Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Jarvis, 20 January 1807

Lisbon 20th Jany 1807


The last letter I had the honor to address to you was dated the 10th. Ultimo; but not having had the satisfaction to hear from you Sir since I received your favour of the 16 April last, it is with great diffidence I venture to address you again. But when a document of such a nature as your message to both Houses of Congress lays before me, the statements it contains so highly honorable to your paternal attention to the welfare of your Country, would render me culpable in my own eyes, even to that Country, was I not to afford this small testimony of my approbation. I took the liberty immediately to inclose one of the two copies I received to His Excellency Mr d’Araujo, remarking to him that the flourishing state of the finances of the United States was owing to your wise system of policy. His Excellency with his accustomed politeness honored me with a very flattering reply in English. When Sir I first came to Europe I found an almost universal prejudice existing against you. The reason was palpable. The abuse of designing Men, which appeared in the Federal papers had been so long continued, the industry & Commercial connection of a considerable proportion of the Mercantile part of the Federal party had got the federal papers into such general circulation this side the water, and so few of the Republican papers made their way to Europe to contradict assertions as malicious, unprincipled & wicked as they were unfounded, that these aspersions were generally beleived—It is doubtless Sir within your knowledge that the bulk of the people in England considered you a rank jacobin, an enemy to all order & stable Government, and that in pursuance of these principles the funding system would immediately be destroyed, the Constitution be overturned & a War entered into in behalf of France against Gr. Britain. I confess Sir it used to mortify me exceedingly to find a people in other respects very well informed, entertain such erroneous sentiments of a person for whose abilities & honest views I had the highest opinion; and I invariably made it a point so far as my small talents extended, to attempt to undeceive them. When I got here I certainly found the greatest coldness, to say the least of it, existing toward your administration. This both from duty & inclination I took every opportunity of removing. I found too that the consequence of the United States was not rightly understood & appreciated. Much of the importance of our Country was supposed to depend on the personal qualities of General Washington; and many almost affected to beleive that it had risen by him & would sink with him, like another Boeotia at the death of Epaminondas. Although I felt no disposition to detract from his merits & virtues in any shape, I was not willing that an opinion so unfounded & which had so evident a tendency to injure my Country, should prevail. When Mr d’Araujo came into Office finding him a man of real ability & urbanity of manners, I was Sir particularly desirous that His Excellency should rightly appreciate your character. Fortunately I found him not unfavourably disposed; and I am happy now in beleiving that he entertains an high opinion of your abilities as a statesman and of your patriotic virtues. Among the people at large too, both Americans & foreigners, I find a favourable change of sentiment; and that in the estimation of the Europeans our importance as a Nation is better understood & is daily encreasing. For this Sir my fellow Citizens are greatly indebted to your wise administration. That this effect has been produced at a time of eminent difficulty, & danger must Sir add greatly to the veneration of your Countrymen for your Character. Ordinary seamen may take the helm with a clear sky, favourable gales, & an unruffled sea; but it requires the skilful hand of a pilot to steer the bark in safety among rocks & shoals in tempestuous weather, and Sir as an enthusiastic admirer of your great abilities & Virtues, I should not have wished you fewer enemies. They may be compared to Aquafortis upon fine gold which serves only to prove the purity of the metal. Instead of a wealthy, influential party, whose whole power has been employed to thwart, embarrass & counteract, Sir, your measures, to lessen your public & private character & influence, had its weight been thrown into your scale, it might have been concluded both by cotempararies & posterity, that the success & prosperity which has so eminently distingiused your administration, was partly owing to their Councils & influence, and consequently Sir your merits would not have shone forth with so much lustre.—Your plans Sir of internal & territorial improvement are to evidently beneficial to meet with any opposition; but Sir that of a system of National education, as savouring of innovation, may not be so cordially received. So many obstacles present themselves to the undertaking, that it undoubtedly requires great wisdom & a profound knowledge of men & things to suit the plans to the principles of our government & to the state of society in a Country so extensive as ours, where almost every state differs in manners & habits from its neighbour. But the important which will attend success are deserving the experiment: and surely, Sir, a Magistrate out of whose plans grows the very means of carrying it into effect; ought to be trusted in an affair from which no National injury can result, but which promises much good—Permit me Sir to congratulate you on the signing of the British Treaty. I am extremely desirous to see the articles. As a trifle which from its novelty may not be unacceptable, I take the liberty to inclose a Silver purse, which I hope Sir you will do me the honor to accept, if not for your own use, for that of one of your daughters—

With the assurances of my most profound veneration—

I Remain Sir Yr. Most Obedient & Most Hble Sevt

William Jarvis

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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