Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. The Response, 12 February 1790

II. The Response


The testimony of esteem with which you are pleased to honour my return to my native county fills me with gratitude and pleasure. While it shews that my absence has not lost me your friendly recollection, it holds out the comfortable hope that when the hour of retirement shall come, I shall again1 find myself amidst those with whom I have long lived, with whom I wish to live, and whose affection is the source of my purest happiness. Their favor was the door thro’ which I was ushered2 on the stage of public life; and while I have been led on thro’ it’s varying scenes, I could not be unmindful3 of those who assigned4 me my first part.

My feeble and obscure5 exertions in their service, and in the holy cause of freedom, have had no other merit than that they were my best. We have all the same. We have been fellow-labourers and fellow-sufferers, and heaven has rewarded us with a happy issue from our struggles. It rests now with ourselves alone to enjoy in peace and concord6 the blessings of self-government, so long denied to mankind:7 to shew by example the sufficiency of human reason for the care of human affairs and that the will of the majority, the Natural law of every society, is the only sure8 guardian of the rights of man. Perhaps even this may sometimes err. But it’s errors are honest, solitary and short-lived.—Let us then, my dear friends, for ever bow down to the general reason of the society. We are safe with that, even in it’s deviations, for it soon returns again to the right way. These are lessons we have learnt together. We have prospered in their practice, and the liberality with which you are pleased to approve my attachment to the general rights of mankind assures me we are still together in these it’s kindred sentiments.9

Wherever I may be stationed, by the will of my country, it will be my delight to see, in the general tide of happiness, that yours too flows on in just place and measure. That it may flow thro’ all times, gathering strength as it goes, and spreading the happy influence of reason and liberty over the face of the earth, is my fervent prayer to heaven.

Feb. 12. 1790.

PrC (DLC: TJ Papers, 232: 41506 and 70: 12256); badly faded. The two pages of PrC (executed from a MS that has not been found and that TJ presumably turned over to the committee) have become separated in the course of time; the sequence of the text is in the order of the numbered folios as given. MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 52: 9023); undated and, though containing numerous deletions and interlineations, it is obviously a fair copy made from some missing text. TJ executed two fair copies: PrC represents the text in its final state and MS, as it stood before being greatly altered in the middle paragraph, the first state. For a discussion of the relationship of these two texts, see Editorial Note.

1This word interlined in both PrC and MS.

2Preceding two words interlined in MS in substitution for “entered,” deleted.

3TJ first wrote “I have not forgot,” and then altered MS to read as above.

4This word interlined in MS in substitution for “gave,” deleted.

5Preceding two words interlined in MS.

6Preceding four words interlined in Dft.

7At this point in MS begins the consecutive deletion from MS in its original state; see Editorial Note for the deletion.

8TJ first wrote “most faithful guardian” in MS, then deleted the first two words and interlined “only.” Later he amended this by adding “sure.”

9The various alterations made in the interlined passage that was substituted for the deletion indicated in note 7 above are pointed out in the Editorial Note, where this substitute passage is quoted in full, including the final sentence of the paragraph.

Index Entries