Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from David Austin, 9 March 1801

From David Austin

Philadelphia March 9th. 1801—

Respected Sir

Though a stranger to your person, I doubt not but as a Gentleman of science, of benevolence & of regard to the pacification of the present jarring interests of the World, you will indulge me with a moment’s attention on a very interesting theme.

The Nations need to be pacified. From what quarter shall the Olive Branch be seen to come!—For this the Nations are looking, & the pious are longing.—

To you, Sir, appertains, under God, the introduction of this exploit. From this nation went forth the arrows of war, & from us must go the healing leaf.—

The forwarding of the ratification of the late Convention to France, presents an avenue through which this design may be floated.—The impediments, hitherto, found to lie in the way of this Commission teach that there is something, yet in the wheel of providence to be presented.

A new Œra, under your administration, at the commencment of this New period of time, is about to discover the opening design.—The prophets of the last section of the Gospel Œconomy have expected that to them would appertain the overturning of the papal power, & the introduction of the pacification which was to follow. Providence hath disappointed their expectation. The deed hath been performed by National means.—By National means, the pacific Empire, to follow, is to be introduced. In your hand, it now lies to commission the man capable, under God, not only to consolidate the Union between the two Republicks, in question, but to suggest, not to say introduce that system of National fraternity, which all wish to see displayed.

The design gets its birth in this Country; but is to unfold its beauties & energies, on the European Theatre.

If Mr. Livingston excuses himself from the task, which all suppose he will do;—then, think of the pointings of providence; of the agonies of the World, of our Nation’s glory, & of your own honor. It is in the hand that moves this pen to introduce, & to perform, thro’ the instrumentality of yr. Commission, this exploit. I am at command.—

Excuse the liberty I take in forwarding a paper, struck this day, introductory to the object contemplated; even, though intellectual & moral influence, only, should be applied. I find a high interest in this City; & much mental preparation for the happy event.—

Your inaugurating speech has mightily calmed political tumult at home; it only remains that you perfect the begun enterprize by extending the Olive leaf to contending Nations.

National & diplomatic operations are much more pointed & operative than those that are merely suasive. If you let off the arrow, you will stand as a “Mighty Hunter before the Lord”—

Though I am to remove to the Union Hotel, Market street, in a few days, my address will remain at “the George Tavern.”

with all due esteem.

David Austin

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at head of text: “Th. Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Mch. and so recorded in SJL.


David Austin (1759–1831) was one of the most popular millennial preachers of his day. A native of New Haven, Connecticut, he graduated from Yale in 1779 and was ordained by the Presbytery of New York to a pastorate at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1788. He published a number of tracts and predicted that the second coming would take place on the fourth Sunday of May 1796. The failure of this prophecy and his increasingly erratic behavior led his congregation to request his dismissal. Austin resigned the following May and spent the next several years indulging his millennial enthusiasms through itinerant preaching and published writings. His millennialism was marked by his belief that the creation of the American republic was a precursor to the second coming and that the New Jersusalem would be erected on a “Washingtonian” base. During the first year of TJ’s presidency, Austin wrote the president frequently to offer his views on national and international affairs and to solicit public office. After TJ’s failure to reply did not dissuade the minister from continuing his one-sided correspondence, TJ wrote Austin on 21 Jan. 1802 and curtly requested that he cease writing. Austin wrote only a handful of letters to TJ after that. Austin’s fanaticism waned by the 1810s. He became pastor of a Congregational church in Bozrah, Connecticut, in 1815, where he served until his death (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Sprague, American Pulpit description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, or, Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations, New York, 1857–69, 9 vols. description ends , 2:195–206; Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America’s Millennial Role [Chicago, 1968], 116–19; Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans in Power description begins Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans in Power, Party Operations, 1801–1809, Chapel Hill, 1963 description ends , 31–2).

Forwarding a paper, struck this day: the 9 Mch. edition of the Philadelphia Aurora included an appeal by Austin entitled “National Placitude” that called on Christians of all denominations to gather in Philadelphia for a series of 25 lectures by Austin, which would lay the “foundation” of an “intellectual and Moral” empire and reveal the “original plan of the Supreme Architect, in the total œconomy of his natural and moral administration.”

Austin provided TJ with additional information on his plan for world pacification in an 11 Mch. letter, assuring TJ that although “the matter may appear mysterious,” there existed “a river … which bears on its surface ‘the leaves of the tree of life wh. are for the healing of the Nations’—This stream must find entrance into the mechanism of the National Circles in order to convey its benign influence through its agitated parts” (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr. Pres: U: States Federal City”; franked and postmarked; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Mch. and so recorded in SJL).

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