Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1826 - TO WILLIAM F. GORDON - The Works, vol. 12 (Correspondence and Papers 1816-1826)
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1826 - TO WILLIAM F. GORDON - 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 F. GORDON
Monto. Jan. 1, 26
—I cannot blame you, if you have been thinking hardly of my long delay in answering your favor of the 10th ult. But knowing the state of my health these thoughts will vanish from your mind. It is now 3. weeks since a re-ascerbation of my painful complaint has confined me to the house and indeed to my couch. Required to be constantly recumbent I wrote slowly and with difficulty. Yesterday for the 1st time I was able to leave the house and to resume a posture which enables me to begin to answer the letters which have been accumulating, and I take up yours first. Weakened in body by infirmities and in mind by age, now far gone in my 83d year, reading one newspaper only and forgetting immediately what I read in that, I am unable to give counsel in cases of difficulty, and our present one is truly a case of difficulty. It is but too evident that the branches of our foreign department of govmt. Exve, judiciary and legislative are in combination to usurp the powers of the domestic branch also reserved to the states and consolidate themselves into a single govmt without limitn of powers. I will not trouble you with details of the instances which are threadbare and unheeded. The only question is what is to be done? Shall we give up the ship? No, by heavens, while a hand remains able to keep the deck. Shall we with the hot-headed Georgian, stand at once to our arms? Not yet, nor until the evil, the only greater one than separn, shall be all but upon us, that of living under a government of discretion. Between these alternatives there can be no hesitation. But again, what are we to do? I am glad I did not answer earlier, for a fortnight ago might have called for a different answer. Since that the S. C. resolutions are become known. Van Buren’s motion and Baylie’s proposn to yield the power of roads and canals, provided it be regularly by an amdmt of the constn and guarded against abusive practices under it. We had better at present rest awhile on our oars and see which way the tide will set, in Congress and in the state legislatures. Perhaps it will be better for Virginia to follow than take the lead in whatever is to be done. A Majority of the people are against us on this question. The Western states have especially been bribed by local considns to abandon their antient brethren and enlist under banners alien to them in principles & interest. If in this state of things we can make such a compromise as Baylie proposes, we shall save and at the same time improve our constn, for I think that with suffict guards it will be a wholesome amdmt. And not doubting but that it comes from the president himself we may hope it’s success under such auspices. If I had an opn therefore it would be for lying still awhile. But I have none. I have neither matter nor mind to form one. And I pray that what I have now hazarded to you as a friend may be sacredly locked up in your own breast. For abandoning, as it is time, to the genern now on the stage, the entire management of their own affairs, I should deem it the greatest of all calamities to be implicated, at this period of life in embroilment of which I wish never to think again. Yesterday the last of the year closed the 61st of my continued services to the public. I came into it as soon as of age which was in 1764. beginning with the court of my county, then their Representative [illegible] Governor, Congress, M.P. Secy of State V. President Presid. [illegible].
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello Jan. 2 26
—I now return you Ritchie’s letter and your answer. I have read the last with entire approbation and adoption of it’s views. When my paper was written all was gloom, and the question of roads and canals was thought desperate at Washington after the President’s message. Since that however have appeared the S. C. resolns, Van Buren’s motion, and above all Baylie’s proposn of Amdmt, believed to come from the President himself, who may have motives for it. After these, before we can see their issue my proposn would certainly be premature. I think with you too that any measures of opposition would come with more hope from any other state than from Virginia, and S. C. N. Y. and Massachusetts being willing to take the lead, we had better follow. I have therefore suppressed my paper, and recommend to Gordon to do nothing until we see the course Bailey’s proposn will take, which I think a desirable one in itself.
I have been quite anxious to get a good drawing master in the Military or landscape line for the University. It is a branch of male educn most highly & justly valued on the continent of Europe. One most highly recommended as a landscape painter and as a personal character offered himself under a mistaken expectn as to the emoluments. I authorized Dr. Emmet to speak with him on the subject, and inclose you his letter. Rembrandt Peale, whose opinion I asked is as high in his praise as Emmet. I fear his present birth is too good to leave it for ours under it’s present uncertainties. His predilection to come to us might have some weight. Whether the offer to pay the expenses of his removal might be sufficient for him and approvable by us is a question. There is a more advantageous offer we might make him. You know we have 2. pavilions not yet occupied, nor likely soon to be so. A rent of 8. p. c. would be 600 D. a year. We could let him have the occupn gratis until an addition to our Professors might call for a resumption of it. I shall suggest this offer to Emmet but to avoid all engagement till the sanction of the Visitors should be obtained. Be so good as to return me the letter. Ever & affectly yours.
TO THOMAS MANN RANDOLPH1
Monticello, Jan. 8, ’26
—I have for sometime entertained the hope that your affairs being once wound up, your mind would cease to look back on them, and resume the calm so necessary to your own happiness, and that of your family and friends; and especially that you would return again to their society. I hope there remains no reason now to delay this longer, and that you will rejoin our table and fireside as heretofore. It is now that the value of education will prove itself to you, in the resource to books of which it has qualified you to avail yourself, and which, aided by the conversation and endearments of your family, and every comfort which this place can be made to afford you, will I hope, ensure to you future ease and happiness. Be assured that to no one will your society be more welcome than to myself, and that my affectionate friendship to you and respect, remain constant & sincere.1
TO WILLIAM SHORT
Monticello Jan. 18, 26
—Yours of the 11th is received. Those of Nov. 2. and Dec. 14. had been so in due time. I suppose I had not acknoleged them specifically from being perhaps too lazy to recur to them while writing mine of the I thank you for your information from Mr. Boyce and shall desire the instruments to remain in their present position until I can find a safe and gentle conveyance and give an order for them. The Russian discourse was duly received and was read with the feelings it would naturally excite in the breast of a friend to the Rights of man. On the subject of emancipation I have ceased to think because not to be a work of my day. The plan of converting the blacks into Serfs would certainly be better than keeping them in their present condition, but I consider that of expatriation to the governments of the W. I. of their own colour as entirely practicable, and greatly preferable to the mixture of colour here. To this I have great aversion; but I repeat my abandonment of the subject. My health is at present as good as I ever expect it to be, and I am ever and affectionately yours.
THOUGHTS ON LOTTERIES
It is a common idea that games of chance are immoral. But what is chance? Nothing happens in this world without a cause. If we know the cause, we do not call it chance; but if we do not know it, we say it was produced by chance. If we see a loaded die turn its lightest side up, we know the cause, and that it is not an effect of chance; but whatever side an unloaded die turns up, not knowing the cause, we say it is the effect of chance. Yet the morality of a thing cannot depend on our knowledge or ignorance of its cause. Not knowing why a particular side of an unloaded die turns up, cannot make the act of throwing it, or of betting on it, immoral. If we consider games of chance immoral, then every pursuit of human industry is immoral; for there is not a single one that is not subject to chance, not one wherein you do not risk a loss for the chance of some gain. The navigator, for example, risks his ship in the hope (if she is not lost in the voyage) of gaining an advantageous freight. The merchant risks his cargo to gain a better price for it. A landholder builds a house on the risk of indemnifying himself by a rent. The hunter hazards his time and trouble in the hope of killing game. In all these pursuits, you stake some one thing against another which you hope to win. But the greatest of all gamblers is the farmer. He risks the seed he puts into the ground, the rent he pays for the ground itself, the year’s labor on it, and the wear and tear of his cattle and gear, to win a crop, which the chances of too much or too little rain, and general uncertainties of weather, insects, waste, &c., often make a total or partial loss. These, then, are games of chance. Yet so far from being immoral, they are indispensable to the existence of man, and every one has a natural right to choose for his pursuit such one of them as he thinks most likely to furnish him subsistence. Almost all these pursuits of chance produce something useful to society. But there are some which produce nothing, and endanger the well-being of the individuals engaged in them, or of others depending on them. Such are games with cards, dice, billiards, &c. And although the pursuit of them is a matter of natural right, yet society, perceiving the irresistible bent of some of its members to pursue them, and the ruin produced by them to the families depending on these individuals, consider it as a case of insanity, quoad hoc, step in to protect the family and the party himself, as in other cases of insanity, infancy, imbecility, &c., and suppress the pursuit altogether, and the natural right of following it. There are some other games of chance, useful on certain occasions, and injurious only when carried beyond their useful bounds. Such are insurances, lotteries, raffles, &c. These they do not suppress, but take their regulation under their own discretion. The insurance of ships on voyages is a vocation of chance, yet useful, and the right to exercise it therefore is left free. So of houses against fire, doubtful debts, the continuance of a particular life, and similar cases. Money is wanting for a useful undertaking, as a school, &c., for which a direct tax would be disapproved. It is raised therefore by a lottery, wherein the tax is laid on the willing only, that is to say, on those who can risk the price of a ticket without sensible injury for the possibility of a higher prize. An article of property, insusceptible of division at all, or not without great diminution of its worth, is sometimes of so large value as that no purchaser can be found while the owner owes debts, has no other means of payment, and his creditors no other chance of obtaining it but by its sale at a full and fair price. The lottery is here a salutary instrument for disposing of it, where many run small risks for the chance of obtaining a high prize. In this way the great estate of the late Colonel Byrd (in 1756) was made competent to pay his debts, which, had the whole been brought into the market at once, would have overdone the demand, would have sold at half or quarter the value, and sacrificed the creditors, half or three-fourths of whom would have lost their debts. This method of selling was formerly very much resorted to, until it was thought to nourish too much a spirit of hazard. The legislature were therefore induced not to suppress it altogether, but to take it under their own special regulation. This they did for the first time by their act of 1769, c. 17, before which time every person exercised the right freely; and since which time, it is made unlawful but when approved and authorized by a special act of the legislature.
Since then this right of sale, by way of lottery, has been exercised only under the jurisdiction of the legislature. Let us examine the purposes for which they have allowed it in practice, not looking beyond the date of our independence.
1. It was for a long time an item of the standing revenue of the State.
This, then, is a declaration by the nation, that an act was not immoral, of which they were in the habitual use themselves as a part of the regular means of supporting the government; the tax on the vender of tickets was their share of the profits, and if their share was innocent, his could not be criminal.
2. It has been abundantly permitted to raise money by lottery for the purposes of schools; and in this, as in many other cases, the lottery has been permitted to retain a part of the money (generally from ten to fifteen per cent.) for the use to which the lottery has been applied. So that while the adventurers paid one hundred dollars for tickets, they received back eighty-five or ninety dollars only in the form of prizes, the remaining ten or fifteen being the tax levied on them, with their own consent. Examples are,
3. The next object of lotteries has been rivers.
4. For Roads.
5. Lotteries for the benefit of counties.
6. Lotteries for the benefit of towns.
7. Lotteries for religious congregations.
8. Lotteries for private societies.
9. Lotteries for the benefit of private individuals. [To raise money for them.]
We have seen, then, that every vocation in life is subject to the influence of chance; that so far from being rendered immoral by the admixture of that ingredient, were they abandoned on that account, man could no longer subsist; that, among them, every one has a natural right to choose that which he thinks most likely to give him comfortable subsistence; but that while the greater number of these pursuits are productive of something which adds to the necessaries and comforts of life, others again, such as cards, dice, &c., are entirely unproductive, doing good to none, injury to many, yet so easy, and so seducing in practice to men of a certain constitution of mind, that they cannot resist the temptation, be the consequences what they may; that in this case, as in those of insanity, idiocy, infancy, &c., it is the duty of society to take them under its protection, even against their own acts, and to restrain their right of choice of these pursuits, by suppressing them entirely; that there are others, as lotteries particularly, which, although liable to chance also, are useful for many purposes, and are therefore retained and placed under the discretion of the Legislature, to be permitted or refused according to the circumstances of every special case, of which they are to judge; that between the years 1782 and 1820, a space of thirty-eight years only, we have observed seventy cases, where the permission of them has been found useful by the Legislature, some of which are in progress at this time. These cases relate to the emolument of the whole State, to local benefits of education, of navigation, of roads, of counties, towns, religious assemblies, private societies, and of individuals under particular circumstances which may claim indulgence or favor. The latter is the case now submitted to the Legislature, and the question is, whether the individual soliciting their attention, or his situation, may merit that degree of consideration which will justify the Legislature in permitting him to avail himself of the mode of selling by lottery, for the purpose of paying his debts.
That a fair price cannot be obtained by sale in the ordinary way, and in the present depressed state of agricultural industry, is well known. Lands in this State will not now sell for more than a third or fourth of what they would have brought a few years ago, perhaps at the very time of the contraction of the debts for which they are now to be sold. The low price in foreign markets, for a series of years past, of agricultural produce, of wheat generally, of tobacco most commonly, and the accumulation of duties on the articles of consumption not produced within our State, not only disable the farmer or planter from adding to his farm by purchase, but reduces him to sell his own, and remove to the western country, glutting the market he leaves, while he lessens the number of bidders. To be protected against this sacrifice is the object of the present application, and whether the applicant has any particular claim to this protection, is the present question.
Here the answer must be left to others. It is not for me to give it. I may, however, more readily than others, suggest the offices in which I have served. I came of age in 1764, and was soon put into the nomination of justice of the county in which I live, and at the first election following I became one of its representatives in the Legislature.
I was thence sent to the old Congress.
Then employed two years with Mr. Pendleton and Mr. Wythe on the revisal and reduction to a single code of the whole body of the British statutes, the acts of our Assembly, and certain parts of the common law.
Then elected Governor.
Next to the Legislature, and to Congress again.
Sent to Europe as Minister Plenipotentiary.
Appointed Secretary of State to the new government.
Elected Vice-President, and
And lastly, a Visitor and Rector of the University.
In these different offices, with scarcely any interval between them, I have been in the public service now sixty-one years; and during the far greater part of the time, in foreign countries or in other States. Every one knows how inevitably a Virginia estate goes to ruin, when the owner is so far distant as to be unable to pay attention to it himself; and the more especially, when the line of his employment is of a character to abstract and alienate his mind entirely from the knowledge necessary to good, and even to saving management.
If it were thought worth while to specify any particular services rendered, I would refer to the specification of them made by the Legislature itself in their Farewell Address, on my retiring from the Presidency, February, 1809. [This will be found in 2 Pleasant’s Collection, page 144.] There is one, however, not therein specified, the most important in its consequences, of any transaction in any portion of my life; to wit, the head I personally made against the federal principles and proceedings, during the administration of Mr. Adams. Their usurpations and violations of the constitution at that period, and their majority in both Houses of Congress, were so great, so decided, and so daring, that after combating their aggressions, inch by inch, without being able in the least to check their career, the republican leaders thought it would be best for them to give up their useless efforts there, go home, get into their respective Legislatures, embody whatever of resistance they could be formed into, and if ineffectual, to perish there as in the last ditch. All, therefore, retired, leaving Mr. Gallatin alone in the House of Representatives, and myself in the Senate, where I then presided as Vice-President. Remaining at our posts, and bidding defiance to the brow beatings and insults by which they endeavored to drive us off also, we kept the mass of republicans in phalanx together, until the Legislatures could be brought up to the charge; and nothing on earth is more certain, than that if myself particularly, placed by my office of Vice-President at the head of the republicans, had given way and withdrawn from my post, the republicans throughout the Union would have given up in despair, and the cause would have been lost forever. By holding on, we obtained time for the Legislatures to come up with their weight; and those of Virginia and Kentucky particularly, but more especially the former, by their celebrated resolutions, saved the constitution at its last gasp. No person who was not a witness of the scenes of that gloomy period, can form any idea of the afflicting persecutions and personal indignities we had to brook. They saved our country however. The spirits of the people were so much subdued and reduced to despair by the X Y Z imposture, and other stratagems and machinations, that they would have sunk into apathy and monarchy, as the only form of government which could maintain itself.
If Legislative services are worth mentioning, and the stamp of liberality and equality, which was necessary to be imposed on our laws in the first crisis of our birth as a nation, was of any value, they will find that the leading and most important laws of that day were prepared by myself, and carried chiefly by my efforts; supported, indeed, by able and faithful coadjutors from the ranks of the House, very effective as seconds, but who would not have taken the field as leaders.
The prohibition of the further importation of slaves was the first of these measures in time.
This was followed by the abolition of entails, which broke up the hereditary and high-handed aristocracy, which, by accumulating immense masses of property in single lines of families, had divided our country into two distinct orders, of nobles and plebeians.
But further to complete the equality among our citizens so essential to the maintenance of republican government, it was necessary to abolish the principle of primogeniture. I drew the law of descents, giving equal inheritance to sons and daughters, which made a part of the revised code.
The attack on the establishment of a dominant religion, was first made by myself. It could be carried at first only by a suspension of salaries for one year, by battling it again at the next session for another year, and so from year to year, until the public mind was ripened for the bill for establishing religious freedom, which I had prepared for the revised code also. This was at length established permanently, and by the efforts chiefly of Mr. Madison, being myself in Europe at the time that work was brought forward.
To these particular services, I think I might add the establishment of our University, as principally my work, acknowledging at the same time, as I do, the great assistance received from my able colleagues of the Visitation. But my residence in the vicinity threw, of course, on me the chief burthen of the enterprise, as well of the buildings as of the general organization and care of the whole. The effect of this institution on the future fame, fortune and prosperity of our country, can as yet be seen but at a distance. But an hundred well-educated youths, which it will turn out annually, and ere long, will fill all its offices with men of superior qualifications, and raise it from its humble state to an eminence among its associates which it has never yet known; no, not in its brightest days. That institution is now qualified to raise its youth to an order of science unequalled in any other State; and this superiority will be the greater from the free range of mind encouraged there, and the restraint imposed at other seminaries by the shackles of a domineering hierarchy, and a bigoted adhesion to ancient habits. Those now on the theatre of affairs will enjoy the ineffable happiness of seeing themselves succeeded by sons of a grade of science beyond their own ken. Our sister States will also be repairing to the same fountains of instruction, will bring hither their genius to be kindled at our fire, and will carry back the fraternal affections which, nourished by the same alma mater, will knit us to them by the indissoluble bonds of early personal friendships. The good Old Dominion, the blessed mother of us all, will then raise her head with pride among the nations, will present to them that splendor of genius which she has ever possessed, but has too long suffered to rest uncultivated and unknown, and will become a centre of ralliance to the States whose youth she has instructed, and, as it were, adopted.
I claim some share in the merits of this great work of regeneration. My whole labors, now for many years, have been devoted to it, and I stand pledged to follow it up through the remnant of life remaining to me. And what remuneration do I ask? Money from the treasury? Not a cent. I ask nothing from the earnings or labors of my fellow citizens. I wish no man’s comforts to be abridged for the enlargement of mine. For the services rendered on all occasions, I have been always paid to my full satisfaction. I never wished a dollar more than what the law had fixed on. My request is, only to be permitted to sell my own property freely to pay my own debts. To sell it, I say, and not to sacrifice it, not to have it gobbled up by speculators to make fortunes for themselves, leaving unpaid those who have trusted to my good faith, and myself without resource in the last and most helpless stage of life. If permitted to sell it in a way which will bring me a fair price, all will be honestly and honorably paid, and a competence left for myself, and for those who look to me for subsistence. To sell it in a way which will offend no moral principle, and expose none to risk but the willing, and those wishing to be permitted to take the chance of gain. To give me, in short, that permission which you often allow to others for purposes not more moral.
Will it be objected, that although not evil in itself, it may as a precedent, lead to evil? But let those who shall quote the precedent, bring their case within the same measure. Have they, as in this case, devoted three-score years and one of their lives, uninterruptedly, to the service of their country? Have the times of those services been as trying as those which have embraced our Revolution, our transition from a colonial to a free structure of government? Have the stations of their trial been of equal importance? Has the share they have borne in holding their new government to its genuine principles, been equally marked? And has the cause of the distress, against which they seek a remedy, proceeded, not merely from themselves, but from errors of the public authorities, disordering the circulating medium, over which they had no control, and which have, in fact, doubled and trebled debts, by reducing, in that proportion, the value of the property which was to pay them? If all these circumstances, which characterize the present case, have taken place in theirs also, then follow the precedent. Be assured, the cases will be so rare as to produce no embarrassment, as never to settle into an injurious habit. The single feature of a sixty years’ service, as no other instance of it has yet occurred in our country, so it probably never may again. And should it occur, even once and again, it will not impoverish your treasury, as it takes nothing from that, and asks but a simple permission, by an act of natural right, to do one of moral justice.
TO JOSEPH C. CABELL
Monticello Feb. 7. 26
—I recd yesterday your kind letter of the 2d and am truly sensible of the interest you are so good as to take in my affairs. I had hoped the length and character of my services might have prevented the fear in the legislature of the indulgence asked being quoted as a precedent in future cases, but I find no fault with their strict adherence to a rule generally useful, altho’ relaxable in some cases under their discretion, of which they are the proper judges. If it can be yielded in my case, I can save the house of Monticello and a farm adjoining to end my days in and bury my bones. If not I must sell house and all here and carry my family to Bedford where I have not even a log hut to put my head into. In any case I wish nothing from the treasury. The pecuniary compensns I have recd for my services from time to time have been fully to my own satisfn.
I have been very much mortified by the publicn in the Enquirer of the 4th of two letters from some person called an American citizen who seems to have visited Mr. Madison & myself and has undertaken to state private conversns with us. In one of these he makes me declare that I had intentionally proceeded in a course of dupery of our legislature, teasing them as he makes me say for 6. or 7. sessions for successive aids to the Univty. and asking a part only at a time & intentionally concealing the ultimate cost; and gives an inexact statement of a story of Obrian. Now our annual reports will shew that we constantly gave full and candid accounts of the money expended, and statements of what might still be wanting founded on the Proctor’s estimates. No man ever heard me speak of the grants of the legislre but with acknolegements of their liberality, which I have always declared had gone far beyond what I could have expected in the beginning. Yet the letter writer has given to my expressions an aspect disrespectful of the legislre and calculated to give them offence, which I do absolutely disavow. The writer is called an American citizen. It is evident, if he be so, that he is an adopted one only who after calling on us in his travels thro’ the country as a stranger may have obtained naturalisation and settled in Phila. where he is enjoying the society of the Buonapartes &c. The familiar style of his letter to his friend in England and the communicn of it to the literary gazette there indicates sufficiently his foreign birth and connections. I cannot express to you the pain which this unfaithful version and betrayment of private conversn has given me. I feel that it will add to the disfavor I had incurred with a large portion of the legislature by my strenuous labours for the establmt of the University to which they were opposed insomuch as to let it overweigh whatever of satisfactn former services had given them. I have been long sensible that while I was endeavoring to render to our country the greatest of all services, that of regenerating the public education, and placing our rising genern on the level of our sister states (which they have proudly held heretofore) I was discharging the odious function of a Physician pouring medicine down the throat of a patient, insensible of needing it. I am so sure of the future approbn of posterity and of the inestimable effect we shall have produced in the educn of our country by what we have done as that I cannot repent of the part I have borne in coopern with my colleagues. I disclaim the honors which this writer (among the other errors he had interlarded with the truths of his letters) has ascribed to me of having made the liberal donations of timber & stone from my own estate and of having paid all the contracts for materials myself, and I restore them to their true source the liberal legislators of our country. My pain at these false praises and representations should merit with them an acquittal of any supposed approbn of them by myself. Ever & affectly yours.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON RANDOLPH1
Monticello Feb. 8. 26
My Dear Jefferson,
—I duly recd. your affectionate letter of the 3d and perceive there are greater doubts than I had apprehended whether the legislre will indulge me in my request to them. It is a part of my mortifn to perceive that I had so far overvalued myself as to have counted on it with too much confidence. I see in the failure of this hope a deadly blast of all peace of mind during my remaining days. You kindly encourage me to keep up my spirits. But oppressed with disease, debility, age, and embarrassed affairs, this is difficult. For myself I should not regard a prostration of fortune, but I am overwhelmed at the prospect of the situation in which I may leave my family. My dear & beloved daughter, the cherished companion of my early life and nurse of my age, and her children, rendered as dear to me as if my own from having lived with them from their cradle, left in a comfortless situation, hold up to me nothing but future gloom, and I should not care were life to end with the line I am writing, were it not that in the unhappy state of mind which your father’s misfortunes have brought upon him I may yet be of some avail to the family. Their affectionate devotion to me makes a willingness to endure life a duty as long as it can be of any use to them. Yourself particularly, dear Jefferson, I consider as the greatest of the Godsends which heaven has granted me. Without you what could I do under the difficulties now environing me. This has been produced in some degree by my unskilful management and devoting my life to the service of my country, but much also by the unfortunate fluctuations in the value of our money and the long continued depression of the farming business. But for these last I am confident my debts might be paid leaving me Monticello and the Bedford estate. But where there are no bidders property however great offers no resource for the payment of debts. In the payment of debts all must go for little or nothing. Perhaps however even in this case I may have no right to complain, as these misfortunes have been held back for my last days when few remain to me. I duly acknolege that I have gone thro’ a long life with fewer circumstances of affliction than are the lot of most men. Uninterrupted health, a competence for every reasonable want, usefulness to my fellow citizens, a good portion of their esteem, no complaint against the world which has sufficiently honored me, and above all a family which has blessed me by their affectn and never by their conduct given me a moment’s pain; and should this my last request be granted I may yet close with a cloudless sun a long and serene day of life. Be assured my dear Jefferson that I have a just sense of the part you have contributed to this, and that I bear to you unmeasured affection.
TO JAMES MADISON
Monticello, February 17, 1826
—Immediately on seeing the overwhelming vote of the House of Representatives against giving us another dollar, I rode to the University and desired Mr. Brockenbrough to engage in nothing new, to stop everything on hand which could be done without, and to employ all his force and funds in finishing the circular room for the books, and the anatomical theatre. These cannot be done without; and for these and all our debts we have funds enough. But I think it prudent then to clear the decks thoroughly, to see how we shall stand, and what we may accomplish further. In the meantime, there have arrived for us in different ports of the United States, ten boxes of books from Paris, seven from London, and from Germany I know not how many; in all, perhaps, about twenty-five boxes. Not one of these can be opened until the book-room is completely finished, and all the shelves ready to receive their charge directly from the boxes as they shall be opened. This cannot be till May. I hear nothing definite of the three thousand dollars duty of which we are asking the remission from Congress. In the selection of our Law Professor, we must be rigorously attentive to his political principles. You will recollect that before the revolution, Coke Littleton was the universal elementary book of law students, and a sounder whig never wrote, nor of profounder learning in the orthodox doctrines of the British constitution, or in what were called English liberties. You remember also that our lawyers were then all whigs. But when his black-letter text, and uncouth but cunning learning got out of fashion, and the honied Mansfieldism of Blackstone became the student’s hornbook, from that moment, that profession (the nursery of our Congress) began to slide into toryism, and nearly all the young brood of lawyers now are of that hue. They suppose themselves, indeed, to be whigs, because they no longer know what whigism or republicanism means. It is in our seminary that that vestal flame is to be kept alive; it is thence it is to spread anew over our own and the sister States. If we are true and vigilant in our trust, within a dozen or twenty years a majority of our own legislature will be from one school, and many disciples will have carried its doctrines home with them to their several States, and will have leavened thus the whole mass. New York has taken strong ground in vindication of the constitution; South Carolina had already done the same. Although I was against our leading, I am equally against omitting to follow in the same line, and backing them firmly; and I hope that yourself or some other will mark out the track to be pursued by us.
You will have seen in the newspapers some proceedings in the legislature, which have cost me much mortification. My own debts had become considerable, but not beyond the effect of some lopping of property, which would have been little felt, when our friend Nicholas gave me the coup de grace. Ever since that I have been paying twelve hundred dollars a year interest on his debt, which, with my own, was absorbing so much of my annual income, as that the maintenance of my family was making deep and rapid inroads on my capital, and had already done it. Still, sales at a fair price would leave me competently provided. Had crops and prices for several years been such as to maintain a steady competition of substantial bidders at market, all would have been safe. But the long succession of years of stunted crops, of reduced prices, the general prostration of the farming business, under levies for the support of manufactures, &c., with the calamitous fluctuations of value in our paper medium, have kept agriculture in a state of abject depression, which has peopled the western States by silently breaking up those on the Atlantic, and glutted the land market, while it drew off its bidders. In such a state of things, property has lost its character of being a resource for debts. Highland in Bedford, which, in the days of our plethory, sold readily for from fifty to one hundred dollars the acre, (and such sales were many then,) would not now sell for more than from ten to twenty dollars, or one-quarter or one-fifth of its former price. Reflecting on these things, the practice occurred to me, of selling, on fair valuation, and by way of lottery, often resorted to before the Revolution to effect large sales, and still in constant usage in every State for individual as well as corporation purposes. If it is permitted in my case, my lands here alone, with the mills, &c., will pay every thing, and leave me Monticello and a farm free. If refused, I must sell everything here, perhaps considerably in Bedford, move thither with my family, where I have not even a log hut to put my head into, and whether ground for burial, will depend on the depredations which, under the form of sales, shall have been committed on my property. The question then with me was ultrum horum? But why afflict you with these details? Indeed, I cannot tell, unless pains are lessened by communication with a friend. The friendship which has subsisted between us, now half a century, and the harmony of our political principles and pursuits, have been sources of constant happiness to me through that long period. And if I remove beyond the reach of attentions to the University, or beyond the bourne of life itself, as I soon must, it is a comfort to leave that institution under your care, and an assurance that it will not be wanting. It has also been a great solace to me, to believe that you are engaged in vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them, in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we had assisted too in acquiring for them. If ever the earth has beheld a system of administration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest and happiness of those committed to it, one which, protected by truth, can never know reproach, it is that to which our lives have been devoted. To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead, and be assured that I shall leave with you my last affections.
TO NATHANIEL MACON
Monticello Feb. 21. 26
How could you think, my dear friend, of appealing to me for materials for the history of N. Carolina? At the age of 83, scarcely able to walk from one room to another, rarely out of pain, and with both hands so crippled that to write a page is nearly the work of a day? I believe too that I never knew any thing about it, and if I did it is all forgotten. But I have observed that at whatever age, or in whatever form we have known a person of old so we believe him to continue indefinitely, unchanged by time or decay. I am glad however you did not reflect on this, because it has furnished occasion for a letter from you which I shall always receive with the welcome which antient & affectionate recollections ever bring. I am particularly happy to perceive that you retain health and spirits still manfully to maintain our good old principle of cherishing and fortifying the rights and authorities of the people in opposition to those who fear them, who wish to take all power from them, and to transfer all to Washington. The latter may call themselves republicans if they please, but the school of Venice, and all of this principle I call at once tories. For consolidation is but toryism in disguise it’s object being to withdraw their [illegible] as far as possible from the ken of the people. God bless you & preserve you many and long years.
TO JAMES MONROE
Monticello Feb. 22. 26
—Your favor of the 13th was received yesterday. Your use of my letter with the alterns subsequently proposed, needs no apology. And it will be a gratifn to me if it can be of any service to you. I learn with sincere affliction the difficulties with which you have still to struggle. Mine are considble, but the single permission given me by the legislature of such a mode of sale as ensures a fair value for what I must sell, will leave me still a competent provision. If sold under the hammer it must have been for whatever the bidder would gratuitously offer. For such a piece of property for example as my mills there could not have been two bona fide bidders in the state. A Virginia estate managed rigorously well yields a comfortable subsistence to it’s owner living on it, but nothing more. But it runs him in debt annually if at a distance from him, if he is absent, if he is unskilful as I am, if short crops reduce him to deal on credit, and most assuredly if thunder struck from the hand of a friend as I was. Altho’ all these causes conspired against me, and should have put me on my guard I had no suspicions until my grandson undertook the management of my estate and developed to me the state of my affairs, fortunately while yet retrievable in a comfortable degree. I hope you will still find yours so, and with sincere wishes that they may prove so to be. I salute you with constant frdshp, and respect.
TO GEORGE LOYALL
Monto. Feb. 22. 26
—I have to acknolege the rect. of your favor of the 14th and still more especially to acknowlge the kindness with which you lent your aid to a late measure of extreme importance to me and to my family. The 1st vote indeed was very appalling, and made me fear I had made a very improper proposition which could be rejected offhand by so great a proportion of the house. The practice of selling property by lottery had been so frequent before the revoln as to hide from us, by it’s familiarity what might be amiss in it if anything were so. The subsequent votes however relieved my apprehensions, and the zeal with which my friends espoused my case was a healing balm which would have soothed me under any issue in which it might have ended. Every owner of a Virginia estate, knows how prone they are to mismanagement and ruin, even when distant alone, how much more so when long & necessary absences of the master are added to distance, and still more when his line of life adds invincible ignorance to his intermissions of attention. These circumstances had thrown me into arrears when an overwhelming stroke fell on me from a friend. Still, had our land market remained in a healthy state every thing might have been paid and have left me competently provided. But the agricultural branch of industry with us had been so many years in a state of abject prostrn, that, combined with the calamitous fluctuations in the value of our circulating medium, those concerned in it instead of being in a condn to purchase were abandoning farms no longer yielding profit and moving off to the Western country. The only relief I wanted then was a market for property, where it might be sold at a fair price and effect the paymt of my debts, instead of being sacrificed to speculators lying in wait to get it for nothing, and leaving the debts still unpaid. As it is, I shall be left at my ease, and nothing unpaid but the obligns to my friends which I can never repay.
We have about 160. students entered, many dormitories engaged, their occupants not yet arrived, and new hands still coming in so as to leave no doubt of all being filled. Were indeed the Law chair occupied, it would add immediately more than we could receive. But the present lamented incumbent is hastening rapidly to his end. I hope when we meet we shall be prepared to name one who will accept and who will be acceptable to us in point of science in his particular profession, and more particularly in the political principles to be disseminated from his school. I hope too you will make your head quarters with us as heretofore under the assurance that no friend can be more welcome, none who possesses more sincerely my affectionate esteem and respect.
TO THOMAS RITCHIE
Monticello Feb. 28 26
—I have duly received your favor covering one from a Lottery office offering it’s services for the management of that lately permitted to me. I have for some years been obliged by age and ill health to resign the care of all my affairs to my grandson Th. J. R. who accdly acts for me with full powers in all cases. That of the lottery particularly has been entirely left to him so that I know nothing of it’s plan or management. I therefore sent immediately to him your letter and that which it covered. I think however that I heard him say he had engaged a particular company before he left Richmd. If he has not I am sure your recommdn will be received with respect. I have had too many proofs dear Sir of your kind disposns to need any assurance that in all cases respecting myself whatever you do is done from the most frdly motives. That the opinions of my best friends were divided on my late proposition appeared in every quarter, and in none stronger than on the 1st question in the H. of R. My own alarm at that vote was great & painful. But I found, with all, that the more steadily they viewed the object the more they rallied to the alternative which finally prevailed. I knew that my property if a fair market could be obtained was far beyond the amt. of my debts and sfft after paying them to leave me at ease. I knew at the same time that in the present abject prostration of agricultural industry in this country no market existed for that form of property; a long succession of unfruitful years, long-continued low prices, oppressive tariffs levied on other branches to maintain that of manufactures, far the most flourishing of all, calamitous fluctuans in the value of our circulating medium, and, in my case a want of skill, in the management of our land & labor, these circumstances had been long undermining the state of agriculture, had been breaking up the landholders and glutting the land market here, while drawing off it’s bidders to people the Western country. Under such circumstances agricultural property had become no resource for the payment of debts. To obtain a fair market was all I wanted, and this the only means of obtaining it. The idea was perhaps more familiar to me than to younger people because so commonly practised before the revoln. It had no connection with morality, altho’ it had with expediency. Instead of being suppressed therefore with mere games of chance, lotteries had been placed under the discretion of the legislre as a means of sometimes effecting purposes desirable while left voluntary. Whether my case was within the range of that discretion, they were to judge, and in the integrity of that jdmt I have the most perfect confidce. And I hope I am not deceived in thinking that I discover after the 1st impression is rectified, some revulsion in the general opinion. You say you had made up from the public papers a little packet of expressions containing proofs of this. Such proofs would be acceptable and the more so after the rap of the knuckles received from the 1st vote. I pray you to be assured of my great frdship and respect.1
TO JAMES MONROE
Monticello Mar. 8. 26
—I have duly received your two favors of Feb. 23. and 27. and am truly sensible of the interest you so kindly take in my affairs and of the encouraging aspects of Mr. Gouvernour’s letter. All that is necessary for my relief is a successful sale of our tickets, of which the public papers give good hope. If this is effected at a reasonable value for what I shall sell, what will remain will leave me at a good degree of ease. To keep a Virginia estate together requires in the owner both skill and attention; skill I never had and attention I could not have, and really when I reflect on all circumstances my wonder is that I should have been so long as 60 years in reaching the result to which I am now reduced. Still if this resource succeeds I am safe. With the scheme and management of the lottery I meddle not at all. Age and ill health render me entirely unequal to it. I have committed it therefore to my grandson altogether, and put into his hands all letters coming to me on the subject, that he may avail himself of the kindnesses offered, as far as his arrangements will admit. I hope your affairs will wind up to your wishes, and pray you to be assured of the pleasure it will give me to learn your happy issue out of all your difficulties, and of my great and sincere affection and respect.
TO JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
Monticello, March 30, 1826
—I am thankful for the very interesting message and documents of which you have been so kind as to send me a copy, and will state my recollections as to the particular passage of the message to which you ask my attention. On the conclusion of peace, Congress, sensible of their right to assume independence, would not condescend to ask its acknowledgment from other nations, yet were willing, by some of the ordinary international transactions, to receive what would imply that acknowledgment. They appointed commissioners, therefore, to propose treaties of commerce to the principal nations of Europe. I was then a member of Congress, was of the committee appointed to prepare instructions for the commissioners, was, as you suppose, the draughtsman of those actually agreed to, and was joined with your father and Dr. Franklin, to carry them into execution. But the stipulations making part of these injunctions, which respected privateering, blockades, contraband, and freedom of the fisheries, were not original conceptions of mine. They had before been suggested by Dr. Franklin, in some of his papers in possession of the public, and had, I think, been recommended in some letter of his to Congress. I happen only to have been the inserter of them in the first public act which gave the formal sanction of a public authority. We accordingly proposed our treaties, containing these stipulations, to the principal governments of Europe. But we were then just emerged from a subordinate condition; the nations had as yet known nothing of us, and had not yet reflected on the relations which it might be their interest to establish with us. Most of them, therefore, listened to our propositions with coyness and reserve; old Frederic alone closing with us without hesitation. The negotiator of Portugal, indeed, signed a treaty with us, which his government did not ratify, and Tuscany was near a final agreement. Becoming sensible, however, ourselves, that we should do nothing with the greater powers, we thought it better not to hamper our country with engagements to those of less significance, and suffered our powers to expire without closing any other negotiations. Austria soon after became desirous of a treaty with us, and her ambassador pressed it often on me; but our commerce with her being no object, I evaded her repeated invitations. Had these governments been then apprized of the station we should so soon occupy among nations, all, I believe, would have met us promptly and with frankness. These principles would then have been established with all, and from being the conventional law with us alone, would have slid into their engagements with one another, and become general. These are the facts within my recollection. They have not yet got into written history; but their adoption by our southern brethren will bring them into observance, and make them, what they should be, a part of the law of the world, and of the reformation of principles for which they will be indebted to us. I pray you to accept the homage of my friendly and high consideration.
TO EDWARD EVERETT
Monticello, April 8, 1826
—I thank you for the very able and eloquent speech you have been so kind as to send me on the amendment of the constitution, proposed by Mr. McDuffie. I have read it with pleasure and satisfaction, and concur with much of its contents. On the question of the lawfulness of slavery, that is of the right of one man to appropriate to himself the faculties of another without his consent, I certainly retain my early opinions. On that, however, of third persons to interfere between the parties, and the effect of conventional modifications of that pretension, we are probably nearer together. I think with you, also, that the constitution of the United States is a compact of independent nations subject to the rules acknowledged in similar cases, as well that of amendment provided within itself, as, in case of abuse, the justly dreaded but unavoidable ultimo ratio gentium. The report on the Panama question mentioned in your letter has as I suppose, got separated by the way. It will probably come by another mail. In some of the letters you have been kind enough to write me, I have been made to hope the favor of a visit from Washington. It would be received with sincere welcome, and unwillingly relinquished if no circumstance should render it inconvenient to yourself. I repeat always with pleasure the assurances of my great esteem and respect.
TO HENRY LEE
Monticello May 30. 26
—Your favor of the 25th came to hand yesterday, and I shall be happy to receive you at the time you mention or any other, if any other shall be more convenient to you.
Not being now possessed of a copy of Genl. Lee’s memoirs as I before observed to you, I may have misremembered the passage respecting Simpcoe’s expedition, and very willingly stand corrected. The only fact relative to it which I can state from personal knolege is that being at Monticello on the 9th. 10th. & 11th of June 81, on one of these days I cannot now ascertain which, I distinctly saw the smoke of houses, successively arising in the horizon a little beyond James river, and which I learnt from indubitable testimony were kindled by his corps, and that being within 3. or 4 miles of N. London from that time to the 25th of July, he did not within that space of time reach N. London. But all this may be better explained viva voce; and in the mean time I repeat assurances of my great esteem & respect.1
TO MRS. JOSEPH COOLIDGE1
Monticello June 5. ’26
A word to you, my dearest Ellen, under the cover of Mr. Coolidge’s letter. I address you the less frequently, because I find it easier to write 10 letters of business, than one on the intangible affections of the mind. Were these to be indulged as calls for writing letters to express them, my love to you would engross the unremitting exercises of my pen. I hear of you regularly however thro’ your correspondents of the family, and also of Cornelia since she has joined you. She will find, on her return some changes in our neighborhood. The removal of the family of Ashton to New London will be felt by us all; and will scarcely be compensated by an increased intercourse with the house beyond them. Yesterday closed a visit of 6 weeks from the younger members of the latter, during which their attractions had kept us full of the homagers to their beauty. According to appearances they had many nibbles and bites, but whether the hooks took firm hold of any particular subject or not, is a secret not communicated to me. If not, we shall know it by a return to their angling grounds, for here they fix them until they catch something to their palate. The annual visit of the family en masse begins you know, the next month. Our near relationship of blood interests me of course in their success, for by ascending to my great grandfather and to their great, great, great grandfather, we come to a common ancestor. Shall I say anything to you of my health. It is as good as I ever expect it to be. At present tolerable, but subject to occasional relapses of sufferance. I am just now out of one of these. The pleasure of seeing yourself, Mr. Coolidge and Cornelia I begin to enjoy in anticipation; and am sure I shall feel it’s sanative effects when the moment arrives. I commit my affections to Mr. Coolidge to my letter to him. Communicate those to Cornelia by a thousand kisses from me, and take to yourself those I impress on this paper for you.
TO ROGER O. WEIGHTMAN
Monticello, June 24, 1826
—The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration on the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey. It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to control. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the city of Washington and its vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. With my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
[1 ]From the original in the possession of Archibald Oary Coolidge.
[1 ]The following is a note in lead pencil appended to the foregoing letter, in the handwriting of Mr. Randolph, but without signature:
[1 ]From the original in the possession of Archibald Cary Coolidge.
[1 ]Jefferson further wrote to Ritchie:
Monticello Mar. 13. ’26
—The interest you are so kind as to take in the measures proposed for relieving me from embarrassment brings on you the trouble of this letter. I have received an application from persons in N. Co. desirous of manifesting their goodwill to me by contributions in money, if acceptable, and offering to dispose of a portion of tickets if the way of lottery is preferred. This renders it necessary to take at once decided ground, lest by pursuing different plans they may defeat one another. It certainly is not for me to prescribe what shape my fellow citizens shall manifest their kindness to me. The bounties from one’s country, expressions of it’s approbation, are honors which it would be arrogance to refuse, especially where flowing from the willing only. The same approbation however expressed by promoting the success of the lottery, would have the advantage of relieving the repugnance we justly feel against becoming a burthen to our friends and may justly excuse a preference of this mode. In answering my well wishers of N. Carolina I have endeavored to explain respectfully the motives of this preference. I send you a copy of this answer, as possessing the grounds of our proceedings. You may be able perhaps, by occasional editorial hints, to give uniformity of direction to the various propositions of which you probably will be made the center. Those to whom this letter is addressed may perhaps publish it which should not I think, be formally otherwise done.
The necessity which dictated this expedient cost me in it’s early stage unspeakable mortification. The turn it has taken, so much beyond what I could have expected, has countervailed all I suffered, and become a source of felicity which I should otherwise never have known. Affectionately & gratefully yours.
[1 ]Jefferson further wrote to Lee:
Monticello, May 15, 1826
—The sentiments of justice which have dictated your letters of the 3d and 9th inst., are worthy of all praise, and merit and meet my thankful acknowledgments. Were your father now living and proposing, as you are, to publish a second edition of his memoirs, I am satisfied he would give a very different aspect to the pages of that work which respect Arnold’s invasion and surprise of Richmond, in the winter of 1780–81. He was then, I believe, in South Carolina, too distant from the scene of those transactions to relate them on his own knowledge, or even to sift them from the chaff of the rumors then afloat, rumors which vanished soon before the real truth, as vapors before the sun, obliterated by their notoriety, from every candid mind, and by the voice of the many who, as actors or spectators knew what had truly past. The facts shall speak for themselves.
General Washington had just given notice to all the Governors on the seaboard, north and south, that an embarcation was taking place at New York, destined for the southward, as was given out there; and on Sunday the 31st of December, 1780, we received information that a fleet had entered our capes. It happened fortunately that our legislature was at that moment in session, and within two days of their rising, so that, during these two days, we had the benefit of their presence, and of the counsel and information of the members individually. On Monday the 1st of January, we were in suspense as to the destination of this fleet, whether up the bay, or up our river. On Tuesday at 10 o’clock, however, we received information that they had entered James river; and, on general advice, we instantly prepared orders for calling in the militia, one-half from the nearer counties, and a fourth from the more remote, which would constitute a force of between four and five thousand men, of which orders the members of the legislature, which adjourned that day, took charge, each to his respective county; and we began the removal of everything from Richmond. The wind being fair and strong, the enemy ascended the river as rapidly almost as the expresses could ride, who were dispatched to us from time to time, to notify their progress. At 5 P. M. on Thursday, we learnt that they had then been three hours landed at Westover. The whole militia of the adjacent counties were now called for, and to come on individually, without waiting any regular array. At 1 P. M. the next day, (Friday,) they entered Richmond, and on Saturday, after twenty-four hours possession, burning some houses, destroying property, &c., they retreated, encamped that evening ten miles below, and reached their shipping at Westover the next day, (Sunday.)
By this time had assembled three hundred militia under Colonel Nicholas, six miles above Westover, and two hundred under General Nelson, at Charles city Court House, eight miles below. Two or three hundred at Petersburg had put themselves under General Smallwood, of Maryland, accidentally there on his passage through the State; and Baron Steuben with eight hundred, and Colonel Gibson with one thousand, were also on the south side of James river, aiming to reach Hood’s before the enemy should have passed it, where they hoped they could arrest them. But the wind, having shifted, carried them down as prosperously as it had brought them up the river. Within the first five days therefore, about twenty-five hundred men had collected at three or four different points, ready for junction. I was absent myself from Richmond (but always within observing distance of the enemy) three days only, during which I was never off my horse but to take food or rest, and was everywhere where my presence could be of any service; and I may with confidence challenge any one to put his finger on the point of time when I was in a state of remissness from any duty of my station. But I was not with the army! true; for first, where was it? second, I was engaged in the more important function of taking measures to collect an army; and, without military education myself, instead of jeopardizing the public safety by pretending to take its command, of which I knew nothing, I had committed it to persons of the art, men who knew how to make the best use of it, to Steuben for instance, to Nelson and others, possessing that military skill and experience, of which I had none.
Let our condition, too, at that time be duly considered. Without arms, without money of effect, without a regular soldier in the State, or a regular officer, except Steuben, a militia scattered over the country, and called at a moment’s warning to leave their families and firesides, in the dead of winter, to meet an enemy ready marshalled, and prepared at all points to receive them. Yet had time been given them by the hasty retreat of that enemy, I have no doubt but the rush to arms, and to the protection of their country, would have been as rapid and universal as in the invasion during our late war, when, at the first moment of notice, our citizens rose in mass, from every part of the State, and without waiting to be marshalled by their officers, armed themselves, and marched off by ones and by twos, as quickly as they could equip themselves. Of the individuals of the same house one would start in the morning, a second at noon, a third in the evening, no one waiting an hour for the company of another. This I saw myself on the late occasion, and should have seen on the former had wind and tide, and a Howe, instead of an Arnold, slackened their pace ever so little.
And is the surprise of an open and unarmed place, although called a city, and even a capital, so unprecedented as to be a matter of indelible reproach? Which of our own capitals during the same war, was not in possession of the same enemy, not merely by surprise and for a day only, but permanently? That of Georgia? of South Carolina? North Carolina? Pennsylvania? New York? Connecticut? Rhode Island? Massachusetts? And if others were not, it was because the enemy saw no object in taking possession of them. Add to the list in the late war, Washington, the metropolis of the Union, covered by a fort, with troops and a dense population. And what capital on the continent of Europe, (St. Petersburg and its regions of ice excepted,) did not Bonaparte take and hold at his pleasure? Is it then just that Richmond and its authorities alone should be placed under the reproach of history, because, in a moment of peculiar denudation of resources, by the coup de main of an enemy, led on by the hand of fortune directing the winds and weather to their wishes, it was surprised and held for twenty-four hours? Or strange that that enemy with such advantages, should be enabled then to get off, without risking the honors he had achieved by burnings and destructions of property peculiar to his principles of warfare? We, at least, may leave these glories to their own trumpet.
During this crisis of trial I was left alone, unassisted by the co-operation of a single public functionary. For, with the legislature, every member of the council had departed to take care of his own family. Unaided even in my bodily labors, but by my horse, and he, exhausted at length by fatigue, sunk under me in the public road, where I had to leave him, and with my saddle and bridle on my shoulders, to walk afoot to the nearest farm, where I borrowed an unbroken colt, and proceeded to Manchester, opposite to Richmond, which the enemy had evacuated a few hours before.
Without further pursuing these minute details, I will here ask the favor of you to turn to Girardin’s History of Virginia, where such of them as are worthy the notice of history, are related in that scale of extension which its objects admit. That work was written at Milton, within two or three miles of Monticello; and at the request of the author, I communicated to him every paper I possessed on the subject, of which he made the use he thought proper for his work. [See his pages 453, 460, and the appendix xi.—xv.] I can assure you of the truth of every fact he has drawn from these papers, and of the genuineness of such as he has taken the trouble of copying. It happened that during those eight days of incessant labor, for the benefit of my own memory, I carefully noted every circumstance worth it. These memorandums were often written on horseback, and on scraps of paper taken out of my pocket at the moment, fortunately preserved to this day, and now lying before me. I wish you could see them. But my papers of that period are stitched together in large masses, and so tattered and tender as not to admit removal further than from their shelves to a reading table. They bear an internal evidence of fidelity which must carry conviction to every one who sees them. We have nothing in our neighborhood which could compensate the trouble of a visit to it, unless perhaps our University, which I believe you have not seen, and I can assure you is worth seeing. Should you think so, I would ask as much of your time at Monticello as would enable you to examine these papers at your ease. Many others too are interspersed among them, which have relation to your object, many letters from Generals Gates, Greene, Stephens and others engaged in the Southern war, and in the North also. All should be laid open to you without reserve, for there is not a truth existing which I fear, or would wish unknown to the whole world. During the invasions of Arnold, Phillips and Cornwallis, until my time of office had expired, I made it a point, once a week, by letters to the President of Congress, and to General Washington, to give them an exact narrative of the transactions of the week. These letters should still be in the office of state in Washington, and in the presses at Mount Vernon. Or, if the former were destroyed by the conflagrations of the British, the latter are surely safe, and may be appealed to in corroboration of what I have now written.
There is another transaction, very erroneously stated in the same work, which although not concerning myself, is within my own knowledge, and I think it a duty to communicate it to you. I am sorry that not being in possession of a copy of the memoirs, I am not able to quote the page, and still less the facts themselves, verbatim from the text. But of the substance, as recollected, I am certain. It is said there that, about the time of Tarleton’s expedition up the north branch of James river to Charlottesville and Monticello, Simcoe was detached up the southern branch, and penetrated as far as New London, in Bedford, where he destroyed a depôt of arms, &c., &c. I was with my family, at the time, at a possession I have within three miles of New London, and I can assure you of my own knowledge that he did not advance to within fifty miles of New London. Having reached the lower end of Buckingham, as I have understood, he heard of a deposit of arms, and a party of new recruits under Baron Steuben, somewhere in Prince Edward; he left the Buckingham road immediately, at or near Francisco’s, pushed directly south at this new object, was disappointed, and returned to and down James river to head quarters. I had then returned to Monticello myself, and from thence saw the smokes of his conflagration of houses and property on that river, as they successively arose in the horizon at a distance of twenty-five or thirty miles. I must repeat that his excursion from Francisco’s is not from my own knowledge, but as I have heard it from the inhabitants on the Buckingham road, which for many years I travelled six or eight times a year. The particulars of that, therefore, may need inquiry and correction.
These are all the recollections within the scope of your request, which I can state with precision and certainty; and of these you are free to make what use you think proper in the new edition of your father’s work; and with which I pray you to accept the assurances of my great esteem and respect.
[1 ]From a copy courteously furnished by Archibald Cary Coolidge.