The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor H.A. Washington
New York :  H.W. Derby
1861
To Joseph C. Cabell, Esq.
Monticello, January 17, 1814.

DEAR SIR,—In your last letter to me you expressed a desire to look into the question whether, by the laws of nature, one generation of men can, by any act of theirs, bind those which are to follow them ?  I say, by the laws of nature, there being between generation and generation, as between nation and nation, no other obligatory law; and you requested to see what I had said on the subject to Mr. Eppes.  I enclose, for your own perusal, therefore, three letters which I wrote to him on the course of our finances, which embrace the question before stated.  When I wrote the first, I had no thought of following it by a second.  I was led to that by his subsequent request, and after the second I was induced, in a third, to take up the subject of banks, by the communication of a proposition to be laid before Congress for the establishment of a new bank.  I mention this to explain the total absence of order in these letters as a whole.  I have said above that they are sent for your own perusal, not meaning to debar any use of the matter, but only that my name may in nowise be connected with it.  I am too desirous of tranquillity to bring such a nest of hornets on me as the fraternities of banking companies, and this infatuation of banks is a torrent which it would be a folly for me to get into the way of.  I see that it must take its course, until actual ruin shall awaken us from its delusions.  Until the gigantic banking propositions of this winter had made their appearance in the different legislatures, I had hoped that the evil might still be checked ; but I see now that it is desperate, and that we must fold our arms and go to the bottom with the ship, I had been in hopes that good old Virginia, not yet so far embarked as her northern sisters, would have set the example this winter, of beginning the process of cure, by passing a law that, after a certain time, suppose of six months, no bank bill of less than ten dollars should be permitted.  That after some other reasonable term, there should be none less than twenty dollars, and so on, until those only should be left in circulation whose size would be above the common transactions of any but merchants.  This would ensure to us an ordinary circulation of metallic money, and would reduce the quantum of paper within the bounds of moderate mischief.  And it is the only way in which the reduction can be made without a shock to private fortunes.  A sudden stoppage of this trash, either by law or its own worthlessness, would produce confusion and ruin.  Yet this will happen by its own extinction, if left to itself.  Whereas, by a salutary interposition of the legislature, it may be withdrawn insensibly and safely.  Such a mode of doing it, too, would give less alarm to the bankholders, the discreet part of whom must wish to see themselves secured by some circumscription.  It might be asked what we should do for change ?  The banks must provide it, first to pay off their five-dollar bills, next their ten-dollar bills and so on, and they ought to provide it to lessen the evils of their institution.  But I now give up all hope.  After producing the same revolutions in private fortunes as the old Continental paper did, it will die like that, adding a total incapacity to raise resources for the war.

Withdrawing myself within the shell of our own State, I have long contemplated a division of it into hundreds or wards, as the most fundamental measure for securing good government, and for instilling the principles and exercise of self-government into every fibre of every member of our commonwealth.  But the details are too long for a letter, and must be the subject of conversation, whenever I shall have the pleasure of seeing you.  It is for some of you young legislators to immortalize yourselves by laying this stone as the basis of our political edifice.

I must ask the favor of an early return of the enclosed papers, of which I have no copy.  Ever affectionately yours.