The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor Albert Ellery Bergh
1905

To Colonel Smith.
Paris, November 13, 1787.


DEAR SIR,—I am now to acknowledge the receipt of your favors of October the 4th, 8th, and 26th.  In the last, you apologize for your letters of introduction to Americans coming here.  It is so far from needing apology on your part, that it calls for thanks on mine.  I endeavor to show civilities to all the Americans who come here, and who will give me opportunities of doing it;  and it is a matter of comfort to know, from a good quarter, what they are, and how far I may go in my attentions to them.

Can you send me Woodmason's bills for the two copying presses for the Marquis de La Fayette and the Marquis de Chastellux ?  The latter makes one article in a considerable account, of old standing, and which I cannot present for want of this article.  I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. Adams, I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution.  I beg leave through you place them where due.  It will yet be three weeks before I shall receive them from America.  There are very good articles in it, and very bad.  I do not know which preponderate.  What we have lately read, in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate, eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one;  and what we have always read of the elections of Polish Kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life.  Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying.  The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat, and model into every form, lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves.  Yet where does this anarchy exist ?  Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts ?  And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honorably conducted ?  I say nothing of its motives.  They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness.  God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.  The people cannot be all, and always, well informed.  The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive.  If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.  We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years.  There has been one rebellion.  That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State.  What country before, ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion ?  And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance ?  Let them take arms.  The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.  What signify a few lives lost in a century or two ?  The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.  It is its natural manure.  Our convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts ;  and on the spur of the moment, they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order.  I hope in God, this article will be rectified before the new constitution is accepted.  You ask me if anything transpires here on the subject of South America ?  Not a word.  I know that there are combustible materials there, and that they wait the torch only.  But this country probably will join the extinguishers.  The want of facts worth communicat ing to you, has occasioned me to give a little loose to dissertation.  We must be contented to amuse, when we cannot inform.

Present my respects to Mrs. Smith, and be assured of the sincere esteem of, dear Sir, your friend and servant.