The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor H.A. Washington
New York :  H.W. Derby, 1861

To John Adams.
Monticello, January 8, 1825.

Dear Sir, — It is long since I have written to you.  This proceeds from the difficulty of writing with my crippled wrist, and from an unwillingness to add to your inconveniences of either reading by the eyes, or writing by the hands of others.  The account I receive of your physical situation afflicts me sincerely;  but if body or mind was one of them to give way, it is a great comfort that it is the mind which remains whole, and that its vigor, and that of memory continues firm.  Your hearing, too, is good, as I am told.  In this you have the advantage of me.  The dulness of mine makes me lose much of the conversation of the world, and much a stranger to what is passing in it.  Acquiescence is the only pillow, although not always a soft one.  I have had one advantage of you.  This Presidential election has given me few anxieties.  With you this must have been impossible, independently of the question, whether we are at last to end our days under a civil or a military government.  I am comforted and protected from other solicitudes by the cares of our University.  In some departments of science we believe Europe to be in advance before us, and that it would advance ourselves were we to draw from thence instructors in these branches, and thus to improve our science, as we have done our manufactures, by borrowed skill.  I have been much squibbed for this, perhaps by disappointed applicants for professorships to which they were deemed incompetent.  We wait only the arrival of three of the professors engaged in England, to open our University.

I have lately been reading the most extraordinary of all books, and at the same time the most demonstrative by numerous and unequivocal facts.  It is Flourend’s experiments on the functions of the nervous system, in vertebrated animals.  He takes out the cerebrum completely, leaving the cerebellum and other parts of the system uninjured.  The animal loses all its senses of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, is totally deprived of will, intelligence, memory, perception, etc., yet lives for months in perfect health, with all its powers of motion, but without moving but on external excitement, starving even on a pile of grain, unless crammed down its throat;  in short, in a state of the most absolute stupidity.  He takes the cerebellum out of others, leaving the cerebrum untouched.  The animal retains all its senses, faculties, and understanding, but loses the power of regulated motion, and exhibits all the symptoms of drunkenness.  While he makes incisions in the cerebrum and cerebellum, lengthwise and crosswise, which heal and get well, a puncture in the medulla elongata is instant death;  and many other most interesting things too long for a letter.  Cabanis had proved by the anatomical structure of certain portions of the human frame, that they might be capable of receiving from the hand of the Creator the faculty of thinking;  Flourend proves that they have received it;  that the cerebrum is the thinking organ;  and that life and health may continue, and the animal be entirely without thought, if deprived of that organ.  I wish to see what the spiritualists will say to this.  Whether in this state the soul remains in the body, deprived of its essence of thought? or whether it leaves it, as in death, and where it goes ?  His memoirs and experiments have been reported on with approbation by a committee of the Institute, composed of Cuvier, Bertholet, Dumaril, Portal and Pinel.  But all this, you and I shall know better when we meet again, in another place, and at no distant period.  In the meantime, that the revived powers of your frame, and the anodyne of philosophy may preserve you from all suffering, is my sincere and affectionate prayer.




To William Short.
Monticello, January 8, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I returned the first volume of Hall by a mail of a week ago, and by this, shall return the second.  We have kept them long, but every member of the family wished to read his book, in which case, you know, it had a long gantlet to run.  It is impossible to read thoroughly such writings as those of Harper and Otis, who take a page to say what requires but a sentence, or rather, who give you whole pages of what is nothing to the purpose.  A cursory race over the ground is as much as they can claim.  It is easy for them, at this day, to endeavor to whitewash their party, when the greater part are dead of those who witnessed what passed, others old and become indifferent to the subject, and others indisposed to take the trouble of answering them.  As to Otis, his attempt is to prove that the sun does not shine at mid-day;  that that is not a fact which every one saw.  He merits no notice.  It is well known that Harper had little scruple about facts where detection was not obvious.  By placing in false lights whatever admits it, and passing over in silence what does not, a plausible aspect may be presented of anything.  He takes great pains to prove, for instance, that Hamilton was no monarchist, by exaggerating his own intimacy with him, and the impossibility, if he was so, that he should not, at some time, have betrayed it to him.  This may pass with uninformed readers, but not with those who have had it from Hamilton’s own mouth.  I am one of those, and but one of many.  At my own table, in presence of Mr. Adams, Knox, Randolph, and myself, in a dispute between Mr. Adams and himself, he avowed his preference of monarchy over every other government, and his opinion that the English was the most perfect model of government ever devised by the wit of man, Mr. Adams agreeing “if its corruptions were done away.”  While Hamilton insisted that “with these corruptions it was perfect, and without them it would be an impracticable government.”  Can any one read Mr. Adams’ defence of the American Constitutions without seeing that he was a monarchist ?  And J.Q. Adams, the son, was more explicit than the father, in his answer to Paine’s Rights of Man.  So much for leaders.  Their followers were divided.  Some went the same lengths;  others, and I believe the greater part, only wished a stronger Executive.  When I arrived at New York in 1790, to take a part in the administration, being fresh from the French Revolution, while in its first and pure stage, and consequently somewhat whetted up in my own republican principles, I found a state of things, in the general society of the place, which I could not have supposed possible.  Being a stranger there, I was feasted from table to table, at large set dinners, the parties generally from twenty to thirty.  The revolution I had left, and that we had just gone through in the recent change of our own government, being the common topics of conversation, I was astonished to find the general prevalence of monarchical sentiments, insomuch that in maintaining those of republicanism, I had always the whole company on my hands, never scarcely finding among them a single co-advocate in that argument, unless some old member of Congress happened to be present.  The furthest that any one would go, in support of the republican features of our new government, would be to say, “the present Constitution is well as a beginning, and may be allowed a fair trial;  but it is, in fact, only a stepping-stone to something better.”  Among their writers, Denny, the editor of the Portfolio, who was a kind of oracle with them, and styled the Addison of America, openly avowed his preference of monarchy over all other forms of government, prided himself on the avowal, and maintained it by argument freely and without reserve, in his publications.  I do not, myself, know that the Essex junto of Boston were monarchists, but I have always heard it so said, and never doubted.

These, my dear Sir, are but detached items from a great mass of proofs then fully before the public.  They are unknown to you, because you were absent in Europe, and they are now disavowed by the party.  But, had it not been for the firm and determined stand then made by a counter-party, no man can say what our government would have been at this day.  Monarchy, to be sure, is now defeated, and they wish it should be forgotten that it was ever advocated.  They see that it is desperate, and treat its imputation to them as a calumny;  and I verily believe that none of them have it now in direct aim.  Yet the spirit is not done away.  The same party takes now what they deem the next best ground, the consolidation of the government;  the giving to the federal member of the government, by unlimited constructions of the Constitution, a control over all the functions of the States, and the concentration of all power ultimately at Washington.

The true history or that conflict of parties will never be in possession of the public, until, by the death of the actors in it, the hoards of their letters shall be broken up and given to the world.  I should not fear to appeal to those of Harper himself, if he has kept copies of them, for abundant proof that he was himself a monarchist.  I shall not live to see these unrevealed proofs, nor probably you;  for time will be requisite.  But time will, in the end, produce the truth.  And, after all, it is but a truth which exists in every country, where not suppressed by the rod of despotism.  Men, according to their constitutions, and the circumstances in which they are placed, differ honestly in opinion.  Some are Whigs, Liberals, Democrats, call them what you please.  Others are Tories, Serviles, Aristocrats, etc.  The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society;  the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort;  they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent.  This is the division of sentiment now existing in the United States.  It is the common division of Whig and Tory, or according to our denominations of republican and federal;  and is the most salutary of all divisions, and ought, therefore, to be fostered, instead of being amalgamated.  For, take away this, and some more dangerous principle of division will take its place.  But there is really no amalgamation.  The parties exist now as heretofore.  The one, indeed, has thrown off its old name, and has not yet assumed a new one, although obviously consolidationists.  And among those in the offices of every denomination I believe it to be a bare minority.

I have gone into these facts to show how one-sided a view of this case Harper has presented.  I do not recall these recollections with pleasure, but rather wish to forget them, nor did I ever permit them to affect social intercourse.  And now, least of all, am disposed to do so.  Peace and good will with all mankind is my sincere wish.  I willingly leave to the present generation to conduct their affairs as they please.  And in my general affection to the whole human family, and my particular devotion to my friends, be assured of the high and special estimation in which yourself is cordially held.




To Joseph C. Cabell.
Monticello, January 11, 1825.

Dear Sir, — We are dreadfully nonplussed here by the non-arrival of our three professors.  We apprehend that the idea of our opening on the 1st of February prevails so much abroad, (although we have always mentioned it doubtfully,) as that the students will assemble on that day without awaiting the further notice which was promised.  To send them away will be discouraging, and to open an University without Mathematics or Natural Philosophy would bring on us ridicule and disgrace.  We therefore publish an advertisement, stating that on the arrival of these professors, notice will be given of the day of opening the institution.

Governor Barbour writes me hopefully of getting our fifty thousand dollars from Congress.  The proposition has been originated in the House of Representatives, referred to the committee of claims, the chairman of which has prepared a very favorable report, and a bill conformable, assuming the repayment of all interest which the State has actually paid.  The legislature will certainly owe to us the recovery of this money;  for had they not given it in some measure the reverenced character of a donation for the promotion of learning, it would never have been paid.  It is to be hoped, therefore, that the displeasure incurred by wringing it from them at the last session, will now give way to a contrary feeling, and even place us on a ground of some merit.  Should this sentiment take place, and the arrival of our professors and filling our dormitories with students on the 1st of February, encourage them to look more favorably towards us, perhaps it might dispose them to enlarge somewhat their order on the same fund.  You observe the Proctor has stated in a letter accompanying our Report, that it will take about twenty-five thousand dollars more than we have to finish the Rotunda.  Besides this, an anatomical theatre (costing about as much as one of our hotels, say about five thousand dollars,) is indispensable to the school of Anatomy.  There cannot be a single dissection until a proper theatre is prepared, giving an advantageous view of the operation to those within, and effectually excluding observation from without.  Either the additional sums, therefore, of twenty-five thousand and five thousand dollars will be wanting, or we must be permitted to appropriate a part of the fifty thousand to a theatre, leaving the Rotunda unfinished for the present.  Yet I should think neither of these objects an equivalent for renewing the displeasure of the legislature.  Unless we can carry their hearty patronage with us, the institution can never flourish.  I would not, therefore, hint at this additional aid, unless it were agreeable to our friends generally, and tolerably sure of being carried without irritation.  In your letter of December the 31st, you say my “handwriting and my letters have great effect there,” i.e., at Richmond.  I am sensible, my dear Sir, of the kindness with which this encouragement is held up to me.  But my views of their effect are very different.  When I retired from the administration of public affairs, I thought I saw some evidence that I retired with a good degree of public favor, and that my conduct in office had been considered, by the one party at least, with approbation, and with acquiescence by the other.  But the attempt in which I have embarked so earnestly, to procure an improvement in the moral condition of my native State, although, perhaps, in other States it may have strengthened good dispositions, it has assuredly weakened them within our own.  The attempt ran foul of so many local interests, of so many personal views, and so much ignorance, and I have been considered as so particularly its promoter, that I see evidently a great change of sentiment towards myself.  I cannot doubt its having dissatisfied with myself a respectable minority, if not a majority, of the House of Delegates.  I feel it deeply, and very discouragingly.  Yet I shall not give way.  I have ever found in my progress through life, that, acting for the public, if we do always what is right, the approbation denied in the beginning will surely follow us in the end.  It is from posterity we are to expect remuneration for the sacrifices we are making for their service, of time, quiet and good will.  And I fear not the appeal.  The multitude of fine young men whom we shall redeem from ignorance, who will feel that they owe to us the elevation of mind, of character and station they will be able to attain from the result of our efforts, will insure their remembering us with gratitude.  We will not, then, be “weary in well-doing.”  Usque ad aras amicus tuus.




To General Alexander Smyth.
Monticello, January 17, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I have duly received four proof sheets of your explanation of the Apocalypse, with your letters of December 29th and January 8th;  in the last of which you request that, so soon as I shall be of opinion that the explanation you have given is correct, I would express it in a letter to you.  From this you must be so good as to excuse me, because I make it an invariable rule to decline ever giving opinions on new publications in any case whatever.  No man on earth has less taste or talent for criticism than myself, and least and last of all should I undertake to criticise works on the Apocalypse.  It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it, and I then considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.  I was, therefore, well pleased to see, in your first proof sheet, that it was said to be not the production of St. John, but of Cerinthus, a century after the death of that apostle.  Yet the change of the author’s name does not lessen the extravagances of the composition;  and come they from whomsoever they may, I cannot so far respect them as to consider them as an allegorical narrative of events, past or subsequent.  There is not coherence enough in them to countenance any suite of rational ideas.  You will judge, therefore, from this how impossible I think it that either your explanation, or that of any man in “the heavens above, or on the earth beneath,” can be a correct one.  What has no meaning admits no explanation;  and pardon me if I say, with the candor of friendship, that I think your time too valuable, and your understanding of too high an order, to be wasted on these paralogisms.  You will perceive, I hope, also, that I do not consider them as revelations of the Supreme Being, whom I would not so far blaspheme as to impute to Him a pretension of revelation, couched at the same time in terms which, He would know, were never to be understood by those to whom they were addressed.  In the candor of these observations, I hope you will see proofs of the confidence, esteem and respect which I truly entertain for you.




John Adams to Thomas Jefferson.
Quincy, January 23, 1825.

My Dear Sir, — We think ourselves possessed, or at least we boast that we are so, of liberty of conscience on all subjects and of the right of free inquiry and private judgment in all cases, and yet how far are we from these exalted privileges in fact.  There exists, I believe, throughout the whole Christian world, a law which makes it blasphemy to deny, or to doubt the divine inspiration of all the books of the Old and New Testaments, from Genesis to Revelations.  In most countries of Europe it is punished by fire at the stake, or the rack, or the wheel.  In England itself, it is punished by boring through the tongue with a red-hot poker.  In America it is not much better;  even in our Massachusetts, which, I believe, upon the whole, is as temperate and moderate in religious zeal as most of the States, a law was made in the latter end of the last century, repealing the cruel punishments of the former laws, but substituting fine and imprisonment upon all those blasphemies upon any book of the Old Testament or New.  Now, what free inquiry, when a writer must surely encounter the risk of fine or imprisonment for adducing any arguments for investigation into the divine authority of those books ?  Who would run the risk of translating Volney’s Recherches Nouvelles ?  Who would run the risk of translating Dapin’s ?  But I cannot enlarge upon this subject, though I have it much at heart.  I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind.  Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws.  It is true, few persons appear desirous to put such laws in execution, and it is also true that some few persons are hardy enough to venture to depart from them;  but as long as they continue in force as laws, the human mind must make an awkward and clumsy progress in its investigations.  I wish they were repealed.  The substance and essence of Christianity, as I understand it, is eternal and unchangeable, and will bear examination forever;  but it has been mixed with extraneous ingredients, which, I think, will not bear examination, and they ought to be separated.  Adieu.




To ----.
Monticello, February 3, 1825.

Dear Sir, — Although our professors were, on the 5th of December, still in an English port, that they were safe raises me from the dead, for I was almost ready to give up the ship.  That was eight weeks ago;  they may therefore be daily expected.

In most public seminaries text-books are prescribed to each of the several schools, as the norma docendi in that school;  and this is generally done by authority of the trustees.  I should not propose this generally in our University, because I believe none of us are so much at the heights of science in the several branches, as to undertake this, and therefore that it will be better left to the professors until occasion of interference shall be given.  But there is one branch in which we are the best judges, in which heresies may be taught, of so interesting a character to our own State and to the United States, as to make it a duty in us to lay down the principles which are to be taught.  It is that of government.  Mr. Gilmer being withdrawn, we know not who his successor may be.  He may be a Richmond lawyer, or one of that school of quondam federalism, now consolidation.  It is our duty to guard against such principles being disseminated among our youth, and the diffusion of that poison, by a previous prescription of the texts to be followed in their discourses.  I therefore enclose you a resolution which I think of proposing at our next meeting, strictly confiding it to your own knowledge alone, and to that of Mr. Loyall, to whom you may communicate it, as I am sure it will harmonize with his principles.  I wish it kept to ourselves, because I have always found that the less such things are spoken of beforehand, the less obstruction is contrived to be thrown in their way.  I have communicated it to Mr. Madison.

Should the bill for district colleges pass in the end, our scheme of education will be complete.  But the branch of primary schools may need attention, and should be brought, like the rest, to the forum of the legislature.  The Governor, in his annual message, gives a favorable account of them in the lump.  But this is not sufficient.  We should know the operation of the law establishing these schools more in detail.  We should know how much money is furnished to each county every year, and how much education it distributes every year, and such a statement should be laid before the legislature every year.  The sum of education rendered in each county in each year should be estimated by adding together the number of months which each scholar attended, and stating the sum total of the months which all of them together attended, e.g., if in any county one scholar attended two months, three others four months each, eight others six months each, then the sum of these added together will make sixty-two months of schooling afforded in the county that year;  and the number of sixty-two months entered in a table opposite to the name of the county, gives a satisfactory idea of the sum or quantum of education it rendered in that year.  This will enable us to take many interesting and important views of the sufficiency of the plan established, and of the amendments necessary to produce the greatest effect.  I enclose a form of the table which would be required, in which you will of course be sensible that the numbers entered are at hap-hazard, and exempli gratia, as I know nothing of the sums furnished or quantum of education rendered in each or any county.  I send also the form of such a resolution as should be passed by the one or the other House, perhaps better in the lower one, and moved by some member nowise connected with us, for the less we appear before the House, the less we shall excite dissatisfaction.

I mentioned to you formerly our want of an anatomical hall for dissection.  But if we get the fifty thousand dollars from Congress, we can charge to that, as the library fund, the six thousand dollars of the building fund which we have advanced for it in books and apparatus, and repaying from the former the six thousand dollars due to the latter, apply so much of it as is necessary for the anatomical building.  No application on the subject need therefore be made to our legislature.  But I hear nothing of our prospects before Congress.  Yours affectionately.


Resolved, That the Governor be requested to have prepared and laid before the legislature, at their next session, a statement in detail of the sum of education which, under the law establishing primary schools, has been rendered in the schools of each county respectively;  that it be stated in a tabular form, in the first column of which table shall be the names of the counties alphabetically arranged, and then, for every year, two other columns, in the first of which shall be entered, opposite to the name of each county, the sum of money furnished it in that year, and in the second shall be stated the sum of education rendered in the same county and year;  which sum is to be estimated by adding together the number of months of schooling which the several individuals attending received.  And that hence orward a similar statement be prepared and laid before the legislature every year for that year.

Accomac. .... $400 .... 216 months schooling.
Albemarle .... 500 .... 234 ------"------
Amelia ....... 250 .... 183 ------"------
Amherst ...... 400 .... 210 ------"------
Augusta ...... 800 .... 461 ------"------
&c.



To ----.
Monticello, February 20, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I thank you for the copy of your Cherokee Grammar, which I have gone over with attention and satisfaction.  We generally learn languages for the benefit of reading the books written in them.  But here our reward must be the addition made to the philosophy of language.  In this point of view your analysis of the Cherokee adds valuable matter for reflection, and strengthens our desire to see more of these languages as scientifically elucidated.  Their grammatical devices for the modification of their words by a syllable prefixed to, or inserted in the middle, or added to its end, and by other combinations so different from ours, prove that if man came from one stock, his languages did not.  A late grammarian has said that all words were originally monosyllables.  The Indian languages disprove this.  I should conjecture that the Cherokees, for example, have formed their language not by single words, but by phrases.  I have known some children learn to speak, not by a word at a time, but by whole phrases.  Thus the Cherokee has no name for father in the abstract, but only as combined with some one of his relations.  A complex idea being a fasciculus of simple ideas bundled together, it is rare that different languages make up their bundles alike, and hence the difficulty of translating from one language to another.  European nations have so long had intercourse with one an other, as to have approximated their complex expressions much towards one another.  But I believe we shall find it impossible to translate our language into any of the Indian, or any of theirs into ours.  I hope you will pursue your undertaking, and that others will follow your example with other of their languages.  It will open a wide field for reflection on the grammatical organization of languages, their structure and character.  I am persuaded that among the tribes on our two continents a great number of languages, radically different, will be found.  It will be curious to consider how so many so radically different will be found.  It will be curious to consider how so many so radically different have been preserved by such small tribes in coterminous settlements of moderate extent.  I had once collected about thirty vocabularies formed of the same English words, expressive of such simple objects only as must be present and familiar to every one under these circumstances.  They were unfortunately lost.  But I remember that on a trial to arrange them into families or dialects, I found in one instance that about half a dozen might be so classed, in another perhaps three or four.  But I am sure that a third at least, if not more, were perfectly insulated from each other.  Yet this is the only index by which we can trace their filiation.

I had received your observations on the changes proposed in Harvard College, without knowing from whom they came to me, and had been so much pleased with them as to have put them by for preservation.  These observations, with the report and documents to which they relate, are a treasure of information to us;  they give to our infant institution the experience of your ancient and eminent establishment.  I hope that we shall be like cordial colleagues in office, acting in harmony and affection for the same object.  Our European professors, five in number, are at length arrived, and excite strong presumptions that they have been judiciously selected.  We have announced our opening on the 7th of the ensuing month of March.  With sincere wishes for the prosperity of yours, as well as ours, I pray you to accept assurances of my high esteem and respect.




To Thomas Jefferson Smith.
Monticello, February 21, 1825.

This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead.  The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels.  Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course.  Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part.  Adore God.  Reverence and cherish your parents.  Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself.  Be just.  Be true.  Murmur not at the ways of Providence.  So shall the life into which vou have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss.  And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard.  Farewell.


The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.

Lord, who’s the happy man that may to Thy blest courts repair,
Not stranger-like, to visit them, but to inhabit there ?
’Tis he whose every thought and deed by rules of virtue moves,
Whose generous tongue disdains to speak the thing his heart disproves.
Who never did a slander forge, his neighbor’s fame to wound,
Nor hearken to a false report, by malice whispered round.
Who vice, in all its pomp and power, can treat with just neglect ;
And piety, though clothed in rags, religiously respect.
Who to his plighted vows and trust has ever firmly stood,
And though he promise to his loss, he makes his promise good.
Whose soul in usury disdains his treasure to employ,
Whom no rewards can ever bribe the guiltless to destroy.
The man who, by this steady course, has happiness ensur’d,
When earth’s foundations shake, shall stand, by Providence secur’d.

A Decalogue Of Canons for observation in practical life.

1.  Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.

2.  Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

3.  Never spend your money before you have it.

4.  Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap;  it will be dear to you.

5.  Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.

6.  We never repent of having eaten too little.

7.  Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.

8.  How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.

9.  Take things always by their smooth handle.

10.  When angry, count ten, before you speak;  if very angry, an hundred.




To Edward Livingston.
Monticello, March 25, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I know how apt we are to consider those Whom we knew long ago, and have not since seen, to be exactly still what they were when we knew them;  and to have been stationary in body and mind as they have been in our recollections.  Have you not been under that illusion with respect to myself ?  When I had the pleasure of being a fellow laborer with you in the public service, age had ripened, but not yet impaired whatever of mind I had at any time possessed.  But five and twenty chilling winters have since rolled over my head, and whitened every hair of it.  Worn down by time in bodily strength, unable to walk even into my garden without too much fatigue, I cannot doubt that the mind has also suffered its portion of decay.  If reason and experience had not taught me this law of nature, my own consciousness is a sufficient monitor, and warns me to keep in mind the golden precept of Horace,

“Solve senescentem, mature sanus, equum, ne
Peccet ad extremum ridendus.”

I am not equal, dear Sir, to the task you have proposed to me.  To examine a code of laws newly reduced to system and text, to weigh their bearings on each other in all their parts, their harmony with reason and nature, and their adaptation to the habits and sentiments of those for whom they are prepared, and whom, in this case, I do not know, is a task far above what I am now, or perhaps ever was.  I have attended to so much of your work as has been heretofore laid before the public, and have looked, with some attention also, into what you have now sent me.  It will certainly arrange your name with the sages of antiquity.  Time and changes in the condition and constitution of society may require occasional and corresponding modifications.  One single object, if your provision attains it, will entitle you to the endless gratitude of society;  that of restraining judges from usurping legislation.  And with no body of men is this restraint more wanting than with the judges of what is commonly called our General Government, but what I call our foreign department.  They are practising on the Constitution by inferences, analogies, and sophisms, as they would on an ordinary law.  They do not seem aware that it is not even a constitution, formed by a single authority, and subject to a single superintendence and control;  but that it is a compact of many independent powers, every single one of which claims an equal right to understand it, and to require its observance.  However strong the cord of compact may be, there is a point of tension at which it will break.  A few such doctrinal decisions, as barefaced as that of the Cohens, happening to bear immediately on two or three of the large States, may induce them to join in arresting the march of government, and in arousing the co-States to pay some attention to what is passing, to bring back the compact to its original principles, or to modify it legitimately by the express consent of the parties themselves, and not by the usurpation of their created agents.  They imagine they can lead us into a consolidate government, while their road leads directly to its dissolution.  This member of the government was at first considered as the most harmless and helpless of all its organs.  But it has proved that the power of declaring what the law is, ad libitum, by sapping and mining, slyly, and without alarm, the foundations of the Constitution, can do what open force would not dare to attempt.  I have not observed whether, in your code, you have provided against caucusing judicial decisions, and for requiring judges to give their opinions seriatim, every man for himself, with his reasons and authorities at large, to be entered of record in his own words.  A regard for reputation, and the judgment of the world, may sometimes be felt where conscience is dormant, or indolence inexcitable.  Experience has proved that impeachment in our forms is completely inefficient.

I am pleased with the style and diction of your laws.  Plain and intelligible as the ordinary writings of common sense, I hope it will produce imitation.  Of all the countries on earth of which I have any knowledge, the style of the Acts of the British Parliament is the most barbarous, uncouth, and unintelligible.  It can be understood by those alone who are in the daily habit of studying such tautologous, involved and parenthetical jargon.  Where they found their model, I know not.  Neither ancient nor modern codes, nor even their own early statutes, furnish any such example.  And, like faithful apes, we copy it faithfully.

In declining the undertaking you so flatteringly propose to me, I trust you will see but an approvable caution fur the age of fourscore and two, to avoid exposing itself before the public.  The misfortune of a weakened mind is an insensibility of its weakness.  Seven years ago, indeed, I embarked in an enterprise, the establishment of an University, which placed and keeps me still under the public eye.  The call was imperious, the necessity most urgent, and the hazard of titubation less, by those seven years, than it now is.  The institution is at length happily advanced to completion, and has commenced under auspices as favorable as I could expect.  I hope it will prove a blessing to my own State, and not unuseful perhaps to some others.  At all hazards, and secured by the aid of my able coadjutors, I shall continue, while I am in being, to contribute to it whatever my weakened and weakening powers can.  But assuredly it is the last object for which I shall obtrude myself on the public observation.

Wishing anxiously that your great work may obtain complete success, and become an example for the imitation and improvement of other States, I pray you to be assured of my unabated friendship and respect.




To Judge Augustus B. Woodward.
Monticello, April 3, 1825.

Dear Sir, — Your favor of March 25th has been duly received.  The fact is unquestionable, that the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of Virginia, were drawn originally by George Mason, one of our really great men, and of the first order of greatness.  The history of the Preamble to the latter is this :  I was then at Philadelphia with Congress;  and knowing that the Convention of Virginia was engaged in forming a plan of government, I turned my mind to the same subject, and drew a sketch or outline of a Constitution, with a preamble, which I sent to Mr. Pendleton, president of the convention, on the mere possibility that it might suggest something worth incorporation into that before the convention.  He informed me afterwards by letter, that he received it on the day on which the Committee of the Whole had reported to the House the plan they had agreed to;  that that had been so long in hand, so disputed inch by inch, and the subject of so much altercation and debate;  that they were worried with the contentions it had produced, and could not, from mere lassitude, have been induced to open the instrument again;  but that, being pleased with the Preamble to mine, they adopted it in the House, by way of amendment to the Report of the Committee;  and thus my Preamble became tacked to the work of George Mason.  The Constitution, with the Preamble, was passed on the 29th of June, and the Committee of Congress had only the day before that reported to that body the draught of the Declaration of Independence.  The fact is, that that Preamble was prior in composition to the Declaration;  and both having the same object, of justifying our separation from Great Britain, they used necessarily the same materials of justification, and hence their similitude.

Withdrawn by age from all other public services and attentions to public things, I am closing the last scenes of life by fashioning and fostering an establishment for the instruction of those who are to come after us.  I hope its influence on their virtue, freedom, fame and happiness, will be salutary and permanent.  The form and distributions of its structure are original and unique, the architecture chaste and classical, and the whole well worthy of attracting the curiosity of a visit.  Should it so prove to yourself at any time, it will be a great gratification to me to see you once more at Monticello;  and I pray you to be assured of my continued and high respect and esteem.




To Henry Lee.
Monticello, May 8, 1825.

Dear Sir — * * * * * *

That George Mason was author of the bill of rights and of the Constitution founded on it, the evidence of the day established fully in my mind.  Of the paper you mention, purporting to be instructions to the Virginia delegation in Congress, I have no recollection.  If it were anything more than a project of some private hand, that is to say, had any such instructions been ever given by the convention, they would appear in the journals, which we possess entire.  But with respect to our rights, and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water.  All American Whigs thought alike on these subjects.  When forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification.  This was the object of the Declaration of Independence.  Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before;  but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.  Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.  All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.  The historical documents which you mention as in your possession, ought all to be found, and I am persuaded you will find, to be corroborative of the facts and principles advanced in that Declaration.  Be pleased to accept assurances of my great esteem and respect.




To Miss Frances Wright.
Monticello, August 7, 1825.

I have duly received, dear Madam, your letter of July 26th, and learn from it with much regret, that Miss Wright, your sister, is so much indisposed as to be obliged to visit our medicinal springs.  I wish she may be fortunate in finding those which may be adapted to her case.  We have taken too little pains to ascertain the properties of our different mineral waters, the cases in which they are respectively remedial, the proper process in their use, and other circumstances necessary to give us their full value.  My own health is very low, not having been able to leave the house for three months, and suffering much at times.  In this state of body and mind, your letter could not have found a more inefficient counsellor, one scarcely able to think or to write.  At the age of eighty-two, with one foot in the grave, and the other uplifted to follow it, I do not permit myself to take part in any new enterprises, even for bettering the condition of man, not even in the great one which is the subject of your letter, and which has been through life that of my greatest anxieties.  The march of events has not been such as to render its completion practicable within the limits of time allotted to me;  and I leave its accomplishment as the work of another generation.  And I am cheered when I see that on which it is devolved, taking it up with so much good will;  and such minds engaged in its encouragement.  The abolition of the evil is not impossible;  it ought never therefore to be despaired of.  Every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object.  That which you propose is well worthy of trial.  It has succeeded with certain portions of our white brethren, under the care of a Rapp and an Owen;  and why may it not succeed with the man of color ?  An opinion is hazarded by some, but proved by none, that moral urgencies are not sufficient to induce him to labor;  that nothing can do this but physical coercion.  But this is a problem which the present age alone is prepared to solve by experiment.  It would be a solecism to suppose a race of animals created, without sufficient foresight and energy to preserve their own existence.  It is disproved, too, by the fact that they exist, and have existed through all the ages of history.  We are not sufficiently acquainted with all the nations of Africa, to say that there may not be some in which habits of industry are established, and the arts practised which are necessary to render life comfortable.  The experiment now in progress in St. Domingo, those of Sierra Leone and Cape Mesurado, are but beginning.  Your proposition has its aspects of promise also;  and should it not answer fully to calculations in figures, it may yet, in its developments, lead to happy results.  These, however, I must leave to another generation.  The enterprise of a different, but yet important character, in which I have embarked too late in life, I find more than sufficient to occupy the enfeebled energies remaining to me, and that to divert them to other objects, would be a desertion of these.  You are young, dear Madam, and have powers of mind which may do much in exciting others in this arduous task.  I am confident they will be so exerted, and I pray to Heaven for their success, and that you may be rewarded with the blessings which such efforts merit.




To John Vaughan.
Monticello, September 16, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I am not able to give you any particular account of the paper handed you by Mr. Lee, as being either the original or a copy of the Declaration of Independence, sent by myself to his grandfather.  The draught, when completed by myself, with a few verbal amendments by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, two members of the committee, in their own handwriting, is now in my own possession, and a fair copy of this was reported to the committee, passed by them without amendment, and then reported to Congress.  This latter should be among the records of the old Congress;  and whether this or the one from which it was copied and now in my hands, is to be called the original, is a question of definition.  To that in my hands, if worth preserving, my relations with our University give irresistible claims.  Whenever, in the course of the composition, a copy became overcharged, and difficult to be read with amendments, I copied it fair, and when that also was crowded with other amendments, another fair copy was made, etc.  These rough draughts I sent to distant friends who were anxious to know what was passing.  But how many, and to whom, I do not recollect.  One sent to Mazzei was given by him to the Countess de Tesse (aunt of Madame de Lafayette) as the original, and is probably now in the hands of her family.  Whether the paper sent to R.H. Lee was one of these, or whether, after the passage of the instrument, I made a copy for him, with the amendments of Congress, may, I think, be known from the face of the paper.  The documents Mr. Lee has given you must be of great value, and until all these private hoards are made public, the real history of the Revolution will not be known.




To Dr. James Mease.
Monticello, September 26, 1825.

Dear Sir, — It is not for me to estimate the importance of the circumstances concerning which your letter of the 8th makes inquiry.  They prove, even in their minuteness, the sacred attachments of our fellow citizens to the event of which the paper of July 4th, 1776, was but the Declaration, the genuine effusion of the soul of our country at that time.  Small things may, perhaps, like the relics of saints, help to nourish our devotion to this holy bond of our Union, and keep it longer alive and warm in our affections.  This effect may give importance to circumstances, however small.  At the time of writing that instrument, I lodged in the house of a Mr. Graaf, a new brick house, three stories high, of which I rented the second floor, consisting of a parlor and bed-room, ready furnished.  In that parlor I wrote habitually, and in it wrote this paper, particularly.  So far I state from written proofs in my possession.  The proprietor, Graaf, was a young man, son of a German, and then newly married.  I think he was a bricklayer, and that his house was on the south side of Market street, probably between Seventh and Eighth streets, and if not the only house on that part of the street, I am sure there were few others near it.  I have some idea that it was a corner house, but no other recollections throwing light on the question, or worth communication.  I am ill, therefore only add assurance of my great respect and esteem.




To ----.
Monticello, October 25, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I know not whether the professors to whom ancient and modern history are assigned in the University, have yet decided on the course of historical reading which they will recommend to their schools.  If they have, I wish this letter to be considered as not written, as their course, the result of mature consideration, will be preferable to anything I could recommend.  Under this uncertainty, and the rather as you are of neither of these schools, I may hazard some general ideas, to be corrected by what they may recommend hereafter.

In all cases I prefer original authors to compilers.  For a course of ancient history, therefore, of Greece and Rome especially, I should advise the usual suite of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Diodorus, Livy, Caesar, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Dion, in their originals if understood, and in translations if not.  For its continuation to the final destruction of the empire we must then be content with Gibbon, a compiler, and with Segur, for a judicious recapitulation of the whole.  After this general course, there are a number of particular histories filling up the chasms, which may be read at leisure in the progress of life.  Such is Arrian, 2 Curtius, Polybius, Sallust, Plutarch, Dionysius, Halicarnassus, Micasi, etc.  The ancient universal history should be on our shelves as a book of general reference, the most learned and most faithful perhaps that ever was written.  Its style is very plain but perspicuous.  In modern history, there are but two nations with whose course it is interesting to us to be intimately acquainted, to wit :  France and England.  For the former, Millot’s General History of France may be sufficient to the period when 1 Davila commences.  He should be followed by Perefixe, Sully, Voltaire’s Louis XIV and XV, la Cretelles XVIIIme si&egrace;cle, Marmontel’s Regence, Foulongion’s French Revolution, and Madame de Staël’s, making up by a succession of particular history, the general one which they want.

Of England there is as yet no general history so faithful as Rapin’s.  He may be followed by Ludlow, Fox, Belsham, Hume, and Brodie.  Hume’s, were it faithful, would be the finest piece of history which has ever been written by man.  Its unfortunate bias may be partly ascribed to the accident of his having written backwards.  His maiden work was the History of the Stuarts.  It was a first essay to try his strength before the public.  And whether as a Scotchman he had really a partiality for that family, or thought that the lower their degradation, the more fame he should acquire by raising them up to some favor, the object of his work was an apology for them.  He spared nothing, therefore, to wash them white, and to palliate their misgovernment.  For this purpose he suppressed truths, advanced falsehoods, forged authorities, and falsified records.  All this is proved on him unanswerably by Brodie.  But so bewitching was his style and manner, that his readers were unwilling to doubt anything, swallowed everything, and all England became Tories by the magic of his art.  His pen revolutionized the public sentiment of that country more completely than the standing armies could ever have done, which were so much dreaded and deprecated by the patriots of that day.

Having succeeded so eminently in the acquisition of fortune and fame by this work, he undertook the history of the two preceding dynasties, the Plantagenets and Tudors.  It was all-important in this second work, to maintain the thesis of the first, that “it was the people who encroached on the sovereign, not the sovereign who usurped on the rights of the people.”  And, again, chapter 53d, “the grievances under which the English labored [to wit :  whipping, pillorying, cropping, imprisoning, fining, etc.,] when considered in themselves, without regard to the Constitution, scarcely deserve the name, nor were they either burdensome on the people’s properties, or anywise shocking to the natural humanity of mankind.”  During the constant wars, civil and foreign, which prevailed while these two families occupied the throne, it was not difficult to find abundant instances of practices the most despotic, as are wont to occur in times of violence.  To make this second epoch support the third, therefore, required but a little garbling of authorities.  And it then remained, by a third work, to make of the whole a complete history of England, on the principles on which he had advocated that of the Stuarts.  This would comprehend the Saxon and Norman conquests, the former exhibiting the genuine form and political principles of the people constituting the nation, and founded in the rights of man;  the latter built on conquest and physical force, not at all affecting moral rights, nor even assented to by the free will of the vanquished.  The battle of Hastings, indeed, was lost, but the natural rights of the nation were not staked on the event of a single battle.  Their will to recover the Saxon constitution continued unabated, and was at the bottom of all the unsuccessful insurrections which succeeded in subsequent times.  The victors and vanquished continued in a state of living hostility, and the nation may still say, after losing the battle of Hastings,

“What though the field is lost ?
All is not lost;  the unconquerable will
And study of revenge, immortal hate
And courage never to submit or yield.”

The government of a nation may be usurped by the forcible intrusion of an individual into the throne.  But to conquer its will, so as to rest the right on that, the only legitimate basis, requires long acquiescence and cessation of all opposition.  The Whig historians of England, therefore, have always gone back to the Saxon period for the true principles of their constitution, while the Tories and Hume, their Coryphaeus, date it from the Norman conquest, and hence conclude that the continual claim by the nation of the good old Saxon laws, and the struggles to recover them, were “encroachments of the people on the crown, and not usurpations of the crown on the people.”  Hume, with Brodie, should be the last histories of England to be read.  If first read, Hume makes an English Tory, from whence it is an easy step to American Toryism.  But there is a history, by Baxter, in which, abridging somewhat by leaving out some entire incidents as less interesting now than when Hume wrote, he has given the rest in the identical words of Hume, except that when he comes to a fact falsified, he states it truly, and when to a suppression of truth, he supplies it, never otherwise changing a word.  It is, in fact, an editic expurgation of Hume.  Those who shrink from the volume of Rapin, may read this first, and from this lay a first foundation in a basis of truth.

For modern continental history, a very general idea may be first aimed at, leaving for future and occasional reading the particular histories of such countries as may excite curiosity at the time.  This may be obtained from Mollet’s Northern Antiquities, Vol. Esprit et Moeurs des Nations, Millot’s Modern History, Russel’s Modern Europe, Hallam’s Middle Ages, and Robertson’s Charles V.

You ask what book I would recommend to be first read in law.  I am very glad to find from a conversation with Mr. Gilmer, that he considers Coke Littleton, as methodized by Thomas, as unquestionably the best elementary work, and the one which will be the text-book of his school.  It is now as agreeable reading as Blackstone, and much more profound.  I pray you to consider this hasty and imperfect sketch as intended merely to prove my wish to be useful to you, and that with it you will accept the assurance of my esteem and respect.




To the Honorable J. Evelyn Denison, M.P.
Monticello, November 9, 1825.

Dear Sir, — Your favor of July 30th was duly received, and we have now at hand the books you have been so kind as to send to our University.  They are truly acceptable in themselves, for we might have been years not knowing of their existence;  but give the greater pleasure as evidence of the interest you have taken in our infant institution.  It is going on as successfully as we could have expected;  and I have no reason to regret the measure taken of procuring professors from abroad where science is so much ahead of us.  You witnessed some of the puny squibs of which I was the butt on that account.  They were probably from disappointed candidates, whose unworthiness had occasioned their applications to be passed over.  The measure has been generally approved in the South and West;  and by all liberal minds in the North.  It has been peculiarly fortunate, too, that the professors brought from abroad were as happy selections as could have been hoped, as well for their qualifications in science as correctness and amiableness of character.  I think the example will be followed, and that it cannot fail to be one of the efficacious means of promoting that cordial good will, which it is so much the interest of both nations to cherish.  These teachers can never utter an unfriendly sentiment towards their native country;  and those into whom their instructions will be infused, are not of ordinary significance only;  they are exactly the persons who are tn succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes.  As it is our interest to receive instruction through this channel, so I think it is yours to furnish it;  for these two nations holding cordially together, have nothing to fear from the united world.  They will be the models for regenerating the condition of man, the sources from which representative government is to flow over the whole earth.

I learn from you with great pleasure, that a taste is reviving in England for the recovery of the Anglo-Saxon dialect of our language;  for a mere dialect it is, as much as those of Piers Plowman, Gower, Douglas, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, for even much of Milton is already antiquated.  The Anglo-Saxon is only the earliest we possess of the many shades of mutation by which the language has tapered down to its modern form.  Vocabularies we need for each of these stages from Somner to Bailey, but not grammars for each or any of them.  The grammar has changed so little, in the descent from the earliest, to the present form, that a little observation suffices to understand its variations.  We are greatly indebted to the worthies who have preserved the Anglo-Saxon form, from Doctor Hickes down to Mr. Bosworth.  Had they not given to the public what we possess through the press, that dialect would by this time have been irrecoverably lost.  I think it, however, a misfortune that they have endeavored to give it too much of a learned form, to mount it on all the scaffolding of the Greek and Latin, to load it with their genders, numbers, cases, declensions, conjugations, etc.  Strip it of these embarrassments, vest it in the Roman type which we have adopted instead of our English black letter, reform its uncouth orthography, and assimilate its pronunciation, as much as may be, to the present English, just as we do in reading Piers Plowman or Chaucer, and with the cotemporary vocabulary for the few lost words, we understand it as we do them.  For example, the Anglo-Saxon text of the Lord’s prayer, as given in 6th Matthew, ix, is spelt and written thus, in the equivalent Roman type :  “Faeder ure thec the eart in heafenum, si thin nama ychalgod.  To becume thin rice.  Gerrurthe thin willa on eartham, swa swa on heafenum.  Ume doeghw amli can hlaf syle us to doeg.  And forgyfus ure gyltas, swa swa we forgifath urum gyltendum.  And ne ge-loedde thu us on costnunge, ae alys us of yfele.”  I should spell and pronounce thus :  “Father our, thou tha art in heavenum, si thine name y-hallowed.  Come thin ric-y-wurth thine will on eartham, so so on heavenum: ourn daynhamlican loaf sell us to-day, and forgive us our guilts so so we forgiveth ourum guiltendum.  And no y-lead thou us on costnunge, ac a-lease us of evil.”  And here it is to be observed by-the-bye, that there is but the single word “temptation” in our present version or this prayer that is not Anglo-Saxon;  for the word “trespasses” taken from the French, (--[greek text]-- in the original) might as well have been translated by the Anglo-Saxon “guilts.”

The learned apparatus in which Dr. Hickes and his successors have muffled our Anglo-Saxon, is what has frightened us from encountering it.  The simplification I propose may, on the contrary, make it a regular part of our common English education.

So little reading and writing was there among our Anglo-Saxon ancestors of that day, that they had no fixed orthography.  To produce a given sound, every one jumbled the letters together, according to his unlettered notion of their power, and all jumbled them differently, just as would be done at this day, were a dozen peasants, who have learnt the alphabet, but have never read, desired to write the Lord’s prayer.  Hence the varied modes of spelling by which the Anglo-Saxons meant to express the same sound.  The word many, for example, was spelt in twenty different ways;  yet we cannot suppose they were twenty different words, or that they had twenty different ways of pronouncing the same word.  The Anglo-Saxon orthography, then, is not an exact representation of the sounds meant to be conveyed.  We must drop in pronunciation the superfluous consonants, and give to the remaining letters their present English sound;  because, not knowing the true one, the present enunciation is as likely to be right as any other, and indeed more so, and facilitates the acquisition of the language.

It is much to be wished that the publication of the present county dialects of England should go on.  It will restore to us our language in all its shades of variation.  It will incorporate into the present one all the riches of our ancient dialects;  and what a store this will be, may be seen by running the eye over the county glossaries, and observing the words we have lost by abandonment and disuse, which in sound and sense are inferior to nothing we have retained.  When these local vocabularies are published and digested together into a single one, it is probable we shall find that there is not a word in Shakespeare which is not now in use in some of the counties in England, from whence we may obtain its true sense.  And what an exchange will their recovery be for the volumes of idle commentaries and conjectures with which that divine poet has been masked and metamorphosed.  We shall find in him new sublimit es which we had never tasted before, and find beauties in our ancient poets which are lost to us now.  It is not that I am merely an enthusiast for Palaeology.  I set equal value on the beautiful engraftments we have borrowed from Greece and Rome, and I am equally a friend to the encouragement of a judicious neology;  a language cannot be too rich.  The more copious, the more susceptible of embellishment it will become.  There are several things wanting to promote this improvement.  To reprint the Saxon books in modern type;  reform their orthography;  publish in the same way the treasures still existing in manuscript.  And, more than all things, we want a dictionary on the plan of Stephens or Scapula, in which the Saxon root, placed alphabetically, shall be followed by all its cognate modifications of nouns, verbs, etc., whether Anglo-Saxon, or found in the dialects of subsequent ages.  We want, too, an elaborate history of the English language.  In time our country may be able to co-operate with you in these labors, of common advantage, but as yet it is too much a blank, calling for other and more pressing attentions.  We have too much to do in the improvements of which it is susceptible, and which are deemed more immediately useful.  Literature is not yet a distinct profession with us.  Now and then a strong mind arises, and at its intervals of leisure from business, emits a flash of light.  But the first object of young societies is bread and covering;  science is but secondary and subsequent.

I owe apology for this long letter.  It must be found in the circumstance of its subject having made an interesting part in the tenor of your letter, and in my attachment to it.  It is a hobby which too often runs away with me where I meant not to give up the rein.  Our youth seem disposed to mount it with me, and to begin their course where mine is ending.

Our family recollects with pleasure the visit with which you favored us;  and join me in assuring you of our friendly and respectful recollections, and of the gratification it will ever be to us to hear of your health and welfare.




To Lewis M. Wiss.
Monticello, November 27, 1825.

SIR, — Disqualified by age and ill health from undertaking minute investigations, I find it will be easier for me to state to you my proposition of a lock-dock, for laying up vessels, high and dry, than to investigate yours.  You will then judge for yourself whether any part of mine has anticipated any part of yours.

While I was at Washington, in the administration of the government, Congress was much divided in opinion on the subject of a navy, a part of them wishing to go extensively into preparation of a fleet, another part opposed to it, on the objection that the repairs and preservation of a ship, even idle in harbor, in ten or twelve years, amount to her original cost.  It has been estimated in England, that if they could be sure of peace a dozen years it would be cheaper for them to burn their fleet, and build a new one when wanting, than to keep the old one in repair during that term.  I learnt that, in Venice, there were then ships, lying on their original stocks, ready for launching at any moment, which had been so for eighty years, and were still in a state of perfect preservation;  and that this was effected by disposing of them in docks pumped dry, and kept so by constant pumping.  It occurred to me that this expense of constant pumping might be saved by combining a lock with the common wet dock, wherever there was a running stream of water, the bed of which, within a reasonable distance, was of a sufficient height above the high-water level of the harbor.  This was the case at the navy yard, on the eastern branch at Washington, the high-water line of which was seventy-eight feet lower than the ground on which the Capitol stands, and to which it was found that the water of the Tyber creek could be brought for watering the city.  My proposition then was as follows :  Let a b be the high-water level of the harbor, and the vessel to be laid up draw eighteen feet water.  Make a chamber A twenty feet deep below high water and twenty feet high above it, as c d e f, and at the upper end make another chamber, B, the bottom of which should be in the high-water level, and the tops twenty feet above that.  g h is the water of the Tyber.  When the vessel is to be introduced, open the gate at c b a.  The tide-water rises in the chamber A to the level b i, and floats the vessel in with it.  Shut the gate c b d and open that of f i.  The water of the Tyber fills both chambers to the level c f g, and the vessel floats into the chamber B;  then opening both gates c b d and f i, the water flows out, and the vessel settles down on the stays previously prepared at the bottom i h to receive her.  The gate at g h must of course be closed, and the water of the feeding stream be diverted elsewhere.  The chamber B is to have a roof over it of the construction of that over the meal market at Paris, except that that is hemispherical, this semi-cylindrical.  For this construction see Delenne’s architecture, whose invention it was.  The diameter of the dome of the meal market is considerably over one hundred feet.

It will be seen at once, that instead of making the chamber B of sufficient width and length for a single vessel only, it may be widened to whatever span the semi-circular framing of the roof can be trusted, and to whatever length you please, so as to admit two or more vessels in breadth, and as many in length as the localities render expedient.

I had a model of this lock-dock made and exhibited in the President’s house, during the session of Congress at which it was proposed.  But the advocates for a navy did not fancy it, and those opposed to the building of ships altogether, were equally indisposed to provide protection for them.  Ridicule was also resorted to, the ordinary substitute for reason, when that fails, and the proposition was passed over.  I then thought and still think the measure wise, to have a proper number of vessels always ready to be launched, with nothing unfinished about them, except the planting their masts, which must of necessity be omitted, to be brought under a roof.  Having no view in this proposition but to combine for the public a provision for defence, with economy in its preservation, I have thought no more of it since.  And if any of my ideas anticipated yours, you are welcome to appropriate them to yourself, without objection on my part, and, with this assurance, I pray you to accept that of my best wishes and respects.




To ----.
Monticello, December 18, 1825.

Dear Sir, — Your letters are always welcome, the last more than all others, its subject being one of the dearest to my heart.  To my granddaughter your commendations cannot fail to be an object of high ambition, as a certain passport to the good opinion of the world.  If she does not cultivate them with assiduity and affection, she will illy fulfil my parting injunctions.  I trust she will merit a continuance of your favor, and find in her new situation the general esteem she so happily possessed in the society she left.  You tell me she repeated to you an expression of mine, that I should be willing to go again over the scenes of past life.  I should not be unwilling, without, however, wishing it;  and why not ?  I have enjoyed a greater share of health than falls to the lot of most men;  my spirits have never failed me except under those paroxysms of grief which you, as well as myself, have experienced in every form, and with good health and good spirits, the pleasures surely outweigh the pains of life.  Why not, then, taste them again, fat and lean to ether Were I indeed permitted to cut off from the train the last seven years, the balance would be much in favor of treading the ground over again.  Being at that period in the neighborhood of our warm springs, and well in health, I wished to be better, and tried them.  They destroyed, in a great degree, my internal organism, and I have never since had a moment of perfect health.  I have now been eight months confined almost constantly to the house, with now and then intervals of a few days on which I could get on horseback.

I presume you have received a copy of the life of Richard H. Lee, from his grandson of the same name, author of the work.  You and I know that he merited much during the Revolution.  Eloquent, bold, and ever watchful at his post, of which his biographer omits no proof.  I am not certain whether the friends of George Mason, of Patrick Henry, yourself, and even of General Washington, may not reclaim some feathers of the plumage given him, noble as was his proper and original coat.  But on this subject I will anticipate your own judgment.

I learn with sincere pleasure that you have experienced lately a great renovation of your health.  That it may continue to the ultimate period of your wishes is the sincere prayer of usque ad eras amicissimi tui.




To James Madison.
Monticello, December 24, 1825.

Dear Sir, — I have for some time considered the question of internal improvement as desperate.  The torrent of general opinion sets so strongly in favor of it as to be irresistible.  And I suppose that even the opposition in Congress will hereafter be feeble and formal, unless something can be done which may give a gleam of encouragement to our friends, or alarm their opponents in their fancied security.  I learn from Richmond that those who think with us there are in a state of perfect dismay, not knowing what to do or what to propose.  Mr. Gordon, our representative, particularly, has written to me in very desponding terms, not disposed to yield indeed, but pressing for opinions and advice on the subject.  I have no doubt you are pressed in the same way, and I hope you have devised and recommended something to them.  If you have, stop here and read no more, but consider all that follows as non-avenue.  I shall be better satisfied to adopt implicitly anything which you may have advised, than anything occurring to myself.  For I have long ceased to think on subjects of this kind, and pay little attention to public proceedings.  But if you have done nothing in it, then I risk for your consideration what has occurred to me, and is expressed in the enclosed paper.  Bailey’s propositions, which came to hand since I wrote the paper, and which I suppose to have come from the President himself, show a little hesitation in the purposes of his party;  and in that state of mind, a bolt shot critically may decide the contest by its effect on the less bold.  The olive branch held out to them at this moment may be accepted, and the Constitution thus saved at a moderate sacrifice.  I say nothing of the paper, which will explain itself.  The following heads of consideration, or some of them, may weigh in its favor :

It may intimidate the wavering.  It may break the Western coalition, by offering the same thing in a different form.  It will be viewed with favor in contrast with the Georgia opposition and fear of strengthening that.  It will be an example of a temperate mode of opposition in future and similar cases.  It will delay the measure a year at least.  It will give us the chance of better times and of intervening accidents;  and in no way place us in a worse than our present situation.  I do not dwell on these topics;  your mind will develop them.

The first question is, whether you approve of doing anything of the kind.  If not, send it back to me, and it shall be suppressed;  for I would not hazard so important a measure against your opinion, nor even without its support.  If you think it may be a canvas on which to put something good, make what alterations you please, and I will forward it to Gordon, under the most sacred injunctions that it shall be so used as that not a shadow of suspicion shall fall on you or myself, that it has come from either of us.  But what you do, do as promptly as your convenience will admit, lest it should be anticipated by something worse.

Ever and affectionately yours.




To William B. Giles.
Monticello, December 25, 1825.

Dear Sir, — Your favor of the 15th was received four days ago.  It found me engaged in what I could not lay aside till this day.

Far advanced in my eighty-third year, worn down with infirmities which have confined me almost entirely to the house for seven or eight months past, it afflicts me much to receive appeals to my memory for transactions so far back as that which is the subject of your letter.  My memory is indeed become almost a blank, of which no better proof can probably be given you than by my solemn protestation, that I have not the least recollection of your intervention between Mr. John Q. Adams and myself, in what passed on the subject of the embargo.  Not the slightest trace of it remains in my mind.  Yet I have no doubt of the exactitude of the statement in your letter.  And the less, as I recollect the interview with Mr. Adams, to which the previous communications which had passed between him and yourself were probably and naturally the preliminary.  That interview I remember well;  not indeed in the very words which passed between us, but in their substance, which was of a character too awful, too deeply engraved in my mind, and influencing too materially the course I had to pursue, ever to be forgotten.  Mr. Adams called on me pending the embargo, and while endeavors were making to obtain its repeal.  He made some apologies for the call, on the ground of our not being then in the habit of confidential communications, but that that which he had then to make, involved too seriously the interest of our country not to overrule all other considerations with him, and make it his duty to reveal it to myself particularly.  I assured him there was no occasion for any apology for his visit;  that, on the contrary, his communications would be thankfully received, and would add a confirmation the more to my entire confidence in the rectitude and patriotism of his conduct and principles.  He spoke then of the dissatisfaction of the eastern portion of our confederacy with the restraints of the embargo then existing, and their restlessness under it.  That there was nothing which might not be attempted, to rid themselves of it.  That he had information of the most unquestionable certainty, that certain citizens of the Eastern States (I think he named Massachusetts particularly) were in negotiation with agents of the British government, the object of which was an agreement that the New England States should take no further part in the war then going on;  that, without formally declaring their separation from the Union of the States, they should withdraw from all aid and obedience to them;  that their navigation and commerce should be free from restraint and interruption by the British;  that they should be considered and treated by them as neutrals, and as such might conduct themselves towards both parties;  and, at the close of the war, be at liberty to rejoin the confederacy.  He assured me that there was eminent danger that the convention would take place;  that the temptations were such as might debauch many from their fidelity to the Union;  and that, to enable its friends to make head against it, the repeal of the embargo was absolutely necessary.  I expressed a just sense of the merit of this information, and of the importance of the disclosure to the safety and even the salvation of our country;  and however reluctant I was to abandon the measure, (a measure which persevered in a little longer, we had subsequent and satisfactory assurance would have effected its object completely,) from that moment, and influenced by that information, I saw the necessity of abandoning it, and instead of effecting our purpose by this peaceful weapon, we must fight it out, or break the Union.  I then recommended to yield to the necessity of a repeal of the embargo, and to endeavor to supply its place by the best substitute, in which they could procure a general concurrence.

I cannot too often repeat, that this statement is not pretended to be in the very words which passed;  that it only gives faithfully the impression remaining on my mind.  The very words of a conversation are too transient and fugitive to be so long retained in remembrance.  But the substance was too important to be forgotten, not only from the revolution of measures it obliged me to adopt, but also from the renewals of it in my memory on the frequent occasions I have had of doing justice to Mr. Adams, by repeating this proof of his fidelity to his country, and of his superiority over all ordinary considerations when the safety of that was brought into question.

With this best exertion of a waning memory which I can command, accept assurances of my constant and affectionate friendship and respect.