The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


It is rare I can indulge myself in the luxury of philosophy. Your letters give me a few of these delicious moments. Placed as you are in a great commercial town, with little opportunity of discovering the dispositions of the country portions of our citizens, I do not wonder at your doubts whether they will generally and sincerely concur in the sentiment and measures developed in my message of the 7th of January. But from forty-one years of intimate connection with the agricultural inhabitants of my country, I can pronounce them as different from those of the cities, as those of any two nations known. The sentiments of the former can in no degree be inferred from those of the latter. You have spoken a profound truth in these words " il y a dans les Etats-Unis un bon sens silencieux, Un esprit de justice froide, qui, lorsqu'il est question d'e'mettre un vote, couvre tous les bavardages de ceux qui font les habiles." A plain country farmer has written recently a pamphlet on our public affairs. His testimony of the sense of the country is the best which can be produced of the justness of your observation. His words are the tongue of man if not his whole body, so in this case the noisy part of the community was not all the body politic. During the career of fury and contention (in 1800) the sedate, grave part of the people were still, hearing all, and judging for themselves what method to take, when the constitutional time of action should come, the exercise of the right of suffrage. The majority of the present legislature are in unison with the agricultural part of our citizens and you will see that there is nothing in the message, to which they do not accord. Something may perhaps be left undone from motives of compromise for a time, and not to claim by too sudden a reformation; but with a view to be resumed at another time. I am perfectly satisfied the effect of the proceedings of this session of Congress will be to consolidate the present body of well meaning citizens together, whether Federal or Republican, heretofore called. I do not mean to include royalists or priests, their opposition is unmovable, but they will be vox et preterea nihili, leaders without followers. I am satisfied that within one year from this time were an election to take place between two candidates, merely Republican and Federal, where no personal opposition existed against either, the Federal candidate would not get the vote of a single elector in the United States.

It was my destiny to come to the government when it had for several years been committed to a particular political sect, to the absolute and entire exclusion of those who were in sentiment with the body of the nation. I found the country entirely in the enemy's hands. It was necessary to dislodge some of them, out of the thousands of officers in the United States. Nine only have been removed for political principle and eighteen for delinquencies chiefly pecuniary. The whole herd have squealed out as if all their throats were cut. These acts of justice, few as they have been, have raised great personal objections to me, of which a new character would be [unclear]. When this government was first established, it was possible to have set it going on two principles, but the contracted-English half-lettered ideas of Hamilton destroyed that hope in the bud. We can pay off his debt in fifteen years but we can never get rid of his financial system. It mortifies me to be strengthened by principles which I deem radically vicious, but this vice is entailed on us by a just error. In other parts of our government I hope we shall be able by degrees to introduce sound principles and make them habitual. What is practicable must often control what is pure theory, and the habits of the governed determine in a great degree what is practicable. Hence the same original principles, modified in practice according to the different habits of different nations, present governments of very different aspects. The same principles reduced to forms of practice accommodated to our habits, and put into forms accommodated to the habits of the French nation would present governments very unlike each other. I have no doubt that a great man, thoroughly knowing the habits of France, might so accommodate to them the principles of free governments, as to enable them to live free. But in the hands of those who have not this coup d'oeil many unsuccessful experiments I fear are yet to be tried before they will settle down in freedom and tranquillity. I applaud therefore your determination to remain here, where, though for yourself and the adults of your family the dissimilitude of our manners and the difference of tongue will be sources of real unhappiness, yet lesser than the horrors and dangers which France would present to you; and as to those of your family still in infancy, they will be formed to the circumstances of the country, and will, I doubt not, be happier here than they could have been in Europe, under any circumstances.

to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 18 January 1802