Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Aaron Burr, 17 June 1797

To Aaron Burr

Philadelphia June 17. 1797

Dear Sir

The newspapers give so minutely what is passing in Congress that nothing of detail can be wanting for your information. Perhaps however some general view of our situation and prospects since you left us may not be unacceptable. At any rate it will give me an opportunity of recalling myself to your memory, and of evidencing my esteem for you.   You well know how strong a character of division had been impressed on the Senate by the British treaty. Common error, common censure,1 and common efforts of defence2 had formed the treaty majority into a common band which feared to separate even on other subjects. Towards the close of the last Congress however it had been hoped that their ties began to loosen, and their phalanx to separate a little. This hope was blasted at the very opening of the present session by the nature of the appeal which the President made to the nation; the occasion for which had confessedly sprung from the fatal British treaty. This circumstance rallied them again to their standard and hitherto we have had pretty regular treaty votes3 on all questions of principle.4 And indeed I fear that as long as the same individuals remain, so long we shall see traces of the same division.   In the H. of Representatives the Republican body has also lost strength. The non-attendance of 5. or 6. of that description has left the majority very equivocal indeed. A few individuals of no fixed system at all,5 governed by the panic or the prowess of the moment, flap as the breeze blows against the republican or the aristocratic bodies,6 and give to the one or the other a preponderance entirely accidental. Hence the dissimilar aspect of the address and of the proceedings subsequent to that. The inflammatory composition of the speech excited sensations of resentment which had slept under British injuries,7 threw the wavering into the war scale, and produced the war address. Buonaparte’s victories and those on the Rhine, the Austrian peace, British bankruptcy, mutiny of the seamen, and Mr. King’s exhortations to pacific measures have cooled them down again, and8 the scale of peace preponderates. The threatening propositions therefore, founded in the address, are abandoned one by one, and the cry begins now to be that we have been called together to do nothing. The truth is, there is nothing to do, the idea of war being scouted by the events of Europe: but this only proves that war was the object for which we were called. It proves that the Executive temper was for war; and that the convocation of the Representatives was an experiment on the temper of the nation, to see if it was in unison.9 Efforts at negociation indeed were promised;10 but such a promise was as difficult to withold as easy to render nugatory. If negociation alone had been meant, that might have been pursued without so much delay, and11 without calling the Representatives:12 and if strong and earnest negociation had been meant, the additional nomination would have been of persons strongly and earnestly attached to the alliance of 1778. War then was intended. Whether abandoned or not, we must judge from future indications and events; for the same secrecy and mystery is affected to be observed by the present, which marked the former administration. I had always hoped that the popularity of the late president being once withdrawn from active effect, the natural feelings13 of the people towards liberty would restore the equilibrium between the Executive and Legislative departments which had been destroyed by the superior weight and effect of that popularity; and that their natural feelings of moral obligation would discountenance the ungrateful predilection of the Executive14 in favor of Great Britain. But unfortunately the preceding measures had already alienated the nation who was the object of them, had excited reaction from them, and this reaction15 has on the minds of our citizens an effect which supplies that of the Washington popularity. This effect was sensible on some of the late Congressional elections, and this it is which has lessened the republican majority in Congress. When it will be reinforced must depend on events, and these are so incalculable, that I consider the future character of our republic as in the air;16 indeed it’s future fortunes will be in the air if war is made on us by France, and if Louisiana becomes a Gallo-American colony. I have been much pleased to see a dawn of change in the spirit of your state. The late elections have indicated something which, at a distance, we do not understand. However, what with the English influence in the lower and the Patroon influence in the upper parts of your state, I presume little is to be hoped. If a prospect could be once opened upon us of the penetration of truth into the Eastern states, if the people there, who are unquestionably republican, could discover that they have been duped into the support of measures calculated to sap the very foundations of republicanism, we might still hope for salvation, and that it would come, as of old, from the East. But will that region ever awake to the true state of things? Can the middle, Southern and Western states hold on till they awake? These are painful and doubtful questions: and if, in assuring me of your health, you can give me a comfortable solution of them, it will relieve a mind devoted to the preservation of our republican17 government in the true form and spirit in which it was established, but18 almost oppressed with apprehensions19 that fraud will at length affect what force could20 not, and that what with currents and countercurrents, we shall in the end be driven back to the land from which we launched 20. years ago. Indeed, my dear Sir, we have been but as a sturdy fish on the hook of a dexterous angler, who letting us flounce till we have spent our force, brings us up at last.—I am tired of the scene, and this day sennight shall change it21 for one where, to tranquility of mind, may be added pursuits of private utility, since none public are admitted by the state of things.—I am with great & sincere esteem Dear Sir Your friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

P.S. Since writing the above we recieve a report that the French Directory has proposed a declaration of war against the US. to the Council of antients, who have rejected it. Thus we see two nations, who love one another affectionately brought by the ill temper of their Executive administrations to the very brink of a necessity to embrue their hands in the blood of each other.

PrC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Colo. Burr”; postscript written perpendicularly in margin of last page. Dft (DLC); heavily emended, the most significant changes being recorded in notes below. Probably enclosed in TJ to Henry Remsen, 17 June 1797.

The appeal which the president made to the nation: Adams’s message of 16 May 1797 (see TJ to Thomas Bell, 18 May 1797). Although results elsewhere in the state perhaps did not promise the same dawn of change, in New York City the May elections for state senators and assemblymen appeared to signal a noteworthy Republican gain in strength. The city’s Republican leadership had endorsed Burr and twelve others as candidates for the assembly. Their opponents presented not a Federalist slate of candidates, but rather a “coalition” or “Federal Republican” ticket, which initially included some of the Republicans but dropped them just before the election. Republicans decried the maneuver as a deception, but their candidates easily won the assembly seats and they interpreted the Federalist tactic as a concession to rising Republican power in the city (Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , I, 316–17n; Philadelphia Aurora, 3 June 1797).

Rumors of a proposed French declaration of war, attributed to unspecified letters from Boston, appeared in Philadelphia newspapers but were unconfirmed by information from Boston or France (Philadelphia Gazette, 16, 17 June 1797; Philadelphia Aurora, 17 June 1797).

1Word interlined in Dft in place of “abuse, common danger.”

2Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “to defend their measures.”

3In Dft TJ here wrote and canceled “of about 17. to 11. on almost every,” then interlined and canceled “of 19. to 11. and would be if all were here 21. to 11.”

4Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “<when this unhappy> we are to see this unfortunate.”

5In Dft TJ interlined the following passage, to the word “republican,” in place of “no clear object to guide them […] between the.”

6In Dft remainder of sentence, preceded by canceled text “makes the one or the other the greater vote,” is interlined, all in place of “[…] the balance according to the caprice of the moment.”

7Preceding seven words interlined in Dft in place of “[…] which the British kicks and cuffs had never been able to reach.”

8Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft in place of “they threw themselves into the scale originally adverse to war measures.”

9In Dft TJ first wrote “to see how far it would <support> enter into their <vision> spirit of a fruitless negociation nugatory” before reworking the passage to read as above.

10Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft in place of “to soothe but these could be weak or strong at their own will.”

11Preceding five words interlined in Dft.

12Word interlined in Dft in place of “larger branch of the legislature, the call of this could only be for war. Of those who are still earnest for bullying measures, many.”

13Word interlined in Dft in place of & “dispositions.”

14In Dft TJ first wrote “would force the government to discountenance the Executives predilection” before altering the passage to read as above.

15Preceding six words interlined in Dft in place of “them to begin to act against us, and their hostile action has the.”

16Word “republic” interlined in Dft in place of “government.” Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft, where TJ first wrote “French colony” for “Gallo-American colony.”

17Word interlined in Dft.

18In Dft TJ interlined this word in place of “and sickening with.”

19Word interlined in Dft in place of “fear.”

20In Dft remainder of letter, including postscript, is written perpendicularly in the margin.

21In Dft TJ first wrote “and shall <desert> [leave] it this day sennight” before altering the passage to read as above.

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