Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1825 - TO WILLIAM SHORT - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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1825 - TO WILLIAM SHORT - 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 WILLIAM SHORT
Monticello, January 8, 1825
—I returned the first volume of Hall by a mail of a week ago, and by this, shall return the second. We have kept them long, but every member of the family wished to read his book, in which case, you know, it had a long gauntlet to run. It is impossible to read thoroughly such writings as those of Harper and Otis, who take a page to say what requires but a sentence, or rather, who give you whole pages of what is nothing to the purpose. A cursory race over the ground is as much as they can claim. It is easy for them, at this day, to endeavor to whitewash their party, when the greater part are dead of those who witnessed what passed, others old and become indifferent to the subject, and others indisposed to take the trouble of answering them. As to Otis, his attempt is to prove that the sun does not shine at mid-day; that that is not a fact which every one saw. He merits no notice. It is well known that Harper had little scruple about facts where detection was not obvious. By placing in false lights whatever admits it, and passing over in silence what does not, a plausible aspect may be presented of anything. He takes great pains to prove, for instance, that Hamilton was no monarchist, by exaggerating his own intimacy with him, and the impossibility, if he was so, that he should not, at some time, have betrayed it to him. This may pass with uninformed readers, but not with those who have had it from Hamilton’s own mouth. I am one of those, and but one of many. At my own table, in presence of Mr. Adams, Knox, Randolph, and myself, in a dispute between Mr. Adams and himself, he avowed his preference of monarchy over every other government, and his opinion that the English was the most perfect model of government ever devised by the wit of man, Mr. Adams agreeing “if its corruptions were done away.” While Hamilton insisted that “with these corruptions it was perfect, and without them it would be an impracticable government.” Can any one read Mr. Adams’ defence of the American constitutions without seeing that he was a monarchist? And J. Q. Adams, the son, was more explicit than the father, in his answer to Paine’s rights of man. So much for leaders. Their followers were divided. Some went the same lengths, others, and I believe the greater part, only wished a stronger Executive. When I arrived at New York in 1790, to take a part in the administration, being fresh from the French revolution, while in its first and pure stage, and consequently somewhat whetted up in my own republican principles, I found a state of things, in the general society of the place, which I could not have supposed possible. Being a stranger there, I was feasted from table to table, at large set dinners, the parties generally from twenty to thirty. The revolution I had left, and that we had just gone through in the recent change of our own government, being the common topics of conversation, I was astonished to find the general prevalence of monarchical sentiments, insomuch that in maintaining those of republicanism, I had always the whole company on my hands, never scarcely finding among them a single co-advocate in that argument, unless some old member of Congress happened to be present. The furthest that any one would go, in support of the republican features of our new government, would be to say, “the present constitution is well as a beginning, and may be allowed a fair trial; but it is, in fact, only a stepping stone to something better.” Among their writers, Denny, the editor of the Portfolio, who was a kind of oracle with them, and styled the Addison of America, openly avowed his preference of monarchy over all other forms of government, prided himself on the avowal, and maintained it by argument freely and without reserve, in his publications. I do not, myself, know that the Essex junto of Boston were monarchists, but I have always heard it so said, and never doubted.
These, my dear Sir, are but detached items from a great mass of proofs then fully before the public. They are unknown to you, because you were absent in Europe, and they are now disavowed by the party. But, had it not been for the firm and determined stand then made by a counter-party, no man can say what our government would have been at this day. Monarchy, to be sure, is now defeated, and they wish it should be forgotten that it was ever advocated. They see that it is desperate, and treat its imputation to them as a calumny; and I verily believe that none of them have it now in direct aim. Yet the spirit is not done away. The same party takes now what they deem the next best ground, the consolidation of the government; the giving to the federal member of the government, by unlimited constructions of the constitution, a control over all the functions of the States, and the concentration of all power ultimately at Washington.
The true history of that conflict of parties will never be in possession of the public, until, by the death of the actors in it, the hoards of their letters shall be broken up and given to the world. I should not fear to appeal to those of Harper himself, if he has kept copies of them, for abundant proof that he was himself a monarchist. I shall not live to see these unrevealed proofs, nor probably you; for time will be requisite. But time will, in the end, produce the truth. And, after all, it is but a truth which exists in every country, where not suppressed by the rod of despotism. Men, according to their constitutions, and the circumstances in which they are placed, differ honestly in opinion. Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent. This is the division of sentiment now existing in the United States. It is the common division of whig and tory, or according to our denominations of republican and federal; and is the most salutary of all divisions, and ought, therefore, to be fostered, instead of being amalgamated. For, take away this, and some more dangerous principle of division will take its place. But there is really no amalgamation. The parties exist now as heretofore. The one, indeed, has thrown off its old name, and has not yet assumed a new one, although obviously consolidationists. And among those in the offices of every denomination I believe it to be a bare minority.
I have gone into these facts to show how onesided a view of this case Harper has presented. I do not recall these recollections with pleasure, but rather wish to forget them, nor did I ever permit them to affect social intercourse. And now, least of all, am disposed to do so. Peace and good will with all mankind is my sincere wish. I willingly leave to the present generation to conduct their affairs as they please. And in my general affection to the whole human family, and my particular devotion to my friends, be assured of the high and special estimation in which yourself is cordially held.
TO BENJAMIN WATERHOUSE1
Monticello, Jan. 8. 25
—Your favor of Dec. 20. is received. The Professors of our University, 8. in number, are all engaged. Those of antient & modern languages are already on the spot. Three more are hourly expected to arrive, and on their arrival the whole will assemble and enter on their duties. There remains therefore no place in which we can avail ourselves of the services of the revd. Mr. Bertrum as a teacher. I wish we could do it as a Preacher. I am anxious to see the doctrine of one god commenced in our State. But the population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one Preacher well. I must therefore be contented to be an Unitarian by myself, altho I know there are many around me who would become so if once they could hear the question fairly stated.
Your account of Mr. Adams afflicts me deeply: and I join with him in the question, Is existence, such as either his or mine, worth anxiety for it’s continuance. The value of life is equivocal with all its’ faculties and channels of enjoyment in full exercise. But when these have been withdrawn from us by age, the balance of pain preponderates unequivocally. It is true that if my friend was doomed to a paralysis either of body or mind, he has been fortunate in retaining the vigor of his mind and memory. The most undesirable of all things is long life: and there is nothing I have ever so much dreaded. Altho’ subject to occasional indispositions, my health is too good generally not to give me fears on that subject. I am weak indeed in body, able scarcely to walk into my garden without too much fatigue. But a ride of 6. 8. or 10. miles a day gives me none. Still however a start or stumble of my horse, or some one of the many accidents which constantly beset us, may cut short the toughest thread of life, and relieve me from the evils of dotage. Come when it will, it will find me neither unready nor unwilling. To yourself I wish as long a life as you choose and health and prosperity to it’s end.
TO FRANCIS ADRIAN VAN DER KEMP
Monto Jan. 11. 25
—Your favor of Dec. 28. is duly received, and gladdens me with the information that you continue to enjoy health; it is a principal mitign of the evils of age. I wish that the situatn of our friend Mr. Adams was equally comfortable. But what I learn of his physical condition is truly deplorable. His mind however continues strong and firm, his memory sound, his hearing perfect & his spirits good. But both he and myself are at that term of life when there is nothing before us to produce anxiety for it’s continuance. I am sorry for the occasion of expressing my condolance on the loss mento. in your letter. The solitude in which we are left by the death of our friends is one of the great evils of protracted life. When I look back to the days of my youth it is like looking over a field of battle. All, all dead! and ourselves left alone midst a new genern whom we know not, and who know not us. I thank you beforehand for the book of your friend P. Vreede of which you have been so kind as to bespeak a copy for me. On the subject of my portefeuille, be assured it contains nothing but copies of my letters. In these I have sometimes indulged myself in reflections on the things which have been passing. Some of them, like that to the quaker to which you refer, may give a moment’s amusement to a reader, and from the voluminous mass when I am dead, a selection may perhaps be made of a few which may have interest enough to bear a single reading. Mine has been too much a life of action to allow my mind to wander from the occurrences pressing on it. I have been lately reading a most extraordinary book, that of M. Flourens on the functions of the nervous system in vertebrated animals. He proves by too many, and too accurate experiments to admit contradiction, that from such animals the whole contents of the cerebrum may be taken out, leaving the cerebellum and the rest of the system uninjured, and the animal continue to live in perfect health an indefinite period. He mentions particularly a case of 10½ months of survivance of a pullet. In that state the animal is deprived of every sense, of perception, intelligence, memory and thought of every degree. It will perish on a heap of grain unless you cram it down it’s throat. It retains the powers of motion, but feeling no motive, it never moves unless from external excitement. He demonstrates in fact that the cerebrum is the organ of thought, and possesses alone the faculty of thinking. This is a terrible tub thrown out to the Athanasians. They must tell us whether the soul remains in the body in this state deprived of the power of thought? Or does it leave the body as in death? And where does it go? Can it be received in heaven while it’s body is living on earth? These and a multitude of other questions it will be incumbent on them to answer otherwise than by the dogma that every one who believeth not with them, without doubt shall perish everlastingly. The materialist fortified with these new proofs of his own creed, will hear with derision these Athanasian denunciations. It will not be very long before you and I shall know the truth of all this, and in the meantime I pray for the continuance of your health, contentment & comfort.
TO J. S. JOHNSON
Monticello Feb. 13. ’25
—Your favor of the 3d was recd some days ago, and I have taken time to make a thorough search among my papers for whatever might relate to Mr. Sibley, but to no effective purpose. The part of his correspdce which related to public matters was with the Secy. at war. The few letters I have of his respect matters of curiosity, Indn vocabularies & things of that kind. When we acquired Louisiana we were exceedingly uninformed of every thing relating to it. I addressed enquiries to every individual of the country who I thought might give us informn, and I remember that I considered that furnished by Dr. Sibley as distinguished in it’s value. At the ensuing Congress I communicated the whole to that body and it was printed and made a large 8vo; the originals, and their printed copy were probably burnt by the British, but the printed copy which I had kept for myself went afterwards to Washington with my library and may there be turned to. It will be found entered in the printed catalogue pa. 104, No. 261 under the title of “State papers 1793–1812. 36. v. 8vo.” The date of the communicn Nov. 14th, 1803 will point to the particular vol. In this will probably be found much of the informn received from Dr. Sibley, which will give an idea of the extent & value of his services to us on that occasion.
With respect to the two articles particularly stated in your lre I have carefully examd. all my papers & letters of the years 1804. & 1805, and do not find the scrip of a pen relating to them. My memory furnishes me with some general recollections on which I can depend as to De la Harpe’s journal, but several of the particulars are too faintly recalled to be depended on. For example I am not certain whether the correspdce and orders on that subject passed between Govr. Claiborne & myself or the war office and Dr. Sibley. My impression altho’ faint, is that it was Govr. Claiborne who informed me of the existence of that book in the hands of an individual, and that it could be purchased, giving such a description of it’s contents as shewed it to be highly important to us in our then uninformed state. I think he had got his informn of it from Dr. Sibley. We directed the purchase to be made, & that before trusting the original to the mail, a copy should be taken (as I think, but your letter says two & it may be so) and sent by successive mails. They were safely recd. and I have believed the cost of the whole had been reimbursed promptly either to Claiborne or Dr. Sibley through whose agency it was obtained. The importance of the work consisted in this. De la Harpe was in some considble office in the govmt of Louisiana & kept a private and regular journal of the public transactions. The French considd the Rio bravo as the Western boundary of Louisiana, but the Spaniards claimed indefinitely to the east of the river. The Fr. & Span. neighboring governors with certain mercantile assciates entered into a Contraband commerce, the former furnishing French merchandise, and receiving from the latter in exchange hard dollars. But the distance between N. O. & the Rio bravo occasd inconveniences & difficulties and therefore the French Govr. winked at the Spaniard’s takg a small post at Nacagdoches, and made his reclmns so faintly as not to disturb the post. I cite these transactions by memory but believe without material error. When we acquired Louisiana we considd it as extending to the Rio Bravo and so Bonaparte declared to our Commissioners and that he should have taken possn to that extent. But Spain under color of the corrupt foothold she had got at this and one or two other small posts, claimed the country agt us on the ground of possn. This journal of De la Harpe clearly proves how fraudulently it had been obtained, and was therefore to us of the utmost importance. Hence our anxiety to guard against it’s loss by having it copied and trusted to difft mails. The original being lodged in the office of the Secretary of State, I retained a copy in my office, to be recurred to in preparing instrns for our Minister at Madrid. When I removd from Washington it was inadvertently packed with my own books & papers, and not attended to until the burning of the public records at Washn. brought the thing to my mind. I immediately sent the copy to the Secretary of State in whose office it now doubtless is and will prove that it’s importce justified the price it cost us.
Of the other transaction respecting the purchases of horses &c. to bring a party of Indns to Washn. I have not the slightest trace either in writing or recollection. To the great value which was set on Dr. Sibley’s services by the admn of that day I bear testimony willingly as an act of duty & of truth.
I am sorry that the decay of my memory does not permit me to offer anything further and pray you be assured of my great respect & esteem.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON SMITH
Monticello, February 21, 1825
This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.
The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.
A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life.
1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.
TO JUDGE AUGUSTUS B. WOODWARD
Monticello, April 3, 1825
—Your favor of March 25th has been duly received. The fact is unquestionable, that the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of Virginia, were drawn originally by George Mason, one of our really great men, and of the first order of greatness. The history of the Preamble to the latter is this: I was then at Philadelphia with Congress; and knowing that the Convention of Virginia was engaged in forming a plan of government, I turned my mind to the same subject, and drew a sketch or outline of a Constitution, with a preamble, which I sent to Mr. Pendleton, president of the convention, on the mere possibility that it might suggest something worth incorporation into that before the convention. He informed me afterwards by letter, that he received it on the day on which the Committee of the Whole had reported to the House the plan they had agreed to; that that had been so long in hand, so disputed inch by inch, and the subject of so much altercation and debate; that they were worried with the contentions it had produced, and could not, from mere lassitude, have been induced to open the instrument again; but that, being pleased with the Preamble to mine, they adopted it in the House, by way of amendment to the Report of the Committee; and thus my Preamble became tacked to the work of George Mason. The Constitution, with the Preamble, was passed on the 29th of June, and the Committee of Congress had only the day before that reported to that body the draught of the Declaration of Independence. The fact is, that that Preamble was prior in composition to the Declaration; and both having the same object, of justifying our separation from Great Britain, they used necessarily the same materials of justification, and hence their similitude.
Withdrawn by age from all other public services and attentions to public things, I am closing the last scenes of life by fashioning and fostering an establishment for the instruction of those who are to come after us. I hope its influence on their virtue, freedom, fame and happiness, will be salutary and permanent. The form and distributions of its structure are original and unique, the architecture chaste and classical, and the whole well worthy of attracting the curiosity of a visit. Should it so prove to yourself at any time, it will be a great gratification to me to see you once more at Monticello; and I pray you to be assured of my continued and high respect and esteem.
TO HENRY LEE
Monticello, May 8, 1825
—That George Mason was author of the bill of rights, and of the constitution founded on it, the evidence of the day established fully in my mind. Of the paper you mention, purporting to be instructions to the Virginia delegation in Congress, I have no recollection. If it were anything more than a project of some private hand, that is to say, had any such instructions been ever given by the convention, they would appear in the journals, which we possess entire. But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects. When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. The historical documents which you mention as in your possession, ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find, to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration. Be pleased to accept assurances of my great esteem and respect.
TO MISS FANNY WRIGHT
Monticello, August 7, 1825
I have duly received, dear Madam, your letter of July 26th, and learn from it with much regret, that Miss Wright, your sister, is so much indisposed as to be obliged to visit our medicinal springs. I wish she may be fortunate in finding those which may be adapted to her case. We have taken too little pains to ascertain the properities of our different mineral waters, the cases in which they are respectively remedial, the proper process in their use, and other circumstances necessary to give us their full value. My own health is very low, not having been able to leave the house for three months, and suffering much at times. In this state of body and mind, your letter could not have found a more inefficient counsellor, one scarcely able to think or to write. At the age of eighty-two, with one foot in the grave, and the other uplifted to follow it, I do not permit myself to take part in any new enterprises, even for bettering the condition of man, not even in the great one which is the subject of your letter, and which has been through life that of my greatest anxieties. The march of events has not been such as to render its completion practicable within the limits of time allotted to me; and I leave its accomplishment as the work of another generation. And I am cheered when I see that on which it is devolved, taking it up with so much good will, and such minds engaged in its encouragement. The abolition of the evil is not impossible; it ought never therefore to be despaired of. Every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object. That which you propose is well worthy of trial. It has succeeded with certain portions of our white brethren, under the care of a Rapp and an Owen; and why may it not succeed with the man of color? An opinion is hazarded by some, but proved by none, that moral urgencies are not sufficient to induce him to labor; that nothing can do this but physical coercion. But this is a problem which the present age alone is prepared to solve by experiment. It would be a solecism to suppose a race of animals created, without sufficient foresight and energy to preserve their own existence. It is disproved, too, by the fact that they exist, and have existed through all the ages of history. We are not sufficiently acquainted with all the nations of Africa, to say that there may not be some in which habits of industry are established, and the arts practised which are necessary to render life comfortable. The experiment now in progress in St. Domingo, those of Sierra Leone and Cape Mesurado, are but beginning. Your proposition has its aspects of promise also; and should it not answer fully to calculations in figures, it may yet, in its developments, lead to happy results. These, however, I must leave to another generation. The enterprise of a different, but yet important character, in which I have embarked too late in life, I find more than sufficient to occupy the enfeebled energies remaining to me, and that to divert them to other objects, would be a desertion of these. You are young, dear Madam, and have powers of mind which may do much in exciting others in this arduous task. I am confident they will be so exerted, and I pray to heaven for their success, and that you may be rewarded with the blessings which such efforts merit.
TO JOHN VAUGHAN
Monticello, September 16, 1825
—I am not able to give you any particular account of the paper handed you by Mr. Lee, as being either the original or a copy of the Declaration of Independence, sent by myself to his grandfather. The draught, when completed by myself, with a few verbal amendments by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, two members of the committee, in their own hand-writing, is now in my own possession, and a fair copy of this was reported to the committee, passed by them without amendment, and then reported to Congress. This latter should be among the records of the old Congress; and whether this or the one from which it was copied and now in my hands, is to be called the original, is a question of definition. To that in my hands, if worth preserving, my relations with our University gives irresistible claims. Whenever, in the course of the composition, a copy became over-charged, and difficult to be read with amendments, I copied it fair, and when that also was crowded with other amendments, another fair copy was made, &c. These rough draughts I sent to distant friends who were anxious to know what was passing. But how many, and to whom, I do not recollect. One sent to Mazzei was given by him to the Countess de Tessé (aunt of Madame de Lafayette) as the original, and is probably now in the hands of her family. Whether the paper sent to R. H. Lee was one of these, or whether, after the passage of the instrument, I made a copy for him, with the amendments of Congress, may, I think, be known from the face of the paper. The documents Mr. Lee has given you must be of great value, and until all these private hoards are made public, the real history of the revolution will not be known.
TO DR. JAMES MEASE
Monticello, September 26, 1825
—It is not for me to estimate the importance of the circumstances concerning which your letter of the 8th makes inquiry. They prove, even in their minuteness, the sacred attachments of our fellow citizens to the event of which the paper of July 4th, 1776, was but the declaration, the genuine effusion of the soul of our country at that time. Small things may, perhaps, like the relics of saints, help to nourish our devotion to this holy bond of our Union, and keep it longer alive and warm in our affections. This effect may give importance to circumstances, however small. At the time of writing that instrument, I lodged in the house of a Mr. Graaf, a new brick house, three stories high, of which I rented the second floor, consisting of a parlor and bed-room, ready furnished. In that parlor I wrote habitually, and in it wrote this paper, particularly. So far I state from written proofs in my possession. The proprietor, Graaf, was a young man, son of a German, and then newly married. I think he was a bricklayer, and that his house was on the south side of Market street, probably between Seventh and Eighth streets, and if not the only house on that part of the street, I am sure there were few others near it. I have some idea that it was a corner house, but no other recollections throwing light on the question, or worth communication. I am ill, therefore only add assurance of my great respect and esteem.
TO JOHN ADAMS
Monticello Dec. 18. 25
—Your letters are always welcome, the last more than all others, it’s subject being one of the dearest to my heart. To my granddaughter your commendations cannot fail to be an object of high ambition, also certain passports to the good opinion of the world. If she does not cultivate them with assiduity and affection, she will illy fulfill my parting injunctions. I trust she will merit a continuance of your favor, and find in her new situation the general esteem she so happily possessed in the society she left. You tell me she repeated to you an expression of mine that I should be willing to go again over the scenes of past life. I should not be unwilling, without however wishing it. And why not? I have enjoyed a greater share of health than falls to the lot of most men; and my spirits have never failed me except under those paroxysms of grief which you, as well as myself, have experienced in every form: and with good health and good spirits the pleasures surely outweigh the pains of life. Why not then taste them again, fat and lean together. Were I indeed permitted to cut off from the train the last seven years, the balance would be much in favor of treading the ground over again, being at that period in the neighborhood of our Warm springs, and well in health. I wished to be better, and tried them. They destroyed in a great degree, my internal organism, and I have never since had a moment of perfect health. I have now been 8 months confined almost constantly to the house, with now and then intervals of a few days on which I could get on horseback.
I presume you have received a copy of the life of Richd. H. Lee from his grandson of the same name, author of the work. You and I know that he merited much during the revolution. Eloquent, bold and ever watchful at his post, of which his biographer omits no proof. I am not certain whether the friends of George Mason, of Patrick Henry, yourself, and even of Genl. Washington may not reclaim some feathers of the plumage given him, noble as was his proper and original coat. But on this subject I will not anticipate your own judgment.
I learn with sincere pleasure that you have experienced lately a great renovation of your health. That it may continue to the ultimate period of your wishes is the sincere prayer of us quere ad aras amicissime tui.
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello, December 24, 1825
—I have for some time considered the question of internal improvement as desperate. The torrent of general opinion sets so strongly in favor of it as to be irresistible. And I suppose that even the opposition in Congress will hereafter be feeble and formal, unless something can be done which may give a gleam of encouragement to our friends, or alarm their opponents in their fancied security. I learn from Richmond that those who think with us there are in a state of perfect dismay, not knowing what to do or what to propose. Mr. Gordon, our representative, particularly, has written to me in very desponding terms, not disposed to yield indeed, but pressing for opinions and advice on the subject. I have no doubt you are pressed in the same way, and I hope you have devised and recommended something to them. If you have, stop here and read no more, but consider all that follows as non-avenue. I shall be better satisfied to adopt implicitly anything which you may have advised, than anything occurring to myself. For I have long ceased to think on subjects of this kind, and pay little attention to public proceedings. But if you have done nothing in it, then I risk for your consideration what has occurred to me, and is expressed in the enclosed paper. Bailey’s propositions, which came to hand since I wrote the paper, and which I suppose to have come from the President himself, show a little hesitation in the purposes of his party; and in that state of mind, a bolt shot critically may decide the contest by its effect on the less bold. The olive branch held out to them at this moment may be accepted and the constitution thus saved at a moderate sacrifice. I say nothing of the paper, which will explain itself. The following heads of consideration, or some of them, may weigh in its favor:
It may intimidate the wavering. It may break the western coalition, by offering the same thing in a different form. It will be viewed with favor in contrast with the Georgia opposition and fear of strengthening that. It will be an example of a temperate mode of opposition in future and similar cases. It will delay the measure a year at least. It will give us the chance of better times and of intervening accidents; and in no way place us in a worse than our present situation. I do not dwell on these topics; your mind will develop them.
The first question is, whether you approve of doing anything of the kind. If not, send it back to me, and it shall be suppressed; for I would not hazard so important a measure against your opinion, nor even without its support. If you think it may be a canvass on which to put something good, make what alterations you please, and I will forward it to Gordon, under the most sacred injunctions that it shall be so used as that not a shadow of suspicion shall fall on you or myself, that it has come from either of us. But what you do, do as promptly as your convenience will admit, lest it shall be anticipated by something worse.1
TO WILLIAM B. GILES
Monticello, December 25, 1825
—Your favor of the 15th was received four days ago. It found me engaged in what I could not lay aside till this day.
Far advanced in my eighty-third year, worn down with infirmities which have confined me almost entirely to the house for seven or eight months past, it afflicts me much to receive appeals to my memory for transactions so far back as that which is the subject of your letter. My memory is indeed become almost a blank, of which no better proof can probably be given you than by my solemn protestation, that I have not the least recollection of your intervention between Mr. John Q. Adams and myself, in what passed on the subject of the embargo. Not the slightest trace of it remains in my mind. Yet I have no doubt of the exactitude of the statement in your letter. And the less, as I recollect the interview with Mr. Adams, to which the previous communications which had passed between him and yourself were probably and naturally the preliminary. That interview I remember well; not indeed in the very words which passed between us, but in their substance, which was of a character too awful, too deeply engraved in my mind, and influencing too materially the course I had to pursue, ever to be forgotten. Mr. Adams called on me pending the embargo, and while endeavors were making to obtain its repeal. He made some apologies for the call, on the ground of our not being then in the habit of confidential communications, but that which he had then to make, involved too seriously the interest of our country not to overrule all other considerations with him, and make it his duty to reveal it to myself particularly. I assured him there was no occasion for any apology for his visit; that, on the contrary, his communications would be thankfully received, and would add a confirmation the more to my entire confidence in the rectitude and patriotism of his conduct and principles. He spoke then of the dissatisfaction of the eastern portion of our confederacy with the restraints of the embargo then existing, and their restlessness under it. That there was nothing which might not be attempted, to rid themselves of it. That he had information of the most unquestionable certainty, that certain citizens of the eastern States (I think he named Massachusetts particularly) were in negotiation with agents of the British government, the object of which was an agreement that the New England States should take no further part in the war then going on; that, without formally declaring their separation from the Union of the States, they should withdraw from all aid and obedience to them; that their navigation and commerce should be free from restraint and interruption by the British; that they should be considered and treated by them as neutrals, and as such might conduct themselves towards both parties; and, at the close of the war, be at liberty to rejoin the confederacy. He assured me that there was eminent danger that the convention would take place; that the temptations were such as might debauch many from their fidelity to the Union; and that, to enable its friends to make head against it, the repeal of the embargo was absolutely necessary. I expressed a just sense of the merit of this information, and of the importance of the disclosure to the safety and even the salvation of our country; and however reluctant I was to abandon the measure, (a measure which persevered in a little longer, we had subsequent and satisfactory assurance would have effected its object completely,) from that moment, and influenced by that information, I saw the necessity of abandoning it, and instead of effecting our purpose by this peaceful weapon, we must fight it out, or break the Union. I then recommended to yield to the necessity of a repeal of the embargo, and to endeavor to supply its place by the best substitute, in which they could procure a general concurrence.
I cannot too often repeat, that this statement is not pretended to be in the very words which passed; that it only gives faithfully the impression remaining on my mind. The very words of a conversation are too transient and fugitive to be so long retained in remembrance. But the substance was too important to be forgotten, not only from the revolution of measures it obliged me to adopt, but also from the renewals of it in my memory on the frequent occasions I have had of doing justice to Mr. Adams, by repeating this proof of his fidelity to his country, and of his superiority over all ordinary considerations when the safety of that was brought into question.
With this best exertion of a waning memory which I can command, accept assurances of my constant and affectionate friendship and respect.
TO WILLIAM B. GILES
Monticello, December 26, 1825
—I wrote you a letter yesterday, of which you will be free to make what use you please. This will contain matters not intended for the public eye. I see, as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power. Take together the decisions of the federal court, the doctrines of the President, and the misconstructions of the constitutional compact acted on by the legislature of the federal branch, and it is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic. Under the power to regulate commerce, they assume indefinitely that also over agriculture and manufactures, and call it regulation to take the earnings of one of these branches of industry, and that too the most depressed, and put them into the pockets of the other, the most flourishing of all. Under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and aided by a little sophistry on the words “general welfare,” a right to do, not only the acts to effect that, which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare. And what is our resource for the preservation of the constitution? Reason and argument? You might as well reason and argue with the marble columns encircling them. The representatives chosen by ourselves? They are joined in the combination, some from incorrect views of government, some from corrupt ones, sufficient voting together to out-number the sound parts; and with majorities only of one, two, or three, bold enough to go forward in defiance. Are we then to stand to our arms, with the hot-headed Georgian? No. That must be the last resource, not to be thought of until much longer and greater sufferings. If every infraction of a compact of so many parties is to be resisted at once, as a dissolution of it, none can ever be formed which would last one year. We must have patience and longer endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents; and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left, are the dissolution of our Union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. Between these two evils, when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation. But in the meanwhile, the States should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights; to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms; to protest against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknowledgments or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding to the lesser evil, until their accumulation shall overweigh that of separation. I would go still further, and give to the federal member, by a regular amendment of the constitution, a right to make roads and canals of intercommunication between the States, providing sufficiently against corrupt practices in Congress, (log-rolling, &c.,) by declaring that the federal proportion of each State of the moneys so employed, shall be in works within the State, or elsewhere with its consent, and with a due salvo of jurisdiction. This is the course which I think safest and best as yet.
You ask my opinion of the propriety of giving publicity to what is stated in your letter, as having passed between Mr. John Q. Adams and yourself. Of this no one can judge but yourself. It is one of those questions which belong to the forum of feeling. This alone can decide on the degree of confidence implied in the disclosure; whether under no circumstances it was to be communicated to others? It does not seem to be of that character, or at all to wear that aspect. They are historical facts which belong to the present, as well as future times. I doubt whether a single fact, known to the world, will carry as clear conviction to it, of the correctness of our knowledge of the treasonable views of the federal party of that day, as that disclosed by this, the most nefarious and daring attempt to dissever the Union, of which the Hartford convention was a subsequent chapter; and both of these having failed, consolidation becomes the fourth chapter of the next book of their history. But this opens with a vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who, having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76, now look to a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry. This will be to them a next best blessing to the monarchy of their first aim, and perhaps the surest stepping-stone to it.
I learn with great satisfaction that your school is thriving well, and that you have at its head a truly classical scholar. He is one of three or four whom I can hear of in the State. We were obliged the last year to receive shameful Latinists into the classical school of the University, such as we will certainly refuse as soon as we can get from better schools a sufficiency of those properly instructed to form a class. We must get rid of this Connecticut Latin, of this barbarous confusion of long and short syllables, which renders doubtful whether we are listening to a reader of Cherokee, Shawnee, Iroquois, or what. Our University has been most fortunate in the five professors procured from England. A finer selection could not have been made. Besides their being of a grade of science which has left little superior behind, the correctness of their moral character, their accommodating dispositions, and zeal for the prosperity of the institution, leave us nothing more to wish. I verily believe that as high a degree of education can now be obtained here, as in the country they left. And a finer set of youths I never saw assembled for instruction. They committed some irregularities at first, until they learned the lawful length of their tether; since which it has never been transgressed in the smallest degree. A great proportion of them are severely devoted to study, and I fear not to say that within twelve or fifteen years from this time, a majority of the rulers of our State will have been educated here. They shall carry hence the correct principles of our day, and you may count assuredly that they will exhibit their country in a degree of sound respectability it has never known, either in our days, or those of our forefathers. I cannot live to see it. My joy must only be that of anticipation. But that you may see it in full fruition, is the probable consequence of the twenty years I am ahead of you in time, and is the sincere prayer of your affectionate and constant friend.
[1 ]From a copy courteously furnished by Dr. J. S. H. Fogg, of Boston.
[1 ]“The solemn Declaration and Protest of the Commonwealth of Virginia on the principles of the constitution of the US. of America & on the violations of them.