Braintree, July 29, 1791

Dear Sir,—

Yesterday, at Boston, I received your friendly letter of July 17th with great pleasure. I give full credit to your relation of the manner in which your note was written and prefixed to the Philadelphia edition of Mr. Paine’s pamphlet on the Rights of Man; but the misconduct of the person who committed this breach of your confidence, by making it public, whatever were his intentions, has sown the seeds of more evils than he can ever atone for. The pamphlet, with your name to so striking a recommendation of it, was not only industriously propagated in New York and Boston, but, that the recommendation might be known to every one, was reprinted with great care in the newspapers, and was generally considered as a direct and open personal attack upon me, by countenancing the false interpretation of my writings, as favoring the introduction of hereditary monarchy and aristocracy into this country. The question everywhere was, what heresies are intended by the secretary of State? The answer in the newspapers was, “The Vice-President’s notions of a limited monarchy, an hereditary government of King and Lords, with only elective Commons.” Emboldened by these murmurs, soon after appeared the paragraphs of an unprincipled libeller in the New Haven Gazette, carefully reprinted in the papers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, holding up the Vice-President to the ridicule of the world for his meanness, and to their detestation for wishing to subjugate the people to a few nobles. These were soon followed by a formal speech of the lieutenant-governor of Massachusetts, very solemnly holding up the idea of hereditary powers, and cautioning the public against them, as if they were at that moment in the most imminent danger of them. These things were all accompanied with the most marked neglect, both of the governor and lieutenant-governor of this State, towards me; and all together served as a hue and cry to all my enemies and rivals, to the old constitutional faction of Pennsylvania, in concert with the late insurgents of Massachusetts, both of whom consider my writings as the cause of their overthrow, to hunt me down like a hare, if they could. For this state of things Publicola, who, I suppose, thought that Mr. Paine’s pamphlet was made use of as an instrument to destroy a man for whom he had a regard, whom he thought innocent, and, in the present moment, of some importance to the public, came forward. You declare very explicitly that you never did, by yourself or by any other, have a sentence of yours inserted in a newspaper without your name to it. And I with equal frankness declare that I never did, either by myself or by any other, have a sentence of mine inserted in any newspaper since I left Philadelphia. I neither wrote nor corrected Publicola. The writer, in the composition of his pieces, followed his own judgment, information, and discretion, without any assistance from me.

You observe, “that you and I differ in our ideas of the best form of government, is well known to us both.” But, my dear Sir, you will give me leave to say that I do not know this. I know not what your idea is of the best form of government. You and I have never had a serious conversation together, that I can recollect, concerning the nature of government. The very transient hints that have ever passed between us have been jocular and superficial, without ever coming to an explanation. If you suppose that I have, or ever had, a design or desire of attempting to introduce a government of King, Lords, and Commons, or in other words, an hereditary executive, or an hereditary senate, either into the government of the United States or that of any individual State, you are wholly mistaken. There is not such a thought expressed or intimated in any public writing or private letter, and I may safely challenge all mankind to produce such a passage, and quote the chapter and verse. If you have ever put such a construction on any thing of mine, I beg you would mention it to me, and I will undertake to convince you that it has no such meaning.

Upon this occasion I will venture to say, that my unpolished writings, although they have been read by a sufficient number of persons to have assisted in crushing the insurrection of the Massachusetts, in the formation of the new constitutions of Pennsylvania, Georgia, and South Carolina, and in procuring the assent of all the States to the new national constitution, yet have not been read by great numbers. Of the few who have taken the pains to read them, some have misunderstood them, and others have wilfully misrepresented them, and these misunderstandings and misrepresentations have been made the pretence for overwhelming me with floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous abuse, unexampled in the history of this country.

It is thought by some, that Mr. Hancock’s friends are preparing the way, by my destruction, for his election to the place of Vice-President, and that of Mr. Samuel Adams to be Governor of this commonwealth; and then the Stone House faction will be sure of all the loaves and fishes, in the national government and the State government, as they hope. The opposers of the present constitution of Pennsylvania, the promoters of Shays’s rebellion and county resolves, and many of the detesters of the present national government, will undoubtedly assist them. Many people think, too, that no small share of a foreign influence, in revenge for certain intractable conduct at the treaty of peace, is and will be intermingled. The janissaries of this goodly combination, among whom are three or four who hesitate at no falsehood, have written all the impudence and impertinence which have appeared in the Boston papers upon this memorable occasion. I must own to you, that the daring traits of ambition and intrigue, and those unbridled rivalries, which have already appeared, are the most melancholy and alarming symptoms that I have ever seen in this country; and if they are to be encouraged to proceed in their course, the sooner I am relieved from the competition, the happier I shall be.

I thank you, Sir, very sincerely for writing to me upon this occasion. It was high time that you and I should come to an explanation with each other. The friendship that has subsisted for fifteen years without the smallest interruption, and, until this occasion without the slightest suspicion, ever has been and still is very dear to my heart. There is no office which I would not resign, rather than give a just occasion to one friend to forsake me. Your motives for writing to me I have not a doubt were the most pure and the most friendly; and I have no suspicion that you will not receive this explanation from me in the same friendly light.


Philadelphia, July 17, 1791

Dear Sir,—

I have a dozen times taken up my pen to write to you, and as often laid it down again, suspended between opposing considerations. I determine, however, to write, from a conviction that truth between candid minds can never do harm. The first of Paine’s pamphlets on the Rights of Man, which came to hand here, belonged to Mr. Beckley. He lent it to Mr. Madison, who lent it to me; and, while I was reading it, Mr. Beckley called on me for it, and as I had not finished it, he desired me, as soon as I should have done so, to send it to Mr. Jonathan B. Smith, whose brother meant to reprint it. I finished reading it, and, as I had no acquaintance with Mr. Jonathan B. Smith, propriety required that I should explain to him why I, a stranger to him, sent him the pamphlet. I accordingly wrote a note of compliment, informing him that I did it at the desire of Mr. Beckley, and, to take off a little of the dryness of the note, I added that I was glad it was to be reprinted here, and that something was to be publicly said against the political heresies which had sprung up among us, &c. I thought so little of this note, that I did not even keep a copy of it; nor ever heard a tittle more of it, till, the week following, I was thunderstruck with seeing it come out at the head of the pamphlet. I hoped, however, it would not attract notice; but I found, on my return from a journey of a month, that a writer came forward, under the signature of Publicola, attacking not only the author and principles of the pamphlet, but myself as its sponsor, by name. Soon after came hosts of other writers, defending the pamphlet, and attacking you by name, as the writer of Publicola. Thus were our names thrown on the public stage, as public antagonists. That you and I differ in our ideas of the best form of government, is well known to us both; but we have differed as friends should do, respecting the purity of each other’s motives, and confining our difference of opinion to private conversation; and I can declare with truth, in the presence of the Almighty, that nothing was further from my intention or expectation than to have had either my own or your name brought before the public on this occasion. The friendship and confidence which has so long existed between us, required this explanation from me, and I know you too well to fear any misconstruction of the motives of it. Some people who would wish me to be, or to be thought, guilty of improprieties, have suggested that I was Agricola, that I was Brutus, &c., &c. I never did in my life, either by myself or by any other, have a sentence of mine inserted in a newspaper, without putting my name to it; and I believe I never shall.

While the Empress is refusing peace under a mediation, unless Oczakow and its territory be ceded to her, she is offering peace on the perfect statu quo to the Porte, if they will conclude it without a mediation. France has struck a severe blow at our navigation by a difference of duty on tobacco carried in our and their ships, and by taking from foreign built ships the capability of naturalization. She has placed our whale oil on rather a better footing than ever, by consolidating the duties into a single one of six livres. They amounted before to some sous over that sum. I am told (I know not how truly) that England has prohibited our spermaceti oil altogether, and will prohibit our wheat till the price there is 52s. the quarter, which it almost never is. We expect hourly to hear the true event of General Scott’s expedition. Reports give favorable hopes of it. Be so good as to present my respectful compliments to Mrs. Adams, and to accept assurances of the sentiments of sincere esteem and respect, with which I am, dear Sir,
Your friend and servant,

Thomas Jefferson.


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