Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Thomson Callender, 6 October 1799

To James Thomson Callender

Monticello Oct. 6. 99.


On recieving your favor of Sep. 29. I did believe it would be in my power to answer you satisfactorily on both the points on which you asked information. I knew indeed that I had not made any particular memorandum of the sum which the Ct. de Vergennes supposed a treaty with the Porte would cost; but I expected that I had mentioned it either in my letter on the subject to mr Jay, or in that to mr Adams my collegue in the Barbary negociations. after a very long search yesterday I found both letters, but in neither have I stated any particular sum. they are of May 1786. and only say generally that in a conversation with the Ct. de Vergennes on the subject he said that a treaty with the Porte would cost us a great deal of money, as great presents are expected at that court & a great many claim them; and that we should not buy a peace one penny the cheaper at Algiers: that the Algerines did indeed acknolege a certain dependance on the Porte, & availed themselves of it whenever any thing was to be gained by it, but disregarded it when it subjected them to any demand: & that at Algiers there were but two agents, money & fear. this is the statement in those letters, and my memory does not enable me to fix any particular sum as having been named by him; but only generally that it was very far beyond any thing then at our command. all who were members of Congress in 1786. may be supposed to remember this information, and if it could be understood to come to you through some such channel, it would save the public from reading all the blackguardisms which would be vented on me were I quoted. not that this would weigh an atom with me, on any occasion where my avowal of either facts or opinions would be of public use; but whenever it will not, I then think it useful to keep myself out of the way of calumny.

On the other point I can be more certain. Georgia, N. Carola. Tenissee Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland & Pennsylvania chose their electors by the people directly. in Massachusets the choice is first by the people in districts. but if a candidate has not a majority of all the qualified voters of the district. it devolves on the legislature to appoint the elector for that district, besides, as they have but 14. districts (laid off for some state purpose) and are entitled to 16. electors, the legislature name the two extra ones in the first instance. again if any of those elected either by the people or legislature die, or decline to act, the residue of the electors fill up the vacancies themselves. in this way the people of Massachus. chose 7. electors on the last occasion & the legislature 9. In New Hamp. Rho. Isld. Connect. Vermont, New York, Jersey Delaware & South Carolina the legislature name electors. my information is good as to all these particulars except N. Hampshire & Connecticut: and as to them I think I am right; but speaking only from memory it should be further ascertained before asserted. I thank you for the proof sheets you inclosed me. such papers cannot fail to produce the best effect. they inform the thinking part of the nation; and these again, supported by the taxgatherers as their vouchers, set the people to rights. you will know from whom this comes without a signature: the omission of which has been rendered almost habitual with me by the curiosity of the post offices. indeed a period is now approaching during which I shall discontinue writing letters as much as possible, knowing that every snare will be used to get hold of what may be perverted in the eyes of the publick. Adieu

PrC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Mr. Callendar.” Tr (MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers); in Pickering’s hand; address sheet: “Mr. James Thompson Callendar Richmond”; along with endorsement copied by Pickering from RC: “Given by M Callender to Aug. Davis”; with statement signed by Pickering and in his hand, dated Washington, D.C., 3 Jan. 1804: “The foregoing is a true copy of an original letter in the hand-writing of Thomas Jefferson, now president of the United States, compared by James Hillhouse Esqr. and myself. The handwriting of Mr. Jefferson is so distinguishable, and is so well known to me, that I can vouch for the original, of which the foregoing is a copy, being Mr. Jefferson’s, with the same confidence and certainty that I can vouch the authenticity of my own hand-writing. In a word, I have no more doubt that the original letter here referred to is Thomas Jefferson’s, than that the certificate I am now writing is done with my own hand.—The superscription is also in the hand-writing of Mr. Jefferson. And the words on the back ‘Given by M Callender to Aug. Davis’ appear to be the handwriting of Augustine Davis, formerly postmaster at Richmond, with whom, when I was post-master general, I used to correspond.

“Th. Jefferson, who is so fond of manufacturing words (as appears by his public exhibitions) does also indulge himself in departures from the best authorities in the English language in spelling & the form of writing. For instance, in the foregoing letter he begins sentences with small letters; he writes acknolege for acknowledge—& collegue for colleague—and the word expected he has used like the vulgar in Pennsylvania, instead of supposed, or other word of like import; and invariably, I believe, the capital I where he should use J, in proper names.” Tr (same); subjoined to TJ to Callendar, 6 Sep. 1799; enclosed in James McHenry to Pickering, 10 Apr. 1808 (same). Tr (MH). Tr (CtHi: Oliver Wolcott Papers); at foot of text: “Directed on the envellop to Mr James Thompson Callender”; with note signed by Oliver Wolcott, Jr., and in his hand: “N.B. I am well acquainted with mr Jeffersons hand writing and signature, I have seen the originals, from which these copies were made and I know them to be correct Copies.” Tr (same); incomplete, ending with “Jersey” at the beginning of the final paragraph. Tr (NjP). Tr (same). Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, ser. 9); with notation on verso: “Copy of Mr Jefferson’s letter to J. T. Callender dated Octr. 6. 99—(Copied from the original in the hand writing of Mr Jefferson—by WS—) (verbatim et literatim).” Enclosed in TJ to George Jefferson, 6 Oct. 1799, which reads in its entirety, “I take the liberty of putting the inclosed letter under your cover to avoid exciting the curiosity of the post office. be so good as to deliver it” (PrC in MHi).

I found both letters: TJ reported the results of his consultation with the Comte de Vergennes regarding the expediency of a diplomatic mission to Constantinople in missives to John Jay and John Adams on 23 and 30 May 1786, respectively. In The Prospect Before Us, Callender examined the treaty with Algiers and questioned the high price the United States was paying for the Mediterranean trade. He referred to treaty expenses as “the Algerine tribute” and questioned why the president accepted them but declared that he “would rather fight the French for twenty years than give them a shilling.” Callender’s analysis of the election of 1796 used the information TJ provided on how the states chose electors (The Prospect Before Us, 25–6, 41-58).

Index Entries