Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Dickinson, 22 January 1807

the 22d. of the first Month 1807—

My very dear Friend,

I should be unworthy of thy kind Attentions, if I was not truly grateful for them.

The details mentioned in thy Letter of the 13th, point to Objects of high Importance indeed: Yet, I cannot forbear entertaining a Hope, that thy Knowledge and Love of Country, will apply some Remedy to the threatening Evils.

The discontents occasioned by the administration of Justice, in our Forms, Principles, and Language, with the Concomitants of enormous Expeince and greedy Corruption, must be deeply seated: But—may they not admit of Alleviations.

In so novel a state of Things, some novel Institutions must be adopted to meet the Mischief Face to Face.

Might not a vast Number of Lawsuits be prevented by a Legislative act, establishing a possession of Lands or Tenements for ten or fifteen Years, as a good Title against the whole World?

Would it be improper to appoint Officers with competent salaries, whose Duty it should be, to aid such persons as do not understand our Language in their Controversies? Thus extending the Advantages of the “Patroni” among the antient Romans.

Would it not be better, to let all the Evidence offered by the parties go to a Jury, and thus become Subject to their Valuation, with such observation as the Court may make, than to reject Evidence merely because it is not the best of which the Nature of the Case is capable?

Should not the Judges be directed, to order every Error and Mistake in pleadings and other judicial proceedings, to be in any period of the Action amended, so that every Cause shall be determined on the Facts and Merits thereof by a full Exposition of them, and thus substantial Justice be rendered?

Would it not lend greatly to the quieting of real property, to establish all sales heretofore made by Tenants in Tail to bona fide purchasers? And also to enable Tenants in Tail in future, to convey their Estates by Deeds as well as by Common Recoveries?

Should not every Defendant—perhaps also every Plaintiff—be permitted, without employing a Lawyer or any Formality of pleading, to bring forward on Trial all such proofs as he deems to be material?

These Notes relate in part to points, which, from a Recollection of occurrences in practice while I was at the Bar, I know to be “Apica Juris”, in Instances innumerable destructive to the Life of Justice.

My Mind is powerfully impressed with a Conviction, that a few pages of Legislation dedicated to provisions for preventing Lawsuits, and for repressing the Evils of Rapacity and Chicanery, would, with a most salutary Energy, promote the Happiness of the people.

It will be a large step in Advance, to persuade the French Inhabitants, that We affectionately regard them as Fellow citizens, and earnestly desire their best Welfare.

The entitling the Territory to become a state is a most desirable Event.    Yet, a great and sudden Addition to the Population, by the Introduction of armed settlers at the national Expeinces, must be a very alarming Measure to our Neighbours; and probably would some a countervailing Measure on their part.

The persons who would be attracted by a small Bounty of Land, would, in all Likelihood, be of that Class who are more inclined to roving than to settling.

Such Acquistions may be Inducements to make temporary stops in their Migration: But, it is apprehended, that the chief Value in their View would be, that thereby they would be enabled to explore new Regions.

Their Military Servise to the Union would be, it is thought, at best desultory and infirm, and their Fidelity doubtful, considering the Temptations to which they might be exposed.

A general Militia well trained and provided, seems to be essential not only to the Welfare, but to the Independence of these States.

In such a situation of affairs as the present, how eminently dangerous is civil Dissension!

The persevering Hatred of the Federalists afflict Me, whenever I think of it. It is ominous.

If such a Temper can be cherished and supported in the Youth of our Commonwealth, and under such an Administration, and in so much prosperity, as We have for several Years enjoyed, what peace can We look for, when future Circumstances shall hold out to unprincipled ambition stronger Temptations to Fraud and Violence.

History has been a favorite study with Me; and I can with Truth declare, that in all its pages I have never met with such an Instance of embittered and unprovoked Hostility.

Yet, in Defiance of all this Rage, thy Country loves thee, acknowledges thy Integrity, and reposes a Confidence in thy experienced Abilities.

At the same Time, thou must be conscious of the purity of thy Intentions, and will, I hope, remember the faithful and important services thou hast rendered to these states and to the Interests of Humanity.

These are sources of Consolation, of which I wish thee largely to partake.

I sympathize with thee in thy Labors and Difficulties; and am not surprized at thy looking towards a place of Retirement and Repose: But—I cannot without the deepest Regret contemplate such a Removal, at so early a period as the Termination of two Years.

That the Sovereign of the Universe may bless thy Efforts, for fulfilling the arduous Duties of thy high station, to the people of this Land and to thyself, is the daily Prayer of thy very affectionate Friend

John Dickinson


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