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Benjamin Rush to Thomas Jefferson, 17 December 1811

From Benjamin Rush

Philadelphia Decemr 17th 1811

my dear old friend

Yours of Decemr 5th came to hand yesterday. I was charmed with the Subject of it. In order to hasten the object you have suggested I sat down last evening, and selected such passages from your letter as contained the kindest expressions of regard for mr Adams and transmitted them to him. my letter which contained them,1 was concluded as nearly as I can recollect, for I kept no Copy of it, with the following words. “Fellow labourers in erecting the fabric of American liberty and independance!—fellow sufferers in the calumnies and falsehoods of party rage!—fellow heirs of the gratitude and Affection of posterity!—& fellow passengers in the same stage which must soon Convey you both into the presence of a Judge with whom the forgiveness and love of enemies is the only Condition of your acceptance!—embrace—embrace each Other. Bedew your letters of reconcilliation with tears of Affection and joy. Let there be no retrospect of your past differences. Explanations may be proper between contending lovers but they are never so between divided friends. were I near to you I would put a pen into your hand, and guide it while it wrote the following note to Mr Jefferson.

my dear old friend—and fellow labourer in the Cause of the liberties and independance of our Common Country, I salute you with the most Cordial good wishes for your health and happiness.

John Adams.” 

I sincerely hope this my second effort to revive a friendly intercourse2 between you by letters will be successful. Patriotism—liberty—Science & Religion would all gain a triumph by it.

How cold the feelings! and how feeble!—The expressions of indignation in Congress against the outrages committed by G Britain3 upon our rights, compared with what they were in 1774. and 1775, against outrages of a less degrading and insulting nature! Randolph seems to have composed his speeches from the fragments of the tory publications of those memorable years, with which his Opponents seem to be shamefully unacquainted. But All I hope will yet end well.

Mr Madison has inflicted a sore blow upon my whole family by taking my son Richard from us. He has been my friend and Counsellor for many years, & he relinquishes great political as well as professional prospects in his native state by accepting the office lately given to him under the general Government. His talents and acquirements qualify him for active and professional pursuits, and his manners—for popular favor. They will all be lost to his Country and family in an Office in which the mind can have no employment, and in which a merchent, or the Cashier of a bank would be more respectable than even a Burke or a Fox.

I once said to Hamilton Roan whom I met in Company at the time when Porcupine was amusing and gratifying the tory4 Citizens of Philadelphia with his publications against me,—that “I lived, like himself in a foreign Country.” “no Sir you do not, (said he.) You live in an enemy’s country;.” This has been strictly true ever since the restoration of the tories to thier antirevolutionary rank by the officers of the general Government upon the removal of Congress from new York to Philadelphia. Previously to that time, I was courted and employed by them, but it was with a View of protecting themselves by means of my influence,5 from the rage of the insulted and triumphant party of which I was then a member—nor did they sue for my Services in Vain. I constantly advised forgiveness and Clemency to be exercised towards them. Often did I supplicate the Executive Council and Judges of our state in thier favor, and from my attempts to serve them, as Often incurred the censure of my whig friends. By One of them whom I was chiefly instrumental in saving from banishment, or perhaps a worse fate, I was publickly abused and betrayed in the year 1800. I need not name him to you. He has been called in one of our papers a “traitor by instinct.” From this detail of my situation in Philada6—living only with my patients and pupils, judge how severely I feel the loss of the Society & the friendship7 of my son Richard!— My 3rd son James who lately returned from Europe And who assists me in my business, is very amiable, and promising,—but what can eminence in the “mute Art” of medicine (as Ovid calls it)8 do to protect a young and persecuted family, compared with eminence at the bar, and a popular political character?

These fireside Communications I am sure will be felt by you, for you are both a father, and a friend. All thier Sensibilities are familiar to you.

As my son has quitted professional, for Official life, and state, for national prospects, I hope he will be remembred in some future arrangements of office by Mr Madison.—

Health, respect and friendship! from my Dear sir your Sincere old friend

Benjn Rush

PS: a state of nature has been called a state of war. may not the same thing be said of civilized and even of the most polished Societies?9 they fight only with different weapons.

Judge of the disposition to the Class of our Citizens which I have described, towards the old whigs by the following fact. an old tory in passing bye the public library room some time ago pointed to the statue of Dr Franklin which is placed in a niche in the front part of it, and with an acrid Sneer said to a person who was walking with him “But for that old fellow, we never Should have had Independance.”—

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Dec. 1811 and so recorded in SJL.

Rush’s letter to John Adams urging reconciliation with TJ is dated 16 Dec. 1811 (Rush, Letters description begins Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, 1951, 2 vols. description ends , 2:1110–1). His son Richard Rush was appointed United States comptroller general on 22 Nov. 1811 (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 2:191). hamilton roan: Archibald Hamilton Rowan. Under the nom de plume of Peter porcupine, William Cobbett published ferocious attacks on Rush’s political views and medical theories (Rush, Letters description begins Lyman H. Butterfield, ed., Letters of Benjamin Rush, 1951, 2 vols. description ends , 2:1213–8). Rush intervened to save Tench Coxe from banishment, or perhaps a worse fate at his 1778 treason trial (Philadelphia Gazette & Daily Advertiser, 14 Oct. 1800). In 1800 Rush and Coxe became embroiled in a newspaper controversy over Coxe’s assertion that President Adams had monarchical leanings (Jacob E. Cooke, Tench Coxe and the Early Republic [1978], 382–4).

1Reworked from “to him.”

2Manuscript: “intercouse.”

3Preceding three words interlined, with “by” substituted for “against” by Rush.

4Word interlined.

5Preceding four words interlined in place of “my whigs Connections.”

6Preceding two words interlined.

7Manuscript: “frienship.” Rush here canceled “& the perfection.”

8Parenthetical phrase interlined.

9Manuscript: “Socities.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; resumes correspondence with TJ search
  • Burke, Edmund; British politician search
  • Cobbett, William; as “Peter Porcupine,” search
  • Coxe, Tench; and B. Rush search
  • Fox, Charles James; British politician search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; statue of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Family & Friends; relations with J. Adams search
  • Madison, James; and appointments search
  • Ovid; quoted search
  • Randolph, John (of Roanoke); B. Rush on search
  • Rowan, Archibald Hamilton; quoted by B. Rush search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and resumption of correspondence between TJ and J. Adams search
  • Rush, Benjamin; letters from search
  • Rush, Benjamin; on Federalists search
  • Rush, James; as medical student search
  • Rush, James; B. Rush on search
  • Rush, Richard; comptroller general search