Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Cooper, 25 October 1802

From Thomas Cooper

Northumberland Octr 25. 1802.

Dear Sir,

Having finished all that I undertook, as my department of the Wyoming Controversy for Pennsylvania Lands, I have returned hither. Dr Priestley being desirous of communicating to you extracts from Mr Stone’s letter, I have copied it for him. Passages respecting himself which he would probably have omitted, I have sent you without scruple; for I take for granted that every thing relating to his literary labours will be interesting privately and publicly, to Mr Jefferson and to the World.

You will observe that the measure of prohibiting in France, the introduction of British Newspapers which Mr Stone thought Buonaparte would not venture upon, has been done. You will be somewhat surprized to, that Dr Priestley’s correspondent, considering his veneration for your character, and what he might have known of the simple organization of American governments, should intimate for a moment that the Republicans of France look to England for principles of Liberty! To England where the boldest friends of freedom propose with hesitation as doubtful theories, what America has long regarded and practiced as political axioms established beyond the necessity of farther discussion! To England, where liberty so far as it is known is the mere footstool of Party. The Whigs and the Tories—the Ins and the Outs—the Pittites & the Foxites of that Country are to me equally detestable. All of them equally dread the real Freedom of the Press, but have not the boldness of Buonaparte to lay the ax to the root. They all know how necessary it is for party purposes, and therefore, and therefore only, and to that extent only, does the one party permit, and the other advocate it. That the Whigs and Foxites, are enemies to the genuine principles of liberty appears evident to me from the doctrines on this Subject laid down by Belsham in page 203–205 of his Memoirs of the reign of Geo. 3rd Vol 5. Belsham I consider (tho’ Dr. P. thinks otherwise) is a party-writer and book-compiler under the Patronage of Fox Sheridan & what is usually called the Whig Party of that Country; & as laying down their Opinions. Thank God, within these Ten Years another party has arisen, the Party of the People. Truth is with it, and it will prevail.

I am clearly of opinion with Mr. Stone that notwithstanding the political errors of the french Governments, and the horrible vices of their rulers, the Cause of Liberty has gained much in that Country. Those who have observed the quiet and gradual but irresistible effects of extended Knowledge by means of the press, will not be terrified at the temporary storms of political Usurpation. I do not think with Paine that men cannot unknow what they have once known; for this has happened in England, as well as in France; and even in this Country: but while the press is free, it will prove but a temporary night of Intellect. Locke wd. not have written as he did if the Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos, the Lex Rex, the Speeches of Falkland, Hampden, Pym &c And the writings of Milton, Sydney and above all of Harrington, had not preceded him: and without him, the morning twilight of 1688 would not have been the harbinger of the day of 1776. I look forward therefore to the ultimate event, with undiminished hope. But we have much yet to learn. We have to learn even in this mildest of Governments, how easy it is to govern too much and how prone the best of rulers, are from the best of principles, to overact their part. Permit me however sincerely to except from this Observation your principles, and your practice. I know that I state your opinions when I say, that wise men have just begun to suspect that the art of Governing, consists in knowing how to govern as little as possible.

I give credit to Mr Stone’s character of Alexander of Russia, sufficiently to wish that you were his correspondent if you be not so. But I cannot help regarding Mr Stone, and even M. de la Harpe, as characters too obscure to become in any degree the vehicles of your Correspondence. Much of what Mr Stone has related of Alexander, is also mentioned by Kotzebue in the 3rd. Vol of his acct. of his Imprisonment in Russia 75, 79, 214. Kotzebue mentions La Harpe also as Alexanders Tutor with great respect 181. Alexander is young. I regard him with fearful hope.—

How very gratifying it is to your friends to hear of the high respect paid to your Character among the best of Men throughout the enlightened World! Almost am I persuaded that your principles are now too habitual, and your Character too fixed, for your practice to be warped, or your Conduct to waver. Almost; for looking at the Buonoparte’s of present and former times, who of us can say he can compleatly trust himself, under every vicissitude of popular favour and popular Ingratitude? My earnest prayer is that you may continue as you have begun: and that Power and prosperity may never tempt you from the honourable path that led you to them; or deprive you of the exquisite Luxury of knowing and feeling, how anxiously you are looked up to, and how sincerely you are beloved by those who love mankind.

I remain with great respect your sincere friend.

Thomas Cooper

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 6 Nov. and so recorded in SJL.

WYOMING CONTROVERSY: from March 1801 to August 1804, Cooper served as a Luzerne commissioner to settle the ongoing title disputes between Pennsylvania and Connecticut over territory in the Wyoming Valley. Hoping to avoid further violence over these controversies, Cooper favored conciliation and a judicious legal interpretation, which often seemed sympathetic to the Connecticut claimants. He published his opinions on pending amendments to the compromise act of 1799 as Observations on the Wyoming Controversy, Respectfully Submitted to the Legislature of Pennsylvania in Lancaster in March 1802 and gave a copy to William Duane, who printed it in the Philadelphia Aurora on 17 Mch. (Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 2087; Dumas Malone, The Public Life of Thomas Cooper, 1783–1839 [New Haven, 1926], 150–64; Vol. 31:25–6; Vol. 34:300n).

Bonaparte blocked the INTRODUCTIONOF BRITISH NEWSPAPERS by ordering French officials not to enforce parts of a treaty that covered postal exchanges with Britain (Grainger, Amiens Truce description begins John D. Grainger, The Amiens Truce: Britain and Bonaparte, 1801–1803, Rochester, N.Y., 2004 description ends , 149).

Memoirs of the Reign of George III, by William BELSHAM, first appeared in 1795 as a four-volume edition that described the monarch’s reign to 1793. A fifth edition of the work, published in 1801, added two volumes that carried the narrative to 1799. On the pages cited by Cooper, Belsham, a political moderate, discussed the treason trial of some “overheated partizans of reform” who had followed “the novel and extravagant doctrines of Paine” and sought a reform of Parliament upon “visionary, if not pernicious, principles.” Because the defendants in the trial had participated in associations that were “infected with the leaven of republicanism,” Belsham commended the government’s spying on the radicals and putting a stop to their “rash and seditious conduct.” The narrative of George’s reign was part of a larger series by Belsham, Memoirs of the House of Brunswic-Lunenburg, which TJ considered to be a fundamental work on English history (William Belsham, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, 5th ed., 6 vols. [London, 1801], 5:203–5; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 408; DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Vol. 30:595).

Thomas PAINE wrote in The Rights of Man: “The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it. Those who talk of a counter-revolution in France show how little they understand of man. There does not exist in the compass of language, an arrangement of words to express so much as the means of effecting a counter-revolution. The means must be an obliteration of knowledge; and it has never yet been discovered how to make a man unknow his knowledge, or unthink his thoughts” (Philip S. Foner, ed., The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine, 2 vols. [New York, 1945], 1:320).

For the 16th-century Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross, the NIGHT OF INTELLECT was a renunciation of knowledge in preparation for union with God.

Writers in the 19th century used the expression to denote situations in which understanding is lacking (Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, trans., The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross [Garden City, N.Y., 1964], 47–8, 52–3, 201; Charles Lamb, Elia: 1823 [Oxford, 1991], 8; Duncan Wu, ed., The Selected Writings of William Hazlitt, 9 vols. [London, 1998], 6:37; Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, ed. Paul Schlicke [Oxford, 1990], 500).

VINDICIÆ CONTRA TYRANNOS: a French Huguenot treatise first published in 1579, Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos argued that religious and political covenants gave sovereignty to the people and made government a social compact. Hubert Languet and Philippe du Plessis Mornay have been most often named as probable authors of the tract, which appeared under a pseudonym. TJ owned a copy of the work (Stephanus Junius Brutus, the Celt, Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos: or, Concerning the Legitimate Power of a Prince over the People, and of the People over a Prince, ed. George Garnett [Cambridge, Eng., 1994], xix–xlv, lv–lxxvi; J. Wayne Baker, “Faces of Federalism: From Bullinger to Jefferson,” Publius, 30 [2000], 27–30, 37; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 2324).

LEX REX: Samuel Rutherford, a Puritan theologian, made a case for natural rights, limited government, and resistance to tyranny in Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince. A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People, published in London in 1644 (Peter Judson Richards, “‘The Law Written in their Hearts’?: Rutherford and Locke on Nature, Government and Resistance,” Journal of Law and Religion, 18 [2002–3], 151–89).

In 1784, on the invitation of Empress Catherine of Russia, Frédéric César de LA HARPE had become a tutor to the czarina’s grandson Alexander (born in 1777) and his younger brother Constantine. La Harpe, who was 29 years old when he began to instruct Alexander, was a native of the Swiss canton of Vaud and had a law degree from the university at Tübingen. He became the dominant influence in Alexander’s education and moral development. Under La Harpe, the young grand duke learned history, Enlightenment principles, and republican political philosophy. In 1793, the government of Bern demanded that Catherine expel La Harpe from Russia for his advocacy of revolutionary change in Switzerland, but La Harpe remained in St. Petersburg as Alexander’s preceptor until the spring of 1795. John Hurford Stone and La Harpe were acquainted (Jean Charles Biaudet and Françoise Nicod, eds., Correspondance de Frédéric-César de La Harpe et Alexandre Ier, 3 vols. [Neuchâtel, 1978–80], 1:10–18; Hartley, Alexander I description begins Janet M. Hartley, Alexander I, London, 1994 description ends , 13–16, 26; J. C. F. Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale depuis les temps les plus reculés jusqu’a nos jours, 46 vols. [Paris, 1855–66], 28:885–7; Jean Charles Biaudet and others, eds., Correspondance de Frédéric-César de La Harpe sous la République Helvétique, 4 vols. [Neuchâtel, 1982–2004], 4:251, 271, 413).

In 1800, officials in Russia arrested the playwright August von KOTZEBUE as he entered the country on a visit. Kotzebue, who had lived in Russia for several years in the 1780s and 1790s, was held in Siberia until Emperor Paul allowed him to go to St. Petersburg. Kotzebue, a native of Weimar, later returned to Germany, but he was in the Russian capital when Paul was assassinated in 1801 and Alexander became emperor. On the pages cited by Cooper in the English translation of the playwright’s memoir of his detention, Kotzebue said that Alexander’s subjects “gave themselves up to joy” when he became emperor, that the new monarch’s actions “tended to encourage and confirm” the people’s expectations, that the appearance of a “round hat” in St. Petersburg the day after Paul’s death caused excitement as a signal of changes to come, and that Alexander would be “a powerful stimulus” to progressive action by the nobility. Kotzebue called Alexander’s former tutor “the estimable La Harpe” (August von Kotzebue, The Most Remarkable Year in the Life of Augustus von Kotzebue; Containing an Account of his Exile into Siberia, and of the other Extraordinary Events which Happened to Him in Russia, 3 vols. [London, 1802], 1:11–12, 16, 24–5, 35–6, 87–9; 2:105, 222–9, 237–9; 3:73–5, 79, 181, 214; George S. Williamson, “What Killed August von Kotzebue? The Temptations of Virtue and the Political Theology of German Nationalism, 1789–1819,” Journal of Modern History, 72 [2000], 890–943).

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