Washington Feb. 18. 09.
Your favor of Jan. 25. had been duly recieved, and I was waiting in the hope I might find a moment of less pressure in which I might answer it somewhat in detail, when that of the 14th. instant came to hand. finding that instead of any relaxation of business it crouds more on me as I approach my departure, I can only indulge myself in a very brief reply. as to the rights of the US. as a neutral power, our opinions are very different, mine being that when two nations go to war, it does not abridge the rights of neutral nations but in the two articles of blockade & contraband of war. but on this subject we have both probably read & thought so much as to have made up our minds, & it is not likely that either can make a convert of the other. with respect to the interests of the US. in this exuberant commerce which is now bringing war on us, we concur perfectly. it brings us into collision with other powers in every sea, and will force us into every war of the European powers. the converting this great Agricultural country into a city of Amsterdam, a mere head-quarters for carrying on the commerce of all nations with one another is too absurd. yet this is the real object of the drawback system. it enriches a few individuals, but lessens the stock of native productions by withdrawing from them all the hands thus employed. it is essentially interesting to us to have shipping & seamen enough to carry our surplus produce to market; but beyond that, I do not think we are bound to give it encouragement by drawbacks or other premiums. I wish you may be right in supposing that the trading states would now be willing to give up the drawbacks, & to denationalize all ships taking foreign articles on board for any other destination than the US. on being secured by discriminating duties or otherwise in the exclusive carriage of the produce of the US. I should doubt it. were such a proposition to come from them, I presume it would meet with little difficulty. otherwise, I suppose it must wait till peace, when the right of drawback will be less valued than the exclusive carriage of our own produce.
No apology was necessary for the letters you were so kind as to write me on this subject. I have always recieved with thankfulness the ideas of judicious persons on subjects interesting to the public. in the present case I thought I should better fulfill your objects by communicating your letters to my successor, to whose views I have thought it my duty to give the lead ever since his designation as to all matters which he would have to execute. nothing will probably be done on this subject in the few days between this & my retirement; and in that situation I shall certainly divorce myself from all part in political affairs. to get rid of them is the principal object of retirement, and the first thing necessary to that happiness which you justly observe it is vain to look for in any other situation. I pray you to accept my salutations & assurances of respect.
DLC: Papers of Thomas Jefferson.