Philada. May 22. 1806.
The subject of naval power is agitated every day in our seaports, Towns, because the Editors of Newspapers live by the patronage of persons interested in Trade. Discussions on the opposite side rarely appear. I have formed some opinions on the subject, which seemed worthy of examination. It seems idle to labor much for the profits of foreign trade, and to spend more money yearly in what is called it’s defence. A merchant citizen or a merchant nation would be equally unwise in such conduct.—A company is formed which consists of one Merchant, one man of the learned Branches, eight mechanicks, and ninety farmers. A commission of 6 cent for sales, purchases and shipments is allowed to the merchants for conducting their company trade, and it costs an equal sum to pay its expences. They make a profit of ½ cent, and of course gain nothing as a company. Such appears to be the best state of the naval powers of Europe. Hence their national debts and rich merchants. Governments in debt to every body and merchants creditors of every body. Prussia had considerable shipping and no navy. She was not spoliated by Great Britain; or France or Spain in her maritime trade. It will pay us well to devise other defences for trade than an expensive navy—
It is not to give a tone to the public councils that these suggestions are made, but to support the principles on which the government acts. Every distinct class of citizens (the merchants and all others) will be desirous to make profits even at the expence of a loss to the nation. Hence the necessity of caution in the government about the expences of the defense of commerce.
I have the honor to be Sir your most respectf. hu. Servt.
DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.