at 23 for 32. and at 54 for one year only; because these are the terms of life which remain to them at those respective epochs. But a material difference must be noted between the succession of an individual and that of a whole generation. Individuals are parts only of a society, subject to the laws of a whole. These laws may appropriate the portion of land occupied by a decedent to his creditor rather than to any other, or to his child, on condition he satisfies his creditor. But when a whole generation, that is, the whole society dies, as in the case we have supposed, and another generation or society succeeds, this forms a whole, and there is no superior who can give their territory to a third society, who may have lent money to their predecessors beyond their faculty of paying.
What is true of a generation all arriving to self-government on the same day, and dying all on the same day, is true of those on a constant course of decay and renewal, with this only difference. A generation coming in and going out entire, as in the first case, would have a right in the 1st year of their self dominion to contract a debt for 33. years, in the 10th. for 24. in the 20th. for 14. in the 30th. for 4. whereas generations changing daily, by daily deaths and births, have one constant term beginning at the date of their contract, and ending when a majority of those of full age at that date shall be dead. The length of that term may be estimated from the tables of mortality, corrected by the circumstances of climate, occupation &c. peculiar to the country of the contractors. Take, for instance, the table of M. de Buffon wherein he states 23,994 deaths, and the ages at which they happened. Suppose a society in which 23,994 persons are born every year and live to the ages stated in this table. The conditions of that society will be as follows. 1st. it will consist constantly of 617,703 persons of all ages. 2dly. of those living at any one instant of time, one half will be dead in 24. years 8. months. 3dly. 10,675 will arrive every year at the age of 21. years complete. 4thly. it will constantly have 348,417 persons of all ages above 21. years. 5ly. and the half of those of 21. years and upwards living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18. years 8. months, or say 19. years as the nearest integral number. Then 19. years is the term beyond which neither the representatives of a nation, nor even the whole nation itself assembled, can validly extend a debt.
To render this conclusion palpable by example, suppose that Louis XIV. and XV. had contracted debts in the name of the French nation to the amount of 10.000 milliards of livres and that the whole had been contracted in Genoa. The interest of this sum would be 500 milliards, which is said to be the whole rent-roll, or nett proceeds of the territory of France. Must the present generation of men have retired from the territory in which nature produced them, and ceded it to the Genoese creditors? No. They have the same rights over the soil on which they were produced, as the preceding generations had. They derive these rights not from their predecessors, but from nature. They then and their soil are by nature clear of the debts of their predecessors. Again suppose Louis XV. and his contemporary generation had said to the money lenders of Genoa, give us money that we may eat, drink, and be merry in our day; and on condition you will demand no interest till the end of 19. years, you shall then forever after receive an annual interest of1 125. per cent. The money is lent on these conditions, is divided among the living, eaten, drank, and squandered. Would the present generation be obliged to apply the produce of the earth and of their labour to replace their dissipations? Not at all.
I suppose that the received opinion, that the public debts of one generation devolve on the next, has been suggested by our seeing habitually in private life that he who succeeds to lands is required to pay the debts of his ancestor or testator, without considering that this requisition is municipal only, not moral, flowing from the will of the society which has found it convenient to appropriate the lands become vacant by the death of their occupant on the condition of a paiment of his debts; but that between society and society, or generation and generation there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independant nation to another.
The interest of the national debt of France being in fact but a two thousandth part of it’s rent-roll, the paiment of it is practicable enough; and so becomes a question merely of honor or expediency. But with respect to future debts; would it not be wise and just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19. years? And that all future contracts shall be deemed void as to what shall remain unpaid at the end of 19. years from their date? This would put the lenders, and the borrowers also, on their guard. By reducing too the faculty of borrowing within its natural limits, it would bridle the spirit of war, to which too free a course has been procured by the inattention of money lenders to this law of nature, that succeeding generations are not responsible for the preceding.
On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished them, in their natural course, with those whose will gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19. years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.
It may be said that the succeeding generation exercising in fact the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to 19. years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be indeed if every form of government were so perfectly contrived that the will of the majority could always be obtained fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils. Bribery corrupts them. Personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise so as to prove to every practical man that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.
This principle that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead is of very extensive application and consequences in every country, and most especially in France. It enters into the resolution of the questions Whether the nation may change the descent of lands holden in tail? Whether they may change the appropriation of lands given antiently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity? whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue ecclesiastical and feudal? it goes to hereditary offices, authorities and jurisdictions; to hereditary orders, distinctions and appellations; to perpetual monopolies in commerce, the arts or sciences; with a long train of et ceteras: and it renders the question of reimbursement a question of generosity and not of right. In all these cases the legislature of the day could authorize such appropriations and establishments for their own time, but no longer; and the present holders, even where they or their ancestors have purchased, are in the case of bona fide purchasers of what the seller had no right to convey.
Turn this subject in your mind, my Dear Sir, and particularly as to the power of contracting debts, and develope it with that perspicuity and cogent logic which is so peculiarly yours. Your station in the councils of our country gives you an opportunity of producing it to public consideration, of forcing it into discussion. At first blush it may be rallied as a theoretical speculation; but examination will prove it to be solid and salutary. It would furnish matter for a fine preamble to our first law for appropriating the public revenue; and it will exclude, at the threshold of our new government the contagious and ruinous errors of this quarter of the globe, which have armed despots with means not sanctioned by nature for binding in chains their fellow-men. We have already given, in example one effectual check to the Dog of war, by transferring the power of letting him loose from the executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay. I should be pleased to see this second obstacle held out by us also in the first instance. No nation can make a declaration against the validity of long-contracted debts so disinterestedly as we, since we do not owe a shilling which may not be paid with ease principal and interest, within the time of our own lives. Establish the principle also in the new law to be passed for protecting copy rights and new inventions, by securing the exclusive right for 19. instead of 14. years [a line entirely faded] an instance the more of our taking reason for our guide instead of English precedents, the habit of which fetters us, with all the political herecies of a nation, equally remarkable for it’s encitement from some errors, as long slumbering under others. I write you no news, because when an occasion occurs I shall write a separate letter for that.1
TO WILLIAM CARMICHAEL
Paris Sep. 12. 1789.
—I have duly received your favor of Aug. 13. and I have written to Francesco and Giuseppe Chiappe both, to assure them of the friendly light in which our government will view the restitution of the schooner from Salem, made by the emperor. I have lately received letters & papers from America to the 25th. of July. New York and N. Hampshire had elected their senators, so that that branch of our legislature was complete. Congress had decided that the president should have no title of courtesy. The bill for the impost was past. That also for establishing an office of foreign affairs. Bills for establishing offices of war & of finance, for establishing a federal judicature, for the government of the western country, establishing a land office, for an impost on tonnage, for fixing the President’s allowance at 25.000. & the Vice-president’s at 5000. dollars a year, were so far advanced as to be near their passage. They had refused to establish a Secretary for the domestic departments. New York had passed a law appointing commissioners to agree with the state of Vermont on the conditions of its independence. None of the higher federal offices were yet filled.
With respect to the extraordinary expences which you may be under the necessity of incurring at the coronation, I am not authorized to give any advice, nor does any body, my dear Sir, need it less than yourself. I should certainly suppose that the representative of the U. S. at Madrid, was to do as the representatives of other sovereignties do, and that it would be viewed as the complement of our nation & not of it’s minister. If this be the true point of view, it proves at whose expence it should be. But my opinion would be viewed as an interested one, & therefore of no weight. In some letter which I had the honor of writing you a year & a half or two years ago (for having packed my letters I cannot name the date exactly) I took the liberty of saying what I thought would be prudent relative to the Algerine captives from that time forward. The two accompts you send me I will take with me to America, & undertake to place you at ease as to them. But I believe you cannot keep yourself too clear as to others. I will write you more fully when I shall have conferred with our government, and if you are not placed more at ease on other accounts it will not be that I have not a due sense of the necessity of it, nor that I shall be wanting in expressing that sense. I have received my leave of absence, & my baggage is already gone off. I shall follow myself in about 10. days, so as to sail about the last of the month, I am not certain whether from Havre or Lorient. Mr. Short being named Chargé des Affairs in my absence will be happy in your correspondence till I can resume it.
TO RALPH IZARD
Paris Sep. 18. 1789.
—I have received by Mr. Cutting your favor of April 3. In order to ascertain what proportion of your rice might be taken off by this country, I applied to the proper officer and obtained a statement of their importations of rice for a twelve month, and from what countries. This I inclose to you. You will observe it is between 81 and 82 thousand quintals, which I suppose to be about a fourth or fifth of your whole exportation. A part of this will always be from Piedmont, but yours may gain ground from two causes: 1st. It’s preference over that of Piedmont increases. 2dly. The consumption increases. Paris and the seaport towns are the principal places of consumption, but most of all Paris. Havre therefore is unquestionably the deposit for it, because from thence it may come up the river, or be shipped to any foreign market as conveniently as from Cowes. I wish much you had a good merchant or consignee there. There is a brother of Cutting’s there, of whom I hear good spoken, but I do not know him myself. All I know is that an honest, intelligent & active consignee there (or two of them) could do immense service to your countrymen.—When I received your letter I was too near the time of my departure to undertake to procure from Constantinople the intelligence you desired relative to that as a market for your rice. I therefore wrote to a merchant of my acquaintance at Marseilles engaged in the Levant and also in the American trade. I asked from him the prices current of Constantinople & of Marseilles for some years past. I inclose you his answer, giving only the present price at Marseilles, & the price of a particular cargo only at Constantinople. When I return here I will try through the French Ambassador at Constantinople to get more particular information, but we must get rid of the Algerines. I think this practicable by means honorable & within our power, but of this we will converse when I shall have the honor of seeing you at New York, which will be in February, if there be no particular cause for my going on there till I shall have arranged the private business which has rendered it necessary for me to visit my country.—I wish the cargo of olives spoken of in the inclosed letter, & which went to Baltimore, may have got on safe to Carolina, & that the one he is about to send may also arrive safe. This my dear friend should be the object of the Carolina patriot. After bread, I know no blessing to the poor, in this world, equal to that of oil. But there should be an annual sum steadily applied to that object: because a first and second essay may fail. The plants cost little; the transportation little. It is unremitting attention which is requisite. A common country labourer whose business it should be to prepare and pack his plants at Marseilles & to go on with them through the canal of Languedoc to Bordeaux and there stay with them till put on board a ship to Charleston, & to send at the same time great quantities of the berries to sow for stocks, would require but a moderate annual sum. He would make the journey every fall only, till you should have such a stock of plants taken in the country, as to render you sure of success. But of this too we will talk on meeting. The crisis of this country is not yet absolutely past. The unskilfulness of new administrators leaves the Capital in danger of the confusion which may attend the want of bread surrounded by a country which has just gathered in a plentiful harvest.
TO THE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Havre Sep. 30, 1789.
—No convenient ship having offered from any port of France I have engaged one from London to take me up to Cowes, and am so far on my way thither. She will land me at Norfolk, & as I do not know any service that would be rendered by my repairing immediately to New York, I propose, in order to economise time, to go directly to my own house, get through the business which calls me there, and then repair to New York where I shall be ready to reembark for Europe. But should there be any occasion for government to receive any information I can give, immediately on my arrival, I will go to New York on receiving your orders at Richmond. They may probably be there before me, as this goes by Mr. Trumbull, bound directly for New York. I inclose you herewith the proceedings of the National assembly on Saturday last, wherein you will perceive that the comittee had approved the plan of Mr. Neckar. I can add from other sure information received here, that the assembly adopted it the same evening. This plan may possibly keep their paiments alive until their new government gets into motion; tho I do not think it very certain. The public stocks lowered so exceedingly the last days of my stay at Paris, that I wrote to our bankers at Amsterdam, to desire that they retain till further orders the 30,000 guilders, or so much of it as was not yet come on. And as to what might be already coming on I recommended to Mr. Short to go & take the acceptances himself, & keep the bill in his own hands till the time of paiment. He will by that time be able to see what is best to be done with the money.
In taking leave of Monsieur de Montmorin I asked him whether their West India ports would continue open to us awhile. He said they would be immediately declared open till February; and we may be sure they will be so till the next harvest. He agreed with me that there would be two or three months provision for the whole kingdom wanting for the ensuing year. The consumption of bread for the whole kingdom is two millions of livres tournois a day. The people pay the real price of their bread everywhere except at Paris & Versailles. There the price is suffered to vary very little as to them, & government pays the difference. It has been supposed that this difference for some time past has cost a million a week. I thought the occasion favorable to propose to Monsieur de Montmorin the free admission of our salted provisions, observing to him particularly that our salted beef from the Eastern states could be dealt out to the people of Paris for 5. or 6. sols the pound, which is but half the common price they pay for fresh beef: that the Parisian paying less for his meat, might pay more for his bread, & so relieve government from it’s enormous loss on that article. His idea of this resource seemed unfavorable. We talked over the objections of the supposed unhealthiness of that food, it’s tendency to produce scurvy, the chance of its taking with a people habituated to fresh meat, their comparative qualities of rendering vegetables eatable, & the interests of the gabelles. He concluded with saying the experiment might be tried, & with desiring me to speak with Mr. Neckar. I went to Mr. Neckar, & he was gone to the National assembly. On my return to Paris therefore I wrote to him on the subject, going over the objections which Monsieur de Montmorin had started. Mr. Short was to carry the letter himself & to pursue the subject. Having observed that our commerce to Havre is considerably on the increase, & that most of our vessels coming there, & especially those from the Eastward are obliged to make a voyage round to the neighborhood of the Loire & Garonne for salt, a voyage attended with expense, delay, & more risk, I have obtained from the farmers general that they shall be supplied from their magazines at Honfleur, opposite to Havre, at a mercantile price. They fix it at present at 60 livres the muid, which comes to about 15 sous, or 7½d sterling our bushel: but it will vary as the price varies at the places from which they bring it. As this will be a great relief to such of our vessels coming to Havre as might wish to take back salt, it may perhaps be proper to notify it to our merchants. I inclose herewith Mr. Neckar’s discourse to the assembly which was not printed when I left Paris.
TO JAMES RUMSEY
Cowes Octobr 14. 1789.
—I am honoured with your favor of the 4th instant and will pay attention to what you say on the subject of the Barker’s mill your friends beyond the water are about to erect. I am sincerely sorry not to have know[n] the result of your experiment for steam navigation before my departure. Tho I have already been detained here & at Havre 16. days by contrary winds I mu[st] hope that detention will not continue till your experime[nt] be tried. As I feel infinitely interested in it’s success, would you be so good, my dear Sir, as to drop me a line on the subject as soon as the experiment shall be made. If directed to me at Richmond to the care of Mr. Alexr. Donald, & sent by a Virginia ship, I shall get it with certainty. As soon as your experiment shall be over Mr. Short will do for you at Paris whatever I could have done towards obtaining you a patent there.
TO WILLIAM SHORT
Lynhaven bay Nov. 21. 1789.
—Tho’ a committee of American captains at Cowes had [de]termined we must expect a nine weeks passage, the winds [and] weather have so befriended us that we are come to an anch[orage] here 29. days after weighing anchor at Yarmouth, having bee[n] only 26. days from land to land. After getting clear of the etern[al] fogs of Europe, which required 5. or 6. days sailing, the sun broke out upon us, & gave us fine autumn weather almost cons[tant]ly thro the rest of the voyage, & so warm that we had no occas[ion] for fire. In the gulph stream only we had to pass thro’ the squalls of wind & rain which hover generally over that tepid cur[r]ent: & thro the whole we had had nothing stronger tha[n] what seamen call a stiff breeze: so that I have now passed the Atlantic twice without knowing what a storm is. When we had passed the meridian of the Western islands, our weather w[as] so fine that it would have been madness to go 1000. miles out of our way to seek what would not have been better. So we determin[ed] to push on the direct course. We left the banks of Newf[oundland] about as far on our right as the Western islands on our left notwithstanding the evidence of their quadrants to the contrary some of the sailors insisted we were in the trade winds. Our sickness in the beginning was of 3. 4. or 5 days, severe enough. Since that we have been perfectly well. We separated from Mr. Trumbull’s ship the evening on which I wrote you from the needles, & I never saw her more. Our ship is two years old only, excellently accommodated, in ballast, and among the swiftest sailors on the ocean. Her captain a bold & judicious seaman, a native of Norfolk, whose intimate knowledge of our coast has been of both confidence & security to us. So that as we had in prospect every motive of satisfaction, we have found it still greater in event. We came to anchor here because no pilot has yet offered. Being within 15. miles of Norfolk by land, I have some thought of going ashore here in the morning, & going by land to that city. I wrote this from hence in hopes some outward bound vessel may be met to which it may be consigned. My plants & shepherd dogs are well. Remember me to enquiring friends, and accept assurances of sincere esteem & attachment with which I am Dear Sir.
TO THE SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Norfolk Nov. 23. 1789.
—I think it my duty to inform you that I am this day arrived here after a passage of 26 days from land to land. By the Montgomery, Capt. Bunyan, which sailed from Cowes at the same time with us, I had the honor of addressing you and of sending you the Letter book & account book of Silas Deane, which I put into the hands of Mr. Trumbull, who I presume is arrived at New York. According to what I proposed in that letter I shall proceed first to my own house to arrange those matters which have called for my presence there, and, this done, go on to New York, in order for my embarcation: where I shall first have occasion to confer with you in order to take the sense of government on some subjects which require vivâ voce explanations. I hope to be with you as early as the season will admit a tolerable passage.
TO WILLIAM SHORT
Eppington, Dec. 14, 1789.
—My last letter was written to you on our coming to anchor. Since that my time has been divided between travelling and the society of my friends, and I avail myself of the first vacant interval to give you the news of the country to which therefore I shall proceed without further prelude.
Marriages.—Ben. Harrison of Brandon to a daughter of Mrs. Byrd.
Doctor Currie to a widow Ingles, daur. of Mr. Atcheson.
Polly Cary to a Mr. Peachy of Amelia.
N. Burrell of the grove, to the widow of Colo. Baylor, a Page formerly.
Betsy Taliaferro to a Mr. Call.
Nancy Taliaferro to a Mr. Nicholas son of G. Nicholas, Petersburg.
Becca Taliaferro to and she dead.
Two of R. Adams’s daurs. to
Peter Randolph of Chatsworth to Miss Southall of Wmsburgh.
Your brother, Peyton Short to Miss Sym[mes], daur. of a Mr. Sym[mes] formerly member of Congress for Jersey, & one of the partners in the great purchases of lands made of Congress. Your brother is to bring his wife to New York in the spring, then to come here alone to persuade his friends & particularly your sisters to go with him to Kentuckey, to which place he will return again by New York.
Deaths.—Colo. Dick Cary, the Judge.
James Cocke of Wmsburgh.
Governor Caswell of Caroline.
Colo. Taliaferro near Wmsburgh.
Colo. Jordan of Buckingham.
Mrs. Harris of Powhatan.
Mrs. Diggs (wife of Colo. Dudley D.)
Mrs. Nicholas, widow of R. C. Nicholas.
Mrs. Lindsay, wife of Reuben Lindsay.
Terence, your servant.
Miscellaneous events.—Mr. Wythe has abandoned the college of Wm. & Mary, disgusted with some conduct of the professors, & particularly of the ex-professor Bracken, & perhaps too with himself for having suffered himself to be too much irritated with that. The visitors will try to condemn what gave him offence & press him to return: otherwise it is over with the college. Mr. Henry at the present session made an unsuccessful attempt to get a portion of the revenues of Wm. & Mary transferred to Hampden Sidney: that academy too abandoned by Smith is going to nothing owing to the religious phrensy they have inspired into the boys young and old which their parents have no taste for. North Carolina has acceded to the new constitution by a great majority, we have not heard whether at the same time they accepted the new amendments. These have been accepted by our H. of delegates, but will probably not be so, entire, by the Senate, ⅞ of whom are anti-federal. Rhode island has again refused the new constitution. Antifederalism is not yet dead in this country. The Gentlemen who opposed it1 retain a good deal of malevolence towards the new Government: Henry is it’s avowed foe. He stands higher in public estimation than he ever did, yet he was so often in the minority in the present assembly that he has quitted it, never more to return, unless an opportunity offers to overturn the new constitution. E. Randolph made a proposition to call a convention to amend our form of government. It failed as he expected.—Our new capitol, when the corrections are made, of which it is susceptible, will be an edifice of first rate dignity, whenever it shall be finished with the proper ornaments belonging to it (which will not be in this age) will be worthy of being exhibited along side the most celebrated remains of antiquity, it’s extreme convenience has acquired it universal approbation. There is one street in Richmond (from the bridge straight on towards Currie’s) which would be considered as handsomely built in any city of Europe. The town below Shockoe creek is so deserted that you cannot get a person to live in a house there rent free. Ways’s bridge is repaired and brings him in about 20 dollars a day. He will be obliged however to take it away during two or three months of the year, for fear of floods. He has taken advantage of two islands so that it consists of three bridges, the first & second of which, next to Richmond are of pontoons; the third is on boats. There is 2200 feet of bridge in the whole. The canal from Westham will be opened three days hence and the canoes then come to Broadrock, within 2 miles of Richmond. It will be 3 years before the residue will be finished. There are two locks only, & will be no more. Our neighborhood at Monticillo is much improved. Colo Monroe is living at Charlottesville; so is John Nicholas of Buckingham who is married to Louisa Carter of Wmsburg. A Colo. Bell is there also, who is said to be a very good man. Doctr. Gilmer where Dick Harris lived: the latter with his mother &c. gone to Georgia. Molly Nicholas keeps batchelor’s house in Williamsburg. So does Polly Stith, and Becca Lewis (sister of Warner) is coming there to do the same. Tabby Eppes has not yet come to that resolution. Brackenridge whom you knew lives at the globe near I. Colds. Wilson Nicholas lives in Albemarle also, on the great river. Joshua Fry has sold his lands there to E. Randolph, who by this & other purchases has embarrassed himself a good deal.
Appointments, Supreme Court, Mr. Jay, J. Rutledge, Wilson, Cushing, Rob. H. Harrison, J. Blair.
Every state forms a District, and has a District court. E. Pendleton was appointed District Judge of Virginia: but he refuses. Several Districts form a Circuit (of which there are three in the whole) the circuit court is composed of two of the supreme Judges and the Judge of the District wherever they are sitting so that the latter need never go out of his State, whereas the supreme judges will be [compelled?] to make four journies a year, two to New York, two to the District Courts of their circuit. Marshall is Attorney for the District Court of Virginia & E. Carrington marshall of it, i. e. sheriff. E. Randolph is Atty. Genl. for the Supreme court & removes to New York the beginning of next month.
Osgood is Postmaster-general. Salaries are as follows:
Congress have suppressed the Secretaryship of foreign Affairs, and put that and the whole domestic administration (war and finance excepted) into one principal department, the person at the head of which is called the Secretary of State. When I arrived at Norfolk, I saw myself in the newspapers nominated to that Office; and here I have received the commission & President’s letter. In this however he very kindly leaves it optional in me to accept of that or remain at Paris as I chuse. It was impossible to give a flat refusal to such a nomination. My answer therefore is that the office I hold is more agreeable to me, but yet if the President thinks the public service will be better promoted by my taking that at New York I shall do it. I do not know how it will end; but I suppose in my remaining as I am.—Frugality is a good deal restored in this country & domestic manufactures resumed. Mr. Skipwith, who is here, promises me to write you fully on your affairs. I make up a bundle of newspapers for you, but I shall endeavor to send them clear of postage so that they may get separated from this. To-morrow I go on with Mr. Skipwith to his house, and then plunge into the Forests of Albemarle. You will not hear from me again till I go on to New York which will be in March. Remember me to all my friends who may ask after me, as if I had here named them; and believe me to be your affectionate friend & Servt.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
Chesterfield, December 15th, 1789.
—I have received at this place the honor of your letters of October 13th and November the 30th, and am truly flattered by your nomination of me to the very dignified office of Secretary of State for which permit me here to return to you my very humble thanks. Could any circumstance induce me to overlook the disproportion between its duties and my talents, it would be the encouragement of your choice. But when I contemplate the extent of that office, embracing as it does the principal mass of domestic administration, together with the foreign, I can not be insensible to my inequality to it; and I should enter on it with gloomy forebodings from the criticisms and censures of a public, just indeed in their intentions, but sometimes misinformed and misled, and always too respectable to be neglected. I can not but foresee the possibility that this may end disagreeably for me, who, having no motive to public service but the public satisfaction, would certainly retire the moment that satisfaction should appear to languish. On the other hand, I feel a degree of familiarity with the duties of my present office, as far, at least, as I am capable of understanding its duties. The ground I have already passed over enables me to see my way into that which is before me. The change of government, too, taking place in the country where it is exercised, seems to open a possibility of procuring from the new rulers some new advantages in commerce, which may be agreeable to our countrymen. So that as far as my fears, my hopes, or my inclination might enter into this question, I confess they would not lead me to prefer a change.
But it is not for an individual to choose his post. You are to marshal us as may be best for the public good; and it is only in the case of its being indifferent to you, that I would avail myself of the option you have so kindly offered in your letter. If you think it better to transfer me to another post, my inclination must be no obstacle; nor shall it be, if there is any desire to suppress the office I now hold or to reduce its grade. In either of these cases, be so good as only to signify to me by another line your ultimate wish, and I will conform to it accordingly. If it should be to remain at New York, my chief comfort will be to work under your eye, my only shelter the authority of your name, and the wisdom of measures to be dictated by you and implicitly executed by me. Whatever you may be pleased to decide, I do not see that the matters which have called me hither will permit me to shorten the stay I originally asked; that is to say, to set out on my journey northward till the middle of March. As early as possible in that month, I shall have the honor of paying my respects to you in New York. In the meantime, I have that of tendering you the homage of those sentiments of respectful attachment with which I am, Sir, your most obedient and most humble servant.
[1 ]100£ at a compound interest of 6 per cent makes at the end of 19 years an aggregate of principal and interest of £252.14 the interest of which is a £12°°. 12″. 7d which is nearly 12″ pr. cent on the first capital of £100.
[1 ]Jefferson also sent a copy of this letter to Dr. Gem, writing him further: “The hurry in which I wrote my letter to Mr. Madison which is in your hands, occasioned an inattention to the difference between generations succeeding each other at fixed epochs, and generations renewed daily and hourly. It is true that in the former case the generation, when at 21. years of age, may contract a debt for 34. years, because a majority of them will live so long. But a generation consisting of all ages, & which legislates by all it’s members above the age of 21. years, cannot contract for so long a time, because their majority will be dead much sooner. Buffon gives us a table of 23,994 deaths, stating the ages at which they happened. To draw from these the result I have occasion for, I suppose a society in which 23,994 persons are born every year and live to the ages stated in Buffon’s table. Then the following inferences may be drawn. Such a society will consist constantly of 617,703 persons of all ages. Of those living at any one instant of time, one half will be dead in 24. years 8. months. In such a society, 10,675 will arrive every year at the age of 21. years complete. It will constantly have 348.417 persons of all ages above 21. years, & the half of those of 21. years & upwards living at any one instant of time will be dead in 18. years 8. months, or say 19. years. Then, the contracts, constitutions & laws of every such society become void in 19. years from their date.”
[1 ]In the letter as sent “new constitution” takes the place of “it.” See Southern Bivouac, ii., 430.