Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Martin (of New York), 20 September 1813

To James Martin (of New York)

Monticello Sep. 20. 13.


Your letter of Aug. 20. enabled me to turn to mine of Feb. 23. 98. and your former one of Feb. 22. 1801. and to recall to my memory the oration at Jamaica which was the subject of them.1 I see with pleasure a continuance of the same sound principles in the address to mr Quincy. your quotation from the former paper alludes, as I presume, to the term of office of our Senate; a term, like that of the judges, too long for my approbation. I am for responsibilities at short periods; seeing neither reason nor safety in making public functionaries independant of the nation2 for life, or even for long terms of years. on this principle I prefer the Presidential term of 4. years, to that of 7. years which I myself had at first suggested, annexing to it however ineligibility for ever after; and I wish it were now annexed to the 2d quadrennial election of President.

The conduct of Massachusets, which is the subject of your address to mr Quincy, is serious, as embarrassing the operations of the war, & jeopardising it’s issue; and still more so, as an example of contumacy against the Constitution. one method of proving their purpose would be to call a Convention of their state, and to require them to declare themselves members of the Union, and obedient to it’s determinations, or not members, and let them go. put this question solemnly to their people and their answer cannot be doubtful. one half of them are republicans, and would cling to the union from principle. of the other half, the dispassionate part would consider 1.3 that they do not raise bread sufficient4 for their own subsistence, and must go to Europe for the deficiency if excluded from our ports, which vital interests would force us to do. 2. that they are a navigating people without a stick of timber for the hull of a ship, nor a pound of any thing to export in it which would be admitted at any market. 3. that they are also a manufacturing people, and left by the exclusive system of Europe without a market but ours. 4. that as the rivals of England in manufactures, in commerce, in navigation, and fisheries, they would meet her competition in every point. 5. that England would feel no scruples in making the abandonment & ruin of such a rival the price of a treaty with the producing states; whose interest too it would be to nourish a navigation beyond the Atlantic, rather than a hostile one at our own door.5 and 6. that in case of war with the Union, which occurrences between coterminous nations frequently produce it would be a contest of 1. against 15. the remaining portion of the Federal moiety of the state would, I believe, brave all these obstacles, because they are monarchists in principle, bearing deadly hatred to their republican fellow citizens, impatient under the ascendancy of republican principles, devoted in their attachment to England, and preferring to be placed under her despotism, if they cannot hold the helm of government here. I see, in their separation, no evil but the example: and I believe that the effect of that would be corrected by an early and humiliating return to the Union, after losing much of the population of their country,6 insufficient in it’s own resources to feed numerous inhabitants and inferior in all it’s allurements to the more inviting soils, climates, and government of the other states.7 whether a dispassionate discussion before the public, of the advantages & disadvantages of separation to both parties would be the best medecine for this dialytic fever, or to consider it as sacrilege ever to touch the question, may be doubted. I am myself generally disposed to indulge, & to follow reason; and believe that in no case would it be safer than in the present. their refractory course however will not be unpunished by the indignation of their co-states, their loss of influence with them, the censures of history, & the stain on the character of their state.8 With my thanks for the paper inclosed accept the assurance of my esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Mr James Martin.” Tr (ViU: TJP); in Nicholas P. Trist’s hand. Enclosure: enclosure to Martin to TJ, 20 Aug. 1813.

TJ first suggested, in 1787, that American presidents be allowed to serve only one four-year term in office. By the following year, however, he was willing to support a seven-year term, as long as the incumbent was ineligible for reelection (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 12:351, 13:619). TJ got his wish for limits to presidential service long afterward with the enactment in 1951 of the twenty-second amendment to the United States Constitution, under which no one is eligible to run for president after their 2d quadrennial election to that office. dialytic: of or pertaining to dissolution (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ), with TJ here alluding to attempts to separate from or dissolve the bonds of national union.

1Tr begins here.

2Preceding three words interlined.

3Tr ends here.

4Word interlined in place of “necessary.”

5Tr resumes here.

6Tr ends here.

7Tr resumes here.

8Tr ends here.

Index Entries

  • Constitution, U.S.; mentioned search
  • Great Britain; and Massachusetts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Massachusetts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; secession search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; term limits search
  • Martin, James (of New York); 1796oration of search
  • Martin, James (of New York); and J. Quincy search
  • Martin, James (of New York); letters to search
  • Massachusetts; relations with Great Britain search
  • Quincy, Josiah search
  • Senate, U.S.; and term limits search