Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Stoddert, 14 February 1809

Bladg. 14 Feby 1809.


Conscious that I have no unworthy motive for giving you so much trouble—I trust you will believe it—and that I shall be thought of no worse, than being too officious, & perhaps, vain.

The non-intercourse bill, before Congress, will operate most unfavorably for this Country, and more favorably for England, than the Embargo has done.—for, besides other great injury as to ourselves, it will sweep away whatever remains, of respect to Laws & Oaths, among the navigating & commercial classes of our Citizens. All who can not stoop to false swearing, either by themselves, or others for their benefit, will be driven out of Trade. We shall indeed become, a Nation of smuglers

Those articles of ours which England wants, & can not get in sufficient quantities, because of the Embargo, will be given to her by this non-intercourse measure, in profusion. The effect on us, as relates to what we make to sell, will be, that we shall get about half the prices, a direct trade would afford. This will be the operation—some intermediate places will be found, where Amr. productions will be exchanged for British goods—some of the goods will take the form of Sweedish & other Friendly goods, but the far greater part will be introduced into this Country, by the more mischeevous mode of smugling—and the consumers here—the whole community—will have to pay for the risk, as well as all other charges. In the East, the risk of smugling, will not be great, for there, if the forms of the Law, are submitted to, which is problematical, the substance will be disregarded, and a Jury will not be found to convict an offender—hence, for a short season, the East will buy cheaper than the South, but this inequality will be of short duration, for the bill is too admirably calculated to throw all trade into the hands of such as can be smuglers, to fail of that effect. The British manufacturers will sell less to us, than they would do in a direct trade—but for no other reason in the World, than because the low rates at which we shall sell, will limit our means of buying. All we shall have money left to pay for, we shall buy.

The places to which the Law will allow us to resort, will be attended principally by the British Traders, besides ourselves—they can keep others away, & will have stronger motives than ever, to do so. Those places, must be such as have not been accustomed to store large quantities of goods—Our articles are bulky—some are perishable. British articles are the reverse. We shall labour under every disadvantage, and must sell to avoid the enormous expense of safe keeping—they will buy on their own terms.

Some apprehend this measure if adopted, may produce War—the apprehension is groundless. The English will at once see their certain advantages resulting from it—advantages greater than I have enumerated, and their cruizers will Act, as faithful guardians of the Law, every where but on our own shores. They will only molest the Vessels engaged in the violation of it. Their greatest good will be promoted by its due execution, in the West Indies, & in Europe.

Some merchants in Balte.—in contemplation of a non-intercourse Act, sent a person to London to buy goods to arrive here before the measure could go into operation—Such men may see advantages in the measure—none others can—with the exception of such men, the Law will become universally odious. Every hope of the agriculturalist, who is to suffer, in what he sells, & in what he must buy, will be annihilated.

If there are reasons which present a total abandonment of the Embargo, without some substitute which shall appear hostile to the offending Nations—the substitute of this nature, least injurious to ourselves, would be to repeal the Embargo, as to other Nations—keep it on, as to these. In this case, we should meet at intermediate places, as under the proposed non-intercourse—and our own products would be subject to nearly, I think not quite, the same disadvantages—but we should avoid the smugling—and if we did not get more for what we sold, we should pay 50 percent less, for what we bought.

England having the command of the sea, and the commerce of the World being in her hands, is most to be injured, by our letting loose our Vessels, to take from her a part of that commerce. Our own best good, is to be best promoted, by confining ourselves as much as it is practicable, to our own native Trade.

Sincerely wishing you may find in the retirement which you are soon to experience, that tranquility & peace, which it is in vain to look for, but in retirement, I remain with great respect

Sir Yr Most Obed Servt

Ben Stoddert.

DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.

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