Dear Sir,The problem you had wished to propose to me was one which I could not have solved; for I knew nothing of the facts. I read no newspaper now but Ritchies, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. I feel a much greater interest in knowing what has passed two or three thousand years ago, than in what is now passing. I read nothing, therefore, but of the heroes of Troy, of the wars of Lacedaemon and Athens, of Pompey and Caesar, and of Augustus too, the Bonaparte and parricide scoundrel of that day. I have had, and still have, such entire confidence in the late and present Presidents, that I willingly put both soul and body into their pockets. While such men as yourself and your worthy colleagues of the legislature, and such characters as compose the executive administration, are watching for us all, I slumber without fear, and review in my dreams the visions of antiquity. There is, indeed, one evil which awakens me at times, because it jostles me at every turn. It is that we have now no measure of value. I am asked eighteen dollars for a yard of broadcloth, which, when we had dollars, I used to get for eighteen shillings ; from this I can only understand that a dollar is now worth but two inches of broadcloth, but broadcloth is no standard of measure or value. I do not know, therefore, whereabouts I stand in the scale of property, nor what to ask, or what to give for it. I saw, indeed, the like machinery in action in the years 80 and 81, and without dissatisfaction ; because in wearing out, it was working out our salvation. But I see nothing in this renewal of the game of Robins alive but a general demoralization of the nation, a filching from industry its honest earnings, wherewith to build up palaces, and raise gambling stock for swindlers and shavers, who are to close, too, their career of piracies by fraudulent bankruptcies. My dependence for a remedy, however, is with the wisdom which grows with time and suffering. Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say ; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. I have made a great exertion to write you thus much; my antipathy to taking up a pen being so intense that I have never given you a stronger proof, than in the effort of writing a letter, how much I value you, and of the superlative respect and friendship with which I salute you.
Dear Sir,I am indebted to you for Mr. Bowditchs very learned mathematical papers, the calculations of which are not for every reader, although their results are readily enough understood. One of these impairs the confidence I had reposed in La Places demonstration, that the eccentricities of the planets of our system could oscillate only within narrow limits, and therefore could authorize no inference that the system must, by its own laws, come one day to an end. This would have left the question one of infinitude, at both ends of the line of time, clear of physical authority.
Mr. Pickerings pamphlet on the pronunciation of the Greek, for which I am indebted to you also, I have read with great pleasure. Early in life, the idea occurred to me that the people now inhabiting the ancient seats of the Greeks and Romans, although their languages in the intermediate ages had suffered great changes, and especially in the declension of their nouns, and in the terminations of their words generally, yet having preserved the body of the word radically the same, so they would preserve more of its pronunciation. That at least it was probable that a pronunciation, handed down by tradition, would retain, as the words themselves do, more of the original than that of any other people whose language has no affinity to that original. For this reason I learnt, and have used the Italian pronunciation of the Latin. But that of the modern Greeks I had no opportunity of learning until I went to Paris. There I became acquainted with two learned Greeks, Count Carberri and Mr. Paradise, and with a lady, a native Greek, the daughter of Baron de Tott, who did not understand the ancient language. Carberri and Paradise spoke it. From these instructors I learnt the modern pronunciation, and in general trusted to its orthodoxy. I say, in general, because sound being more fugitive than the written letter, we must, after such a lapse of time, presume in it some degeneracies, as we see there are in the written words. We may not, indeed, be able to put our finger on them confidently, yet neither are they entirely beyond the reach of all indication. For example, in a language so remarkable for the euphony of its sounds, if that euphony is preserved in particular combinations of its letters, by an adherence to the powers ordinarily ascribed to them, and is destroyed by a change of these powers, and the sound of the word thereby rendered harsh, inharmonious, and inidiomatical, here we may presume some degeneracy has taken place. While, therefore, I gave in to the modern pronunciation generally, I have presumed, as an instance of degeneracy, their ascribing the same sound to the six letters, or combinations of letters, e, i, v, ei, oi, vi, to all of which they give the sound of our double e in the word meet. This useless equivalence of three vowels and three diphthongs, did not probably exist among the ancient Greeks; and the less probably as, while this single sound, ee, is overcharged by so many different representative characters, the sounds we usually give to these characters and combinations would be left without any representative signs. This would imply either that they had not these sounds in their language, or no signs for their expression. Probability appears to me, therefore, against the practice of the modern Greeks of giving the same sound to all these different representatives, and to be in favor of that of foreign nations, who, adopting the Roman characters, have assimilated to them, in a considerable degree, the powers of the corresponding Greek letters. I have, accordingly, excepted this in my adoption of the modern pronunciation. I have been more doubtful in the use of the av, ev, nv, wv, sounding the v, upsilon, as our f or v, because I find traces of that power of v, or of v, in some modern languages. To go no further than our own, we have it in laugh, cough, trough, enough. The county of Louisa, adjacent to that in which I live, was, when I was a boy, universally pronounced Lovisa. That it is not the gh which gives the sound of f or v, in these words, is proved by the orthography of plough, trough, thought, fraught, caught. The modern Greeks themselves, too, giving up v, upsilon, in ordinary the sound of our ee, strengthens the presumption that its anomalous sound of f or v, is a corruption. The same may be inferred from the cacophony of (elavne) for (elawne,) (Achillefs) for (Achilleise,) (eves) for (eeuse,) (ovk) for (ouk,) (ovetos) for (o-u-tos,) (zevs) for (zese,) of which all nations have made their Jupiter; and the uselessness of the v in which would otherwise have been spelt. I therefore except this also from what I consider as approvable pronunciation.
Against reading Greek by accent, instead of quantity, as Mr. Ciceitira proposes, I raise both my hands. What becomes of the sublime measure of Homer, the full sounding rhythm of Demosthenes, if, abandoning quantity, you chop it up by accent? What ear can hesitate in its choice between the two following rhythms ? the latter noted according to prosody, the former by accent, and dislocating our teeth in its utterance; every syllable of it, except the first and last, being pronounced against quantity. And what becomes of the art of prosody ? Is that perfect coincidence of its rules with the structure of their verse, merely accidental ? or was it of design, and yet for no use ?
On the whole, I rejoice that this subject is taken up among us, and that it is in so able hands as those of Mr. Pickering. Should he ultimately establish the modern pronunciation of the letters without any exception, I shall think it a great step gained, and giving up my exceptions, shall willingly rally to him ; and as he has promised us another paper on the question whether we shall read by quantity or by accent, I can confidently trust it to the correctness of his learning and judgment. Of the origin of accentuation, I have never seen satisfactory proofs. But I have generally supposed the accents were intended to direct the inflections and modulations of the voice ; but not to affect the quantity of the syllables. You did not expect, I am sure, to draw on yourself so long a disquisition on letters and sounds, nor did I intend it, but the subject ran before me, and yet I have dropped much of it by the way.
I am delighted with your high approbation of Mr. Tracys book. The evils of this deluge of paper money are not to be removed, until our citizens are generally and radically instructed in their cause and consequences, and silence by their authority the interested clamors and sophistry of speculating, shaving, and banking institutions. Till then we must be content to return, quoad hoc, to the savage state, to recur to barter in the exchange of our property, for want of a stable, common measure of value, that now in use being less fixed than the beads and wampum of the Indian, and to deliver up our citizens, their property and their labor, passive victims to the swindling tricks of bankers and mountebankers. If I had your permisson to put your letter into the hands of the editor, (Milligan,) with or without any verbal alterations you might choose, it would ensure the general circulation, which, my prospectus and prefatory letter will less effectually recommend. There is nothing in the book, of mine, but these two articles, and the note on taxation in page 202. I never knew who the translator was; but I thought him some one who understood neither French nor English ; and probably a Caledonian ; from the number of Scotticisms I found in his MS. The innumerable corrections in that, cost me more labor than would have done a translation of the whole de novo ; and made at last but an inelegant although faithful version of the sense of the author. Dios guarde á V.S. muchos anos.
Your letter of February the 18th came to hand on the 1st instant ; and the request of the history of my physical habits would have puzzled me not a little, had it not been for the model with which you accompanied it, of Doctor Rushs answer to a similar inquiry. I live so much like other people, that I might refer to ordinary life as the history of my own. Like my friend the Doctor, I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet. I double however, the Doctors glass and a half of wine, and even treble it with a friend; but halve its effects by drinking the weak wines only. The ardent wines I cannot drink, nor do I use ardent spirits in any form. Malt liquors and cider are my table drinks, and my breakfast, like that also of my friend, is of tea and coffee. I have been blest with organs of digestion which accept and concoct, without ever murmuring, whatever the palate chooses to consign to them; and I have not yet lost a tooth by age. I was a hard student until I entered on the business of life, the duties of which leave no idle time to those disposed to fulfil them; and now, retired, and at the age of seventy-six, I am again a hard student. Indeed, my fondness for reading and study revolts me from the drudgery of letter-writing. And a stiff wrist, the consequence of an early dislocation, makes writing both slow and painful. I am not so regular in my sleep as the Doctor says he was, devoting to it from five to eight hours, according as my company or the book I am reading interests me ; and I never go to bed without an hour, or half hours previous reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep. But whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun. I use spectacles at night, but not necessarily in the day, unless in reading small print. My hearing is distinct in particular conversation, but confused when several voices cross each other, which unfits me for the society of the table. I have been more fortunate than my friend in the article of health. So free from catarrhs that I have not had one, (in the breast, I mean) on an average of eight or ten years through life. I ascribe this exemption partly to the habit of bathing my feet in cold water every morning, for sixty years past. A fever of more than twenty-four hours I have not had above two or three times in my life. A periodical headache has afflicted me occasionally, once, perhaps; in six or eight years, for two or three weeks at a time, which seems now to have left me ; and except on a late occasion of indisposition, I enjoy good health; too feeble, indeed, to walk much, but riding without fatigue six or eight miles a day, and sometimes thirty or forty. I may end these egotisms, therefore, as I began, by saying that my life has been so much like that of other people, that I might say with Horace, to every one "nomine mutato, narratur fabula de te." I must not end, however, without due thanks for the kind sentiments of regard you are so good as to express towards myself; and with my acknowledgments for these, be pleased to accept the assurances of my respect and esteem.
The interest on the late derangement of my health which was so kindly expressed by many, could not but be gratifying to me, as much as it manifested a sentiment that I had not been merely an useless cypher of society. Yet a decline of health at the age of 76, was naturally to be expected, and is a warning of an event which cannot be distant, and whose approach I contemplate with little concern; for indeed, in no circumstance has nature been kinder to us, than in the soft gradations by which she prepares us to part willingly with what we are not destined always to retain. First one faculty is withdrawn and then another, sight, hearing, memory, affections, and friends, filched one by one, till we are left among strangers, the mere monuments of times, facts, and specimens of antiquity for the observation of the curious.
To your request of materials for writing my life, I know not what to say, although I have been obliged to say something to several preceding applications of the same kind. One answer indeed is obvious, that I am by decay of memory, aversion to labor, and cares more suited to my situation, unequal to such a task. Of the public transactions in which I have borne a part, I have kept no narrative with a view of history. A life of constant action leaves no time for recording. Always thinking of what is next to be done, what has been done is dismissed, and soon obliterated from the memory. I cannot be insensible to the partiality which has induced several persons to think my life worthy of remembrance, and towards none more than yourself, who give me so much credit more than I am entitled to, as to what has been effected for the safeguard of our republican constitution. Numerous and able coadjutors have participated in these efforts, and merit equal notice. My life, in fact, has been so much like that of others, that their history is my history, with a mere difference of feature. The only valuable materials for history which I possessed, were the pamphlets of the day, carefully collected and preserved; but these passed on to Congress with my library, and are to be found in their depository. Except the Notes on Virginia, I never wrote anything but acts of office, of which I rarely kept a copy. These will all be found in the journals and gazettes of the times. There was a book published in England about 1801, or soon after, entitled "Public Characters," in which was given a sketch of my history to that period. I never knew, nor could conjecture by whom this was written; but certainly by some one pretty intimately acquainted with myself and my connections. There were a few inconsiderable errors in it, but in general it was correct. Delaplaine, in his Repository, has also given some outlines on the same subject ; he sets out indeed with an error as to the county of my birth. Chesterfield, which he states as such, was the residence of my grandfather and remoter ancestors, but Albemarle was that of my father, and of my own birth and residence. Excepting this error, I remark no other but in his ascriptions of more merit than I have deserved. Girardins History of Virginia, too, gives many particulars on the same subject, which are correct. These publications furnish all the details of facts and dates which can interest anybody, and more than I could now furnish myself from a decayed memory, or any notes I retain. While, therefore, I feel just acknowledgments for the partial selection of a subject for your employment, I am persuaded you will perceive there is too little new and worthy of public notice to devote to it a time which may be so much more usefully employed ; and with a due sense of the partiality of your friendship, I salute you with assurances of the greatest esteem and respect.
An absence of some time at an occasional and distant residence must apologize for the delay in acknowledging the receipt of your favor of April 12th. And candor obliges me to add that it has been somewhat extended by an aversion to writing, as well as to calls on my memory for facts so much obliterated from it by time as to lessen my confidence in the traces which seem to remain. One of the inquiries in your letter, however, may be answered without an appeal to the memory. It is that respecting the question whether committees of correspondence originated in Virginia or Massachusetts ? On which you suppose me to have claimed it for Virginia. But certainly I have never made such a claim. The idea, I suppose, has been taken up from what is said in Wirts history of Mr. Henry, p. 87, and from an inexact attention to its precise terms. It is there said "this house (of burgesses of Virginia) had the merit of originating that powerful engine of resistance, corresponding committees between the legislatures of the different colonies." That the fact as here expressed is true, your letter bears witness when it says that the resolutions of Virginia for this purpose were transmitted to the speakers of the different Assemblies, and by that of Massachusetts was laid at the next session before that body, who appointed a committee for the specified object : adding, "thus in Massachusetts there were two committees of correspondence, one chosen by the people, the other appointed by the House of Assembly ; in the former, Massachusetts preceded Virginia; in the latter, Virginia preceded Massachusetts." To the origination of committees for the interior correspondence between the counties and towns of a State, I know of no claim on the part of Virginia ; but certainly none was ever made by myself. I perceive, however, one error into which memory had led me. Our committee for national correspondence was appointed in March 73 and I well remember that going to Williamsburg in the month of June following, Peyton Randolph, our chairman, told me that messengers, bearing despatches between the two States, had crossed each other by the way; that of Virginia carrying our propositions for a committee of national correspondence, and that of Massachusetts bringing, as my memory suggested, a similar proposition. But here I must have misremembered; and the resolutions brought us from Massachusetts were probably those you mention of the town meeting of Boston, on the motion of Mr. Samuel Adams, appointing a committee "to state the rights of the colonists, and of that province in particular, and the infringements of them, to communicate them to the several towns, as the sense of the town of Boston, and to request of each town a free communication of its sentiments on this subject"? I suppose, therefore, that these resolutions were not received, as you think, while the House of Burgesses was in session in March, 1773, but a few days after we rose, and were probably what was sent by the messenger who crossed ours by the way. They may, however, have been still different. I must therefore have been mistaken in supposing and stating to Mr. Wirt, that the proposition of a committee for national correspondence was nearly simultaneous in Virginia and Massachusetts.
A similar misapprehension of another passage in Mr. Wirts book, for which I am also quoted, has produced a similar reclamation of the part of Massachusetts by some of her most distinguished and estimable citizens. I had been applied to by Mr. Wirt for such facts respecting Mr. Henry, as my intimacy with him, and participation in the transactions of the day, might have placed within my knowledge. I accordingly committed them to paper, and Virginia being the theatre of his action, was the only subject within my contemplation, while speaking of him. Of the resolutions and measures here, in which he had the acknowledged lead, I used the expression that "Mr. Henry certainly gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution" (Wirt, p. 41.) The expression is indeed general, and in all its extension would comprehend all the sister States. But indulgent construction would restrain it, as was really meant, to the subject matter under contemplation, which was Virginia alone; according to the rule of the lawyers, and a fair canon of general criticism, that every expression should be construed secundum subjectam materiem. Where the first attack was made, there must have been, of course, the first act of resistance, and that was of Massachusetts. Our first overt act of war was Mr. Henrys embodying a force of militia from several counties, regularly armed and organized, marching them in military array, and making reprisal on the Kings treasury at the seat of government for the public powder taken away by his Governor. This was on the last days of April, 1775. Your formal battle of Lexington was ten or twelve days before that, which greatly overshadowed in importance, as it preceded in time our little affray, which merely amounted to a levying of arms against the King, and very possibly you had had military affrays before the regular battle of Lexington.
These explanations will, I hope, assure you, Sir, that so far as either facts or opinions have been truly quoted from me, they have never been meant to intercept the just fame of Massachusetts, for the promptitude and perseverance of her early resistance. We willingly cede to her the laud of having been (although not exclusively) "the cradle of sound principles," and if some of us believe she has deflected from them in her course, we retain full confidence in her ultimate return to them.
I will now proceed to your quotation from Mr. Galloways statements of what passed in Congress on their declaration of independence, in which statement there is not one word of truth, and where, bearing some resemblance to truth, it is an entire perversion of it. I do not charge this on Mr. Galloway himself ; his desertion having taken place long before these measures, he doubtless received his information from some of the loyal friends whom he left behind him. But as yourself, as well as others, appear embarrassed by inconsistent accounts of the proceedings on that memorable occasion, and as those who have endeavored to restore the truth have themselves committed some errors, I will give you some extracts from a written document on that subject, for the truth of which I pledge myself to heaven and earth; having, while the question of independence was under consideration before Congress, taken written notes, in my seat, of what was passing, and reduced them to form on the final conclusion. I have now before me that paper, from which the following are extracts :
" On Friday the 7th of June, 1776, the delegates from Virginia moved, in obedience to instructions from their constituents, that the Congress should declare that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is; and ought to be totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together. The House being obliged to attend at that time to some other business, the proposition was referred to the next day, when the members were ordered to attend punctually at ten oclock. Saturday, June 8th, they proceeded to take it into consideration, and referred it to a committee of the whole, into which they immediately resolved themselves, and passed that day and Monday the 10th in debating on the subject.
" It appearing in the course of these debates, that the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet matured for falling from the parent stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait awhile for them, and to postpone the final decision to July 1st. But that this might occasion as little delay as possible, a committee was appointed to prepare a Declaration of Independence. The committee were J. Adams, Dr. Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston and myself. This was reported to the House on Friday the 28th of June, when it was read and ordered to lie on the table. On Monday the 1st of July the House resolved itself into a committee of the whole, and resumed the consideration of the original motion made by the delegates of Virginia, which being again debated through the day, was carried in the affirmative by the votes of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against it. Delaware having but two members present, they were divided. The delegates for New York declared they were for it themselves, and were assured their constituents were for it ; but that their instructions having been drawn near a twelvemonth before, when reconciliation was still the general object, they were enjoined by them to do nothing which should impede that object. They therefore thought themselves not justifiable in voting on either side, and asked leave to withdraw from the question, which was given them. The committee rose and reported their resolution to the House. Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, then requested the determination might be put off to the next day, as he believed his colleagues, though they disapproved of the resolution, would then join in it for the sake of unanimity. The ultimate question whether the House would agree to the resolution of the committee was accordingly postponed to the next day, when it was again moved, and South Carolina concurred in voting for it; in the meantime a third member had come post from the Delaware counties, and turned the vote of that colony in favor of the resolution. Members of a different sentiment attending that morning from Pennsylvania also, their vote was changed; so that the whole twelve colonies, who were authorized to vote at all, gave their votes for it ; and within a few days, (July 9th,) the convention of New York approved of it, and thus supplied the void occasioned by the withdrawing of their delegates from the vote." (Be careful to observe that this vacillation and vote was on the original motion of the 7th of June by the Virginia delegates, that Congress should declare the colonies independent.)
" Congress proceeded the same day to consider the Declaration of Independence, which has been reported and laid on the table the Friday preceding, and on Monday referred to a committee of the whole. The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they give them offence. The debates having taken up the greater parts of the 2d, 3d and 4th days of July, were, in the evening of the last, closed. The Declaration was reported by the committee, agreed to by the House, and signed by every member present except Mr. Dickinson." So far my notes.
Governor McKean, in his letter to McCorkle of July 16th, 1817, has thrown some lights on the transactions of that day, but trusting to his memory chiefly at an age when our memories are not to be trusted, he has confounded two questions, and ascribed proceedings to one which belonged to the other. These two questions were, 1. The Virginia motion of June 7th to declare independence, and 2. The actual Declaration, its matter and form. Thus he states the question on the Declaration itself as decided on the 1st of July. But it was the Virginia motion which was voted on that day in committee of the whole; South Carolina, as well as Pennsylvania, then voting against it. But the ultimate decision in the House on the report of the committee being by request postponed to the next morning, all the States voted for it, except New York, whose vote was delayed for the reason before stated. It was not till the 2d of July that the Declaration itself was taken up, nor till the 4th that it was decided ; and it was signed by every member present, except Mr. Dickinson.
The subsequent signatures of members who were not then present, and some of them not yet in office, is easily explained, if we observe who they were; to wit, that they were of New York and Pennsylvania. New York did not sign till the 15th, because it was not till the 9th, five days after the general signature, that their convention authorized them to do so. The convention of Pennsylvania, learning that it had been signed by a minority only of their delegates, named a new delegation on the 20th, leaving out Mr. Dickinson, who had refused to sign, Willing and Humphreys who had withdrawn, reappointing the three members who had signed, Morris who had not been present, and five new ones, to wit, Rush, Clymer, Smith, Taylor and Ross; and Morris and the five new members were permitted to sign, because it manifested the assent of their full delegation, and the express will of their convention, which might have been doubted on the former signature of a minority only. Why the signature of Thornton of New Hampshire was permitted so late as the 4th of November, I cannot now say; but undoubtedly for some particular reason which we should find to have been good, had it been expressed. These were the only post-signers, and you see, Sir, that there were solid reasons for receiving those of New York and Pennsylvania, and that this circumstance in no wise affects the faith of this declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.
With a view to correct errors of fact before they become inveterate by repetition, I have stated what I find essentially material in my papers, but with that brevity which the labor of writing constrains me to use.
On the fourth particular articles of inquiry in your letter, respecting your grandfather, the venerable Samuel Adams, neither memory nor memorandums enable me to give any information. I can say that he was truly a great man, wise in council, fertile in resources, immovable in his purposes, and had, I think, a greater share than any other member, in advising and directing our measures, in the northern war especially. As a speaker he could not be compared with his living colleague and namesake, whose deep conceptions, nervous style, and undaunted firmness, made him truly our bulwark in debate. But Mr. Samuel Adams, although not of fluent elocution, was so rigorously logical, so clear in his views, abundant in good sense, and master always of his subject, that he commanded the most profound attention whenever he rose in an assembly by which the froth of declamation was heard with the most sovereign contempt. I sincerely rejoice that the record of his worth is to be undertaken by one so much disposed as you will be to hand him down fairly to that posterity for whose liberty and happiness he was so zealous a laborer.
With sentiments of sincere veneration for his memory, accept yourself this tribute to it with the assurances of my great respect.
P.S. August 6th, 1822 : Since the date of this letter, to wit, this day, August 6th, 22, I received the new publication of the secret Journals of Congress, wherein is stated a resolution, July 19th, 1776, that the Declaration passed on the 4th be fairly engrossed on parchment, and when engrossed, be signed by every member; and another of August 2d, that being engrossed and compared at the table, was signed by the members. That is to say the copy engrossed on parchment (for durability) was signed by the members after being compared at the table with the original one, signed on paper as before stated. I add this P.S. to the copy of my letter to Mr. Wells, to prevent confounding the signature of the original with that of the copy engrossed on parchment.
Your favor, Sir, of the 14th, has been duly received, and with it the book you were so kind as to forward to me. For this mark of attention, be pleased to accept my thanks. The science of the human mind is curious, but is one on which I have not indulged myself in much speculation. The times in which I have lived, and the scenes in which I have been engaged, have required me to keep the mind too much in action to have leisure to study minutely its laws of action. I am therefore little qualified to give an opinion on the comparative worth of books on that subject, and little disposed to do it on any book. Yours has brought the science within a small compass, and that is the merit of the first order; and especially with one to whom the drudgery of letter-writing often denies the leisure of reading a single page in a week. On looking over the summary of the contents of your book, it does not seem likely to bring into collision any of those sectarian differences which you suppose may exist between us. In that branch of religion which regards the moralities of life, and the duties of a social being, which teaches us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do good to all men, I am sure that you and I do not differ. We probably differ on the dogmas of theology, the foundation of all sectarianism, and on which no two sects dream alike ; for if they did they would then be of the same. You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know. I am not a Jew, and therefore do not adopt their theology, which supposes the God of infinite justice to punish the sins of the fathers upon their children, unto the third and fourth generation; and the benevolent and sublime reformer of that religion has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined Him. I am, therefore, of his theology, believing that we have neither words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be of one sect, doers of good, and eschewers of evil. No doctrines of his lead to schism. It is the speculations of crazy theologists which have made a Babel of a religion the most moral and sublime ever preached to man, and calculated to heal, and not to create differences. These religious animosities I impute to those who call themselves his ministers, and who engraft their casuistries on the stock of his simple precepts. I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorized by the blessed charities which he preaches. To yourself I pray the acceptance of my great respect.
I am in debt to you for your letters of May the 21st, 27th, and June the 22d. The first, delivered me by Mr. Greenwood, gave me the gratification of his acquaintance; and a gratification it always is, to be made acquainted with gentlemen of candor, worth, and information, as I found Mr. Greenwood to be. That, on the subject of Mr. Samuel Adams Wells, shall not be forgotten, in time and place when it can be used to his advantage.
But what has attracted my peculiar notice, is the paper from Mecklenburg county, of North Carolina, published in the Essex Register, which you were so kind as to enclose in your last, of June the 22d. And you seem to think it genuine. I believe it spurious. I deem it to be a very unjustifiable quiz, like that of the volcano, so minutely related to us as having broken out in North Carolina, some half a dozen years ago, in that part of the country, and perhaps in that very county of Mecklenburg, for I do not remember its precise locality. If this paper be really taken from the Raleigh Register, as quoted, I wonder it should have escaped Ritchie, who culls what is good from every paper, as the bee from every flower ; and the National Intelligence, too, which is edited by a North Carolinian; and that the fire should blaze out all at once in Essex, one thousand miles from where the spark is said to have fallen. But if really taken from the Raleigh Register, who is the narrator, and is the name subscribed real, or is it as fictitious as the paper itself ? It appeals, too, to an original book, which is burnt, to Mr. Alexander, who is dead, to a joint letter from Caswell, Hughes, and Hooper, all dead, to a copy sent to the dead Caswell, and another sent to Doctor Williamson, now probably dead, whose memory did not recollect, in the history he has written of North Carolina, this gigantic step of its county of Mecklenburg. Horry, too, is silent in his history of Marion, whose scene of action was the country bordering on Mecklenburg. Ramsay, Marshall, Jones, Girardin, Wirt, historians of the adjacent States, all silent. When Mr. Henrys resolutions, far short of independence, flew like lightning through every paper, and kindled both sides of the Atlantic, this flaming declaration of the same date, of the independence of Mecklenburg county, of North Carolina, absolving it from the British allegiance, and abjuring all political connection with that nation, although sent to Congress too, is never heard of. It is not known even a twelvemonth after, when a similar proposition is first made in that body. Armed with this bold example, would not you have addressed our timid brethren in peals of thunder on their tardy fears ? Would not every advocate of independence have rung the glories of Mecklenburg county in North Carolina, in the ears of the doubting Dickinson and others, who hung so heavily on us ? Yet the example of independent Mecklenburg county, in North Carolina, was never once quoted. The paper speaks, too, of the continued exertions of their delegation (Caswell, Hooper, Hughes) "in the cause of liberty and independence." Now you remember as well as I do, that we had not a greater tory in Congress than Hooper; that Hughes was very wavering, sometimes firm, sometimes feeble, according as the day was clear or cloudy; that Caswell, indeed, was a good whig, and kept these gentlemen to the notch, while he was present; but that he left us soon, and their line of conduct became then uncertain until Penn came, who fixed Hughes and the vote of the State. I must not be understood as suggesting any doubtfulness in the State of North Carolina. No State was more fixed or forward. Nor do I affirm, positively, that this paper is a fabrication ; because the proof of a negative can only be presumptive. But I shall believe it such until positive and solemn proof of its authenticity be produced. And if the name of McKnitt be real, and not a part of the fabrication, it needs a vindication by the production of such proof. For the present, I must be an unbeliever in the apocryphal gospel.
I am glad to learn that Mr. Ticknor has safely returned to his friends ; but should have been much more pleased had he accepted the Professorship in our University, which we should have offered him in form. Mr. Bowditch, too, refuses us ; so fascinating is the vinculum of the dulce natale solum. Our wish is to procure natives, where they can be found, like these gentlemen, of the first order of requirement in their respective lines; but preferring foreigners of the first order to natives of the second, we shall certainly have to go for several of our Professors, to countries more advanced in science than we are.
I set out within three or four days for my other home, the distance of which, and its cross mails, are great impediments to epistolary communications. I shall remain there about two months; and there, here, and everywhere, I am and shall always be, affectionately and respectfully yours.
The acknowledgment of your favor of July 15th, and thanks for the Review which it covered of Mr. Pickerings Memoir on the Modern Greek, have been delayed by a visit to an occasional but distant residence from Monticello, and to an attack here of rheumatism which is just now moderating. I had been much pleased with the memoir, and was much also with your review of it. I have little hope indeed of the recovery of the ancient pronunciation of that finest of human languages, but still I rejoice at the attention the subject seems to excite with you, because it is an evidence that our country begins to have a taste for something more than merely as much Greek as will pass a candidate for clerical ordination.
You ask my opinion on the extent to which classical learning should be carried in our country. A sickly condition permits me to think, and a rheumatic hand to write too briefly on this litigated question. The utilities we derive from the remains of the Greek and Latin languages are, first, as models of pure taste in writing. To these we are certainly indebted for the rational and chaste style of modern composition which so much distinguishes the nations to whom these languages are familiar. Without these models we should probably have continued the inflated style of our northern ancestors, or the hyperbolical and vague one of the east. Second. Among the values of classical learning, I estimate the luxury of reading the Greek and Roman authors in all the beauties of their originals. And why should not this innocent and elegant luxury take its preeminent stand ahead of all those addressed merely to the senses ? I think myself more indebted to my father for this than for all the other luxuries his cares and affections have placed within my reach ; and more now than when younger, and more susceptible of delights from other sources. When the decays of age have enfeebled the useful energies of the mind, the classic pages fill up the vacuum of ennui, and become sweet composers to that rest of the grave into which we are all sooner or later to descend. Third. A third value is in the stores of real science deposited and transmitted us in these languages, to wit : in history, ethics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, natural history, etc.
But to whom are these things useful ? Certainly not to all men. There are conditions of life to which they must be forever estranged, and there are epochs of life too, after which the endeavor to attain them would be a great misemployment of time. Their acquisition should be the occupation of our early years only, when the memory is susceptible of deep and lasting impressions, and reason and judgment not yet strong enough for abstract speculations. To the moralist they are valuable, because they furnish ethical writings highly and justly esteemed : although in my own opinion, the moderns are far advanced beyond them in this line of science; the divine finds in the Greek language a translation of his primary code, of more importance to him than the original because better understood; and, in the same language, the newer code, with the doctrines of the earliest fathers, who lived and wrote before the simple precepts of the Founder of this most benign and pure of all systems of morality became frittered into subtleties and mysteries, and hidden under jargons incomprehensible to the human mind. To these original sources he must now, therefore, return, to recover the virgin purity of his religion. The lawyer finds in the Latin language the system of civil law most conformable with the principles of justice of any which has ever yet been established among men, and from which much has been incorporated into our own. The physician as good a code of his art as has been given us to this day. Theories and systems of medicine, indeed, have been in perpetual change from the days of the good Hippocrates to the days of the good Rush, but which of them is the true one ? the present, to be sure, as long as it is the present, but to yield its place in turn to the next novelty, which is then to become the true system, and is to mark the vast advance of medicine since the days of Hippocrates. Our situation is certainly benefited by the discovery of some new and very valuable medicines ; and substituting those for some of his with the treasure of facts, and of sound observations recorded by him (mixed, to be sure, with anilities of his day) and we shall have nearly the present sum of the healing art. The statesman will find in these languages history, politics, mathematics, ethics, eloquence, love of country, to which he must add the sciences of his own day, for which of them should be unknown to him ? And all the sciences must recur to the classical languages for the etymon, and sound understanding of their fundamental terms. For the merchant I should not say that the languages are a necessary. Ethics, mathematics, geography, political economy, history, seem to constitute the immediate foundations of his calling. The agriculturist needs ethics, mathematics, chemistry and natural philosophy. The mechanic the same. To them the languages are but ornament and comfort. I know it is often said there have been shining examples of men of great abilities in all the businesses of life, without any other science than what they had gathered from conversations and intercourse with the world. But who can say what these men would not have been, had they started in the science on the shoulders of a Demosthenes or Cicero, of a Locke or Bacon, or a Newton ? To sum the whole, therefore, it may truly be said that the classical languages are a solid basis for most, and an ornament to all the sciences.
I am warned by my aching fingers to close this hasty sketch, and to place here my last and fondest wishes for the advancement of our country in the useful sciences and arts, and my assurances of respect and esteem for the Reviewer of the Memoir on modern Greek.
I had read in the Enquirer, and with great approbation, the pieces signed Hampden, and have read them again with redoubled approbation, in the copies you have been so kind as to send me. I subscribe to every tittle of them. They contain the true principles of the revolution of 1800, for that was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form ; not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people. The nation declared its will by dismissing functionaries of one principle, and electing those of another, in the two branches, executive and legislature, submitted to their election. Over the judiciary department, the Constitution had deprived them of their control. That, therefore, has continued the reprobated system, and although new matter has been occasionally incorporated into the old, yet the leaven of the old mass seems to assimilate to itself the new, and after twenty years confirmation of the federated system by the voice of the nation, declared through the medium of elections, we find the judiciary on every occasion, still driving us into consolidation.
In denying the right they usurp of exclusively explaining the Constitution, I go further than you do, if I understand rightly your quotation from the Federalist, of an opinion that "the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government, but not in relation to the rights of the parties to the compact under which the judiciary is derived." If this opinion be sound, then indeed is our Constitution a complete felo de se. For intending to establish three departments, co-ordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone, the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others, and to that one too, which is unelected by, and independent of the nation. For experience has already shown that the impeachment it has provided is not even a scare-crow; that such opinions as the one you combat, sent cautiously out, as you observe also, by detachment, not belonging to the case often, but sought for out of it, as if to rally the public opinion beforehand to their views, and to indicate the line they are to walk in, have been so quietly passed over as never to have excited animadversion, even in a speech of any one of the body entrusted with impeachment. The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please. It should be remembered, as an axiom of eternal truth in politics, that whatever power in any government is independent, is absolute also; in theory only, at first, while the spirit of the people is up, but in practice, as fast as that relaxes. Independence can be trusted nowhere but with the people in mass. They are inherently independent of all but moral law. My construction of the Constitution is very different from that you quote. It is that each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action ; and especially, where it is to act ultimately and without appeal. I will explain myself by examples, which, having occurred while I was in office, are better known to me, and the principles which governed them.
A legislature had passed the sedition law. The federal courts had subjected certain individuals to its penalties of fine and imprisonment. On coming into office, I released these individuals by the power of pardon committed to executive discretion, which could never be more properly exercised than where citizens were suffering without the authority of law, or, which was equivalent, under a law unauthorized by the Constitution, and therefore null. In the case of Marbury and Madison, the federal judges declared that commissions, signed and sealed by the President, were valid, although not delivered. I deemed delivery essential to complete a deed, which, as long as it remains in the hands of the party, is as yet no deed ; it is in posse only, but not in esse, and I withheld delivery of the commissions. They cannot issue a mandamus to the President or legislature, or to any of their officers.* When the British treaty of ---- arrived, without any provision against the impressment of our seamen, I determined not to ratify it. The Senate thought I should ask their advice. I thought that would be a mockery of them, when I was predetermined against following it, should they advise its ratification. The Constitution had made their advice necessary to confirm a treaty, but not to reject it. This has been blamed by some; but I have never doubted its soundness. In the cases of two persons, antenati, under exactly similar circumstances, the federal court had determined that one of them (Duane) was not a citizen; the House of Representatives nevertheless determined that the other (Smith, of South Carolina) was a citizen, and admitted him to his seat in their body. Duane was a republican, and Smith a federalist, and these decisions were made during the federal ascendency.
These are examples of my position, that each of the three departments has equally the right to decide for itself what is its duty under the Constitution, without any regard to what the others may have decided for themselves under a similar question. But you intimate a wish that my opinion should be known on this subject. No, dear Sir, I withdraw from all contests of opinion, and resign everything cheerfully to the generation now in place. They are wiser than we were, and their successors will be wiser than they, from the progressive advance of science. Tranquillity is the summum bonum of age. I wish, therefore, to offend no mans opinion, nor to draw disquieting animadversions on my own. While duty required it, I met opposition with a firm and fearless step. But loving mankind in my individual relations with them, I pray to be permitted to depart in their peace; and like the superannuated soldier, "quadragenis stipendiis emeritis," to hang my arms on the post. I have unwisely, I fear, embarked in an enterprise of great public concern, but not to be accomplished within my term, without their liberal and prompt support. A severe illness the last year, and another from which I am just emerged, admonish me that repetitions may be expected, against which a declining frame cannot long bear up. I am anxious, therefore, to get our University so far advanced as may encourage the public to persevere to its final accomplishment. That secured, I shall sing my nunc dimittis. I hope your labors will be long continued in the spirit in which they have always been exercised, in maintenance of those principles on which I verily believe the future happiness of our country essentially depends. I salute you with affectionate and great respect.
* The Constitution controlling the common law in this particular.
I thank you, Sir, for the remarks on the pronunciation of the Greek language which you have been so kind as to send me. I have read them with pleasure, as I had the pamphlet of Mr. Pickering on the same subject. This question has occupied long and learned inquiry, and cannot, as I apprehend, be ever positively decided. Very early in my classical days, I took up the idea that the ancient Greek language having been changed by degrees into the modern, and the present race of that people having received it by tradition, they had of course better pretensions to the ancient pronunciation also, than any foreign nation could have. When at Paris, I became acquainted with some learned Greeks, from whom I took pains to learn the modern pronunciation. But I could not receive it as genuine in toto. I could not believe that the ancient Greeks had provided six different notations for the simple sound of i, iota, and left the five other sounds which we give to n, v, i-i, oi vi, without any characters of notation at all. I could not acknowledge the v, upsilon, as an equivalent to our v, as in --(greek text)--, which they pronounce Achillevs, nor the y, gamma, to our y, as in --(greek text)--, which they pronounce alye. I concluded, therefore, that as experience proves to us that the pronunciation of all languages changes, in their descent through time, that of the Greek must have done so also in some degree; and the more probably, as the body of the words themselves had substantially changed, and I presumed that the instances above mentioned might be classed with the degeneracies of time ; a presumption strengthened by their remarkable cacophony. As to all the other letters, I have supposed we might yield to their traditionary claim of a more orthodox pronunciation. Indeed, they sound most of them as we do, and, where they differ, as in the e, s, x, their sounds do not revolt us, nor impair the beauty of the language.
If we adhere to the Erasmian pronunciation, we must go to Italy for it, as we must do for the most probably correct pronunciation of the language of the Romans, because rejecting the modern, we must argue that the ancient pronunciation was probably brought from Greece, with the language itself; and, as Italy was the country to which it was brought, and from which it emanated to other nations, we must presume it better preserved there than with the nations copying from them, who would be apt to affect its pronunciation with some of their own national peculiarities. And in fact, we find that no two nations pronounce it alike, although all pretend to the Erasmian pronunciation. But the whole subject is conjectural, and allows therefore full and lawful scope to the vagaries of the human mind. I am glad, however, to see the question stirred here; because it may excite among our young countrymen a spirit of inquiry and criticism, and lead them to more attention to this most beautiful of all languages. And wishing that the salutary example you have set may have this good effect, I salute you with great respect and consideration.
Your favor of the 21st is received. My late illness, in which you are so kind as to feel an interest, was produced by a spasmodic stricture of the ileum, which came upon me on the 7th inst. The crisis was short, passed over favorably on the fourth day, and I should soon have been well but that a dose of calomel and jalap, in which were only eight or nine grains of the former, brought on a salivation. Of this, however, nothing now remains but a little soreness of the mouth. I have been able to get on horseback for three or four days past.
As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the Stoics; all beyond, of their dogmas, being hypocrisy and grimace. Their great crime was in their calumnies of Epicurus and misrepresentations of his doctrines ; in which we lament to see the candid character of Cicero engaging as an accomplice. Diffuse, vapid, rhetorical, but enchanting. His prototype Plato, eloquent as himself, dealing out mysticisms incomprehensible to the human mind, has been deified by certain sects usurping the name of Christians; because, in his foggy conceptions, they found a basis of impenetrable darkness whereon to rear fabrications as delirious, of their own invention. These they fathered blasphemously on Him whom they claimed as their Founder, but who would disclaim them with the indignation which their caricatures of His religion so justly excite. Of Socrates we have nothing genuine but in the Memorabilia of Xenophon ; for Plato makes him one of his Collocutors merely to cover his own whimsies under the mantle of his name; a liberty of which we are told Socrates himself complained. Seneca is indeed a fine moralist, disfiguring his work at times with some Stoicisms, and affecting too much of antithesis and point, yet giving us on the whole a great deal of sound and practical morality. But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of His own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really His from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of His biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man; outlines which it is lamentable He did not live to fill up. Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent Moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems, invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by Him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning. It would in time, it is to be hoped, effect a quiet euthanasia of the heresies of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally and deeply afflicted mankind ; but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of His life. I have sometimes thought of translating Epictetus (for he has never been tolerably translated into English) by adding the genuine doctrines of Epicurus from the Syntagma of Gassendi, and an abstract from the Evangelists of whatever has the stamp of the eloquence and fine imagination of Jesus. The last I attempted too hastily some twelve or fifteen years ago. It was the work of two or three nights only, at Washington, after getting through the evening task of reading the letters and papers of the day. But with one foot in the grave, these are now idle projects for me. My business is to beguile the wearisomeness of declining life, as I endeavor to do, by the delights of classical reading and of mathematical truths, and by the consolations of a sound philosophy, equally indifferent to hope and fear.
I take the liberty of observing that you are not a true disciple of our master Epicurus, in indulging the indolence to which you say you are yielding. One of his canons, you know, was that "that indulgence which presents a greater pleasure, or produces a greater pain, is to be avoided." Your love of repose will lead, in its progress, to a suspension of healthy exercise, a relaxation of mind, an indifference to everything around you, and finally to a debility of body, and hebetude of mind, the farthest of all things from the happiness which the well-regulated indulgences of Epicurus ensure; fortitude, you know, is one of his four cardinal virtues. That teaches us to meet and surmount difficulties ; not to fly from them, like cowards; and to fly, too, in vain, for they will meet and arrest us at every turn of our road. Weigh this matter well ; brace yourself up; take a seat with Correa, and come and see the finest portion of your country, which, if you have not forgotten, you still do not know, because it is no longer the same as when you knew it. It will add much to the happiness of my recovery to be able to receive Correa and yourself, and prove the estimation in which I hold you both. Come, too, and see our incipient University, which has advanced with great activity this year. By the end of the next, we shall have elegant accommodations for seven professors, and the year following the professors themselves. No secondary character will be received among them. Either the ablest which America or Europe can furnish, or none at all. They will give us the selected society of a great city separated from the dissipations and levities of its ephemeral insects.
I am glad the bust of Condorcet has been saved and so well placed. His genius should be before us; while the lamentable, but singular act of ingratitude which tarnished his latter days, may be thrown behind us.
I will place under this a syllabus of the doctrines of Epicurus, somewhat in the lapidary style, which I wrote some twenty years ago ; a like one of the philosophy of Jesus, of nearly the same age, is too long to be copied. Vale, et tibi persuade carissimum te esse mihi.
Syllabus of the doctrines of Epicurus.
Physical.The Universe eternal.
Its parts, great and small, interchangeable.
Matter and Void alone.
Motion inherent in matter which is weighty and declining.
Eternal circulation of the elements of bodies.
Gods, an order of beings next superior to man, enjoying in their sphere, their own felicities; but not meddling with the concerns of the scale of beings below them.
Moral.Happiness the aim of life.
Virtue the foundation of happiness.
Utility the test of virtue.
Pleasure active and In-do-lent.
In-do-lence is the absence of pain, the true felicity.
Active, consists in agreeable motion; it is not happiness, but the means to produce it.
Thus the absence of hunger is an article of felicity ; eating the means to obtain it.
The summum bonum is to be not pained in body, nor troubled in mind.
i.e. In-do-lence of body, tranquillity of mind.
To procure tranquillity of mind we must avoid desire and fear, the two principal diseases of the mind.
Man is a free agent.
Virtue consists in 1. Prudence. 2. Temperance. 3. Fortitude. 4. Justice.
To which are opposed, 1. Folly. 2. Desire. 3. Fear. 4. Deceit.
1 e.g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Dear Sir,Three long and dangerous illnesses within the last twelve months, must apologize for my long silence towards you.
The paper bubble is then burst. This is what you and I, and every reasoning man, seduced by no obliquity of mind or interest, have long foreseen; yet its disastrous effects are not the less for having been foreseen. We were laboring under a dropsical fulness of circulating medium. Nearly all of it is now called in by the banks, who have the regulation of the safety-valves of our fortunes, and who condense and explode them at their will. Lands in this State cannot now be sold for a years rent ; and unless our legislature have wisdom enough to effect a remedy by a gradual diminution only of the medium, there will be a general revolution of property in this State. Over our own paper and that of other States coming among us, they have competent powers ; over that of the bank of the United States there is doubt, not here, but elsewhere. That bank will probably conform voluntarily to such regulations as the legislature may prescribe for the others. If they do not, we must shut their doors, and join the other States which deny the right of Congress to establish banks, and solicit them to agree to some mode of settling this constitutional question. They have themselves twice decided against their right, and twice for it. Many of the States have been uniform in denying it, and between such parties the Constitution has provided no umpire. I do not know particularly the extent of this distress in the other States ; but southwardly and westwardly I believe all are involved in it. God bless you, and preserve you many years.
Your letter, and the draught of a memorial proposed to be presented to the legislature, are duly received. With respect to impressions from any differences of political opinion, whether major or minor, alluded to in your letter, I have none. I left them all behind me on quitting Washington, where alone the state of things had, till then, required some attention to them. Nor was that the lightest part of the load I was there disburdened of ; and could I permit myself to believe that with the change of circumstances a corresponding change had taken place in the minds of those who differed from me, and that I now stand in the peace and good will of my fellow citizens generally, it would indeed be a sweetening ingredient in the last dregs of my life. It is not then from that source that my testimony may be scanty, but from a decaying memory, illy retaining things of recent transaction, and scarcely with any distinctness those of forty years back, the period to which your memorial refers : general impressions of them remain, but details are mostly obliterated.
Of the transfer of your corps from the general to the State line, and the other facts in the memorial preceding my entrance on the administration of the State government, June 2, 1779, I, of course, have no knowledge; but public documents, as well as living witnesses, will probably supply this. In 1780, I remember your appointment to a command in the militia sent under General Stevens to the aid of the Carolinas, of which fact the commission signed by myself is sufficient proof. But I have no particular recollections which respect yourself personally in that service. Of what took place during Arnolds invasion in the subsequent winter I have more knowledge, because so much passed under my own eye, and I have the benefit of some notes to aid my memory. In the short interval of fifty-seven hours between our knowing they had entered James river and their actual debarkation at Westover, we could get together but a small body of militia, (my notes say of three hundred men only,) chiefly from the city and its immediate vicinities. You were placed in the command of these, and ordered to proceed to the neighborhood of the enemy, not with any view to face them directly with so small a force, but to hang on their skirts, and to check their march as much as could be done, to give time for the more distant militia to assemble. The enemy were not to be delayed, however, and were in Richmond in twenty-four hours from their being formed on shore at Westover. The day before their arrival at Richmond, I had sent my family to Tuckahoe, as the memorial states, at which place I joined them about 1 oclock of that night, having attended late at Westham, to have the public stores and papers thrown across the river. You came up to us at Tuckahoe the next morning, and accompanied me, I think, to Brittons opposite Westham, to see about the further safety of the arms and other property. Whether you stayed there to look after them, or went with me to the heights of Manchester, and returned thence to Brittons, I do not recollect. The enemy evacuated Richmond at noon of the 5th of January, having remained there but twenty-three hours. I returned to it in the morning of the 8th, they being still encamped at Westover and Berkley, and yourself and corps at the Forest. They re-embarked at 1 oclock of the 10th. The particulars of your movements down the river, to oppose their re-landing at different points, I do not specifically recollect, but, as stated in the memorial, they are so much in agreement with my general impressions, that I have no doubt of their correctness, and I know that your conduct from the first advance of the enemy to his departure, was approved by myself and by others generally. The rendezvous of the militia at the Tuckahoe bridge and your having the command of them, I think I also remember, but nothing of their subsequent movements. The legislature had adjourned to meet at Charlottesville, where, at the expiration of my second year, I declined a re-election in the belief that a military man would be more likely to render services adequate to the exigencies of the times. Of the subsequent facts, therefore, stated in the memorial, I have no knowledge.
This, Sir, is the sum of the information I am able to give on the subjects of your memorial, and if it may contribute to the purposes of justice in your case, I shall be happy that in bearing testimony to the truth, I shall have rendered you a just service. I return the memorial and commission, as requested, and pray you to accept my respectful salutations.
Dear Sir,The distresses of our country, produced first by the flood, then by the ebb of bank paper, are such as cannot fail to engage the interposition of the legislature. Many propositions will, of course, be offered, from all of which something may probably be culled to make a good whole. I explained to you my project, when I had the pleasure of possessing you here ; and I now send its outline in writing, as I believe I promised you, Although preferable things will I hope be offered, yet some twig of this may perhaps be thought worthy of being engrafted on a better stock. But I send it with no particular object or request, but to use it as you please. Suppress it, suggest it, sound opinions, or anything else, at will, only keeping my name unmentioned, for which purpose it is copied in another hand, being ever solicitous to avoid all offence which is heavily felt, when retired from the bustle and contentions of the world. If we suffer the moral of the present lesson to pass away without improvement by the eternal suppression of bank paper, then indeed is the condition of our country desperate, until the slow advance of public instruction shall give to our functionaries the wisdom of their station. Vale, et tibi persuade carissimum te mihi esse.
Plan for reducing the circulating medium.
The plethory of circulating medium which raised the prices of everything to several times their ordinary and standard value, in which state of things many and heavy debts were contracted; and the sudden withdrawing too great a proportion of that medium, and reduction of prices far below that standard, constitute the disease under which we are now laboring, and which must end in a general revolution of property, if some remedy is not applied. That remedy is clearly a gradual reduction of the medium to its standard level, that is to say, to the level which a metallic medium will always find for itself, so as to be in equilibrio with that of the nations with which we have commerce.
To effect this,
Let the whole of the present paper medium be suspended in its circulation after a certain and not distant day.
Ascertain by proper inquiry the greatest sum of it which has at any one time been in actual circulation.
Take a certain term of years for its gradual reduction, suppose it to be five years ; then let the solvent banks issue 5/6 of that amount in new notes, to be attested by a public officer, as a security that neither more nor less is issued, and to be given out in exchange for the suspended notes, and the surplus in discount.
Let 1/5 of these notes bear on their face that the bank will discharge them with specie at the end of one year ; another 5th at the end of two years ; a third 5th at the end of three years ; and so of the 4th and 5th. They will be sure to be brought in at their respective periods of redemption.
Make it a high offence to receive or pass within this State a note of any other.
There is little doubt that our banks will agree readily to this operation ; if they refuse, declare their charters forfeited by their former irregularities, and give summary process against them for the suspended notes.
The bank of the United States will probably concur also ; if not, shut their doors and join the other States in respectful, but firm applications to Congress, to concur in constituting a tribunal (a special convention, e.g.) for settling amicably the question of their right to institute a bank, and that also of the States to do the same.
A stay-law for the suspension of executions, and their discharge at five annual instalments, should be accommodated to these measures.
Interdict forever, to both the State and national governments, the power of establishing any paper bank ; for without this interdiction, we shall have the same ebbs and flows of medium, and the same revolutions of property to go through every twenty or thirty years.
In this way the value of property, keeping pace nearly with the sum of circulating medium, will descend gradually to its proper level, at the rate of about 1 every year, the sacrifices of what shall be sold for payment of the first instalments of debts will be moderate, and time will be given for economy and industry to come in aid of those subsequent. Certainly no nation ever before abandoned to the avarice and jugglings of private individuals to regulate, according to their own interests, the quantum of circulating medium for the nation, to inflate, by deluges of paper, the nominal prices of property, and then to buy up that property at 1s. in the pound, having first withdrawn the floating medium which might endanger a competition in purchase. Yet this is what has been done, and will be done, unless stayed by the protecting hand of the legislature. The evil has been produced by the error of their sanction of this ruinous machinery of banks; and justice, wisdom, duty, all require that they should interpose and arrest it before the schemes of plunder and spoliation desolate the country. It is believed that harpies are already hoarding their money to commence these scenes on the separation of the legislature ; and we know that lands have been already sold under the hammer for less than a years rent.
I have to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of November the 23d. The banks, bankrupt law, manufactures, Spanish treaty, are nothing. These are occurrences which, like waves in a storm, will pass under the ship. But the Missouri question is a breaker on which we lose the Missouri country by revolt, and what more, God only knows. From the battle of Bunkers Hill to the treaty of Paris, we never had so ominous a question. It even damps the joy with which I hear of your high health, and welcomes to me the consequences of my want of it. I thank God that I shall not live to witness its issue. Sed hæc hactenus.
I have been amusing myself latterly with reading the voluminous letters of Cicero. They certainly breathe the purest effusions of an exalted patriot, while the parricide Cæsar is lost in odious contrast. When the enthusiasm, however, kindled by Ciceros pen and principles, subsides into cool reflection, I ask myself, what was that government which the virtues of Cicero were so zealous to restore, and the ambition of Cæsar to subvert ? And if Cæsar had been as virtuous as he was daring and sagacious, what could he, even in the plenitude of his usurped power, have done to lead his fellow citizens into good government ? I do not say to restore it, because they never had it, from the rape of the Sabines to the ravages of the Cæsars. If their people indeed had been, like ourselves, enlightened, peaceable, and really free, the answer would be obvious. "Restore independence to all your foreign conquests, relieve Italy from the government of the rabble of Rome, consult it as a nation entitled to self-government, and do its will." But steeped in corruption, vice and venality, as the whole nation was, (and nobody had done more than Cæsar to corrupt it,) what could even Cicero, Cato, Brutus have done, had it been referred to them to establish a good government for their country ? They had no ideas of government themselves, but of their degenerate Senate, nor the people of liberty, but of the factious opposition of their tribunes. They had afterwards their Tituses, their Trajans and Antoninuses, who had the will to make them happy, and the power to mould their government into a good and permanent form. But it would seem as if they could not see their way clearly to do it. No government can continue good, but under the control of the people; and their people were so demoralized and, depraved, as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control. Their reformation then was to be taken up ab incunabulis. Their minds were to be informed by education what is right and what wrong ; to be encouraged in habits of virtue, and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned indeed, but irremissible; in all cases, to follow truth as the only safe guide, and to eschew error, which bewilders us in one false consequence after another, in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government. But this would have been an operation of a generation or two, at least, within which period would have succeeded many Neros and Commoduses, who would have quashed the whole process. I confess then, I can neither see what Cicero, Cato and Brutus, united and uncontrolled, could have devised to lead their people into good government, nor how this enigma can be solved, nor how further shown why it has been the fate of that delightful country never to have known, to this day, and through a course of five and twenty hundred years, the history of which we possess, one single day of free and rational government. Your intimacy with their history, ancient, middle and modern, your familiarity with the improvements in the science of government at this time, will enable you, if any body, to go back with our principles and opinions to the times of Cicero, Cato and Brutus, and tell us by what process these great and virtuous men could have led so unenlightened and vitiated a people into freedom and good government, et eris mihi magnus Apollo. Cura ut valeas, et tibi persuadeas carissimum te mihi esse.
I must answer your great question of the 10th in the words of DAlembert to his correspondent, who asked him what is matter"Je vous avoue je ne scais rien." In some part of my life I record a great work of a Scotchman on the court of Augustus, in which, with much learning, hard study, and fatiguing labor, he undertook to prove that had Brutus and Cassius been conqueror, they would have restored virtue and liberty to Rome.
Mais je nen crois rien. Have you ever found in history one single example of a nation, thoroughly corrupted, that was afterwards restored to virtue ? and without virtue there can be no political liberty.
If I were a Calvinist, I might pray that God by a miracle of divine grace would instantaneously convert a whole contaminated nation from turpitude to purity ; but even in this I should be inconsistent, for the fatalism of Mahometanism, Materialists, Atheists, Pantheists, and Calvinists, and church of England articles, appear to me to render all prayer futile and absurd. The French and the Dutch, in our day, have attempted reforms and revolutions. We know the results, and I fear the English reformers will have no better success.
Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry ? Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury ? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly ? When you will answer me these questions, I hope I may venture to answer yours ; yet all these ought not to discourage us from exertion, for with my friend Jeb, I believe no effort in favor of virtue is lost, and all good men ought to struggle both by their counsel and example.
The Missouri question, I hope, will follow the other waves under the ship, and do no harm. I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American empire, and our free institutions; and I say as devoutly as father Paul, estor perpetua, but I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, and another Burr, might rend this mighty fabric in twain, or perhaps into a leash; and a few more choice spirits of the same stamp, might produce as many nations in North America as there are in Europe.
To return to the Romans. I never could discover that they possessed much virtue, or real liberty. Their Patricians were in general griping usurers, and tyrannical creditors in all ages. Pride, strength, and courage, were all the virtues that composed their national characters ; a few of their nobles affecting simplicity, frugality, and piety, perhaps really possessing them, acquired popularity amongst the plebeians, and extended the power and dominions of the republic, and advanced in glory till riches and luxury came in, sat like an incubus on the Republic, victam que ulcissitur orbem.
Our winter sets in a fortnight earlier than usual, and is pretty severe. I hope you have fairer skies, and milder air. Wishing your health may last as long as your life, and your life as long as you desire it, I am, dear Sir, respectfully and affectionately.