The Writings of
Thomas Jefferson

editor H.A. Washington
New York :  H.W. Derby
1861
To Jean Batiste Say.
Monticello, March 2, 1815.

DEAR SIR,—Your letter of June 15th came to hand in December, and it is not till the ratification of our peace, that a safe conveyance for an answer could be obtained.  I thank you for the copy of the new edition of your work which accompanied your letter.  I had considered it in its first form as superseding all other works on that subject ;  and shall set proportional value on any improvement of it.  I should have been happy to have received your son here, as expected from your letter ;  on his passage through this State ;  and to have given proofs through him of my respect for you.  But I live far from the great stage road which forms the communication of our States from north to south, and such a deviation was probably not admitted by his business.  The question proposed in my letter of February 1st, 1804, has since become quite a “ question viseuse.”  I had then persuaded myself that a nation, distant as we are from the contentions of Europe, avoiding all offences to other powers, and not over-hasty in resenting offence ;  from them, doing justice to all, faithfully fulfilling the duties of neutrality, performing all offices of amity, and administering to their interests by the benefits of our commerce, that such a nation, I say, might expect to live in peace, and consider itself merely as a member of the great family of mankind ;  that in such case it might devote itself to whatever it could best produce, secure of a peaceable exchange of surplus for what could be more advantageously furnished by others, as takes place between one county and another of France.  But experience has shown that continued peace depends not merely on our own justice and prudence, but on that of others also, that when forced into war, the interception of exchanges which must be made across a wide ocean, becomes a powerful weapon in the hands of an enemy domineering over that element, and to the other distresses of war adds the want of all those necessaries for which we have permitted ourselves to be dependent on others, even arms and clothing.  This fact, therefore, solves the question by reducing it to its ultimate form, whether profit or preservation is the first interest of a State ?  We are consequently become manufacturers to a degree incredible to those who do not see it, and who only consider the short period of time during which we have been driven to them by the suicidal policy of England.  The prohibiting duties we lay on all articles of foreign manufacture which prudence requires us to establish at home, with the patriotic determination of every good citizen to use no foreign article which can be made within ourselves, without regard to difference of price, secures us against a relapse into foreign dependency.  And this circumstance may be worthy of your consideration, should you continue in the disposition to emigrate to this country.  Your manufactory of cotton, on a moderate scale combined with a farm, might be preferable to either singly, and the one or the other might become principal, as experience should recommend.  Cotton ready spun is in ready demand, and if woven, still more so.

I will proceed now to answer the inquiries which respect your views of removal ;  and I am glad that, in looking over our map, your eye has been attracted by the village of Charlottesville, because I am better acquainted with that than any other portion of the United States, being within three or four miles of the place of my birth and residence.  It is a portion of country which certainly possesses great advantages.  Its soil is equal in natural fertility to any high lands I have ever seen ;  it is red and hilly, very like much of the country of Champagne and Burgundy, on the route of Sens, Vermanton, Vitteaux, Dijon, and along the Cote to Chagny, excellently adapted to wheat, maize, and clover ;  like all mountainous countries it is perfectly healthy, liable to no agues and fevers, or to any particular epidemic, as is evidenced by the robust constitution of its inhabitants, and their numerous families.  As many instances of nonagenaires exist habitually in this neighborhood as in the same degree of population anywhere.  Its temperature may be considered as a medium of that of the United States.  The extreme of cold in ordinary winters being about 7°(16°) of Reaumur below zero, and in the severest 12°(5°), while the ordinary mornings are above zero.  The maximum of heat in summer is about 28°(96°), of which we have one or two instances in a summer for a few hours.

About ten or twelve days in July and August, the thermometer rises for two or three hours to about 23°(84°), while the ordinary mid-day heat of those months is about 21°(80°), the mercury continuing at that two or three hours, and falling in the evening to about 17°(70°).  White frosts commence about the middle of October, tender vegetables are in danger from them till nearly the middle of April.  The mercury begins, about the middle of November, to be occasionally at the freezing point, and ceases to be so about the middle of March.  We have of freezing nights about fifty in the course of the winter, but not more than ten days in which the mercury does not rise above the freezing point.  Fire is desirable even in close apartments whenever the outward air is below 10°, (=55° Fahrenheit,) and that is the case with us through the day, one hundred and thirty-two days in the year, and on mornings and evenings sixty-eight days more.  So that we have constant fires five months, and a little over two months more on mornings and evenings.  Observations made at Yorktown in the lower country, show that they need seven days less of constant fires, and thirty-eight less of mornings and evenings.  On an average of seven years I have found our snows amount in the whole to fifteen inches depth, and to cover the ground fifteen days ;  these, with the rains, give us four feet of water in the year.  The garden pea, which we are now sowing, comes to table about the 12th of May ;  strawberries and cherries about the same time ;  asparagus the 1st of April.  The artichoke stands the winter without cover ;  lettuce and endive with a slight one of bushes, and often without any ;  and the fig, protected by a little straw, begins to ripen in July ;  if unprotected, not till the 1st of September.  There is navigation for boats of six tons from Charlottesville to Richmond, the nearest tidewater, and principal market for our produce.  The country is what we call well inhabited, there being in our county, Albemarle, of about seven hundred and fifty square miles, about twenty thousand inhabitants, or twenty-seven to a square mile, of whom, however, one-half are people of color, either slaves or free.  The society is much better than is common in country situations ;  perhaps there is not a better country society in the United States.  But do not imagine this a Parisian or an academical society.  It consists of plain, honest, and rational neighbors, some of them well informed and men of reading, all superintending their farms, hospitable and friendly, and speaking nothing but English: The manners of every nation are the standard of orthodoxy within itself.  But these standards being arbitrary, reasonable people in all allow free toleration for the manners, as for the religion of others.  Our culture is of wheat for market, and of maize, oats, peas, and clover, for the support of the farm.  We reckon it a good distribution to divide a farm into three fields, putting one into wheat, half a one into maize, the other half into oats or peas, and the third into clover, and to tend the fields successively in this rotation.  Some woodland in addition, is always necessary to furnish fuel, fences, and timber for constructions.  Our best farmers (such as Mr. Randolph, my son-in-law) get from ten to twenty bushels of wheat to the acre ;  our worst (such as myself) from six to eighteen, with little or more manuring.  The bushel of wheat is worth in common times about one dollar.  The common produce of maize is from ten to twenty bushels, worth half a dollar the bushel, which is of a cubic foot and a quarter, or, more exactly, of two thousand one hundred and seventy-eight cubic inches.  From these data you may judge best for yourself of the size of the farm which would suit your family : bearing in mind, that while you can be furnished by the farm itself for consumption, with every article it is adapted to produce, the sale of your wheat at market is to furnish the fund for all other necessary articles.  I will add that both soil and climate are admirably adapted to the vine, which is the abundant natural production of our forests, and that you cannot bring a more valuable laborer than one acquainted with both its culture and manipulation into wine.

Your only inquiry now unanswered is, the price of these lands.  To answer this with precision, would require details too long for a letter ;  the fact being, that we have no metallic measure of values at present, while we are overwhelmed with bank paper.  The depreciation of this swells nominal prices, without furnishing any stable index of real value.  I will endeavor briefly to give you an idea of this state of things by an outline of its history.

In 1781 we had 1 bank, its capital $1,000,000
" 1791 "  6 " $13,135,000
" 1794 " 17 " $18,642,000
" 1796 " 24 " $20,472,000
" 1803 " 34 " $29,112,000
" 1804 " 66 their amount of capital not known.

And at this time we have probably one hundred banks, with capitals amounting to one hundred millions of dollars, on which they are authorized by law to issue notes to three times that amount, so that our circulating medium may now be estimated at from two to three hundred millions of dollars, on a population of eight and a half millions.  The banks were able, for awhile, to keep this trash at par with metallic money, or rather to depreciate the metals to a par with their paper, by keeping deposits of cash sufficient to exchange for such of their notes as they were called on to pay in cash.  But the circumstances of the war draining away all our specie, all these banks have stopped payment, but with a promise to resume specie exchanges whenever circumstances shall produce a return of the metals.  Some of the most prudent and honest will possibly do this ;  but the mass of them never will nor can.  Yet, having no other medium, we take their paper, of necessity, for purposes of the instant, but never to lay by us.  The government is now issuing treasury notes for circulation, bottomed on solid funds, and bearing interestThe banking confederacy (and the merchants bound to them by their debts) will endeavor to crush the credit of these notes ;  but the country is eager for them, as something they can trust to, and so soon as a convenient quantity of them can get into circulation, the bank notes die.  You may judge that, in this state of things, the holders of bank notes will give free prices for lands, and that were I to tell you simply the present prices of lands in this medium, it would give you no idea on which you could calculate.  But I will state to you the progressive prices which have been paid for particular parcels of land for some years back, which may enable you to distinguish between the real increase of value regularly produced by our advancement in population, wealth, and skill, and the bloated value arising from the present disordered and dropsical state of our medium.  There are two tracts of land adjoining me, and another not far off, all of excellent quality, which happen to have been sold at different epochs as follows:

One was sold in 1793 for $4 an acre, in 1812 at $10, and is now rated $16.
The 2d " 1786 " 5 1/3 " 1803 " $10, " " $20
The 3d " 1797 " 7 " 1811 " $16, " " $20.

On the whole, however, I suppose we may estimate that the steady annual rise of our lands is in a geometrical ratio of 5 per cent.;  that were our medium now in a wholesome state, they might be estimated at from twelve to fifteen dollars the acre ;  and I may add, I believe with correctness, that there is not any part of the Atlantic States where lands of equal quality and advantages can be had as cheap.  When sold with a dwelling-house on them, little additional is generally asked for the house.  These buildings are generally of wooden materials, and of indifferent structure and accommodation.  Most of the hired labor here is of people of color, either slaves or free.  An able-bodied man has sixty dollars a year, and is clothed and fed by the employer ;  a woman half that.  White laborers may be had, but they are less subordinate, their wages higher, and their nourishment much more expensive.  A good horse for the plough costs fifty or sixty dollars.  A draught ox twenty to twenty-five dollars.  A milch cow fifteen to eighteen dollars.  A sheep two dollars.  Beef is about five cents, mutton and pork seven cents the pound.  A turkey or goose fifty cents apiece, a chicken eight and one-third cents ;  a dozen eggs the same.  Fresh butter twenty to twenty-five cents the pound.  And, to render as full as I can, the information which may enable you to calculate for yourself, I enclose you a Philadelphia price-current, giving the prices in regular times of most of the articles of produce or manufacture, foreign and domestic.

That it may be for the benefit of your children and their descendants to remove to a country where, for enterprise and talents, so many avenues are open to fortune and fame, I have little doubt.  But I should be afraid to affirm that, at your time of life, and with habits formed on the state of society in France, a change for one so entirely different would be for your personal happiness.  Fearful, therefore, to persuade, I shall add with sincere truth, that I shall very highly estimate the addition of such a neighbor to our society, and that there is no service within my power which I shall not render with pleasure and promptitude.  With this assurance be pleased to accept that of my great esteem and respect.


P.S.  This letter will be handed you by Mr. Ticknor, a young gentleman of Massachusetts, of great erudition and worth, and who will be gratified by the occasion of being presented to the author of the Traité d’Economie Politique.