The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


Your favor of February 14th has been duly received, and the MS. of the commentary on Montesquieu is also safe at hand. I now forward to you the work of Tracy, which you will find a valuable supplement and corrective to those we already possess on political economy. It is a little unlucky that its outset is of a metaphysical character, which may damp the ardor of perusal in some readers. He has been led to this by a desire to embody this work, as well as a future one he is preparing on morals, with his former treatise on Ideology. By-the-bye, it is merely to this work that Bonaparte alludes in his answer to his Council of State, published not long since, in which he scouts "the dark and metaphysical doctrine of Ideology, which, diving into first causes, founds on this basis a legislation of the people, etc." If, indeed, this answer be not a forgery, for everything is now forged, even to the fat of our beef and mutton: yet the speech is not unlike him, and affords scope for an excellent parody … made known. But the book will make its way, and will become a standard work. A copy which I sent to France was under translation by one of the ablest men of that country.

It is true that I am tired of practical politics, and happier while reading the history of ancient than of modern times. The total banishment of all moral principle from the code which governs the intercourse of nations, the melancholy reflection that after the mean, wicked and cowardly cunning of the cabinets of the age of Machiavelli had given place to the integrity and good faith which dignified the succeeding one of a Chatham and Turgot, that this is to be swept away again by the daring profligacy and vowed destitution of all moral principle of a Cartouche and a Black-beard, sickens my soul unto death. I turn from the contemplation with loathing, and take refuge in the histories of other times, where, if they also furnish their Tacquins, their Catilines and Caligulas, their stories are handed to us under the brand of a Livy, a Sallust and a Tacitus, and we are comforted with the reflection that the condemnation of all succeeding generations has confirmed the censures of the historian, and consigned their memories to everlasting infamy, a solace we cannot have with the Georges and Napoleons but by anticipation.

In surveying the scenes of which we make a part, I confess that three frigates taken by our gallant little navy, do not balance in my mind three armies lost by the treachery, cowardice, or incapacity of those to whom they were intrusted. I see that our men are good, and only want generals. We may yet hope, however, that the talents which always exist among men will show themselves with opportunity, and that it will be found that this age also can produce able and honest defenders of their country, at what further expense, however, of blood and treasure, is yet to be seen. Perhaps this Russian mediation may cut short the history of the present war, and leave to us the laurels of the sea, while our enemies are bedecked with those of the land This would be the reverse of what has been expected, and perhaps of what was to. be wished.

to William Duane (Colonel), 4 April 1813