Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Jarvis, 10 January 1806

Lisbon 10th. Jany. 1806


But one or two opportunities occurring since I was honored with your favour of the 6. July; and being then much pressed with business prevented my sooner having had the pleasure to reply. I exceedingly regret with you Sir, the violence & injustice that has forced us to resign the quiet times of peace to assume the Stern aspect of War. So many convincing reasons suggested themselves to my mind of its being the solid interest of Great Britain & Spain to keep on friendly terms with us, that even in this time of political Phenomena, few public events has caused me more surprise, than the just ground of complaint afforded by each of those Nations. Such a persuasion very naturally led to the opinion which every unimpassioned Man must have entertained, that the investigation of a short time would have convinced them of the impolicy of the impolicy & injustice of their conduct, and a consequent change of measures would have ensued, which must have brought about an amiable adjustment. In this reasonable expectation I perceive by your wise, moderate & firm message of the 3rd. Ultimo, I am disappointed. Since this is the case, I am happy Sir to find, that you are determined to convince those Nations of what I was always perfectly satisfied, that when the mild language of reason failed to obtain us rights, you would advise the employment of the power & resources of your Country for the purpose. Seamen that are bred on board Men of War are generally so habituated to the grossest language, that when addressed in a milder tone, do not appear to beleive the Speaker in earnest. This may be the case with Nations long familiarised to War & Carnage; and when once convinced by a different tone that We intend to resort to a more feeling method of representation, it may conduce to a more equitable manner of thinking & acting, and place it in our power, with honor, to avid the disagreeable alternative. This I most ardently hope, not that I fear the event, for I have too high an opinion of our National Strength & Character, our financial resources, thanks to the wise oeconomy of your administration, our Geographical Situation, the Commercial dependence of those Nations, and the wisdom & firmness with which our means would be employed, to doubt a favourable issue; whether we resort to open hostilities, or to the probably more safe & certain method of Commercial Restrictions. But it is a wish very near my heart to see those pre-eminent abilities employing the revenues of our Country in internal improvement, in the general dissemination of knowledge and in the consolidation of our political fabric, practically to convince the world, and I am sorry to add, even some of our fellow Citizens, that liberty & equal rights are not incompatible with order, and that a Government founded on these principles, affords a greater degree of happiness to the human race than any other ever devised by the wit of Man. Should I not be gratified in this wish, the relative National & actual local Situation of our Country perhaps points out a defensive as the only System that can be adopted with advantage. To secure our Sea-ports from attack & our coast from insult, all must agree with you Sir, ought to be the first object of National attention. And no plan appears more likely to Secure those objects than that you have pointed out; Gun boats combining the advantage of the largest ships as to weight of Metal & distance of execution, with that of small Craft in point of ease of manouvering, facility of running into shoal Water out of the way of Men of War, the difficulty of being hit & the smallness of expense. To undertake to cope with several of the European Nations in the Naval line, would be a species of Quixotism that I hope never to see attempted. It would exhaust the whole of our revenues to build large ships to supply the enemies fleets. I am Sensible that a Navy is a very fashionable thing in America; but fashions are sometimes very arbitrary, neither adapted to ornament, convenience, comfort or advantage: and, unluckily for the Beau Monde, fashionable opinions are not always free from very great absurdity. Why a Navy should be popular I cannot tell, unless the debt it has cost the Nation, from whom its popularity is borrowed, presents the only vulnerable part at which We can strike with a probability of success. It rendering her so dependent on her manufactures that a Blow given to them, would shake to the foundation her financial fabrick. But independent of the debt, the Nation could suffer only a temporary inconvenience from a suspension of Commerce. Perhaps to the lovers of War, it may be owing to what, those who are more pacifically disposed would consider a dreadful Situation to which it has reduced that Nation, a State of perpetual hostilities, or a National Bankruptcy. to support the enormous weight of Taxes consequent on the debt, it being necessary to monopolize the Commerce of the world. This can only be done in a time of War for the Taxes enhancing the necessaries of life & labour far beyond those of France, did a few years peace enable the latter Nation to reorganize her fabrics & Commerce, they would be able to undersell the English, draw the bulk of her foreign Custom from her, and render it necessary (to make use of the language of a celebrated former admirer & present conserver of British policy & measures) to apply the Sponge to the National debt. This to be sure is a very soft word, and is not like to carry to the human mind to reflect on the horrors of thousands of people now rolling in ease & affluence reduced to a state of misery & want; and on the more pitiable sight of the aged, the infirm, the Widow, the orphan, whose comfortable subsistence depends upon a small property in the funds, reduced to beggary & misery, without the hope of relief; or the probability of its being the cause of a revolution in Government accompanied with the horrors of a civil War. If it is the contemplation of such Scenes which renders a Naval force desirable, I shall leave to those who have less humanity, more hardihood or more ambition than myself, to advocate a line of policy that presents so great a chance of being ultimately attended with such unhappy Consequences. The advocates in England may possibly justify their vindicating the system from imperious necessity. But We have no Colonies, no monopolising exclusive Commercial System to defend or extend: and as to defense or offense, the necessities of that Nation, at least, as Sir I before observed, have afforded us the easy & secure means, without the effusion of human blood.

I have often felicitated my Countrymen the Ocean that separates them from the Blood & Carnage of Europe—Whatever happiness a juster estimate of human nature & sounder principles of Government, than the world has hitherto exhibited, shall confer on our Nation, without this Barrier, I am Satisfied that it would not be of long duration.

The dependence of Portugal on the Brazils for her revenues I am inclined to think, Sir, is a much greater Security to her Neutrality than any very strong regard to the rights of Nations which is shown in these days; which to–gether with the desire of keeping up some appearances of National justice, I have no doubt will prevent her being involved in this War between the two Maritime powers (for I imagine the Continental War at an end), should it ever continue for some time.

It affords me much pleasure that the aborigines of our Country are likely to be brought to taste the Sweets of Society & civilised life. It is like bringing the Jews out of the Wilderness into a land flowing with milk & honey. But I hope Sir they will discover rather more gratitude than that Stiff necked generation did. Your Philanthropical exertions & recommendation to restore the oppressed & degraded Indians to the rights of Nature & humanity, deserve Sir, the warmest thanks of every lover of his species & the eternal gratitude of these people. How long, Sir, before our barbarous prejudices against our fellow Man, for a difference of complexion or colour, for which he is no wise accountable, will give place to more humane & equitable Sentiments? Was the Indian however, left to the uncontrolled liberty of his forests, did not the United States afford him more happiness than the mass of the inhabitants of the old world enjoy, it is a moot case whether his savage State is not the most enviable. Mr. Lewis, in addition to cultivating the good will of the Indians, must collect much useful information regarding the interior of America, highly interesting to Americans in general & to you, Sir, in particular.

When I am favoured with the information whether the two pipes of Wine proved agreeable or not, I shall take the liberty to comply with your desire of drawing for the whole.

With the most perfect Veneration I have the honor to be Sir Your Most Obedient & Most devoted Servant

William Jarvis

P.S. The recent Military events on the Continent will no doubt have a tendency to render one of the parties more accommodating, but be likely to have the opposite effect on the other. However, should a Maritime War continue, the financial embarrass of the latter must oblige them to a Settlement. War leads to habits of idleness & has so demoralising a tendency, that as an individual member of the community I should much rather give a good round Sum for the whole Country than engage in a contest, beside there is no certainty that War would not cost us much more than to purchase. I think Sir no person has so good a right to spend the money of a Community as a First Magistrate who has wisely saved it; and that too with general approbation, as it must be beleived that he who has discovered great prudence in saving, will not be likely to disburse without the prospect of public advantage. But if the immense benefit of an undisputed outlet to the Ocean through several channels for the produce of our quiet industry, the Security against the risk of a troublesome neighbourhood and in every shape rendering ourselves free from danger, to say nothing of the values of the soil, can be obtained for the price of six or seven years oeconomy, it must command the hearty approbation of every lover of his Country & every one whose interest or views is not inimical to the interest of the Community. I am afraid Sir that this long ill written letter will but little incline you to indulge me with so much latitude in future; but well knowing, to a person, who has the welfare of his Country so much at heart, that the opinion of the most insignificant, would not be altogether indifferent upon so interesting a point, I hope Sir will be my excuse for trying your patience with so long.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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