Jefferson’s Reply to the Address of Welcome of the Virginia Senate
I am filled with sentiments of the warmest gratitude by this very distinguished attention from the honorable the Senate. The visit1 to my native country, a pleasing event in itself, is rendered infinitely more so, by the welcome of so respectable a member of the sovereignty, and by the esteem they condescend to express for me personally. My faculties, such as they are, too poor indeed to be offered, are devoted to the public service; and their approbation is my supreme reward.2
Be so good, gentlemen, as to become the bearers of my homage to your honorable house, and accept my humble thanks to yourselves for the friendly office you have been pleased to take upon you.3
Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 52: 8938v); on verso of leaf on which TJ wrote his reply to the House of Delegates (text printed in Journal of the Senate, Oct. 1789, 1828 edn., p. 54–5).
In this brief and cool response, TJ managed not only to avoid comment on the Senate’s calculated inference that he would accept the post offered by Washington, but also to affirm by implication his devotion to the nation. It seems clear that the committee deliberately sought to make him commit himself on the great issue that had divided the state so closely in the Convention and public discussions of the year before. Probably before he left Norfolk (where a similar expedient was tried by the welcoming officials), he had learned that “Antifederalism is not yet dead in this country” and at Richmond he estimated that seven-eighths of the members of the Senate were antifederalists who retained “a good deal of malevolence toward the new government” (TJ to Short, 14 Dec. 1789).
Even on a perfunctory level, these formalities in the 18th century were bound by rigid conventions, and in the present exchange there was something of the code duello as well: the calculated choice of “visit” instead of “return” was TJ’s response to the committee’s indelicate attempt to elicit comment on Washington’s offer.
1. This word interlined in substitution for “return,” deleted.
2. TJ first wrote: “their will is my law,” and then altered the passage to read as above.
3. TJ first wrote: “… my humble thanks for your friendly participation,” and then altered the passage to read as above.