The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


I do then, with sincere zeal, wish an inviolable preservation of our present federal Constitution, according to the true sense in which it was adopted by the States, that in which it was advocated by its friends, and not that which its enemies apprehended, who therefore became its enemies; and I am opposed to the monarchizing its features by the forms of its administration with a view to conciliate a first transition to a President and Senate for life and from that to a hereditary tenure of these offices, and thus to worm out the elective principle. I am for preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union, and to the legislature of the Union its constitutional share in the division of powers, and I am not for transferring all the powers of the States to the General Government and all those of that government to the executive branch. I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt, and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans, and for increasing, by every device, the public debt on the principle of its being a public blessing. I am for relying, for internal defense, on our militia solely till actual invasion and for such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced, and not for a standing army in time of peace, which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy which, by its own expenses and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burdens and sink us under them. I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of kings to war against the principles of liberty. I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another; for freedom of the press and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents. And I am for encouraging the progress of science in all its branches; and not for raising a hue and cry against the sacred name of philosophy; for awing the human mind by stories of raw head and bloody bones to a distrust of its own vision and to repose implicitly on that of others; to go backward instead of forward to look for improvement; to believe that government, religion, morality, and every other science were in the highest perfection in ages of the darkest ignorance, and that nothing can ever be devised more perfect than what was established by our forefathers. To these I will add that I was a sincere well-wisher to the success of the French Revolution and still wish it may end in the establishment of a free and well-ordered republic; but I have not been insensible under the atrocious depredations they have committed on our commerce. The first object of my heart is my own country. In that is embarked my family, my fortune, and my own existence. I have not one farthing of interest, nor one fiber of attachment out of it, nor a single motive of preference of any one nation to another but in proportion as they are more or less friendly to us.

to Elbridge Gerry, 26 January 1799