Memoir, Correspondence, And Miscellanies, From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson Volume IV Part 15

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Th: Jefferson.



Washington, March 30, 1808.

Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 8th was received on the 25th, and I proceed to state to you my views of the present state and prospect of foreign affairs, under the confidence that you will use them for your own government and opinions only, and by no means let them get out as from me. With France we are in no immediate danger of war. Her future views it is impossible to estimate. The immediate danger we are in of a rupture with England, is postponed for this year. This is effected by the embargo, as the question was simply between that and war. That may go on a certain time, perhaps through the year, without the loss of their property to our citizens, but only its remaining unemployed on their hands. A time would come, however, when war would be preferable to a continuance of the embargo. Of this Congress may have to decide at their next meeting. In the mean time, we have good information, that a negotiation for peace between France and England is commencing through the medium of Austria.

The way for it has been smoothed by a determination expressed by France (through the Moniteur, which is their government paper), that herself and her allies will demand from Great Britain no renunciation of her maritime principles; nor will they renounce theirs. Nothing shall be said about them in the treaty, and both sides will be left in the next war to act on their own. No doubt the meaning of this is, that all the Continental powers of Europe will form themselves into an armed neutrality, to enforce their own principles. Should peace be made, we shall have safely rode out the storm in peace and prosperity. If we have any thing to fear, it will be after that. Nothing should be spared from this moment in putting our militia into the best condition possible, and procuring arms. I hope, that this summer, we shall get our whole sea-ports put into that state of defence, which Congress has thought proportioned to our circ.u.mstances and situation; that is to say, put _hors d’insulte_ from a maritime attack, by a moderate squadron. If armies are combined with their fleets, then no resource can be provided, but to meet them in the field. We propose to raise seven regiments only for the present year, depending always on our militia for the operations of the first year of war. On any other plan, we should be obliged always to keep a large standing army. Congress will adjourn in about three weeks. I hope Captain McComb is going on well with your defensive works.

We shall be able by mid-summer, to give you a sufficient number of gun-boats to protect Charleston from any vessels which can cross the bar; but the militia of the place must be depended on to fill up the complement of men necessary for action in the moment of an attack, as we shall man them, in ordinary, but with their navigating crew of eight or ten good seamen. I salute you with great esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson.



Washington, June 23, 1808.


I have duly received your favor covering a copy of the talk to the Tammany society, for which I thank you, and particularly for the favorable sentiments expressed towards myself. Certainly, nothing will so much sweeten the tranquillity and comfort of retirement, as the knowledge that I carry with me the good will and approbation of my republican fellow-citizens, and especially of the individuals in unison with whom I have so long acted. With respect to the federalists, I believe we think alike; for when speaking of them, we never mean to include a worthy portion of our fellow-citizens, who consider themselves as in duty bound to support the const.i.tuted authorities of every branch, and to reserve their opposition to the period of election. These having acquired the appellation of federalists, while a federal administration was in place, have not cared about throwing off their name, but, adhering to their principle, are the supporters of the present order of things. The other branch of the federalists, those who are so in principle as well as in name, disapprove of the republican principles and features of our const.i.tution, and would, I believe, welcome any public calamity (war with England excepted) which might lessen the confidence of our country in those principles and forms. I have generally considered them rather as subjects for a madhouse. But they are now playing a game of the most mischievous tendency, without perhaps being themselves aware of it. They are endeavoring to convince England, that we suffer more by the embargo than they do, and that, if they will but hold out a while, we must abandon it. It is true, the time will come when we must abandon it. But if this is before the repeal of the orders of council, we must abandon it only for a state of war. The day is not distant, when that will be preferable to a longer continuance of the embargo. But we can never remove that, and let our vessels go out and be taken under these orders, without making reprisal. Yet this is the very state of things which these federal monarchists are endeavoring to bring about; and in this it is but too possible they may succeed. But the fact is, that if we have war with England, it will be solely produced by their manoeuvres. I think that in two or three months we shall know what will be the issue. I salute you with esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson.



Washington, October 15, 1808.


Your letter of September the 22nd waited here for my return, and it is not till now that I have been able to acknowledge it. The explanation of his principles, given you by the French Emperor, in conversation, is correct as far as it goes. He does not wish us to go to war with England, knowing we have no ships to carry on that war. To submit to pay to England the tribute on our commerce which she demands by her orders of council, would be to aid her in the war against him, and would give him just ground to declare war with us. He concludes, therefore, as every rational man must, that the embargo, the only remaining alternative, was a wise measure. These are acknowledged principles, and should circ.u.mstances arise, which may offer advantage to our country in making them public, we shall avail ourselves of them. But as it is not usual nor agreeable to governments to bring their conversations before the public, I think it would be well to consider this on your part as confidential, leaving to the government to retain or make it public, as the general good may require. Had the Emperor gone further, and said that he condemned our vessels going voluntarily into his ports in breach of his laws, we might have admitted it rigorously legal, though not friendly. But his condemnation of vessels taken on the high seas by his privateers, and carried involuntarily into his ports, is justifiable by no law, is piracy, and this is the wrong we complain of against him.

Supposing that you may be still at Clermont, from whence your letter is dated, I avail myself of this circ.u.mstance to request your presenting my friendly respects to Chancellor Livingston.

I salute you with esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson.



Washington, October 27, 1808.

Dear Sir,

You will wonder that your letter of June the 3rd should not be acknowledged till this date. I never received it till September the 12th, and coming soon after to this place, the acc.u.mulation of business I found here has prevented my taking it up till now. That you ever partic.i.p.ated in any plan for a division of the Union, I never for one moment believed. I knew your Americanism too well. But as the enterprise against Mexico was of a very different character, I had supposed what I heard on that subject to be possible. You disavow it; that is enough for me, and I for ever dismiss the idea. I wish it were possible to extend my belief of innocence to a very different description of men in New Orleans; but I think there is sufficient evidence of there being there a set of foreign adventurers, and native malcontents, who would concur in any enterprise to separate that country from this. I did wish to see these people get what they deserved; and under the maxim of the law itself, that _inter arma silent leges_, that in an encampment expecting daily attack from a powerful enemy, self-preservation is paramount to all law, I expected that instead of invoking the forms of the law to cover traitors, all good citizens would have concurred in securing them.

Should we have ever gained our Revolution, if we had bound our hands by manacles of the law, not only in the beginning, but in any part of the revolutionary conflict? There are extreme cases where the laws become inadequate even to their own preservation, and where the universal resource is a dictator, or martial law. Was New Orleans in that situation? Although we knew here that the force destined against it was suppressed on the Ohio, yet we supposed this unknown at New Orleans at the time that Burr’s accomplices were calling in the aid of the law to enable them to perpetrate its suppression, and that it was reasonable, according to the state of information there, to act on the expectation of a daily attack. Of this you are the best judge.

Burr is in London, and is giving out to his friends that that government offers him two millions of dollars the moment he can raise an ensign of rebellion as big as an handkerchief. Some of his partisans will believe this, because they wish it. But those who know him best will not believe it the more because he says it. For myself, even in his most flattering periods of the conspiracy, I never entertained one moment’s fear. My long and intimate knowledge of my countrymen satisfied and satisfies me, that, let there ever be occasion to display the banners of the law, and the world will see how few and pitiful are those who shall array themselves in opposition. I as little fear foreign invasion. I have indeed thought it a duty to be prepared to meet even the most powerful, that of a Bonaparte, for instance, by the only means competent, that of a cla.s.sification of the militia, and placing the junior at the public disposal: but the lesson he receives in Spain extirpates all apprehensions from my mind. If, in a peninsula, the neck of which is adjacent to him, and at his command, where he can march any army without the possibility of interception or obstruction from any foreign power, he finds it necessary to begin with an army of three hundred thousand men, to subdue a nation of five millions, brutalized by ignorance, and enervated by long peace, and should find constant reinforcements of thousands after thousands necessary to effect at last a conquest as doubtful as deprecated, what numbers would be necessary against eight millions of free Americans, spread over such an extent of country as would wear him down by mere marching, by want of food, autumnal diseases, &c.? How would they be brought, and how reinforced, across an ocean of three thousand miles, in possession of a bitter enemy, whose peace, like the repose of a dog, is never more than momentary? And for what? For nothing but hard blows. If the Orleanese Creoles would but contemplate these truths, they would cling to the American Union, soul and body, as their first affection, and we should be as safe there as we are every where else. I have no doubt of their attachment to us in preference of the English.

I salute you with sincere friendship and respect.

Th: Jefferson.



Washington, November 13, 1808.

Dear Sir,

I enclose you a pet.i.tion from Nantucket, and refer it for your decision.

Our opinion here is, that that place has been so deeply concerned in smuggling, that if it wants, it is because it has illegally sent away what it ought to have retained for its own consumption. Be so good as to bear in mind that I have asked the favor of you to see that your State encounters no real want, while, at the same time, where applications are made merely to cover fraud, no facilities towards that be furnished. I presume there can be no want in Ma.s.sachusetts, as yet, as I am informed that Governor Sullivan’s permits are openly bought and sold here and in Alexandria, and at other markets. The Congressional campaign is just opening: three alternatives alone are to be chosen from. 1. Embargo. 2.

War. 3. Submission and tribute. And, wonderful to tell, the last will not want advocates. The real question, however, will lie between the two first, on which there is considerable division. As yet the first seems most to prevail; but opinions are by no means yet settled down. Perhaps the advocates of the second may, to a formal declaration of war, prefer general letters of mark and reprisal, because, on a repeal of their edicts by the belligerent, a revocation of the letters of mark restores peace without the delay, difficulties, and ceremonies of a treaty. On this occasion, I think it fair to leave to those who are to act on them, the decisions they prefer, being to be myself but a spectator. I should not feel justified in directing measures which those who are to execute them would disapprove. Our situation is truly difficult. We have been pressed by the belligerents to the very wall, and all further retreat is impracticable. I salute you with sincere friendship.

Th: Jefferson.


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