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1814 - TO THOMAS LEIPER - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 11 (Correspondence and Papers 1808-1816) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 11.
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TO THOMAS LEIPER
Monticello, January 1, 1814
—I had hoped, when I retired from the business of the world, that I should have been permitted to pass the evening of life in tranquillity, undisturbed by the peltings and passions of which the public papers are the vehicles. I see, however, that I have been dragged into the newspapers by the infidelity of one with whom I was formerly intimate, but who has abandoned the American principles out of which that intimacy grew, and become the bigoted partisan of England, and malcontent of his own government. In a letter which he wrote to me, he earnestly besought me to avail our country of the good understanding which existed between the executive and myself, by recommending an offer of such terms to our enemy as might produce a peace, towards which he was confident that enemy was disposed. In my answer, I stated the aggressions, the insults and injuries, which England had been heaping on us for years, our long forbearance in the hope she might be led by time and reflection to a sounder view of her own interests, and of their connection with justice to us, the repeated propositions for accommodation made by us and rejected by her, and at length her Prince Regent’s solemn proclamation to the world that he would never repeal the orders in council as to us, until France should have revoked her illegal decrees as to all the world, and her minister’s declaration to ours, that no admissable precaution against the impressment of our seamen, could be proposed: that the unavoidable declaration of war which followed these was accompanied by advances for peace, on terms which no American could dispense with, made through various channels, and unnoticed and unanswered through any; but that if he could suggest any other conditions which we ought to accept, and which had not been repeatedly offered and rejected, I was ready to be the channel of their conveyance to the government; and, to show him that neither that attachment to Bonaparte nor French influence, which they allege eternally without believing it themselves, affected my mind, I threw in the two little sentences of the printed extract enclosed in your friendly favor of the 9th ultimo, and exactly these two little sentences, from a letter of two or three pages, he has thought proper to publish, naked, alone, and with my name, although other parts of the letter would have shown that I wished such limits only to the successes of Bonaparte, as should not prevent his completely closing Europe against British manufactures and commerce; and thereby reducing her to just terms of peace with us.
Thus am I situated. I receive letters from all quarters, some from known friends, some from those who write like friends, on various subjects. What am I to do? Am I to button myself up in Jesuitical reserve, rudely declining any answer, or answering in terms so unmeaning as only to prove my distrust? Must I withdraw myself from all interchange of sentiment with the world? I cannot do this. It is at war with my habits and temper. I cannot act as if all men were unfaithful because some are so; nor believe that all will betray me, because some do. I had rather be the victim of occasional infidelities, than relinquish my general confidence in the honesty of man.
So far as to the breach of confidence which has brought me into the newspapers, with a view to embroil me with my friends, by a supposed separation in opinion and principle from them. But it is impossible that there can be any difference of opinion among us on the two propositions contained in these two little sentences, when explained, as they were explained in the context from which they were insulated. That Bonaparte is an unprincipled tyrant, who is deluging the continent of Europe with blood, there is not a human being, not even the wife of his bosom, who does not see: nor can there, I think, be a doubt as to the line we ought to wish drawn between his successes and those of Alexander. Surely none of us wish to see Bonaparte conquer Russia, and lay thus at his feet the whole continent of Europe. This done, England would be but a breakfast; and, although I am free from the visionary fears which the votaries of England have affected to entertain, because I believe he cannot effect the conquest of Europe; yet put all Europe into his hands, and he might spare such a force to be sent in British ships, as I would as leave not have to encounter, when I see how much trouble a handful of British soldiers in Canada has given us. No. It cannot be to our interest that all Europe should be reduced to a single monarchy. The true line of interest for us, is, that Bonaparte should be able to effect the complete exclusion of England from the whole continent of Europe, in order, as the same letter said, “by this peaceable engine of constraint, to make her renounce her views of dominion over the ocean, of permitting no other nation to navigate it but with her license, and on tribute to her, and her aggressions on the persons of our citizens who may choose to exercise their right of passing over that element.” And this would be effected by Bonaparte’s succeeding so far as to close the Baltic against her. This success I wished him the last year, this I wish him this year; but were he again advanced to Moscow, I should again wish him such disasters as would prevent his reaching Petersburg. And were the consequences even to be the longer continuance of our war, I would rather meet them than see the whole force of Europe wielded by a single hand.
I have gone into this explanation, my friend, because I know you will not carry my letter to the newspapers, and because I am willing to trust to your discretion the explaining me to our honest fellow laborers, and the bringing them to pause and reflect, if any of them have not sufficiently reflected on the extent of the success we ought to wish to Bonaparte, with a view to our own interests only; and even were we not men, to whom nothing human should be indifferent. But is our particular interest to make us insensible to all sentiments of morality? Is it then become criminal, the moral wish that the torrents of blood this man is shedding in Europe, the sufferings of so many human beings, good as ourselves, on whose necks he is trampling, the burnings of ancient cities, devastations of great countries, the destruction of law and order, and demoralization of the world, should be arrested, even if it should place our peace a little further distant? No. You and I cannot differ in wishing that Russia, and Sweden, and Denmark, and Germany, and Spain, and Portugal, and Italy, and even England, may retain their independence. And if we differ in our opinions about Towers and his four beasts and ten kingdoms, we differ as friends, indulging mutual errors, and doing justice to mutual sincerity and honesty. In this spirit of sincere confidence and affection, I pray God to bless you here and hereafter.
TO DOCTOR WALTER JONES
Monticello, January 2, 1814
—Your favor of November the 25th reached this place December the 21st, having been near a month on the way. How this could happen I know not, as we have two mails a week both from Fredericksburg and Richmond. It found me just returned from a long journey and absence, during which so much business had accumulated, commanding the first attentions, that another week has been added to the delay.
I deplore, with you, the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them; and I enclose you a recent sample, the production of a New England judge, as a proof of the abyss of degradation into which we are fallen. These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste, and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information, and a curb on our functionaries, they have rendered themselves useless, by forfeiting all title to belief. That this has, in a great degree, been produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit, I agree with you; and I have read with great pleasure the paper you enclosed me on that subject, which I now return. It is at the same time a perfect model of the style of discussion which candor and decency should observe, of the tone which renders difference of opinion even amiable, and a succinct, correct, and dispassionate history of the origin and progress of party among us. It might be incorporated as it stands, and without changing a word, into the history of the present epoch, and would give to posterity a fairer view of the times than they will probably derive from other sources. In reading it with great satisfaction, there was but a single passage where I wished a little more development of a very sound and catholic idea; a single intercalation to rest it solidly on true bottom. It is near the end of the first page, where you make a statement of genuine republican maxims; saying, “that the people ought to possess as much political power as can possibly exist with the order and security of society.” Instead of this, I would say, “that the people, being the only safe depository of power should exercise in person every function which their qualifications enable them to exercise, consistently with the order and security of society; that we now find them equal to the election of those who shall be invested with their executive and legislative powers, and to act themselves in the judiciary, as judges in questions of fact; that the range of their powers ought to be enlarged,” &c. This gives both the reason and exemplification of the maxim you express, “that they ought to possess as much political power,” &c. I see nothing to correct either in your facts or principles.
You say that in taking General Washington on your shoulders, to bear him harmless through the federal coalition, you encounter a perilous topic. I do not think so. You have given the genuine history of the course of his mind through the trying scenes in which it was engaged, and of the seductions by which it was deceived, but not depraved. I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character, it should be in terms like these.
His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best; and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in re-adjustment. The consequence was, that he often failed in the field, and rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston and York. He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. Although in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas, nor fluency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short and embarrassed. Yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalizing his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.
How, then, can it be perilous for you to take such a man on your shoulders? I am satisfied the great body of republicans think of him as I do. We were, indeed, dissatisfied with him on his ratification of the British treaty. But this was short lived. We knew his honesty, the wiles with which he was encompassed, and that age had already begun to relax the firmness of his purposes; and I am convinced he is more deeply seated in the love and gratitude of the republicans, than in the Pharisaical homage of the federal monarchists. For he was no monarchist from preference of his judgment. The soundness of that gave him correct views of the rights of man, and his severe justice devoted him to them. He has often declared to me that he considered our new constitution as an experiment on the practicability of republican government, and with what dose of liberty man could be trusted for his own good; that he was determined the experiment should have a fair trial, and would lose the last drop of his blood in support of it. And these declarations he repeated to me the oftener and more pointedly, because he knew my suspicions of Colonel Hamilton’s views, and probably had heard from him the same declarations which I had, to wit, “that the British constitution, with its unequal representation, corruption and other existing abuses, was the most perfect government which had ever been established on earth, and that a reformation of those abuses would make it an impracticable government.” I do believe that General Washington had not a firm confidence in the durability of our government. He was naturally distrustful of men, and inclined to gloomy apprehensions; and I was ever persuaded that a belief that we must at length end in something like a British constitution, had some weight in his adoption of the ceremonies of levees, birth-days, pompous meetings with Congress, and other forms of the same character, calculated to prepare us gradually for a change which he believed possible, and to let it come on with as little shock as might be to the public mind.
These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years. I served with him in the Virginia legislature from 1769 to the Revolutionary war, and again, a short time in Congress, until he left us to take command of the army. During the war and after it we corresponded occasionally, and in the four years of my continuance in the office of Secretary of State, our intercourse was daily, confidential and cordial. After I retired from that office, great and malignant pains were taken by our federal monarchists, and not entirely without effect, to make him view me as a theorist, holding French principles of government, which would lead infallibly to licentiousness and anarchy. And to this he listened the more easily, from my known disapprobation of the British treaty. I never saw him afterwards, or these malignant insinuations should have been dissipated before his just judgment, as mists before the sun. I felt on his death, with my countrymen that “verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.”
More time and recollection would enable me to add many other traits of his character; but why add them to you who knew him well? And I cannot justify to myself a longer detention of your paper.
Vale, proprieque tuum, me esse tibi persuadeas.
TO JOSEPH C. CABELL
Monticello, January 31, 1814
—Your favor of the 23d is received. Say had come to hand safely. But I regretted having asked the return of him; for I did not find in him one new idea upon the subject I had been contemplating; nothing more than a succinct, judicious digest of the tedious pages of Smith.
You ask my opinion on the question, whether the States can add any qualifications to those which the constitution has prescribed for their members of Congress? It is a question I had never before reflected on; yet had taken up an off-hand opinion, agreeing with your first, that they could not; that to add new qualifications to those of the constitution, would be as much an alteration as to detract from them. And so I think the House of Representatives of Congress decided in some case; I believe that of a member from Baltimore. But your letter having induced me to look into the constitution, and to consider the question a little, I am again in your predicament, of doubting the correctness of my first opinion. Had the constitution been silent, nobody can doubt but that the right to prescribe all the qualifications and disqualifications of those they would send to represent them, would have belonged to the State. So also the constitution might have prescribed the whole, and excluded all others. It seems to have preferred the middle way. It has exercised the power in part, by declaring some disqualifications, to wit, those of not being twenty-five years of age, of not having been a citizen seven years, and of not being an inhabitant of the State at the time of election. But it does not declare, itself, that the member shall not be a lunatic, a pauper, a convict of treason, of murder, of felony, or other infamous crime, or a non-resident of his district; nor does it prohibit to the State the power of declaring these, or any other disqualifications which its particular circumstances may call for; and these may be different in different States. Of course, then, by the tenth amendment, the power is reserved to the State. If, wherever the constitution assumes a single power out of many which belong to the same subject, we should consider it as assuming the whole, it would vest the General Government with a mass of powers never contemplated. On the contrary, the assumption of particular powers seems an exclusion of all not assumed. This reasoning appears to me to be sound; but, on so recent a change of view, caution requires us not to be too confident, and that we admit this to be one of the doubtful questions on which honest men may differ with the purest motives; and the more readily, as we find we have differed from ourselves on it.
I have always thought where the line of demarcation between the powers of the General and the State governments was doubtfully or indistinctly drawn, it would be prudent and praiseworthy in both parties, never to approach it but under the most urgent necessity. Is the necessity now urgent, to declare that no non-resident of his district shall be eligible as a member of Congress? It seems to me that, in practice, the partialities of the people are a sufficient security against such an election; and that if, in any instance, they should ever choose a non-resident, it must be one of such eminent merit and qualifications, as would make it a good, rather than an evil; and that, in any event, the examples will be so rare, as never to amount to a serious evil. If the case then be neither clear nor urgent, would it not be better to let it lie undisturbed? Perhaps its decision may never be called for. But if it be indispensable to establish this disqualification now, would it not look better to declare such others, at the same time, as may be proper? I frankly confide to yourself these opinions, or rather no-opinions, of mine; but would not wish to have them go any farther. I want to be quiet; and although some circumstances now and then, excite me to notice them, I feel safe, and happier in leaving events to those whose turn it is to take care of them; and, in general, to let it be understood, that I meddle little or not at all with public affairs. There are two subjects, indeed, which I shall claim a right to further as long as I breathe, the public education, and the sub-division of counties into wards. I consider the continuance of republican government as absolutely hanging on these two hooks. Of the first, you will, I am sure, be an advocate, as having already reflected on it, and of the last, when you shall have reflected. Ever affectionately yours.
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello, Feb. 16, 14
—A letter from Colo. Earle of S. C. induces me to apprehend that the government is called on to reimburse expences to which I am persuaded it is no wise liable either in justice or liberality. I inclose you a copy of my answer to him, as it may induce further enquiry, & particularly of Genl. Dearborn. The Tennessee Senators of that day can also give some information.
We have not yet seen the scheme of the new loan, but the continual creation of new banks cannot fail to facilitate it; for already there is so much of their trash afloat that the great holders of it shew vast anxiety to get rid of it. They perceive that now, as in the revolutionary war, we are engaged in the old game of Robin’s alive. They are ravenous after lands, and stick at no price. In the neighborhood of Richmond, the seat of that sort of sensibility, they offer twice as much now as they would give a year ago. 200 Millions in actual circulation and 200 millions more likely to be legitimated by the legislative sessions of this winter, will give us about 40 times the wholesome circulation for 8. millions of people. When the new emissions get out, our legislatures will see, what they otherwise cannot believe, that it is possible to have too much money. It will insure your loan for this year; but what will you do for the next? For I think it impossible but that the whole system must blow up before the year is out; and thus a tax of 3. or 400 millions will be levied on our citizens who had found it a work of so much time and labour to pay off a debt of 80. millions which had redeemed them from bondage. The new taxes are paid here with great cheerfulness. Those on stills and carriages will be wonderfully productive. A general return to the cultivation of tobo. is taking place, because it will keep. This proves that the public mind is made up to a continuance of the war. Ever affectionately yours.
TO GIDEON GRANGER
Monticello, March 9, 1814
—Your letter of February 22d came to hand on the 4th instant. Nothing is so painful to me as appeals to my memory on the subject of past transactions. From 1775 to 1809, my life was an unremitting course of public transactions, so numerous, so multifarious, and so diversified by places and persons, that, like the figures of a magic lanthern, their succession was with a rapidity that scarcely gave time for fixed impressions. Add to this the decay of memory consequent on advancing years, and it will not be deemed wonderful that I should be a stranger as it were even to my own transactions. Of some indeed I retain recollections of the particular, as well as general circumstances; of others a strong impression of the general fact, with an oblivion of particulars; but of a great mass, not a trace either of general or particular remains in my mind. I have duly pondered the facts stated in your letter, and for the refreshment of my memory have gone over the letters which passed between us while I was in the administration of the government, have examined my private notes, and such other papers as could assist me in the recovery of the facts, and shall now state them seriatim from your letter, and give the best account of them I am able to derive from the joint sources of memory and papers.
“I have been denounced as a Burrite; but you know that in 1800 I sent Erving from Boston to inform Virginia of the danger resulting from his intrigues.” I well remember Mr. Erving’s visit to this State about that time; and his suggestions of the designs meditated in the quarter you mention; but as my duties on the occasion were to be merely passive, he of course, as I presume, addressed his communications more particularly to those who were free to use them. I do not recollect his mentioning you; but I find that in your letter to me of April 26, 1804, you state your agency on that occasion, so that I have no reason to doubt the fact.
“That in 1803–4, on my advice, you procured Erastus Granger to inform De Witt Clinton of the plan to elevate Burr in New York.” Here I do not recollect the particulars; but I have a general recollection that Colonel Burr’s conduct had already, at that date rendered his designs suspicious; that being for that reason laid aside by his constituents as Vice President, and aiming to become the Governor of New York, it was thought advisable that the persons of influence in that State should be put on their guard; and Mr. Clinton being eminent, no one was more likely to receive intimations from us, nor any one more likely to be confided in for their communication than yourself. I have no doubt therefore of the fact, and the less because in your letter to me of October 9, 1806, you remind me of it.
About the same period, that is, in the winter of 1803–4, another train of facts took place which, although not specifically stated in your letter, I think it but justice to yourself that I should state. I mean the intrigues which were in agitation, and at the bottom of which we believed Colonel Burr to be; to form a coalition of the five eastern States, with New York and New Jersey, under the new appellation of the seven eastern States; either to overawe the Union by the combination of their power and their will, or by threats of separating themselves from it. Your intimacy with some of those in the secret gave you opportunities of searching into their proceedings, of which you made me daily and confidential reports. This intimacy to which I had such useful recourse, at the time, rendered you an object of suspicion with many as being yourself a partisan of Colonel Burr, and engaged in the very combination which you were faithfully employed in defeating. I never failed to justify you to all those who brought their suspicions to me, and to assure them of my knowledge of your fidelity. Many were the individuals, then members of the legislature, who received these assurances from me, and whose apprehensions were thereby quieted. This first project of Colonel Burr having vanished in smoke, he directed to the western country those views which are the subject of your next article.
“That in 1806, I communicated by the first mail after I had got knowledge of the fact, the supposed plans of Burr in his western expedition; upon which communication your council was first called together to take measures in relation to that subject.” Not exactly on that single communication; on the 15th and 18th of September, I had received letters from Colonel George Morgan, and from a Mr. Nicholson of New York, suggesting in a general way the maneuvres of Colonel Burr. Similar information came to the Secretary of State from a Mr. Williams of New York. The indications, however, were so vague that I only desired their increased attention to the subject, and further communications of what they should discover. Your letter of October 16, conveying the communications of General Eaton to yourself and to Mr. Ely gave a specific view of the objects of this new conspiracy, and corroborating our previous information, I called the Cabinet together, on the 22d of October, when specific measures were adopted for meeting the dangers threatened in the various points in which they might occur. I say your letter of October 16 gave this information, because its date, with the circumstance of its being no longer on my files, induces me to infer it was that particular letter, which having being transferred to the bundle of the documents of that conspiracy, delivered to the Attorney General, is no longer in my possession.
Your mission of Mr. Pease on the route to New Orleans, at the time of that conspiracy, with powers to see that the mails were expedited, and to dismiss at once every agent of the Post Office whose fidelity could be justly doubted, and to substitute others on the spot was a necessary measure, taken with my approbation; and he executed the trusts to my satisfaction. I do not know however that my subsequent appointment of him to the office of Surveyor General was influenced, as you suppose, by those services. My motives in that appointment were my personal knowledge of his mathematical qualifications and satisfactory informations of the other parts of his character.
With respect to the dismission of the prosecutions for sedition in Connecticut, it is well known to have been a tenet of the republican portion of our fellow citizens, that the sedition law was contrary to the constitution and therefore void. On this ground I considered it as a nullity wherever I met it in the course of my duties; and on this ground I directed nolle prosequis in all the prosecutions which had been instituted under it, and as far as the public sentiment can be inferred from the occurrences of the day, we may say that this opinion had the sanction of the nation. The prosecutions, therefore, which were afterwards instituted in Connecticut, of which two were against printers, two against preachers, and one against a judge, were too inconsistent with this principle to be permitted to go on. We were bound to administer to others the same measure of law, not which they had meted to us, but we to ourselves, and to extend to all equally the protection of the same constitutional principles. These prosecutions, too, were chiefly for charges against myself, and I had from the beginning laid it down as a rule to notice nothing of the kind. I believed that the long course of services in which I had acted on the public stage, and under the eye of my fellow citizens, furnished better evidence to them of my character and principles, than the angry invectives of adverse partisans in whose eyes the very acts most approved by the majority were subjects of the greatest demerit and censure. These prosecutions against them, therefore, were to be dismissed as a matter of duty. But I wished it to be done with all possible respect to the worthy citizens who had advised them, and in such way as to spare their feelings which had been justly irritated by the intemperance of their adversaries. As you were of that State and intimate with these characters, the business was confided to you, and you executed it to my perfect satisfaction.
These I think are all the particular facts on which you have asked my testimony, and I add with pleasure, and under a sense of duty, the declaration that the increase of rapidity in the movement of the mails which had been vainly attempted before, were readily undertaken by you on your entrance into office, and zealously and effectually carried into execution, and that the affairs of the office were conducted by you with ability and diligence, so long as I had opportunities of observing them.
With respect to the first article mentioned in your letter, in which I am neither concerned nor consulted, I will yet, as a friend, volunteer my advice. I never knew anything of it, nor would ever listen to such gossiping trash. Be assured, my dear Sir, that the dragging such a subject before the public will excite universal reprobation, and they will drown in their indignation all the solid justifications which they would otherwise have received and weighed with candor. Consult your own experience, reflect on the similar cases which have happened within your own knowledge, and see if ever there was a single one in which such a mode of recrimination procured favor to him who used it. You may give pain where perhaps you wish it, but be assured it will re-act on yourself with double though delayed effect, and that it will be one of those incidents of your life on which you will never reflect with satisfaction. Be advised, then; erase it even from your memory, and stand erect before the world on the high ground of your own merits, without stooping to what is unworthy either of your or their notice. Remember that we often repent of what we have said, but never, never of that which we have not. You may have time enough hereafter to mend your hold, if ever it can be mended by such matter as that. Take time then, and do not commit your happiness and public estimation by too much precipitancy. I am entirely uninformed of the state of things which you say exists, and which will oblige you to make a solemn appeal to the nation, in vindication of your character. But whatever that be, I feel it a duty to bear testimony to the truth, and I have suggested with frankness other considerations occurring to myself, because I wish you well, and I add sincere assurances of my great respect and esteem.
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello, Mar. 10. 14
—Your favor of Feb. 7. was duly received. That which it gave me reason to expect from Mr. G.1 did not come till the 4th inst. He mentioned in it that a state of things existed which probably would oblige him to make a solemn appeal to the public, and he asked my testimony to certain specific facts which he stated. These related solely to charges against him as a Burrite, and to his agency in dismissing the prosecutions in Connecticut under the Sedition Law. The facts alleged as disproving his Burrism were 1. That he thro’ Mr. Erving in 1800. put Virginia on her guard against the designs of Burr. 2. That in 1803. 4. at my request he communicated to De Witt Clinton Burr’s aspiring to the government of New York. 3. That in 1806. he gave us the first effectual notice of Burr’s Western projects, by which we were enabled to take specific measures to meet them. 4. His mission of Mr. Pease on the route to N. Orleans to expedite the mails and remove suspected agents of the Post office. These appeals to my very defective memory are very painful. I have looked over my papers, and answered his enquiries as exactly as I could, under a sense not only of the general duty of bearing testimony to truth, but of justice to him personally for his conduct towards me was ever friendly and faithful, and I on several occasions used his services to the advantage of the public.
He said nothing on the subject of Tayloe’s post office, but I remember the substance, altho’ not the minutiæ of that case. He informed me that Mr. Tayloe held a post office near Mount Airy, and exercised it by his steward as a deputy to himself residing at Washington, merely for the purpose of carrying on his plantation correspondence free of postage. I advised his immediate appointment of another, as well on the ground of the abusive use of the office, as to suppress the example of non-residents holding local offices, which would otherwise lead immediately to the most pernicious practises of sinecure.
Of the Baptist preacher and Mr. Tayloe’s underbidding him I recollect nothing. I remember that Mr. Granger, soon after he came into office, informed me of a device, practised by the federalists in the Eastern states to favor the circulation of their papers and defeat that of the republicans, which was when ever a republican rider was employed, to underbid to a price below what the business could be done for, submitting to that loss for one year, and the next to demand the full price, the republican being thus removed from the competition, by the disposal of his horses &c. I desired him whenever a bidder should offer below the real worth, & there should be reason to suspect this fraud, to reject him, and I would take on myself the responsibility. If I was consulted on the competition of Tayloe and the baptist preacher, and gave an opinion on it, it must have been stated as a case of this class. As to the compromise alledged of giving up the one case for the other, no such idea was ever presented to me, nor would Mr. G. have ventured to present it, and I am certain that not a word ever passed between Doctr Jones & myself on the subject. The true remedy for putting those appointments into a wholesome state would be a law vesting them in the President, but without the intervention of the Senate. That intervention would make the matter worse. Every Senator would expect to dispose of all the post offices in his vicinage, or perhaps in his state. At present the President has some controul over those appointments by his authority over the Postmaster himself. And I should think it well to require him to lay all his appointments previously before the President for his approbation or rejection. An expression in Mr. G’s letter gave me ground to advise him to confine his vindication to it’s important points whatever they might be, and not to let his passions lead him into matter which would degrade himself alone in the public opinion, and I have urged it in such terms as I trust will have effect.
Our agriculture presents little interesting. Wheat looks badly, much having been killed by the late severe weather. Corn is scarce, but it’s price kept down to 3. D. by the substitute of wheat as food both for laborers and horses, costing only 3/6 to 4/. They begin to distill the old flour, getting 10. galls of whiskey from the barrel, which produced 5. to 6. D. the barrel & consequently more than we can get at Richmond for the new. Tobacco is high, from it’s scarcity, there having been not more than ⅓ of an ordinary crop planted the last year. This year there will probably be ⅔. Ever affectionately yours.
TO JOHN ADAMS
Monticello, July 5, 1814
—Since mine of January the 24th, yours of March the 14th has been received. It was not acknowledged in the short one of May the 18th, by Mr. Rives, the only object of that having been to enable one of our most promising young men to have the advantage of making his bow to you. I learned with great regret the serious illness mentioned in your letter; and I hope Mr. Rives will be able to tell me you are entirely restored. But our machines have now been running seventy or eighty years, and we must expect that, worn as they are, here a pivot, there a wheel, now a pinion, next a spring, will be giving way; and however we may tinker them up for a while, all will at length surcease motion. Our watches, with works of brass and steel, wear out within that period. Shall you and I last to see the course the seven-fold wonders of the times will take? The Attila of the age dethroned, the ruthless destroyer of ten millions of the human race, whose thirst for blood appeared unquenchable, the great oppressor of the rights and liberties of the world, shut up within the circle of a little island of the Mediterranean, and dwindled to the condition of an humble and degraded pensioner on the bounty of those he had most injured. How miserably, how meanly, has he closed his inflated career! What a sample of the bathos will his history present! He should have perished on the swords of his enemies, under the walls of Paris.
But Bonaparte was a lion in the field only. In civil life, a cold-blooded, calculating, unprincipled usurper, without a virtue: no statesman, knowing nothing of commerce, political economy, or civil government, and supplying ignorance by bold presumption. I had supposed him a great man until his entrance into the Assembly des cinq cens, eighteen Brumaire (an. 8.). From that date, however, I set him down as a great scoundrel only. To the wonders of his rise and fall, we may add that of a Czar of Muscovy, dictating, in Paris, laws and limits to all the successors of the Cæsars, and holding even the balance in which the fortunes of this new world are suspended. I own, that while I rejoice, for the good of mankind, in the deliverance of Europe from the havoc which would never have ceased while Bonaparte should have lived in power, I see with anxiety the tyrant of the ocean remaining in vigor, and even participating in the merit of crushing his brother tyrant. While the world is thus turned up side down, on which of its sides are we? All the strong reasons, indeed, place us on the side of peace; the interests of the continent, their friendly dispositions, and even the interests of England. Her passions alone are opposed to it. Peace would seem now to be an easy work, the causes of the war being removed. Her orders of council will no doubt be taken care of by the allied powers, and, war ceasing, her impressment of our seamen ceases of course. But I fear there is foundation for the design intimated in the public papers, of demanding a cession of our right in the fisheries. What will Massachusetts say to this? I mean her majority, which must be considered as speaking through the organs it has appointed itself, as the index of its will. She chose to sacrifice the liberties of our seafaring citizens, in which we were all interested, and with them her obligations to the co-States, rather than war with England. Will she now sacrifice the fisheries to the same partialities? This question is interesting to her alone; for to the middle, the southern and western States, they are of no direct concern; of no more than the culture of tobacco, rice and cotton, to Massachusetts. I am really at a loss to conjecture what our refractory sister will say on this occasion. I know what, as a citizen of the Union, I would say to her. “Take this question ad referendum. It concerns you alone. If you would rather give up the fisheries than war with England, we give them up. If you had rather fight for them, we will defend your interests to the last drop of our blood, choosing rather to set a good example than follow a bad one.” And I hope she will determine to fight for them. With this, however, you and I shall have nothing to do; ours being truly the case wherein “non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis tempus eget.” Quitting this subject, therefore, I will turn over a new leaf.
I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been, that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world, indeed, should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it? And particularly, how could Cicero bestow such eulogies on Plato! Although Cicero did not wield the dense logic of Demosthenes, yet he was able, learned, laborious, practised in the business of the world, and honest. He could not be the dupe of mere style, of which he was himself the first master in the world. With the moderns, I think, it is rather a matter of fashion and authority. Education is chiefly in the hands of persons who, from their profession, have an interest in the reputation and the dreams of Plato. They give the tone while at school, and few in their after years have occasion to revise their college opinions. But fashion and authority apart, and bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him his sophisms, futilities and incomprehensibilities, and what remains? In truth, he is one of the race of genuine sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first, by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly, by the adoption and incorporation of his whimsies into the body of artificial Christianity. His foggy mind is forever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen through a mist, can be defined neither in form nor dimensions. Yet this, which should have consigned him to early oblivion, really procured him immortality of fame and reverence. The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticism of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them; and for this obvious reason, that nonsense can never be explained. Their purposes, however, are answered. Plato is canonized; and it is now deemed as impious to question his merits as those of an Apostle of Jesus. He is peculiarly appealed to as an advocate of the immortality of the soul; and yet I will venture to say, that were there no better arguments than his in proof of it, not a man in the world would believe it. It is fortunate for us, that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like beasts of the field or forest. Yet “Plato is a great philosopher,” said La Fontaine. But, says Fontenelle, “Do you find his ideas very clear?” “Oh no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable.” “Do you not find him full of contradictions?” “Certainly,” replied La Fontaine, “he is but a sophist.” Yet immediately after he exclaims again, “Oh, Plato was a great philosopher.” Socrates had reason, indeed, to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for in truth, his dialogues are libels on Socrates.
But why am I dosing you with these antediluvian topics? Because I am glad to have some one to whom they are familiar, and who will not receive them as if dropped from the moon. Our post-revolutionary youth are born under happier stars than you and I were. They acquire all learning in their mother’s womb, and bring it into the world ready made. The information of books is no longer necessary; and all knowledge which is not innate, is in contempt, or neglect at least. Every folly must run its round; and so, I suppose, must that of self-learning and self-sufficiency; of rejecting the knowledge acquired in past ages, and starting on the new ground of intuition. When sobered by experience, I hope our successors will turn their attention to the advantages of education. I mean of education on the broad scale, and not that of the petty academies, as they call themselves, which are starting up in every neighborhood, and where one or two men, possessing Latin and sometimes Greek, a knowledge of the globes, and the first six books of Euclid, imagine and communicate this as the sum of science. They commit their pupils to the theatre of the world, with just taste enough of learning to be alienated from industrious pursuits, and not enough to do service in the ranks of science. We have some exceptions, indeed. I presented one to you lately, and we have some others. But the terms I use are general truths. I hope the necessity will, at length, be seen of establishing institutions here, as in Europe, where every branch of science, useful at this day, may be taught in its highest degree. Have you ever turned your thoughts to the plan of such an institution? I mean to a specification of the particular sciences of real use in human affairs, and how they might be so grouped as to require so many professors only as might bring them within the views of a just but enlightened economy? I should be happy in a communication of your ideas on this problem, either loose or digested. But to avoid my being run away with by another subject, and adding to the length and ennui of the present letter, I will here present to Mrs. Adams and yourself, the assurance of my constant and sincere friendship and respect.
TO WILLIAM WIRT
Monticello, August 14, 1814
—I have been laying under contribution my memory, my private papers, the printed records, gazettes and pamphlets in my possession, to answer the inquiries of your letter of July 27, and I will give you the result as correctly as I can. I kept no copy of the paper I sent you on a former occasion on the same subject, nor do I retain an exact recollection of its contents. But if in that I stated the question on the loan office to have been in 1762, I did it with too slight attention to the date, although not to the fact. I have examined the journals of the House of Burgesses, of 1760–1–2, in my possession, and find no trace of the proceeding in them. By those of 1764, I find that the famous address to the king, and memorials to the Houses of Lords and Commons, on the proposal of the Stamp Act, were of that date; and I know that Mr. Henry was not a member of the legislature when they were passed. I know also, because I was present, that Robinson (who died in May, 1766,) was in the chair on the question of the loan office. Mr. Henry, then, must have come in between these two epochs, and consequently in 1765. Of this year I have no journals to refresh my memory. The first session was in May, and his first remarkable exhibition there was on the motion for the establishment of an office for lending money on mortgages of real property. I find in Royle’s Virginia Gazette, of the 17th of that month this proposition for the loan office brought forward, its advantages detailed, and the plan explained; and it seems to have been done by a borrowing member, from the feeling with which the motives are expressed; and to have been preparatory to the intended motion. This was probably made immediately after that date, and certainly before the 30th, which was the date of Mr. Henry’s famous resolutions. I had been intimate with Mr. Henry since the winter of 1759–60, and felt an interest in what concerned him, and I can never forget a particular exclamation of his in the debate in which he electrified his hearers. It had been urged that from certain unhappy circumstances of the colony, men of substantial property had contracted debts, which, if exacted suddenly, must ruin them and their families, but, with a little indulgence of time, might be paid with ease. “What, Sir!” exclaimed Mr. Henry, in animadverting on this, “is it proposed then to reclaim the spendthrift from his dissipation and extravagance, by filling his pockets with money.” These expressions are indelibly impressed on my memory. He laid open with so much energy the spirit of favoritism on which the proposition was founded, and the abuses to which it would lead, that it was crushed in its birth. Abortive motions are not always entered on the journals, or rather, they are rarely entered. It is the modern introduction of yeas and nays which has given the means of placing a rejected motion on the journals; and it is likely that the speaker, who, as treasurer, was to be the loan officer, and had the direction of the journals, would choose to omit an entry of the motion in this case. This accounts sufficiently for the absence of any trace of the motion in the journals. There was no suspicion then, (as far, at least, as I know,) that Robinson had used the public money in private loans to his friends, and that the secret object of this scheme was to transfer those debtors to the public, and thus clear his accounts. I have diligently examined the names of the members on the journals of 1764, to see if any were still living to whose memory we might recur on this subject, but I find not a single one now remaining in life.
Of the parson’s cause I remember nothing remarkable. I was at school with Mr. Maury during the years 1758 and 1759, and often heard them inveigh against the iniquity of the act of 1758, called the two-penny act. In 1763, when that cause was decided in Hanover, I was a law-student in Williamsburg, and remember only that it was a subject of much conversation, and of great paper-controversy, in which Camm and Colonel Bland were the principal champions.
The disputed election in which Mr. Henry made himself remarkable, must have been that of Dandridge and Littlepage, in 1764, of which, however, I recollect no particulars, although I was still a student in Williamsburg, and paid attention to what was passing in the legislature.
I proceed now to the resolution of 1765. The copies you enclose me, and that inserted by Judge Marshall in his history, and copied verbatim by Burke, are really embarrassing by their differences. 1. That the four resolutions taken from the records of the House, is the genuine copy of what they passed, as amended by themselves, cannot be doubted. 2. That the copy which Mr. Henry left sealed up, is a true copy of these four resolutions, as reported by the committee, there is no reason to doubt. 3. That Judge Marshall’s version of three of these resolutions, (for he has omitted one altogether,) is from an unauthentic source is sufficiently proved by their great variation from the record in diction, although equivalent in sentiment. But what are we to say of Mr. Henry’s fifth, and Mr. Marshall’s two last, which we may call the sixth and seventh resolutions? The fifth has clearly nothing to justify the debate and proceedings which one of them produced. But the sixth is of that character, and perfectly tallies with the idea impressed on my mind, of that which was expunged. Judge Marshall tells us that two were disagreed to by the House, which may be true. I do not indeed recollect it, but I have no recollection to the contrary. My hypothesis, then, is this, that the two disagreed to were the fifth and seventh. The fifth, because merely tautologous of the third and fourth, and the seventh, because leading to individual persecution, for which no mind was then prepared. And that the sixth was the one passed by the House, by a majority of a single vote, and expunged from the journals the next day. I was standing at the door of communication between the house and lobby during the debates and vote, and well remember, that after the numbers on the division were told, and declared from the chair, Peyton Randolph (then Attorney General) came out at the door where I was standing, and exclaimed, “By God, I would have given one hundred guineas for a single vote.” For one vote would have divided the house, and Robinson was in the chair, who he knew would have negatived the resolution. Mr. Henry left town that evening, or the next morning; and Colonel Peter Randolph, then a member of the Council, came to the House of Burgesses about 10 o’clock of the forenoon, and sat at the clerk’s table till the House-bell rang, thumbing over the volumes of Journals to find a precedent of expunging a vote of the House, which he said had taken place while he was a member or clerk of the House, I do not recollect which. I stood by him at the end of the table a considerable part of the time, looking on as he turned over the leaves, but I do not recollect whether he found the erasure. In the meantime, some of the timid members, who had voted for the strongest resolution, had become alarmed, and as soon as the House met, a motion was made, and carried, to expunge it from the journals. And here I will observe, that Burke’s statement with his opponents, is entirely erroneous. I suppose the original journal was among those destroyed by the British, or its obliterated face might be appealed to. It is a pity this investigation was not made a few years sooner, when some of the members of the day were still living. I think inquiry should be made of Judge Marshall for the source from which he derived his copy of the resolutions. This might throw light on the sixth and seventh, which I verily believe, and especially the sixth, to be genuine in substance. On the whole, I suppose the four resolutions which are on the record, were passed and retained by the House; that the sixth is that which was passed by a single vote and expunged, and the fifth and seventh, the two which Judge Marshall says were disagreed to. That Mr. Henry’s copy, then, should not have stated all this, is the remaining difficulty. This copy he probably sealed up long after the transaction, for it was long afterwards that these resolutions, instead of the address and memorials of the preceding year, were looked back to as the commencement of legislative opposition. His own judgment may, at a later date, have approved of the rejection of the sixth and seventh, although not of the fifth, and he may have left and sealed up a copy, in his own handwriting, as approved by his ultimate judgment. This, to be sure, is conjecture, and may rightfully be rejected by any one to whom a more plausible solution may occur; and there I must leave it. The address of 1764 was drawn by Peyton Randolph. Who drew the memorial to the Lords I do not recollect, but Mr. Wythe, drew that to the Commons. It was done with so much freedom, that, as he has told me himself, his colleagues of the committee shrank from it as bearing the aspect of treason, and smoothed its features to its present form. He was, indeed, one of the very few, (for I can barely speak of them in the plural number,) of either character, who, from the commencement of the contest, hung our connection with Great Britain on its true hook, that of a common king. His unassuming character, however, made him appear as a follower, while his sound judgment kept him in a line with the freest spirit. By these resolutions, Mr. Henry took the lead out of the hands of those who had heretofore guided the proceedings of the House, that is to say, of Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, Randolph, Nicholas. These were honest and able men, had begun the opposition on the same grounds, but with a moderation more adapted to their age and experience. Subsequent events favored the bolder spirits of Henry, the Lees, Pages, Mason, &c., with whom I went in all points. Sensible, however, of the importance of unanimity among our constituents, although we often wished to have gone faster, we slackened our pace, that our less ardent colleagues might keep up with us; and they, on their part, differing nothing from us in principle, quickened their gait somewhat beyond that which their prudence might of itself have advised, and thus consolidated the phalanx which breasted the power of Britain. By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advanced with our constituents in undivided mass, and with fewer examples of separation than, perhaps, existed in any other part of the Union.
I do not remember the topics of Mr. Henry’s argument, but those of his opposers were that the same sentiments had been expressed in the address and memorials of the preceding session, to which an answer was expected and not yet received. I well remember the cry of treason, the pause of Mr. Henry at the name of George the III., and the presence of mind with which he closed his sentence, and baffled the charge vociferated. I do not think he took the position in the middle of the floor which you mention. On the contrary, I think I recollect him standing in the very place which he continued afterwards habitually to occupy in the house.
The censure of Mr. E. Randolph on Mr. Henry in the case of Philips, was without foundation. I remember the case, and took my part in it. Philips was a mere robber, who availing himself of the troubles of the times, collected a banditti, retired to the Dismal Swamps, and from thence sallied forth, plundering and maltreating the neighboring inhabitants, and covering himself, without authority, under the name of a British subject. Mr. Henry, then Governor, communicated the case to me. We both thought the best proceeding would be by bill of attainder, unless he delivered himself up for trial within a given time. Philips was afterwards taken; and Mr. Randolph being Attorney General, and apprehending he would plead that he was a British subject, taken in arms, in support of his lawful sovereign, and as a prisoner of war entitled to the protection of the law of nations, he thought the safest proceeding would be to indict him at common law as a felon and robber. Against this I believe Philips urged the same plea: he was overruled and found guilty.
I recollect nothing of a doubt on the re-eligibility of Mr. Henry to the government when his term expired in 1779, nor can I conceive on what ground such a doubt could have been entertained, unless perhaps that his first election in June, 1776, having been before we were nationally declared independent, some might suppose it should not be reckoned as one of the three constitutional elections.
Of the projects for appointing a Dictator there are said to have been two. I know nothing of either but by hearsay. The first was in Williamsburg in December, 1776. The Assembly had the month before appointed Mr. Wythe, Mr. Pendleton, George Mason, Thomas L. Lee, and myself, to revise the whole body of laws, and adapt them to our new form of government. I left the House early in December to prepare to join the Committee at Fredericksburg, the place of our first meeting. What passed, therefore, in the House in December, I know not, and have not the journals of that session to look into. The second proposition was in June, 1781, at the Staunton session of the legislature. No trace of this last motion is entered on the journals of that date, which I have examined. This is a further proof that the silence of the journals is no evidence against the fact of an abortive motion. Among the names of the members found on the journal of the Staunton session, are John Taylor of Caroline, General Andrew Moore, and General Edward Stevens of Culpeper, now living. It would be well to ask information from each of them, that their errors of memory, or of feeling, may be corrected by collation.
You ask if I would have any objection to be quoted as to the fact of rescinding the last of Mr. Henry’s resolutions. None at all as to that fact, or its having been passed by a majority of one vote only; the scene being as present to my mind as that in which I am now writing. But I do not affirm, although I believe it was the sixth resolution.
It is truly unfortunate that those engaged in public affairs so rarely make notes of transactions passing within their knowledge. Hence history becomes fable instead of fact. The great outlines may be true, but the incidents and coloring are according to the faith or fancy of the writer. Had Judge Marshall taken half your pains in sifting and scrutinizing facts, he would not have given to the world, as true history, a false copy of a record under his eye. Burke again has copied him, and being a second writer on the spot, doubles the credit of the copy. When writers are so indifferent as to the correctness of facts, the verification of which lies at their elbow, by what measure shall we estimate their relation of things distant, or of those given to us through the obliquities of their own vision? Our records, it is true, in the case under contemplation, were destroyed by the malice and Vandalism of the British military, perhaps of their government, under whose orders they committed so much useless mischief. But printed copies remained, as your examination has proved. Those which were apocryphal, then, ought not to have been hazarded without examination. Should you be able to ascertain the genuineness of the sixth and seventh resolutions, I would ask a line of information, to rectify or to confirm my own impressions respecting them. Ever affectionately yours.1
TO JOHN THOMPSON MASON
Monticello Aug. 18. 14
—Your letter of May 5. was handed me by Dr. Wallace on the 25th of June, & I have added to the delay of answering it by waiting the arrival of the specimens of Mrs. Mason’s skill in manufactures which your letter mentd. These (after various accidents of delay immaterial to explain) arrived yesterday, and excite the admiration of us all. They prove Mrs. Mason is really a more dangerous adversary to our British foes, than all our Generals. These attack the hostile armies only, she the source of their subsistence. What these do counts nothing because they take one day & lose another: what she does counts double, because what she takes from the enemy is added to us: I hope too she will have more followers than our Generals, but few rivals I fear. These specimens exceed any thing I saw during the revolutionary war; altho’ our ladies of that day turned their whole efforts to these objects, & with great praise & success. The endeavors which Dr. Wallace informed you we were making in the same line, are very humble indeed. We have not as yet got beyond the cloathing of our laborers. We hope indeed soon to begin finer fabrics, and for higher uses. But these will probably be confined to cotton & wool. Our Spinning jennies working from 24. to 40. spindles each, produce an impatience of the single thread of the flaxwheel. 2. oz. of cotton for each spindle is a moderate day’s work; and these, the simplest of machines, are made by our country joiners & kept in order by our overseers. Very different from the clockwork of Arkwright’s machines whose tooth & pinion work requires a clockmaker to make & keep in repair. I have lately also seen the improvement of the loom by Janes, the most beautiful machine I have ever seen; wherein the hand which pulls the batten moves the shuttle, the treadles, the temples, the web and cloth beams, all at the same time; so that a person with one hand, & without feet, or using only one hand, may weave as well as with all their members. I am endeavoring to procure this improvement also. These cares are certainly more pleasant than those of the state; and were happiness the only legitimate object the public councils would be deserted. That corvee once performed however the independent happiness of domestic life may rightfully be sought & enjoyed. Mrs. Randolph joins me in thanks and friendly respects to Mrs. Mason, and I add assurances of constant esteem & affection to yourself.
TO EDWARD COLES1
Monticello. August 25th, ’14
—Your favour of July 31, was duly received, and was read with peculiar pleasure. The sentiments breathed through the whole do honor to both the head and heart of the writer. Mine on the subject of slavery of negroes have long since been in possession of the public, and time has only served to give them stronger root. The love of justice and the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a moral reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain, and should have produced not a single effort, nay I fear not much serious willingness to relieve them & ourselves from our present condition of moral & political reprobation. From those of the former generation who were in the fulness of age when I came into public life, which was while our controversy with England was on paper only, I soon saw that nothing was to be hoped. Nursed and educated in the daily habit of seeing the degraded condition, both bodily and mental, of those unfortunate beings, not reflecting that that degradation was very much the work of themselves & their fathers, few minds have yet doubted but that they were as legitimate subjects of property as their horses and cattle. The quiet and monotonous course of colonial life has been disturbed by no alarm, and little reflection on the value of liberty. And when alarm was taken at an enterprize on their own, it was not easy to carry them to the whole length of the principles which they invoked for themselves. In the first or second session of the Legislature after I became a member, I drew to this subject the attention of Col. Bland, one of the oldest, ablest, & most respected members, and he undertook to move for certain moderate extensions of the protection of the laws to these people. I seconded his motion, and, as a younger member, was more spared in the debate; but he was denounced as an enemy of his country, & was treated with the grossest indecorum. From an early stage of our revolution other & more distant duties were assigned to me, so that from that time till my return from Europe in 1789, and I may say till I returned to reside at home in 1809, I had little opportunity of knowing the progress of public sentiment here on this subject. I had always hoped that the younger generation receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, & had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth, analogous to the motion of their blood, and above the suggestions of avarice, would have sympathized with oppression wherever found, and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it. But my intercourse with them, since my return has not been sufficient to ascertain that they had made towards this point the progress I had hoped. Your solitary but welcome voice is the first which has brought this sound to my ear; and I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope. Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St. Domingo, excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our Country, and offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over. As to the method by which this difficult work is to be effected, if permitted to be done by ourselves, I have seen no proposition so expedient on the whole, as that of emancipation of those born after a given day, and of their education and expatriation after a given age. This would give time for a gradual extinction of that species of labour & substitution of another, and lessen the severity of the shock which an operation so fundamental cannot fail to produce. For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them. Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent. I am sensible of the partialities with which you have looked towards me as the person who should undertake this salutary but arduous work. But this, my dear sir, is like bidding old Priam to buckle the armour of Hector “trementibus æquo humeris et inutile ferruncingi.” No, I have overlived the generation with which mutual labors & perils begat mutual confidence and influence. This enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to its consummation. It shall have all my prayers, & these are the only weapons of an old man. But in the mean time are you right in abandoning this property, and your country with it? I think not. My opinion has ever been that, until more can be done for them, we should endeavor, with those whom fortune has thrown on our hands, to feed and clothe them well, protect them from all ill usage, require such reasonable labor only as is performed voluntarily by freemen, & be led by no repugnancies to abdicate them, and our duties to them. The laws do not permit us to turn them loose, if that were for their good: and to commute them for other property is to commit them to those whose usage of them we cannot control. I hope then, my dear sir, you will reconcile yourself to your country and its unfortunate condition; that you will not lessen its stock of sound disposition by withdrawing your portion from the mass. That, on the contrary you will come forward in the public councils, become the missionary of this doctrine truly christian; insinuate & inculcate it softly but steadily, through the medium of writing and conversation; associate others in your labors, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on and press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment. It is an encouraging observation that no good measure was ever proposed, which, if duly pursued, failed to prevail in the end. We have proof of this in the history of the endeavors in the English parliament to suppress that very trade which brought this evil on us. And you will be supported by the religious precept, “be not weary in well-doing.” That your success may be as speedy & complete, as it will be of honorable & immortal consolation to yourself, I shall as fervently and sincerely pray as I assure you of my great friendship and respect.
TO JOHN MINOR
Monticello Aug. 30. 14
—I have at length found the paper of which you requested a copy. It was written near 50. years ago for the use of a young friend whose course of reading was confided to me; and it formed a basis for the studies of others subsequently placed under my direction, but curtailed for each in proportion to his previous acquirements and future views. I shall give it to you without change, except as to the books recommended to be read; later publications enabling me in some of the departments of science to substitute better, for the less perfect publications which we then possessed. In this the modern student has great advantage. I proceed to the copy.1
Monticello, Sep /9. 14
—I am sorry to learn by Francis’s letter that you are not yet recovered from your rheumatism, and much wonder you do not go and pass a summer at the warm springs. From the examples I have seen I should entertain no doubt of a radical cure. The transactions at Washington and Alexandria are indeed beyond expectation. The circumjacent country is mostly disaffected, but I should have thought the motions of the enemy long enough known, and their object probable enough to have called the well affected counties of Virginia & Maryland into place. Nobody who knows the President can doubt but that he has honestly done everything he could to the best of his judgment. And there is no sounder judgment than his. I cannot account for what has happened but by giving credit to the rumors which circulate against Armstrong, who is presumptuous, obstinate & injudicious. I should hope the law would lay hold of Sims &c. if it could lay hold of anything after the experiment on Burr. But Congress itself can punish Alexandria, by repealing the law which made it a town, by discontinuing it as a port of entry or clearance, and perhaps by suppressing it’s banks. But I expect all will go off with impunity. If our government ever fails, it will be from this weakness. No government can be maintained without the principle of fear as well as of duty. Good men will obey the last, but bad ones the former only. Our county is a desert. None are to be met in the roads but grayheads. About 800 men are gone from it, & chiefly volunteers. But I fear they cannot be armed. I think the truth must now be obvious that our people are too happy at home to enter into regular service, and that we cannot be defended but by making every citizen a souldier, as the Greeks & Romans who had no standing armies, & that in doing this all must be marshalled, classed by their ages, & every service ascribed to it’s competent class. Ever affectionately yours.
TO SAMUEL H. SMITH
Monticello, September 21, 1814
—I learn from the newspapers that the Vandalism of our enemy has triumphed at Washington over science as well as the arts, by the destruction of the public library with the noble edifice in which it was deposited. Of this transaction, as of that of Copenhagen, the world will entertain but one sentiment. They will see a nation suddenly withdrawn from a great war, full armed and full handed, taking advantage of another whom they had recently forced into it, unarmed, and unprepared, to indulge themselves in acts of barbarism which do not belong to a civilized age. When Van Ghent destroyed their shipping at Chatham, and De Ruyter rode triumphantly up the Thames, he might in like manner, by the acknowledgment of their own historians, have forced all their ships up to London bridge, and there have burnt them, the tower, and city, had these examples been then set. London, when thus menaced, was near a thousand years old, Washington is but in its teens.
I presume it will be among the early objects of Congress to re-commence their collection. This will be difficult while the war continues, and intercourse with Europe is attended with so much risk. You know my collection, its condition and extent. I have been fifty years making it, and have spared no pains, opportunity or expense, to make it what it is. While residing in Paris, I devoted every afternoon I was disengaged, for a summer or two, in examining all the principal bookstores, turning over every book with my own hand, and putting by everything which related to America, and indeed whatever was rare and valuable in every science. Besides this, I had standing orders during the whole time I was in Europe, on its principal book-marts, particularly Amsterdam, Frankfort, Madrid and London, for such works relating to America as could not be found in Paris. So that in that department particularly, such a collection was made as probably can never again be effected, because it is hardly probable that the same opportunities, the same time, industry, perseverance and expense, with some knowledge of the bibliography of the subject, would again happen to be in concurrence. During the same period, and after my return to America, I was led to procure, also, whatever related to the duties of those in the high concerns of the nation. So that the collection, which I suppose is of between nine and ten thousand volumes, while it includes what is chiefly valuable in science and literature generally, extends more particularly to whatever belongs to the American statesman. In the diplomatic and parliamentary branches, it is particularly full. It is long since I have been sensible it ought not to continue private property, and had provided that at my death, Congress should have the refusal of it at their own price. But the loss they have now incurred, makes the present the proper moment for their accommodation, without regard to the small remnant of time and the barren use of my enjoying it. I ask of your friendship, therefore, to make for me the tender of it to the library committee of Congress, not knowing myself of whom the committee consists. I enclose you the catalogue, which will enable them to judge of its contents. Nearly the whole are well bound, abundance of them elegantly, and of the choicest editions existing. They may be valued by persons named by themselves, and the payment made convenient to the public. It may be, for instance, in such annual instalments as the law of Congress has left at their disposal, or in stock of any of their late loans, or of any loan they may institute at this session, so as to spare the present calls of our country, and await its days of peace and prosperity. They may enter, nevertheless, into immediate use of it, as eighteen or twenty wagons would place it in Washington in a single trip of a fortnight. I should be willing indeed, to retain a few of the books, to amuse the time I have yet to pass, which might be valued with the rest, but not included in the sum of valuation until they should be restored at my death, which I would carefully provide for, so that the whole library as it stands in the catalogue at this moment should be theirs without any garbling. Those I should like to retain would be chiefly classical and mathematical. Some few in other branches, and particularly one of the five encyclopedias in the catalogue. But this, if not acceptable, would not be urged. I must add, that I have not revised the library since I came home to live, so that it is probable some of the books may be missing, except in the chapters of Law and Divinity, which have been revised and stand exactly as in the catalogue. The return of the catalogue will of course be needed, whether the tender be accepted or not. I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer. But such a wish would not correspond with my views of preventing its dismemberment. My desire is either to place it in their hands entire, or to preserve it so here. I am engaged in making an alphabetical index of the author’s names, to be annexed to the catalogue, which I will forward to you as soon as completed. Any agreement you shall be so good as to take the trouble of entering into with the committee, I hereby confirm. Accept the assurance of my great esteem and respect.
TO JAMES MONROE
Monticello, Sep. 24, 14
—The events which have lately taken place at Washington, & which truly disgrace our enemies much more than us, have occupied you too much to admit intrusions by private & useless letters. You seem indeed to have had your hands full with the duties of the field and the double duties of the Cabinet. The success of McDonough has been happily timed to dispel the gloom of your present meeting, and to open the present session of Congress with hope and good humor. To add however to our embarrassments, it happens to be the moment when the general bankruptcy comes upon us, which has been so long and so certainly impending. The banks declare they will not pay their bills which is sufficiently understood to mean that they cannot. Altho’ this truth has been long expected, yet their own declaration was wanting to fix the moment of insolvency. Their paper is now offered doubtingly, received by some merely from the total absence of all other medium of payment, and absolutely rejected by others; and in no case will a half-disme of cash be given in change. The annihilation of these institutions has come on us suddenly therefore, which I had thought should be suppressed, but gradatim only, in order to prevent, as much as possible, the crush of private fortunes. This catastrophe happening just as our legislature was about to meet, a member of it requested my thoughts on the occasion. These I have expressed in the inclosed letter, and as it forms a sequel to those I had lent you before, I send it for your perusal. Altho’ I am not willing they should be handed about promiscuously to friend and foe, yet if the communication of them to particular and confidential characters can do any good, I should leave that to your discretion, and only ask their return as soon as that shall have been done. Having learnt by the public papers the loss of the library of Congress, I have sent my catalogue to S. H. Smith with an offer of the whole collection, as it stands, to the library committee, to be valued by persons named by themselves, delivered immediately and paid for in such stock, or otherwise, & at such epoch as they may chuse after the days of peace & prosperity shall have returned. You know the general condition of the books, & can give them information should they ask any. I salute you always with sincere affection & respect.
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello, October 15, 1814
—I thank you for the information of your letter of the 10th. It gives, at length, a fixed character to our prospects. The war, undertaken, on both sides, to settle the questions of impressment, and the orders of council, now that these are done away by events, is declared by Great Britain to have changed its object, and to have become a war of conquest, to be waged until she conquers from us our fisheries, the province of Maine, the lakes, States and territories north of the Ohio, and the navigation of the Mississippi; in other words, till she reduces us to unconditional submission. On our part, then, we ought to propose, as a counterchange of object, the establishment of the meridian of the mouth of the Sorel northwardly, as the western boundary of all her possessions. Two measures will enable us to effect it, and without these, we cannot even defend ourselves. 1. To organize the militia into classes, assigning to each class the duties for which it is fitted, (which, had it been done when proposed, years ago, would have prevented all our misfortunes,) abolishing by a declaratory law the doubts which abstract scruples in some, and cowardice and treachery in others, have conjured up about passing imaginary lines, and limiting, at the same time, their services to the contiguous provinces of the enemy. The 2d is the ways and means. You have seen my ideas on this subject, and I shall add nothing but a rectification of what either I have ill expressed, or you have misapprehended. If I have used any expression restraining the emissions of treasury notes to a sufficient medium, as your letter seems to imply, I have done it inadvertently, and under the impression then possessing me, that the war would be very short. A sufficient medium would not, on the principles of any writer, exceed thirty millions of dollars, and on those of some not ten millions. Our experience has proved it may be run up to two or three hundred millions, without more than doubling what would be the prices of things under a sufficient medium, or say a metallic one, which would always keep itself at the sufficient point; and, if they rise to this term, and the descent from it be gradual, it would not produce sensible revolutions in private fortunes. I shall be able to explain my views more definitely by the use of numbers. Suppose we require, to carry on the war, an annual loan of twenty millions, then I propose that, in the first year, you shall lay a tax of two millions, and emit twenty millions of treasury notes, of a size proper for circulation, and bearing no interest, to the redemption of which the proceeds of that tax shall be inviolably pledged and applied, by recalling annually their amount of the identical bills funded on them. The second year lay another tax of two millions, and emit twenty millions more. The third year the same, and so on, until you have reached the maximum of taxes which ought to be imposed. Let me suppose this maximum to be one dollar a head, or ten millions of dollars, merely as an exemplification more familiar than would be the algebraical symbols x or y. You would reach this in five years. The sixth year, then, still emit twenty millions of treasury notes, and continue all the taxes two years longer. The seventh year twenty millions more, and continue the whole taxes another two years; and so on. Observe, that although you emit twenty millions of dollars a year, you call in ten millions, and, consequently, add but ten millions annually to the circulation. It would be in thirty years, then, primâ facie, that you would reach the present circulation of three hundred millions, or the ultimate term to which we might adventure. But observe, also, that in that time we shall have become thirty millions of people to whom three hundred millions of dollars would be no more than one hundred millions to us now; which sum would probably not have raised prices more than fifty per cent. on what may be deemed the standard, or metallic prices. This increased population and consumption, while it would be increasing the proceeds of the redemption tax, and lessening the balance annually thrown into circulation, would also absorb, without saturation, more of the surplus medium, and enable us to push the same process to a much higher term, to one which we might safely call indefinite, because extending so far beyond the limits, either in time or expense, of any supposable war. All we should have to do would be, when the war should be ended, to leave the gradual extinction of these notes to the operation of the taxes pledged for their redemption; not to suffer a dollar of paper to be emitted either by public or private authority, but let the metallic medium flow back into the channels of circulation, and occupy them until another war should oblige us to recur, for its support, to the same resource, and the same process, on the circulating medium.
The citizens of a country like ours will never have unemployed capital. Too many enterprises are open, offering high profits, to permit them to lend their capitals on a regular and moderate interest. They are too enterprising and sanguine themselves not to believe they can do better with it. I never did believe you could have gone beyond a first or a second loan, not from a want of confidence in the public faith, which is perfectly sound, but from a want of disposable funds in individuals. The circulating fund is the only one we can ever command with certainty. It is sufficient for all our wants; and the impossibility of even defending the country without its aid as a borrowing fund, renders it indispensable that the nation should take and keep it in their own hands, as their exclusive resource.
I have trespassed on your time so far, for explanation only. I will do it no further than by adding the assurances of my affectionate and respectful attachment.
Suppose the war to terminate here, to wit, at the end of seven years, the reduction will proceed as follows:
This is a tabular statement of the amount of emissions, taxes, redemptions, and balances left in circulation every year, on the plan above sketched.
TO JAMES MONROE
Monticello, October 16, 1814
—Your letter of the 10th has been duly received. The objects of our contest being thus entirely changed by England, we must prepare for interminable war. To this end we should put our house in order, by providing men and money to indefinite extent. The former may be done by classing our militia, and assigning each class to the description of duties for which it is fit. It is nonsense to talk of regulars. They are not to be had among a people so easy and happy at home as ours. We might as well rely on calling down an army of angels from heaven. I trust it is now seen that the refusal to class the militia, when proposed years ago, is the real source of all our misfortunes in this war. The other great and indispensable object is to enter on such a system of finance, as can be permanently pursued to any length of time whatever. Let us be allured by no projects of banks, public or private, or ephemeral expedients, which, enabling us to gasp and flounder a little longer, only increase, by protracting the agonies of death.
Perceiving, in a letter from the President, that either I had ill expressed my ideas on a particular part of this subject, in the letters I sent you, or he had misapprehended them, I wrote him yesterday an explanation; and as you have thought the other letters worth a perusal, and a communication to the Secretary of the Treasury, I enclose you a copy of this, lest I should be misunderstood by others also. Only be so good as to return me the whole when done with, as I have no other copies.
Since writing the letter now enclosed, I have seen the Report of the committee of finance, proposing taxes to the amount of twenty millions. This is a dashing proposition. But, if Congress pass it, I shall consider it sufficient evidence that their constituents generally can pay the tax. No man has greater confidence than I have, in the spirit of the people, to a rational extent. Whatever they can, they will. But, without either market or medium, I know not how it is to be done. All markets abroad, and all at home, are shut to us; so that we have been feeding our horses on wheat. Before the day of collection, bank-notes will be but as oak leaves; and of specie, there is not within all the United States, one-half of the proposed amount of the taxes. I had thought myself as bold as was safe in contemplating, as possible, an annual taxation of ten millions, as a fund for emissions of treasury notes; and, when further emissions should be necessary, that it would be better to enlarge the time, than the tax for redemption. Our position, with respect to our enemy, and our markets, distinguishes us from all other nations; inasmuch as a state of war, with us, annihilates in an instant all our surplus produce, that on which we depended for many comforts of life. This renders peculiarly expedient the throwing a part of the burdens of war on times of peace and commerce. Still, however, my hope is that others see resources, which, in my abstraction from the world, are unseen by me; that there will be both market and medium to meet these taxes, and that there are circumstances which render it wiser to levy twenty millions at once on the people, than to obtain the same sum on a tenth of the tax.
I enclose you a letter of Colonel James Lewis, now of Tennessee, who wishes to be appointed Indian agent, and I do it lest he should have relied solely on this channel of communication. You know him better than I do, as he was long your agent. I have always believed him an honest man, and very good-humored and accommodating. Of his other qualifications for the office, you are the best judge. Believe me to be ever affectionately yours.
TO JOSEPH MILLIGAN
Monticello Oct. 17. 14
—Your letters of Sep. 24. & Oct. 12. have been duly received. The packet of books will probably come on by the next stage. By the present one I send to the care of Mr. Gray of Fredericksburg a packet of 6. vols, which though made up of 4. different works, I wish to have bound as one work in 6. vols, to be labelled on the back “The Book of Kings.” The 1st & 2d vols. will be composed of the Memoirs of Bareuth, the binding to remain as it is, only changing the label. The Memoirs of Made. La Motte will make the 3d & 4th vols, pared down to the size of the first & bound uniform with them. Mrs. Clarke’s will be the 5th vol. pared & bound as before, and “the Book” will make the 6th which to be uniform in size with the rest, must perhaps be left with it’s present rough edges. Pray do it immediately and return it by the stage that they may be replaced on the shelves should Congress take my library, the proposition for which is before them. I mentioned to you the work on political economy by Tracy which had been translated by Genl. Duane, but could not be printed by him. I then wrote & offered it to Mr. Ritchie, from whom I had not received an answer when you were here, and I consulted you as to the allowance which ought to be made by Ritchie to Duane. Ritchie declines printing it, and I now inclose you a copy of my letter to him, which I will pray you to consider as now addressed to yourself, but to be returned to me, as I have no other copy. I shall be very glad if you will undertake the printing it, and I think it the best work ever written on the subject, and that you might count on a great sale of it to the members of Congress. Answer me as soon as you can if you please, because I have not yet answered Duane’s letter. The moment you say you will undertake it & specify the allowance for translating, I will have the MSS. brought on. I will correct the translation here and forward it to you sheet by sheet. When Congress return my Catalogue I will send that also to you to be printed. Accept assurances of my esteem & respect.
TO ALEXANDER DALLAS
Monticello Dec. 7. 14
—I tender my sincere congratulations on the occasion of your counsel and services being engaged for the public, and trust they will feel their benefit. The department to which you are called is the most arduous now in our government, and is that on which every other depends for it’s motion. Were our commerce open, no degree of contribution would be felt, but shut up as it is, the call on the people for taxes is truly a call for bricks without straw, in this state especially where we are feeding our horses with wheat as the cheapest forage; 50 cents being it’s price thro’ the middle country.
On the adoption of the land tax of the last year, an office of Assessor was established in every district, with power to determine what every land owner should pay, by his own judgment & without appeal. This important power could not fail to interest us highly, in the choice of the person vested with it. On a consultation with most of the principal persons in our quarter, there was but one opinion as to the fittest man in our district. All agreed that in the hands of a Mr. Peter Minor they would be safe, his ability, his judgment & independence being a sufficient security. I took the liberty therefore of writing to the President and to Mr. Campbell recommending this appointment. We were told soon after that it had been given to a Mr. Armstead of a neighboring county. This was given out by himself and Mr. Garland (formerly a member of Congress) whose protege Armstead is. The Assumption of the land tax by the state prevented further interest in the case. We now learn he had not the appointment and is now going on for it. If there be a better man than Minor we wish his appointment, but as to Mr. Armstead all agree he is the weakest & laziest man that could be found. Some believe him honest, others very openly deny it. Of his character however I have nothing personally, stating what I do from the information of others. Colo. Monroe, I think, knows Minor personally, & the President knows his family, it’s standing & character. He is nephew to Genl. Minor of Fredericksburg. The Collector being of this county (Albemarle) the principle of distribution might be supposed to require the Assessor from a different one. This principle may weigh between candidates of equal merit: but it cannot make the worse the better man, nor remedy the evils of an incorrect agent. The importance of this appointment towards a just apportionment of the public burthens & one which will probably be permanent, will I hope excuse my expressing to the government my own sense of it, and that of the most respectable persons of our quarter, with an assurance nevertheless, of our entire confidence that whatever appointment the government shall make will be founded in the best motives: and I avail myself of this occasion of assuring you of my great esteem & respect.
[1 ]Gideon Granger.
[1 ]Jefferson further wrote to Wirt:
Monticello, May 12, ’15
—Your favor of July 24th came to hand on the 31st, and I will proceed to answer your inquiries in the order they are presented as far as I am able.
I have no doubt that the fifth of the Rhode Island resolutions of which you have sent me a copy, is exactly the one erased from our journals. The Mr. Lees, and especially Richard Henry, who was industrious, had a close correspondence, I know, with the two Adams’, and probably with others in that and the other Eastern States; and I think it was said at the time that copies were sent off by them to the northward the very evening of the day on which they were passed. I can readily enough believe these resolutions were written by Mr. Henry himself. They bear the stamp of his mind, strong without precision. That they were written by Johnson who seconded them, was only the rumor of the day, and very possibly unfounded. But how Edmund Randolph should have said they were written by William Fleming, and Mr. Henry should have written that he showed them to William Fleming, is to me incomprehensible. There was no William Fleming then but the judge now living, whom nobody will ever suspect of taking the lead in rebellion. I am certain he was not then a member, and I think was never a member until the revolution had made some progress. Of this, however, he will inform us with candor and truth. His eldest brother, John Fleming, was a member, and a great speaker in debate. To him they may have been shown. Yet I should not have expected this, because he was extremely attached to Robinson, Peyton Randolph, &c., and at their beck, and had no independence or boldness of mind. However, he was attentive to his own popularity, might have been overruled by views to that, and without correction of the christian name, Mr. Henry’s note is sufficient authority to suppose he took the popular side on that occasion. I remember nothing to the contrary. The opposers of the resolutions were Robinson, Peyton Randolph, Pendleton, Wythe, Bland, and all the cyphers of the aristocracy. No longer possessing the journals, I cannot recollect nominally the others. They opposed them on the ground that the same principles had been expressed in the petition, &c., of the preceding year, to which an answer, not yet received, was daily expected, that they were therein expressed in more conciliatory terms, and therefore more likely to have good effect. The resolutions were carried chiefly by the vote of the middle and upper country. To state the differences between the classes of society and the lines of demarkation which separated them, would be difficult. The law, you know, admitted none except as to the twelve counsellors. Yet in a country insulated from the European world, insulated from its sister colonies, with whom there was scarcely any intercourse, little visited by foreigners, and having little matter to act upon within itself, certain families have risen to splendor by wealth and the preservation of it from generation to generation under the law entails; some had produced a series of men of talents; families in general had remained stationary on the grounds of their forefathers, for there was no emigration to the westward in those days. The wild Irish, who had gotten possession of the valley between the Blue Ridge and North Mountain, forming a barrier over which none ventured to leap, and would still less venture to settle among. In such a state of things, scarcely admitting any change of station, society would settle itself down into several strata, separated by no marked lines, but shading off imperceptibly from top to bottom, nothing disturbing the order of their repose. There were then aristocrats, half-breeds, pretenders, a solid independent yeomanry, looking askance at those above, yet not venturing to jostle them, and last and lowest, a seculum of beings called overseers, the most abject, degraded and unprincipled race, always cap in hand to the Dons who employed them, and furnishing materials for the exercise of their pride, insolence and spirit of domination. Your characters are inimitably and justly drawn. I am not certain if more might not be said of Colonel Richard Bland. He was the most learned and logical man of those who took prominent lead in public affairs, profound in constitutional lore, a most ungraceful speaker, (as were Peyton Randolph and Robinson, in a remarkable degree.) He wrote the first pamphlet on the nature of the connection with Great Britain which had any pretension to accuracy of view on that subject, but it was a singular one. He would set out on sound principles, pursue them logically till he found them leading to the precipice which he had to leap, start back alarmed, then resume his ground, go over it in another direction, be led again by the correctness of his reasoning to the same place, and again back about, and try other processes to reconcile right and wrong, but finally left his reader and himself bewildered between the steady index of the compass in their hand, and the phantasm to which it seemed to point. Still there was more sound matter in his pamphlet than in the celebrated Farmer’s letters, which were really but an ignis fatuus, misleading us from true principles.
Landon Carter’s measure you may take from the first volume of the American Philosophical transactions, where he has one or more long papers on the weavil, and perhaps other subjects. His speeches, like his writings, were dull, vapid, verbose, egotistical, smooth as the lullaby of the nurse, and commanding, like that, the repose only of the hearer.
You ask if you may quote me, first, for the loan office; second, Phillips’ case; and third, the addresses prepared for Congress by Henry and Lee. For the two first certainly, because within my own knowledge, especially citing the record in Phillips’ case, which of itself refutes the diatribes published on that subject; but not for the addresses, because I was not present, nor know anything relative to them but by hearsay from others. My first and principal information on that subject I know I had from Ben Harrison, on his return from the first session of the old Congress. Mr. Pendleton, also, I am tolerably certain, mentioned it to me; but the transaction is too distant, and my memory too indistinct, to hazard as with precision, even what I think I heard from them. In this decay of memory Mr. Edmund Randolph must have suffered at a much earlier period of life than myself. I cannot otherwise account for his saying to you that Robert Carter Nicholas came into the Legislature only on the death of Peyton Randolph, which was in 1776. Seven years before that period, I went first into the Legislature myself, to-wit: in 1769, and Mr. Nicholas was then a member, and I think not a new one. I remember it from an impressive circumstance. It was the first assembly of Lord Botetourt, being called on his arrival. On receiving the Governor’s speech, it was usual to move resolutions as heads for an address. Mr. Pendleton asked me to draw the resolutions, which I did. They were accepted by the house, and Pendleton, Nicholas, myself and some others, were appointed a committee to prepare the address. The committee desired me to do it, but when presented it was thought to pursue too strictly the diction of the resolutions, and that their subjects were not sufficiently amplified. Mr. Nicholas chiefly objected to it, and was desired by the committee to draw one more at large, which he did with amplification enough, and it was accepted. Being a young man as well as a young member, it made on me an impression proportioned to the sensibility of that time of life. On a similar occasion some years after, I had reason to retain a remembrance of his presence while Peyton Randolph was living. On the receipt of Lord North’s propositions, in May or June, 1775, Lord Dunmore called the assembly. Peyton Randolph, then President of Congress and Speaker of the House of Burgesses, left the former body and came home to hold the assembly, leaving in Congress the other delegates who were the ancient leaders of our house. He therefore asked me to prepare the answer to Lord North’s propositions, which I did. Mr. Nicholas, whose mind had as yet acquired no tone for that contest, combated the answer from alpha to omega, and succeeded in diluting it in one or two small instances. It was firmly supported, however, in committee of the whole, by Peyton Randolph, who had brought with him the spirit of the body over which he had presided, and it was carried, with very little alteration, by strong majorities. I was the bearer of it myself to Congress, by whom, as it was the first answer given to those propositions by any legislature, it was received with peculiar satisfaction. I am sure that from 1769, if not earlier, to 1775, you will find Mr. Nicholas’ name constantly in the journals, for he was an active member. I think he represented James City county. Whether on the death of Peyton Randolph he succeeded him for Williamsburg, I do not know. If he did, it may account for Mr. Randolph’s error.
You ask some account of Mr. Henry’s mind, information and manners in 1759-’60, when I first became acquainted with him. We met at Nathan Dandridge’s, in Hanover, about the Christmas of that winter, and passed perhaps a fortnight together at the revelries of the neighborhood and season. His manners had something of the coarseness of the society he had frequented; his passion was fiddling, dancing and pleasantry. He excelled in the last, and it attached every one to him. The occasion perhaps, as much as his idle disposition, prevented his engaging in any conversation which might give the measure either of his mind or information. Opportunity was not wanting, because Mr. John Campbell was there, who had married Mrs. Spotswood, the sister of Colonel Dandridge. He was a man of science, and often introduced conversations on scientific subjects. Mr. Henry had a little before broke up his store, or rather it had broken him up, and within three months after he came to Williamsburg for his license, and told me, I think, he had read law not more than six weeks. I have by this time, probably, tired you with these old histories, and shall, therefore, only add the assurance of my great friendship and respect.
[1 ]From the Debates in the Virginia Convention, 1832.
TH. JEFFERSON TO BERNARD MOORE.
Till VIII o’clock in the morning employ yourself in Physical studies, Ethics, Religion, natural and sectarian, and Natural law, reading the following books.
In the department of the Chancery, a similar progress has taken place. Ld. Kaim has given us the first digest of the principles of that branch of our jurisprudence, more valuable for the arrangement of matter; than for it’s exact conformity with the English decisions. The Reporters from the early time of that branch to that of the same Matthew Bacon are well digested, but alphabetically also, in the Abridgement of the Cases in Equity, the 2d volume of which is said to have been done by him. This was followed by a number of able reporters of which Fonblanque has given us a summary digest by commentaries on the text of the earlier work, ascribed to Ballow, entitled ‘a Treatise of Equity.’ The course of reading recommended then in these two branches of Law is the following.