Thomas Jefferson Papers
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John Tyler to Thomas Jefferson, 12 May 1810

From John Tyler

Richmond May 12th 1810

Dear Sir,

By this time I suppose you have finished the irksome business of receiving Intruders, of every denomination, with all the impertinant Curiosity of some, and the hypocracy of others, who will not fail to use your generous forbearance, as a warrant for the priviledge they will take, of shewing to others, the notice they have receiv’d from a Character, which they cannot help admireing, notwithstanding the part they may have acted, in the great Theatre, of party Spirit, Malice, ignorance and Lyes; which God knows I have seen so much Of, as greatly to lessen my anxiety, for seeing a friend, or Son, of Mine further advanced than as an honest independant Gentleman1—And, yet, I own I cou’d not help indulging a Wish of seeing you once more on the floor of the Virginia Assembly; for be asured there is nothing now like the order, and decoram, that once so dignified, and distinguish’d it: It is true that the knowledge of Goverment is more diffused than formerly; the arts & Sciences more cultivated to a certain degree;2 Yet none of them seem to come near that mark to which the great men of our Revolution had carried them.3 Now there are more Streams, but then there were more great Rivers, and this arises from the bad mode of education which prevails—A young man will leave College with no kind of Knowledge of Arithmatic, history, or geography, although he may have graduated: this I know to be the case having examin’d more young Men for the Law than any Six Judges, being so convenient to Wm and Mary and under this Lycense frequently I have question’d them on those Parts of Science—Our Schools should be multiplied greatly, and much on the Plan of that which you once laid before the public, but which the Legislature was opposed to on account of the expence (Shameful parsimony) as if there cou,d be any comparison between the expence of Carrying that Scheme into execution and the Advantages arising from it to Society at large, while that expence woud serve as a circulating medium running through our own veins—In proportion4 to the decline of pure morals good manners and sound learning in any Goverment will its Liberty decay and at length finally perish —Your presence wou’d have brought about a great change, but yet I know you ought to rest from the labors of a Stormy Sea and leave to posterity in some other way5 what will be more advantagious to them,6 as they will see through a Medium less clouded by prejudice and folly. We admire now a Sidney and many others, who fell victims to Perjury and a wicked7 Tyranny. Thank God, bad as the present age is, our Goverment did not place enough of power in one man’s hands, to effect such bloody scenes8 without too much difficulty—In the time of Mr Adams, I confess things were carried with a strong hand, and in Ge W—s, time under the Insurrection as it was call,d, some pretty strong Military usurpations were exercised, Another evidence (if any was wanting) to show how dangerous power is in any mans hands, and how liable are the best Men to be led Astray by the designing. This induc’d me to attach myself more to the old Federal Goverment with some amendments as to the commercial department &&. The Present Government gives a little More Splendor from Patronage, but more corruption is ingenderd and incorporated in it and of course less political happiness9—hence intrigue (so injurious to freedom) Speculation (so distructive to Morals), and hence10 all that scene of bitterness and detraction which has stain,d our National Character beyond Retrieve—While on the contrary the Old Govt. was simple, plain and honest, because these were not objects to gratify Ambition and avarice. And yet that Rope of Sand as it was call’d, which was strong enough to carry us through the revolution, cou’d not support us in times of peace—How much I differ with many on this subject. For instance, observe a man and the object of his dearest affections11—how civil to each other, how affectionate, how fearful of a single false Step on either side lest it should produce a Separation; Tye but the knot for life, and all those fears are dissipated and then begins domestic Strife—This is not invariably the case to be sure—Just so has it been with the New Govnt now for intregue, high honors, public promotion monopolies to advance the wealth of a few and destroying that Simplicity of Manners so congenial with a free Govet—The peace of Society broken up, with the loss of all that solid friendship and Sociallity which once distinguish’d our Country—above all others in the world—Perhaps my picture is highly colour’d: it may be so; for I freely own I promise’d myself better things from the Revolution—In short I almost begin to doubt whether we are better,d by the change in point of real happiness.12 from the begining so wide has it progress,d from the ground we first took—But I will die in the good old cause while I lament its falling off, Still hoping there will not be wanting Patriots enough to hold the helm of Govt for many Centuries to come and again bring it back to first principles—I know full well how little I am capable of entertaining a Philosopher and13 Scholar, because I am not either—You cannot expect to gather “grapes off thorns or figgs off thistles”—but nevertheless I feel a delight in knowing how well14 this letter will be taken for its sincere intentions,—Notwithstanding the great disparity between us. I often think of your happy retirement, not with15 envy, but with delight—16My present Station is a tedious insignificant one, and has but one good Trait in it, And that is this ; it gives me not power enough to do mischief in any other way than by the Sin of Neglect, which I avoid as much as possible by a constant attendance on the duties of my office; and if I retire without exciting envy or ilnature, though with a shattered fortune, I shall be content—Long have I neglected my private concerns in the engagement of those of the public, and also those of a social kind, having had 21 children to bring up besides my own which took away so much of my life from a fair chance of encreasing my Estate, so that I am much the worst, having got behind hand—However my eldest Son has graduated as a Doctor of Medicine, my second is now commencing the practice of Law, leaving a Son and Daughter to promote as well as I can; and my object is to fall into some little public employment if I live my time out here (or sooner) which may enable me to devide my Estate among my Children After paying what I owe, and so glide off this Scene of trouble as quiet as I can—Judge Griffin is in a low state of health and holds My old office17 which Genl Washington gave him because I was not for the new Fedl Govt without previous amendments—and of course cou’d not be trusted in the british debt cases18 This kind of conduct began the strong distinction which has embitter,d the Cup of Life, and in a great measure produced a Spirit of Retalliation when the Republicans prevail,d, but the British influence had the best Share of the above policy in the begining, and so it has at this time in almost19 all our measures. I nevver did apply for an office, but I really hope the President will chance to think of me now and then in case of accidents, and if an opportunity offers, lay me down softly on a bed of Roses20 in my latter days; for I have been on thorns long enough—

Congress it seems has done nothing, and this is doing good some say—of this future events must evince the truth—A slave becomes contented by habit unless the Yoke is too severe—We have lost our resentment for the severest Injuries a Nation ever suffer,d because of their being so often repeated, and all we have done has been to quarrel with each other about which Goverment injur,d us most; Just as if one shou,d openly contend that 3 was more than 2 for full that much or more has G.B. done beyond all the Nations of the Earth put together—Nay Judge Marshal and Mr Pickering & Co found out G.B. had given us no cause of complaint—Is it possible that a man who can assert this, can have a true sense of sound21 veracity? and yet these sort of folks retain their Station and consequence in Life. Is not this an undeniable proof of the bad State of Morals in our Country—and what corrective is there22 but a right Education? On this Subject I wish you would (as well as, on many others which you may deem useful to Society)23once more commit your thoughts to paper, and once more I wou,d press it before the Legislature, but I confess without much hope of success So strange a policy governs our great Council. He who can go back from the assembly and tell his constituents24 he has saved a penny Secures his popularity against the next Election—This is a low narrow System that men who are better taught are always above—Nor will these false Luminaries ever use those honorable means within there power to convince the people how necessary it is that Goverment Should always have a Succession of Virtuous and able Characters to fill the various Stations so necessary for wise measures and a good Administration of them—In ten years more we shall not have a Citizen who will be capable of directing an Army when Occasion shall require—we ought to have a Military school or Arms will be of little use—I fear I have tired you with this desultry letter, but as I write not for fame, you will look over its errors with an Eye, not of Criticism, but with that indulgence so Congenial with your disposition; making allowances for the vanity whh Courts your attention to one who will always concieve it an honor to be stiled your humble friend and fellow Citizen.

Jno Tyler.

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, with signature and revisions by Tyler; endorsed by TJ as received 16 May 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (DLC: Madison Papers); extract in TJ’s hand; undated; enclosed in TJ to James Madison, 25 May 1810.

Algernon sidney was regarded as a republican martyr after his execution for plotting against the government of Charles II (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ). The Whiskey insurrection of 1794 took place during George Washington’s presidency. Tyler quoted Jesus on grapes and figgs: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matthew 7.16). Tyler’s eldest son was Wat H. Tyler; his son commencing the practice of law was John Tyler, later tenth president the of the United States; and he had three married daughters, leaving a son and daughter to provide for (“Will and Inventory of Hon. John Tyler,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , 1st ser., 17 [1909]: 231–5). Cyrus griffin served as judge of the federal court for the district of Virginia from 1789 until his death late in 1810 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

1Manuscript: “Gentlemen.”

2Manuscript: “dgree.”

3Reworked by Tyler from “had arriv’d.”

4Manuscript: “propotion.”

5Preceding four words interlined by Tyler.

6Tyler here canceled “perhaps.”

7Preceding two words interlined by Tyler.

8Manuscript: “sceins.”

9Preceding six words interlined by Tyler.

10Word interlined by Tyler.

11Word interlined in place of “wishes.”

12Preceding five words interlined by Tyler.

13Reworked by Tyler from “or.”

14Manuscript: “will.”

15Reworked from “but without.”

16Tr consists of remainder of this paragraph.

17Preceding three words underlined in Tr.

18Preceding twelve words interlined by Tyler.

19Word interlined by Tyler.

20Reworked by Tyler from “down.”

21Word interlined by Tyler in place of “his.”

22Manuscript: “these.”

23Parenthetical phrase added by Tyler at foot of page.

24Manuscript: “costituents.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; presidency of search
  • American Revolution; J. Tyler on search
  • Army, U.S.; military academy search
  • Bible; Matthew referenced search
  • Charles II, king of England search
  • Congress, U.S.; negative opinions of search
  • education; J. Tyler on search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • Griffin, Cyrus; health of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge search
  • Madison, James; and J. Tyler search
  • Marshall, John; J. Tyler on search
  • military; academy to train officers search
  • patronage; misuse of search
  • Pennsylvania; Whiskey Rebellion in search
  • Pickering, Timothy; and foreign relations search
  • Sidney, Algernon; British patriot search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); as governor search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); letters from search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); opinions of search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); seeks judicial appointment search
  • Tyler, John (1790–1862) search
  • Tyler, Wat H. search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and C. Griffin search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Washington, George; and Whiskey Rebellion search
  • Washington, George; judicial appointments of search
  • Whiskey Rebellion search
  • William and Mary, College of; criticized search