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Thomas Jefferson to William A. Burwell, 25 February 1810

To William A. Burwell

Monticello Feb. 25. 10.

Dear Sir

Your’s of the 16th has given me real uneasiness. I was certainly very unfortunate in the choice of my expression when I hit upon one which could excite any doubt of my unceasing affections for you. in observing that you might use the information as you should find proper, I meant merely that you might communicate it to the President, the Secretaries of state or war, or to young mr Lee, as should be judged by yourself most proper. I meant particularly to permit it’s communication to mr Lee, to enlighten his enquiries: for I do not know that his father recieved the medal. I could only conduct the information to the completion of the dye, & striking off a proof. with such assurances as I have of your affection be assured that nothing but the most direct & unequivocal proofs can ever make me suspect it’s abatement, and conscious of as warm feelings towards yourself, I hope you will ever be as unready to doubt them. let us put this then under our feet.

I like your convoy bill; because altho’ it does not assume the maintenance of all our maritime rights, it assumes as much as it is our interest to maintain. our coasting trade is the first & most important branch, never to be yielded but with our existence. next to that is the carriage of our own productions in our own vessels & bringing back the returns for our own consumption. so far I would protect it, & force every part of the union to join in the protection at the point of the bayonet. but tho’ we have a right to the remaining branch of carrying for other nations, it’s advantages do not compensate it’s risks. your bill1 first rallies us to the ground the constitution ought to have taken, & to which we ought to return without delay. the moment is the most favorable possible; because the Eastern states by declaring they will not protect that cabotage by war, and forcing us to abandon it, have released us from every future claim for it’s protection on that part. your bill is excellent in another view; it presents still one other ground to which we can retire, before we resort to war. it says to the belligerents, rather than go to war we will retire from the brokerage of other nations, & confine ourselves to the carriage & exchange of our productions. but2 we will vindicate that in all it’s rights; if you touch it, it is war.

The present delightful weather has drawn us all into our farms & gardens. we have had the most devastating rain which has ever fallen within my knolege. three inches of water fell in the space of about an hour. every hollow of every hill presented a torrent which swept every thing before it. I have never seen the fields so much injured. mr Randolph’s farm is the only one which has not suffered. his horizontal furrows arrested the water at every step, till it was absorbed, or at least had deposited the soil it had taken up. every body in this neighborhood is adopting his method of ploughing, except tenants who have no interest in the preservation of the soil.

Present me respectfully to mrs Burwell, & be assured of my constant affection.

Th: Jefferson

RC (CSmH: JF-BA); at foot of first page: “Mr Burwell.” PoC (DLC). Not recorded in SJL.

On 19 Jan. 1810 Burwell moved in the House of Representatives “That the President of the United States be authorized immediately to employ the public armed vessels for the purpose of convoying and protecting the ships and vessels, the property of citizens of the United States, laden with goods of their growth, produce, or manufacture, and not contraband of war, in their trade to and from ports open for their reception by the regulations of the Government under whose jurisdiction they are situated, and not being actually blockaded or invested by a competent force: Provided, such Government shall not have in force edicts or decrees against neutral commerce; and that the owners and crews of merchant vessels, owned, laden, or destined as aforesaid, be permitted to associate and arm for their defence against illegal capture and molestation, under such regulations as shall be prescribed by law.” John Wayles Eppes reported a convoy bill based in part on Burwell’s resolution on 5 Mar. 1810, but it did not become law (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 7:182, 262).

1TJ here canceled what appears to be “is laying the first.”

2Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • agriculture; contour plowing search
  • Albemarle County, Va.; rain devastates search
  • Burwell, Letitia McCreery (William Armistead Burwell’s wife); TJ sends greetings to search
  • Burwell, William Armistead; and H. Lee’s medal search
  • Burwell, William Armistead; convoy resolution of search
  • Burwell, William Armistead; letters to search
  • Congress, U.S.; and H. Lee’s medal search
  • Constitution, U.S.; TJ on search
  • Edgehill (T. M. Randolph’s Albemarle Co. estate); contour plowing at search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); reports convoy bill search
  • Eustis, William; as secretary of war search
  • gardens; TJ spends time in his search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and convoy bill search
  • Lee, Henry (1756–1818); medal voted for search
  • Lee, Henry (1787–1837); and father’s medal search
  • Madison, James; and H. Lee’s medal search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); gardens search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); heavy rain at search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); uses contour plowing search
  • Smith, Robert; and H. Lee’s medal search
  • United States; maritime rights search
  • weather; rain search