The Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

By Subject


Yours of December the 19th is safely received. I never entertained a doubt of the event of the election. I knew that the eastern troops were trained in the schools of their town meetings to sacrifice little differences of opinion to the solid advantages of operating in phalanx, and that the more free and moral agency of the other States would fully supply their deficiency. I had no expectation, indeed, that the vote would have approached so near an equality. It is difficult to obtain full credit to declarations of disinclination to honors, and most so with those who still remain in the world. But never was there a more solid unwillingness, founded on rigorous calculation, formed in the mind of any man, short of peremptory refusal. No arguments, therefore, were necessary to reconcile me to a relinquishment of the first office, or acceptance of the second. No motive could have induced me to undertake the first, but that of putting our vessel upon her republican tack, and preventing her being driven too far to leeward of her true principles. And the second is the only office in the world about which I cannot decide in my own mind, whether I had rather have it or not have it. Pride does not enter into the estimate. For I think with the Romans of old, that the general of today should be a common soldier to-morrow, if necessary. But as to Mr. Adams, particularly, I could have no feelings which would revolt at being placed in a secondary station to him. I am his junior in life, I was his junior in Congress, his junior in the diplomatic line, and lately his junior in our civil government. I had written him the enclosed letter before the receipt of yours. I had intended it for some time, but had put it off, from time to time, from the discouragement of despair to make him believe me sincere. As the information by the last post does not make it necessary to change anything in the letter, I enclose it open for your perusal, as well that you may be possessed of the true state of dispositions between us, as that if there be any circumstance which might render its delivery ineligible, you may return it to me. If Mr. Adams could be induced to administer the government on its true principles, quitting his bias for an English constitution, it would be worthy consideration whether it would not for the public good, to come to a good understanding with him as to his future elections. He is the only sure barrier against Hamilton's getting in.

to James Madison, 1 January 1797