Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to United States Congress, 8 November 1804

To the Senate & House of

before 8 Nov. 1804

Representatives of the US.

To a people, fellow citizens, who sincerely desire the happiness and prosperity of other nations, to those who justly calculate that their own well being is advanced by that of the nations with which they have intercourse, it will be a satisfaction to observe that the war which was lighted up in Europe a little before our last meeting, has not yet extended it’s flames to other nations, nor been marked by the calamities which sometimes stain the footsteps of war. The irregularities too on the ocean which generally harrass the commerce of Neutral nations, have in distant parts, disturbed ours less than on former occasions. but, in the American seas, they have been greater from peculiar causes; and even within our harbors & jurisdiction, infringements on the authority of the laws have been committed which have called for serious attention. the friendly conduct of the governments from whose officers & subjects these acts have proceeded, in other respects and in places more under their observation & control gives us confidence that our representations on this subject will have been properly regarded.

While noticing the irregularities committed on the ocean by others, those by our own citizens are not to be omitted. private individuals, residing within the US. have taken on themselves to arm merchant vessels, and to force a commerce into certain ports & countries in defiance of the laws of those countries. the right of waging private war thus assumed by individuals, independently of the authority of their country, is such a violation of the laws of social order, such an aggression on the rights of other nations, & so dangerous to the peace of our own, as to call for the repression of the law under severe and effectual forms: and with this view it is recommended to the attention of the legislature.

While noticing the irregularities committed on the ocean by others, those on our own part should not be omitted, nor left unprovided for. complaints have been recieved that persons residing within the US. have taken on themselves to arm merchant vessels and to force a commerce into certain ports & countries in defiance of the laws of those countries. that individuals should undertake to wage private war, independently of the authority of their country, cannot be permitted in a well ordered society. it’s tendency to produce aggression on the laws & rights of other nations, & to endanger the peace of our own, is so obvious, that I doubt not you will adopt measures for restraining it effectually in future.

Soon after the passage of the act of the last session authorising the establishment of a district & port of entry on the waters of the Mobile, we learnt that it’s object was misunderstood on the part of Spain. candid explanations were immediately given, and assurances that, reserving our claims in that quarter as a subject of discussion and arrangement with Spain, no act was meditated in the meantime inconsistent with the peace & friendship existing between the two nations & that conformably to these intentions would be the execution of the law. that government however had thought proper to suspend the ratification of the convention of 1802. but the explanations which would reach them soon after, and still more the confirmation of them by the tenor of the instrument establishing the port & district may reasonably be expected to replace them in the dispositions and views of the whole subject, which originally dictated the Convention.

French convention

I have the satisfaction to inform you that the objections which had been urged by that government against the validity of our title to the country of Louisiana has been withdrawn: it’s exact limits however remaining still to be settled between us. and to this is to be added that having prepared & delivered the stock created in execution of the Convention of Paris of Apr. 30. 1803. in consideration of the cession of that country, we have recieved from the government of France an acknolegement in due form of the fulfilment of that stipulation.

European nations

With the nations of Europe in general our friendship and intercourse are undisturbed: and from the governments of the belligerent powers especially we continue to recieve those friendly manifestations which are justly due to an honest neutrality, & to such good offices consistent with that as we have opportunities of rendering.

Barbary powers.

The activity & success of the small force employed in the Mediterranean in the early part of the present year, the reinforcement sent into that sea, and the energy of the officers having command in the several vessels, will, I trust, by the sufferings of war, reduce the Barbarians of Tripoli to the desire of peace on proper terms. great injury however ensues to ourselves as well as to others interested, from the distance to which prizes must be brought for adjudication, & from the impracticability of bringing hither such as are not sea-worthy.

The Bey of Tunis having made requisitions unauthorised by our treaty, their rejection has produced from him some expressions of discontent. but to those who expect us to calculate whether a compliance with unjust demands will not cost us less than a war we must leave as a question of calculation for them also whether to retire from unjust demands will not cost them less than a war: we can do to each other very sensible injuries by war. but the mutual advantages of peace make that the best interest of both. Peace and intercourse with the other powers on the same coast continue on the footing on which they are established by treaty.


In pursuance of the act providing for the temporary government of Louisiana, the necessary officers for the territory of Orleans were appointed in due time to commence the exercise of their functions on the 1st. day of October. the distance however of some of them, and indispensible previous arrangements may have retarded it’s commencement in some of it’s parts. the form of government thus provided having been considered but as temporary and open to such future improvements as further information of the circumstances of our brethren there might suggest, it will of course be subject to your consideration.

In the district of Louisiana it has been thought best to adopt the division into subordinate districts which had been established under it’s former government. these being five in number, a commanding officer has been appointed to each according to the provision of the law, & so soon as they can be at their stations that district will also be in it’s due state of organisation. in the mean time their places are supplied by the officers before commanding there, and the functions of the Governor & judges of Indiana having commenced, the government we presume is proceeding in it’s new form. the lead mines in that territory offer so rich a supply of that metal as to merit attention. the report now communicated will inform you of their state & of the necessity of immediate enquiry into their occupation and titles.


With the Indian tribes established within our newly acquired limits, I have deemed it necessary to open conferences for the purpose of establishing a good understanding and neighborly relations between us. so far as we have yet learned we have reason to believe that their dispositions are generally favorable and friendly. and, with these dispositions on their part we have in our own hands means which cannot fail us for preserving their peace & friendship. by pursuing an uniform course of justice towards them, by aiding them in all the improvements which may better their condition, and especially by establishing a commerce on terms which shall be advantageous to them, & only not losing to us, and so regulated as that no incendearies of our own or any other nation may be permitted to disturb the natural effects of our just & friendly offices, we may render ourselves so necessary to their comfort and prosperity that the protection of our citizens from their disorderly members will become their interest and their voluntary care instead therefore of an augmentation of military force proportioned to our extension of frontier, I propose a moderate enlargement of the capital employed in that commerce as a more effectual, economical & humane instrument for preserving peace & good neighborhood with them.

On this side the Missisipi an important relinquishment of native title has been recieved from the Delawares. that tribe, desiring to extinguish in their people the spirit of hunting, & to convert superfluous lands into the means of improving what they retain, has ceded to us all the country between the Wabash & Ohio, South of, and including the road from the Rapids towards Vincennes; for which they are to recieve annuities in animals & implements for agriculture, and in other necessaries. this acquisition is important not only for it’s extent & fertility, but as, fronting 300. miles on the Ohio, & near half that on the Wabash, the produce of the settled country descending those rivers will not longer pass in review of the Indian frontier, but in a small portion and, with the cession heretofore made by the Kaskaskias, nearly consolidates our possessions North of the Ohio, in a very respectable breadth from Lake Erie to the Missisipi. the Piankishaws having some claim to the country, ceded by the Delawares, it has been thought best to quiet that by fair purchase also. so soon as the treaties on this subject shall have recieved their constitutional sanctions, they shall be laid before both houses.


The act of Congress of Feb. 28. 1803. for building and employing a number of gunboats is now in a course of execution to the extent there provided for. the obstacle to naval enterprizes which vessels of this construction offer for our seaport towns their utility towards supporting within our waters the authority of the laws the promptness with which they will be manned by the seamen and militia of the place in the moment they are wanting, the facility of their assembling from different parts of the coast, to any point where they are required in greater force than ordinary. the economy of their maintenance and preservation from decay when not in actual service and the competence of our finances to this defensive provision without any new burthen are considerations which will have due weight with Congress in deciding on the expediency of adding to their number from year to year as experience shall test their utility until all our important harbours, by these and auxiliary means, shall be secured against insult & opposition to the laws.

No circumstance has arisen since your last session which calls for any augmentation of our regular military force. should any improvement occur in the militia system, that will be always seasonable;

Accounts of the reciepts & expenditures of the last year with estimates for the ensuing one will, as usual, be laid before you.

The state of our finances continues to fulfill our expectations. Eleven millions & an half of Dollars recieved in the course of the year ending on the 30th. of Sep. last, have enabled us, after meeting all the ordinary expences of the year to pay 3,600,000. Dollars of the principal of the public debt. This paiment, with those of the two preceding years, has extinguished upwards of twelve millions of principal and a greater sum of interest within that period, and, by a proportionate diminution of interest, renders already sensible the effect of the growing sum yearly applicable to the discharge of principal.

It is also ascertained that the revenue accrued during the last year exceeds that of the preceding; and the probable reciepts of the ensuing year may safely be relied on as sufficient, with the sum already in the treasury, to meet all the current demands of the year, to discharge upwards of three millions & an half of the engagements incurred under the British & French conventions, and to advance in the further redemption of the funded debt as rapidly as had been contemplated.

These, fellow citizens, are the principal matters which I have thought it necessary at this time to communicate for your consideration & attention. some others will be laid before you in the course of the session. but in the discharge of the great duties confided to you by our country, you will take a broader view of the field of legislation. Whether the great interests of agriculture, manufactures, commerce or navigation, can, within the pale of your constitutional powers be aided in any of their relations? whether laws are provided in all cases where they are wanting? whether those provided are exactly what they should be? whether any abuses take place in their administration or in that of the public revenues? whether the organisation of the public agents, or of the public force is perfect in all it’s parts? in fine, Whether any thing can be done to advance the general good? are questions within the limits of your functions, which will necessarily occupy your attention. in these & all other matters which you in your wisdom may propose for the good of our country, you may count with assurance on my hearty cooperation & faithful execution.

Th: Jefferson

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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