Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1817 - TO MRS. JOHN ADAMS - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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1817 - TO MRS. JOHN ADAMS - Thomas Jefferson, The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826) 
The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 12.
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TO MRS. JOHN ADAMS
Monticello, January 11, 1817
I owe you, dear Madam, a thousand thanks for the letters communicated in your favor of December 15th, and now returned. They give me more information than I possessed before, of the family of Mr. Tracy. But what is infinitely interesting, is the scene of the exchange of Louis XVIII. for Bonaparte. What lessons of wisdom Mr. Adams must have read in that short space of time! More than fall to the lot of others in the course of a long life. Man, and the man of Paris, under those circumstances, must have been a subject of profound speculation! It would be a singular addition to that spectacle, to see the same beast in the cage of St. Helena, like a lion in the tower. That is probably the closing verse of the chapter of his crimes. But not so with Louis. He has other vicissitudes to go through.
I communicated the letters, according to your permission, to my grand-daughter, Ellen Randolph, who read them with pleasure and edification. She is justly sensible of, and flattered by your kind notice of her; and additionally so, by the favorable recollections of our northern visiting friends. If Monticello has anything which has merited their remembrance, it gives it a value the more in our estimation; and could I, in the spirit of your wish, count backwards a score of years, it would not be long before Ellen and myself would pay our homage personally to Quincy. But those twenty years! Alas! where are they? With those beyond the flood. Our next meeting must then be in the country to which they have flown,—a country for us not now very distant. For this journey we shall need neither gold nor silver in our purse, nor scrip, nor coats, nor staves. Nor is the provision for it more easy than the preparation has been kind. Nothing proves more than this, that the Being who presides over the world is essentially benevolent. Stealing from us, one by one, the faculties of enjoyment, searing our sensibilities, leading us, like the horse in his mill, round and round the same beaten circle,
Until satiated and fatigued with this leaden iteration, we ask our own congé. I heard once a very old friend, who had troubled himself with neither poets nor philosophers, say the same thing in plain prose, that he was tired of pulling off his shoes and stockings at night, and putting them on again in the morning. The wish to stay here is thus gradually extinguished; but not so easily that of returning, once in awhile, to see how things have gone on. Perhaps, however, one of the elements of future felicity is to be a constant and unimpassioned view of what is passing here. If so, this may well supply the wish of occasional visits. Mercier has given us a vision of the year 2440; but prophecy is one thing, and history another. On the whole, however, perhaps it is wise and well to be contented with the good things which the master of the feast places before us, and to be thankful for what we have, rather than thoughtful about what we have not. You and I, dear Madam, have already had more than an ordinary portion of life, and more, too, of health than the general measure. On this score I owe boundless thankfulness. Your health was, some time ago, not so good as it has been; and I perceive in the letters communicated, some complaints still. I hope it is restored; and that life and health may be continued to you as many years as yourself shall wish, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate and respectful friend.
TO JOHN ADAMS
Monticello, January 11, 1817
—Forty-three volumes read in one year, and twelve of them quarto! Dear Sir, how I envy you! Half a dozen octavos in that space of time, are as much as I am allowed. I can read by candlelight only, and stealing long hours from my rest; nor would that time be indulged to me, could I by that light see to write. From sunrise to one or two o’clock, and often from dinner to dark, I am drudging at the writing table. And all this to answer letters into which neither interest nor inclination on my part enters; and often from persons whose names I have never before heard. Yet, writing civilly, it is hard to refuse them civil answers. This is the burthen of my life, a very grievous one indeed, and one which I must get rid of. Delaplaine lately requested me to give him a line on the subject of his book; meaning, as I well knew, to publish it. This I constantly refuse; but in this instance yielded, that in saying a word for him, I might say two for myself. I expressed in it freely my sufferings from this source; hoping it would have the effect of an indirect appeal to the discretion of those, strangers and others, who, in the most friendly dispositions, oppress me with their concerns, their pursuits, their projects, inventions and speculations, political, moral, religious, mechanical, mathematical, historical, &c., &c., &c. I hope the appeal will bring me relief, and that I shall be left to exercise and enjoy correspondence with the friends I love, and on subjects which they, or my own inclinations present. In that case, your letters shall not be so long on my files unanswered, as sometimes they have been, to my great mortification.
To advert now to the subjects of those of December the 12th and 16th. Tracy’s Commentaries on Montesquieu have never been published in the original. Duane printed a translation from the original manuscript a few years ago. It sold, I believe, readily, and whether a copy can now be had, I doubt. If it can, you will receive it from my bookseller in Philadelphia, to whom I now write for that purpose. Tracy comprehends, under the word “Ideology,” all the subjects which the French term Morale, as the correlative to Physique. His works on Logic, Government, Political Economy and Morality, he considers as making up the circle of ideological subjects, or of those which are within the scope of the understanding, and not of the senses. His Logic occupies exactly the ground of Locke’s work on the Understanding. The translation of that on Political Economy is now printing; but it is no translation of mine. I have only had the correction of it, which was, indeed, very laborious. Le premier jet having been by some one who understood neither French nor English, it was impossible to make it more than faithful. But it is a valuable work.
The result of your fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, “Be just and good,” is that in which all our inquiries must end; as the riddles of all the priesthoods end in four more, “ubi panis, ibi deus.” What all agree in, is probably right. What no two agree in, most probably wrong. One of our fan-coloring biographers, who paints small men as very great, inquired of me lately with real affection too, whether he might consider as authentic, the change of my religion much spoken of in some circles. Now this supposed that they knew what had been my religion before, taking for it the word of their priests, whom I certainly never made the confidants of my creed. My answer was “say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.” Affectionately adieu.
TO WILLIAM SAMPSON
Monticello, Jan. 26, 17
—I have read with great satisfaction the eloquent pamphlet you were so kind as to send me, and sympathise with every line of it. I was once a doubter whether the labor of the Cultivator, aided by the creative powers of the earth itself, would not produce more value than that of the manufacturer, alone and unassisted by the dead subject on which he acted? In other words, whether the more we could bring into action of the energies of our boundless territory, in addition to the labor of our citizens, the more would not be our gain? But the inventions of latter times, by labor-saving machines, do as much now for the manufacturer, as the earth for the cultivator. Experience too has proved that mine was but half the question. The other half is whether Dollars & cents are to be weighed in the scale against real independence? The whole question then is solved; at least so far as respects our wants.
I much fear the effect on our infant establishments, of the policy avowed by Mr. Brougham, and quoted in the pamphlet. Individual British merchants may lose by the late immense importations; but British commerce & manufactures, in the mass, will gain by beating down the competition of ours, in our own markets against this policy, our protecting duties are as nothing, our patriotism less. I turn, however, with some confidence to a different auxiliary, a revolution in England, now, I believe unavoidable. The crisis so long expected, inevitable as death, altho’ uncertain like that in it’s date, is at length arrived. Their government has acted over again the fable of the frog and the ox; and their bloated system has burst. They have spent the fee simple of the island in their inflated enterprises on the peace and happiness of the rest of mankind. Their debts have consequently accumulated by their follies & frauds, until the interest is equal to the aggregate rents of all the farms in their country. All these rents must go to pay interest, and nothing remains to carry on the government. The possession alone of their lands is now in the nominal owner; the usufruct in the public creditors. Their people too taxed up to 14. or 15. out of 16. hours of daily labor, dying of hunger in the streets & fields. The survivors can see for themselves the alternative only of following them or of abolishing their present government of kings, lords, & borough-commons, and establishing one in some other form, which will let them live in peace with the world. It is not easy to foresee the details of such a revolution, but I should not wonder to see the deportation of their king to Indostan, and of their Prince Regent to Botany Bay. There, imbecility might be governed by imbecility, and vice by vice; all in suit. Our wish for the good of the people of England, as well as for our own peace, should be that they may be able to form for themselves such a constitution & government as may permit them to enjoy the fruits of their own labors in peace, instead of squandering them in fomenting and paying the wars of the world. But during these struggles, their artists are to become soldiers. Their manufactures to cease, their commerce sink and our intercourse with them be suspended. This interval of suspension may revive and fix our manufactures, wean us from British aperies, and give us a national & independent character of our own. I cannot say that all this will be, but that it may be; and it ought to be supplicated from heaven by the prayers of the whole world that at length there may be “on earth peace, and good will towards men.” No country, more than your native one, ought to pray & be prepared for this. I wish them success, and to yourself health and prosperity.
TO CHARLES THOMSON1
Monticello, Janry. 29, 1817
My very Dear & Antient Friend,
—I learnt from your last letter, with much affliction, the severe and singular attack, your health has lately sustained, but its equally singular and sudden restoration confirms my confidence in the strength of your constitution of body and mind and my conclusions that neither has received hurt, and that you are still ours for a long time to come. We have both much to be thankful for in the soundness of our physical organization, and something for self approbation in the order and regularity of life by which it has been preserved. Your preceding letter had given me no cause to doubt the continued strength of your mind, and were it not that I am always peculiarly gratified by hearing from you, I should regret you had thought the incident with Mr. Delaplaine worth an explanation. He wrote me on the subject of my letter to you of Janry. 9, 1816, and asked me questions which I answer only to one Being. To himself, therefore, I replied: “Say nothing of my Religion: it is known to my God and myself alone; its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society the Religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.” It is a singular anxiety which some people have that we should all think alike. Would the world be more beautiful were all our faces alike? were our tempers, our talents, our tastes, our forms, our wishes, aversions and pursuits cast exactly in the same mould? If no varieties existed in the animal, vegetable or mineral creation, but all move strictly uniform, catholic & orthodox, what a world of physical and moral monotony it would be! These are the absurdities into which those run who usurp the throne of God and dictate to Him what He should have done. May they with all their metaphysical riddles appear before that tribunal with as clean hands and hearts as you and I shall. There, suspended in the scales of eternal justice, faith and works will show their worth by their weight. God bless you and preserve you long in life & health.
TO DOCTOR THOMAS HUMPHREYS
Monticello, February 8, 1817
—Your favor of January 2d did not come to my hands until the 5th instant. I concur entirely in your leading principles of gradual emancipation, of establishment on the coast of Africa, and the patronage of our nation until the emigrants shall be able to protect themselves. The subordinate details might be easily arranged. But the bare proposition of purchase by the United States generally, would excite infinite indignation in all the States north of Maryland. The sacrifice must fall on the States alone which hold them; and the difficult question will be how to lessen this so as to reconcile our fellow citizens to it. Personally I am ready and desirous to make any sacrifice which shall ensure their gradual but complete retirement from the State, and effectually, at the same time, establish them elsewhere in freedom and safety. But I have not perceived the growth of this disposition in the rising generation, of which I once had sanguine hopes. No symptoms inform me that it will take place in my day. I leave it, therefore, to time, and not at all without hope that the day will come, equally desirable and welcome to us as to them. Perhaps the proposition now on the carpet at Washington to provide an establishment on the coast of Africa for voluntary emigrations of people of color, may be the corner stone of this future edifice. Praying for its completion as early as may most promote the good of all, I salute you with great esteem and respect.
TO FRANCIS A. VAN DER KEMP
Monticello, Mar. 16. 17
—I learn with real concern that the editor of the Theological Repository possesses the name of the author of the Syllabus, altho he coyly withholds it for the present, he will need but a little coaxing to give it out and to let lose upon him the genus irretabile vatum, there and here. Be it so. I shall receive with folded arms all their hacking & hewing. I shall not ask their passport to a country, which they claim indeed as theirs but which was made, I trust, for moral man, and not for dogmatising venal jugglers. Should they however, instead of abuse, appeal to the tribunal of reason and fact, I shall really be glad to see on what point they will begin their attack. For it expressly excludes all questions of supernatural character or endowment. I am in hopes it may find advocates as well as opposers, and produce for us a temperate & full development. As to myself I shall be a silent Auditor.
Mr. Adams’s book on Feudal law, mentioned in your letter of Feb: 2. I possessed, and it is now in the library at Washington which I ceded to Congress. In the same letter you ask if I can explain the phrase il est digne de porter le ruban gris de lin. I do not know that I can. gris de lin is the French designation of the colour which the English call grizzle. The ruban gris de lin may be the badge of some association, unknown, I acknowledge to me, but to which the author from whom you quote it may have some allusion. I shall be happy to learn that you pursue your purpose as to the life of the great reformer, and more so in seeing it accomplished. I return the Repository with thanks for the opportunity of seeing it, and I pray you accept my friendly and respectful salutations.1
TO TRISTAM DALTON1
Monticello, May 2, ’17
—I am indebted to you for your favor of Apr. 22, and for the copy of the Agricultural magazine it covered, which is indeed a very useful work. While I was an amateur in Agricultural science (for practical knolege my course of life never permitted me) I was very partial to the drilled husbandry of Tull, and thought still better of it when reformed by Young to 12 rows. But I had not time to try it while young, and now grown old I have not the requisite activity either of body or mind.
With respect to field culture of vegetables for cattle, instead of the carrot and potato recommended by yourself and the magazine, & the best of others, we find the Jerusalem artichoke best for winter, & the Succory for Summer use. This last was brought over from France to England by Arthur Young, as you will see in his travels thro’ France, & some of the seed sent by him to Genl. Washington, who spared me a part of it. It is as productive as the Lucerne, without its laborious culture, & indeed without any culture except the keeping it clean the first year. The Jerusalem artichoke far exceeds the potato in produce, and remains in the ground thro’ the winter to be dug as wanted. A method of ploughing over hill sides horizontally, introduced into the most hilly part of our country by Colo. T. M. Randolph, my son in law, may be worth mentioning to you. He has practised it a dozen or 15 years, and it’s advantages were so immediately observed that it has already become very general, and has entirely changed and renovated the face of our country. Every rain, before that, while it gave a temporary refreshment, did permanent evil by carrying off our soil: and fields were no sooner cleared than wasted. At present we may say that we lose none of our soil, the rain not absorbed in the moment of it’s fall being retained in the hollows between the beds until it can be absorbed. Our practice is when we first enter on this process, with a rafter level of 10 f. span, to lay off guide lines conducted horizontally around the hill or valley from one end to the other of the field, and about 30 yards apart. The steps of the level on the ground are marked by a stroke of a hoe, and immediately followed by a plough to preserve the trace. A man or a lad, with the level, and two small boys, the one with sticks, the other with the hoe, will do an acre of this in an hour, and when once done it is forever done. We generally level a field the year it is put into Indian corn laying it into beds of 6 ft. wide, with a large water furrow between the beds, until all the fields have been once leveled. The intermediate furrows are run by the eye of the ploughman governed by these guide lines, & occasion gores which are thrown into short beds. As in ploughing very steep hill sides horizontally the common ploughman can scarcely throw the furrow uphill, Colo. Randolph has contrived a very simple alteration of the share, which throws the furrow down hill both going and coming. It is as if two shares were welded together at their straight side, and at a right angle with each other. This turns on it’s bar as on a pivot, so as to lay either share horizontal, when the other becoming verticle acts as a mould board. This is done by the ploughman in an instant by a single motion of the hand, at the end of every furrow. I enclose a bit of paper cut into the form of the double share, which being opened at the fold to a right angle, will give an idea of it’s general principle. Horizontal and deep ploughing, with the use of plaister and clover, which are but beginning to be used here will, as we believe, restore this part of our country to it’s original fertility, which was exceeded by no upland in the state. Believing that some of these things might be acceptable to you I have hazarded them as testimonials of my great esteem & respect.
TO GEORGE TICKNOR
Monticello [May ? 1817.]
I suppose that your friends of Boston furnish you with our domestic news. Improvement is now the general word with us. Canals, roads, education occupy principal attention. A bill which had passed both houses of Congress for beginning these works, was negatived by the President, on constitutional, and I believe, sound grounds; that instrument not having placed this among the enumerated objects to which they are authorized to apply the public contributions. He recommended an application to the states for an extension of their powers to this object, which will I believe be unanimously conceded, & will be a better way of obtaining the end, than by strained constructions, which would loosen all the bands of the constitution. In the mean time the states separately are going on with this work. New York is undertaking the most gigantic enterprise of uniting the waters of L. Erie and the Hudson; Jersey those of the Delaware & Raritan. This state proposes several such works; but most particularly has applied itself to establishments for education, by taking up the plan I proposed to them 40. years ago, which you will see explained in the Notes on Virginia. They have provided for this special object an ample fund, and a growing one. They propose an elementary school in every ward or township, for reading, writing and common arithmetic; a college in every district, suppose of 80. or 100. miles square, for laying the foundations of the sciences in general, to wit, languages, geography & the higher branches of Arithmetic; and a single University embracing every science deemed useful in the present state of the world. This last may very possibly be placed near Charlottesville, which you know is under view from Monticello.
Amid these enlarged measures, the papers tell us of one by the legislature of New York, so much in the opposite direction that it would puzzle us to say in what, the darkest age of the history of bigotry and barbarism, we should find an apt place for it. It is said they have declared by law that all those who hereafter shall join in communion with the religious sect of Shaking quakers, shall be deemed civilly dead, their marriage vows dissolved, and all their children and property taken from them; without any provision for rehabilitation in case of resipiscence. To prove that this departure from the spirit of our institutions is local and I hope merely momentary, Pennsylvania about the same time, rejected a proposition to make the belief in a god a necessary qualification for office, altho’ I presume there was not an Atheist in their body: and I dare say you have heard that when the law for freedom of religion was before the Virginia legislature in which the phrase “the author of our holy religion” happened to be they rejected a proposition to prefix to it the name of “Jesus Christ,” altho certainly a great majority of them considered him as such. Yet they would not undertake to say that for every one. The New York law is so recent that nothing has yet been said about it, & I do imagine if it has been past, their next legislature will repeal it, and make an amende honorable to the general spirit of their confederates. Nothing having yet appeared but the naked act, without signature, or a word of the history of it’s passage, there is room to hope it has been merely an abortive attempt.
P. S. the preceding written some time ago, is now only despatched.
TO THE MARQUIS DE LA FAYETTE
Monticello, May 14, 1817
Although, dear Sir, much retired from the world, and meddling little in its concerns, yet I think it almost a religious duty to salute at times my old friends, were it only to say and to know that “all’s well.” Our hobby has been politics; but all here is so quiet, and with you so desperate, that little matter is furnished us for active attention. With you too, it has long been forbidden ground, and therefore imprudent for a foreign friend to tread, in writing to you. But although our speculations might be intrusive, our prayers cannot but be acceptable, and mine are sincerely offered for the well-being of France. What government she can bear, depends not on the state of science, however exalted, in a select band of enlightened men, but on the condition of the general mind. That, I am sure, is advanced and will advance; and the last change of government was fortunate, inasmuch as the new will be less obstructive to the effects of that advancement. For I consider your foreign military oppressions as an ephemeral obstacle only.
Here all is quiet. The British war has left us in debt; but that is a cheap price for the good it has done us. The establishment of the necessary manufactures among ourselves, the proof that our government is solid, can stand the shock of war, and is superior even to civil schism, are precious facts for us; and of these the strongest proofs were furnished, when, with four eastern States tied to us, as dead to living bodies, all doubt was removed as to the achievements of the war, had it continued. But its best effect has been the complete suppression of party. The federalists who were truly American, and their great mass was so, have separated from their brethren who were mere Anglomen, and are received with cordiality into the republican ranks. Even Connecticut, as a State, and the last one expected to yield its steady habits (which were essentially bigoted in politics as well as religion), has chosen a republican governor, and republican legislature. Massachusetts indeed still lags; because most deeply involved in the parricide crimes and treasons of the war. But her gangrene is contracting, the sound flesh advancing on it, and all there will be well. I mentioned Connecticut as the most hopeless of our States. Little Delaware had escaped my attention. That is essentially a Quaker State, the fragment of a religious sect which, there, in the other States, in England, are a homogeneous mass, acting with one mind, and that directed by the mother society in England. Dispersed, as the Jews, they still form, as those do, one nation, foreign to the land they live in. They are Protestant Jesuits, implicitly devoted to the will of their superior, and forgetting all duties to their country in the execution of the policy of their order. When war is proposed with England, they have religious scruples; but when with France, these are laid by, and they become clamorous for it. They are, however, silent, passive, and give no other trouble than of whipping them along. Nor is the election of Monroe an inefficient circumstance in our felicities. Four and twenty years, which he will accomplish, of administration in republican forms and principles, will so consecrate them in the eyes of the people as to secure them against the danger of change. The evanition of party dissensions has harmonized intercourse, and sweetened society beyond imagination. The war then has done us all this good, and the further one of assuring the world, that although attached to peace from a sense of its blessings, we will meet war when it is made necessary.
I wish I could give better hopes of our southern brethren. The achievement of their independence of Spain is no longer a question. But it is a very serious one, what will then become of them? Ignorance and bigotry, like other insanities, are incapable of self-government. They will fall under military despotism, and become the murderous tools of the ambition of their respective Bonapartes; and whether this will be for their greater happiness, the rule of one only has taught you to judge. No one, I hope, can doubt my wish to see them and all mankind exercising self-government, and capable of exercising it. But the question is not what we wish, but what is practicable? As their sincere friend and brother then, I do believe the best thing for them, would be for themselves to come to an accord with Spain, under the guarantee of France, Russia, Holland, and the United States, allowing to Spain a nominal supremacy, with authority only to keep the peace among them, leaving them otherwise all the powers of self-government, until their experience in them, their emancipation from their priests, and advancement in information, shall prepare them for complete independence. I exclude England from this confederacy, because her selfish principles render her incapable of honorable patronage or disinterested co-operation; unless, indeed, what seems now probable, a revolution should restore to her an honest government, one which will permit the world to live in peace. Portugal, grasping at an extension of her dominion in the south, has lost her great northern province of Pernambuco, and I shall not wonder if Brazil should revolt in mass, and send their royal family back to Portugal. Brazil is more populous, more wealthy, more energetic, and as wise as Portugal. I have been insensibly led, my dear friend, while writing to you, to indulge in that line of sentiment in which we have been always associated, forgetting that these are matters not belonging to my time. Not so with you, who have still many years to be a spectator of these events. That these years may indeed be many and happy, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate friend.
TO WILSON CARY NICHOLAS
Monticello June 10. 17
—I am detaining from the Philosophical society their copy of Colo. Byrd’s journal, until I can learn whether I may be permitted to send with it also the supplementary one of which I obtained the loan thro’ your favor. Will you be so good as to favor me with the name of the person to whom it belongs, that I may sollicit the permission without troubling you?
Does your new bank propose to do any business with country people? I have been in the habit of asking small accommodations occasionally from the Virginia bank where I had for some time past a note of 2000 D. The disastrous corn-crop of the last year & the excessive price of that article obliged me to apply to them lately for an additional 2000 D. to be indulged until the present crop should furnish new resources. They readily furnished the sum, but said the rules established for some time to come would forbid them to renew it at the expiration of the 60. days. Mr. Gibson, my correspondent & endorser advised me to enquire in time whether I could be enabled by the US. bank to take up the note when due, under a prospect of it’s renewal for some months. Will you be so good as to inform me on this subject? Your friends in our vicinity are all well. I salute you with friendship and respect.
TO DOCTOR JOHN MANNERS
Monticello, June 12, 1817
—Your favor of May 20th has been received some time since, but the increasing inertness of age renders me slow in obeying the calls of the writing-table, and less equal than I have been to its labors.
My opinion on the right of Expatriation has been, so long ago as the year 1776, consigned to record in the act of the Virginia code, drawn by myself, recognizing the right expressly, and prescribing the mode of exercising it. The evidence of this natural right, like that of our right to life, liberty, the use of our faculties, the pursuit of happiness, is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man. We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings. If he has made it a law in the nature of man to pursue his own happiness, he has left him free in the choice of place as well as mode; and we may safely call on the whole body of English jurists to produce the map on which Nature has traced, for each individual, the geographical line which she forbids him to cross in pursuit of happiness. It certainly does not exist in his mind. Where, then, is it? I believe, too, I might safely affirm, that there is not another nation, civilized or savage, which has ever denied this natural right. I doubt if there is another which refuses its exercise. I know it is allowed in some of the most respectable countries of continental Europe, nor have I ever heard of one in which it was not. How it is among our savage neighbors, who have no law but that of Nature, we all know.
Though long estranged from legal reading and reasoning, and little familiar with the decisions of particular judges, I have considered that respecting the obligation of the common law in this country as a very plain one, and merely a question of document. If we are under that law, the document which made us so can surely be produced; and as far as this can be produced, so far we are subject to it, and farther we are not. Most of the States did, I believe, at an early period of their legislation, adopt the English law, common and statute, more or less in a body, as far as localities admitted of their application. In these States, then, the common law, so far as adopted is the lex-loci. Then comes the law of Congress, declaring that what is law in any State, shall be the rule of decision in their courts, as to matters arising within that State, except when controlled by their own statutes. But this law of Congress has been considered as extending to civil cases only; and that no such provision has been made for criminal ones. A similar provision, then, for criminal offences, would, in like manner, be an adoption of more or less of the common law, as part of the lex-loci, where the offence is committed; and would cover the whole field of legislation for the general government. I have turned to the passage you refer to in Judge Cooper’s Justinian, and should suppose the general expressions there used would admit of modifications conformable to this doctrine. It would alarm me indeed, in any case, to find myself entertaining an opinion different from that of a judgment so accurately organized as his. But I am quite persuaded that, whenever Judge Cooper shall be led to consider that question simply and nakedly, it is so much within his course of thinking, as liberal as logical, that, rejecting all blind and undefined obligation, he will hold to the positive and explicit precepts of the law alone. Accept these hasty sentiments on the subjects you propose, as hazarded in proof of my great esteem and respect.
TO BARON F. H. ALEXANDER VON HUMBOLDT
Monticello, June 13, 1817
—The receipt of your Distributio Geographica Plantarum, with the duty of thanking you for a work which sheds so much new and valuable light on botanical science, excites the desire, also, of presenting myself to your recollection, and of expressing to you those sentiments of high admiration and esteem, which, although long silent, have never slept. The physical information you have given us of a country hitherto so shamefully unknown, has come exactly in time to guide our understandings in the great political revolution now bringing it into prominence on the stage of the world. The issue of its struggles, as they respect Spain, is no longer matter of doubt. As it respects their own liberty, peace and happiness, we cannot be quite so certain. Whether the blinds of bigotry, the shackles of the priesthood, and the fascinating glare of rank and wealth, give fair play to the common sense of the mass of their people, so far as to qualify them for self-government, is what we do not know. Perhaps our wishes may be stronger than our hopes. The first principle of republicanism is, that the lex-majoris partis is the fundamental law of every society of individuals of equal rights; to consider the will of the society enounced by the majority of a single vote, as sacred as if unanimous, is the first of all lessons in importance, yet the last which is thoroughly learnt. This law once disregarded, no other remains but that of force, which ends necessarily in military despotism. This has been the history of the French revolution, and I wish the understanding of our Southern brethren may be sufficiently enlarged and firm to see that their fate depends on its sacred observance.
In our America we are turning to public improvements. Schools, roads, and canals, are everywhere either in operation or contemplation. The most gigantic undertaking yet proposed, is that of New York, for drawing the waters of Lake Erie into the Hudson. The distance is 353 miles, and the height to be surmounted 661 feet. The expense will be great, but its effect incalculably powerful in favor of the Atlantic States. Internal navigation by steamboats is rapidly spreading through all our States, and that by sails and oars will ere long be looked back to as among the curiosities of antiquity. We count much, too, on its efficacy for harbor defence; and it will soon be tried for navigation by sea. We consider the employment of the contributions which our citizens can spare, after feeding, and clothing, and lodging themselves comfortably, as more useful, more moral, and even more splendid, than that preferred by Europe, of destroying human life, labor and happiness.
I write this letter without knowing where it will find you. But wherever that may be, I am sure it will find you engaged in something instructive for man. If at Paris, you are of course in habits of society with Mr. Gallatin, our worthy, our able, and excellent minister, who will give you, from time to time, the details of the progress of a country in whose prosperity you are so good as to feel an interest, and in which your name is revered among those of the great worthies of the world. God bless you, and preserve you long to enjoy the gratitude of your fellow men, and to be blessed with honors, health and happiness.
TO ALBERT GALLATIN
Monticello, June 16, 1817
—The importance that the enclosed letters should safely reach their destination, impels me to avail myself of the protection of your cover. This is an inconvenience to which your situation exposes you, while it adds to the opportunities of exercising yourself in works of charity.
According to the opinion I hazarded to you a little before your departure, we have had almost an entire change in the body of Congress. The unpopularity of the compensation law was completed, by the manner of repealing it as to all the world except themselves. In some States, it is said, every member is changed; in all, many. What opposition there was to the original law, was chiefly from southern members. Yet many of those have been left out, because they received the advanced wages. I have never known so unanimous a sentiment of disapprobation; and what is remarkable is, that it was spontaneous. The newspapers were almost entirely silent, and the people not only unled by their leaders, but in opposition to them. I confess I was highly pleased with this proof of the innate good sense, the vigilance, and the determination of the people to act for themselves.
Among the laws of the late Congress, some were of note; a navigation act, particularly, applicable to those nations only who have navigation acts; pinching one of them especially, not only in the general way, but in the intercourse with her foreign possessions. This part may re-act on us, and it remains for trial which may bear longest. A law respecting our conduct as a neutral between Spain and her contending colonies, was passed by a majority of one only, I believe, and against the very general sentiment of our country. It is thought to strain our complaisance to Spain beyond her right or merit, and almost against the right of the party, and certainly against the claims they have to our good wishes and neighborly relations. That we should wish to see the people of other countries free, is as natural, and at least as justifiable, as that one King should wish to see the Kings of other countries maintained in their despotism. Right to both parties, innocent favor to the juster cause, is our proper sentiment.
You will have learned that an act for internal improvement, after passing both Houses, was negatived by the President. The act was founded, avowedly, on the principle that the phrase in the constitution which authorizes Congress “to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,” was an extension of the powers specifically enumerated to whatever would promote the general welfare; and this, you know, was the federal doctrine. Whereas, our tenet ever was, and, indeed, it is almost the only landmark which now divides the federalists from the republicans, that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated; and that, as it was never meant they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action; consequently, that the specification of powers is a limitation of the purposes for which they may raise money. I think the passage and rejection of this bill a fortunate incident. Every State will certainly concede the power; and this will be a national confirmation of the grounds of appeal to them, and will settle forever the meaning of this phrase, which, by a mere grammatical quibble, has countenanced the General Government in a claim of universal power. For in the phrase, “to lay taxes, to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare,” it is a mere question of syntax, whether the two last infinitives are governed by the first or are distinct and co-ordinate powers; a question unequivocally decided by the exact definition of powers immediately following. It is fortunate for another reason, as the States, in conceding the power, will modify it, either by requiring the federal ratio of expense in each State, or otherwise, so as to secure us against its partial exercise. Without this caution, intrigue, negotiation, and the barter of votes might become as habitual in Congress, as they are in those legislatures which have the appointment of officers, and which, with us, is called “logging,” the term of the farmers for their exchanges of aid in rolling together the logs of their newly-cleared grounds. Three of our papers have presented us the copy of an act of the legislature of New York, which, if it has really passed, will carry us back to the times of the darkest bigotry and barbarism, to find a parallel. Its purport is, that all those who shall hereafter join in communion with the religious sect of Shaking Quakers, shall be deemed civilly dead, their marriages dissolved, and all their children and property taken out of their hands. This act being published nakedly in the papers, without the usual signatures, or any history of the circumstances of its passage, I am not without a hope it may have been a mere abortive attempt. It contrasts singularly with a cotemporary vote of the Pennsylvania legislature, who, on a proposition to make the belief in God a necessary qualification for office, rejected it by a great majority, although assuredly there was not a single atheist in their body. And you remember to have heard, that when the act for religious freedom was before the Virginia Assembly, a motion to insert the name of Jesus Christ before the phrase, “the author of our holy religion,” which stood in the bill, was rejected, although that was the creed of a great majority of them.
I have been charmed to see that a Presidential election now produces scarcely any agitation. On Mr. Madison’s election there was little, on Monroe’s all but none. In Mr. Adams’ time and mine, parties were so nearly balanced as to make the struggle fearful for our peace. But since the decided ascendency of the republican body, federalism has looked on with silent but unresisting anguish. In the middle, southern and western States, it is as low as it ever can be; for nature has made some men monarchists and tories by their constitution, and some, of course, there always will be.
TO CHARLES CLAY
Poplar Forest, July 12, 17
—This is the only fair day since you were here, & being to depart to-morrow, I must employ it otherwise than in paying the visit I had intended you. I shall be back however within 3 weeks and have time then to render the double.
In the mean while as your Paul is desirous of laying up useful things in the storehouse of his mind, I send him a little bundle of canons of conduct which may merit a shelf after the one occupied by the Decalogue of first authority. If he will get them by heart, occasions will not be wanting for their useful application. You can furnish him also with another decad, and regulating his life by this code of practice it may bring pleasure and profit to himself, and praise from others. Wishing pleasure, profit, and praise to him, to you and yours, I salute you with constant friendship and respect.1
TO GOODMAN, REED, BOYER & DUANE
Poplar Forest near Lynchburg, Aug. 21, 17
Messrs. Goodman, Reed, Boyer & Duane:
Your letter of the 6th inst. is delivered to me at this place with an extract from the Franklin Republican of July 29. in these words. “Extract of a letter from Virginia. July 13. 1817. The day before yesterday I was at Monticello, & had the gratification to hear the chief of the elevated group there (Mr. Jefferson) express his anxious wish for the success of the democratic republican gubernatorial candidate in Pensylvania—As he says he has no opinion of tool or turnabout politicians just to serve their own aggrandisement.” Now I declare to you, Gentlemen, on my honor that I never expressed a sentiment, or uttered a syllable to any mortal living on the subject of the election referred to in this extract. It is one into which I have never permitted even my wishes to enter, entertaining as I do a high respect for both the characters in competition, and not doubting that the state of Pensylvania will be happier under the government of either. If any further proof of the falsehood of this letter writer were required, it would be found in the fact that on the 11th of July, when he pretends to have seen me at Monticello, & to have been entrusted by me with expressions so highly condemnable, I was at this place 90 miles South West of that, attending to my harvest here. I had left Monticello on the 29th of June, & did not return to it until the 15th of July. The facts of my absence from the one place, & presence at the other, at that date, are well known to many inhabitants of the town of Charlottesville near the one, & of Lynchburg near the other place.
I am duly sensible of the sentiments of respect with which you are pleased to honor me in your letter, as I am also of those concerning myself in the resolutions of the respectable Committee of the New market ward, who have been led into error by this very false letter writer. These, I trust, will not be lessened on either side by my assurance that, considering this as a family question I do not allow myself to take any part in it, and the less as the issue either way cannot be unfavorable to republican government. I tender to both parties sincere sentiments of esteem & respect.
TO GEORGE TICKNOR
Poplar Forest near Lynchburg, Nov. 25. 17
—Your favor of Aug. 14. was delivered to me as I was setting out for the distant possession from which I now write, & to which I pay frequent & long visits. On my arrival here I make it my first duty to write the letter you request to Mr. Erving, and to inclose it in this under cover to your father that you may get it in time. My letters are always letters of thanks because you are always furnishing occasion for them. I am very glad you have been so kind as to make the alteration you mention in the Herodotus & Livy I had asked from the Messrs. Desbures. I have not yet heard from them, but daily expect to do so, and to learn the arrival of my books. I shall probably send them another catalogue early in spring; every supply from them furnishing additional materials for my happiness.
I had before heard of the military ingredients which Bonaparte had infused into all the schools of France, but have never so well understood them as from your letter. The penance he is now doing for all his atrocities must be soothing to every virtuous heart. It proves that we have a god in heaven. That he is just, and not careless of what passes in this world. And we cannot but wish to this inhuman wretch, a long, long life, that time as well as intensity may fill up his sufferings to the measure of his enormities. But indeed what sufferings can atone for his crimes against the liberties & happiness of the human race; for the miseries he has already inflicted on his own generation, & on those yet to come, on whom he has rivetted the chains of despotism!
I am now entirely absorbed in endeavours to effect the establishment of a general system of education in my native state, on the triple basis, 1, of elementary schools which shall give to the children of every citizen gratis, competent instruction in reading, writing, common arithmetic, and general geography. 2. Collegiate institutions for antient & modern languages, for higher instruction in arithmetic, geography & history, placing for these purposes a college within a day’s ride of every inhabitant of the state, and adding a provision for the full education at the public expence of select subjects from among the children of the poor, who shall have exhibited at the elementary schools the most prominent indications of aptness of judgment & correct disposition. 3. An University in which all the branches of science deemed useful at this day, shall be taught in their highest degree. This would probably require ten or twelve professors, for most of whom we shall be obliged to apply to Europe, and most likely to Edinburg, because of the greater advantage the students will receive from communications made in their native language. This last establishment will probably be within a mile of Charlottesville, and four from Monticello, if the system should be adopted at all by our legislature who meet within a week from this time. My hopes however are kept in check by the ordinary character of our state legislatures, the members of which do not generally possess information enough to perceive the important truths, that knolege is power, that knolege is safety, and that knolege is happiness.
In the meantime, and in case of failure of the broader plan, we are establishing a college of general science, at the same situation near Charlottesville, the scale of which, of necessity will be much more moderate, as resting on private donations only. These amount at present to about 75,000 Dollars. The buildings are begun, and by midsummer we hope to have two or three professorships in operation. Would to god we could have two or three duplicates of yourself, the original being above our means and hopes. If then we fail in doing all the good we wish, we will do at least all we can. This is the law of duty in every society of free agents, where every one has equal right to judge for himself. God bless you, and give to the means of benefiting mankind which you will bring home with you, all the success your high qualifications ought to insure.
[1 ]From Collections of the N. Y. Historical Society, p. 267.
[1 ]Jefferson further wrote to Van der Kemp:
Monticello, May 1. 17
—I thank you for your letter of Mar. 30/ My mind is entirely relieved by your assurance that my name did not cross the Atlantic in connection with the Syllabus. The suggestion then of the Editor of the Theological Repository was like those of our newspaper editors who pretend they know every thing, but in discretion will not tell us, while we see that they give us all they know and a great deal more. I am now at the age of quietism, and wish not to be kicked by the asses of hierophantism. I hope you will find time to take up this subject. There are some new publications in Germany which would greatly aid it, to wit,
Augusti’s translation & commentary on the 7. Catholic epistles, in which he has thrown great light on the opinions of the primitive Christians & on the innovations of St. Paul, printed at Lemgo 1808. 2. vols. 8vo.
Palmer’s Paul and Gamaliel. Giessen. 1806.
Munter’s history of dogmas. Gottingen. 1806. shewing the formation of the dogmatical system of Christianity.
Augusti’s Manual of the history of Christian dogmas. Leipsic 1805.
Marteinacke’s Manual of Ecclesiastical history. Erlangen 1806. developing the simple ideas of the first Christians, and the causes & progress of the subsequent changes.
I have not written for these books, because I suppose they are in German which I do not read; but I expect they are profoundly learned on their subjects.
In answer to your inquiries respecting Rienzi, the best account I have met with of this poor counterfeit of the Gracchi, who seems to have had enthusiasm & eloquence, without either wisdom or firmness, is the 5th & 6th vols. of Sigismondi. He quotes for his authority chiefly the Frammenti de Storia Romana d’anonimo contemporaneo. Of the monk Borselaro I know nothing, and my books are all gone to where they will be more useful, & my memory waning under the hand of time. I think Bekker might have demanded a truce from his antagonists on the question of a Hall, by desiring them first to fix it’s geography. But wherever it be, it is certainly the best patrimony of the church, and procures them in exchange the solid acres of this world. I salute you with entire esteem & respect.
[1 ]From a copy courteously furnished by Mr. Chester A. Stoddard, of Boston, Mass.
[1 ]Th. Jefferson to Paul Clay.