Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 20 April 1812

To Robert R. Livingston

Monticello Apr. 20. 12.

Dear Sir

I have not hesitated to send you one of the inclosed because I know that your mind will view in it nothing but the abstract question of right; and in the opinion of my fellow citizens on that question it will be my duty to acquiesce. I owe it to you also in return for your excellent book on the subject of sheep, now becoming daily more and more interesting to us. I am embarked a little in that business myself, having made a small beginning in the Merino race, from a ram and three ewes. my principal flock is of the Tunisian breed. the wool of these suits best our common manufactures, which are altogether houshold, there being scarcely a family in the country which does not clothe itself, as far as coarse woollens, or those of midling quality are required. so also as to hemp, flax, and cotton, the last of which has been always manufactured with us extensively, and in considerable perfection. so that were we to have tomorrow with Great Britain peace instead of war I am satisfied we shall no more take from her, in these lines, the worth of a shilling where we have taken that of a pound. the great desideratum with us is the invention of simpler machines; even the Spinning Jenny being too much for our country workmen. I have heard of one by an Oliver Barrett of your state, which the price would indicate to be simple; & another still more so by Herrick of Massachusetts, and I have sent for both. but it is on the puffs of the newspapers which merit as little credit in this as in their other branches of lying. yet I have thought it a duty to my neighbors to take on myself the risk of disappointment. if the machines answer, a service will be rendered them; if they do not I only lose a few dollars. being a farmer myself, I write to you as a farmer, leaving politics to those who are not worn down by them. I reduce myself to the reading 3. or 4. newspapers a week only, and shall soon I believe give up them also. I mark with a white bean the days on which I hear from my old friends, and shall always be happy to learn from yourself particularly that you enjoy health and quiet, with all the comforts which can chear the evening of our days. Accept the assurance of constant and sincere esteem and respect.

Th: Jefferson

P.S. I ought not to omit informing a brother agriculturalist that I have the Irish fiorin grass growing, from roots recieved from Ireland this spring. I recieved some seed also which is sowed, but not yet up.

RC (NHi: Livingston Collection); postscript added separately to RC and PoC; addressed: (by TJ) “Robert R. Livingston esq.” and (by an unidentified hand) “Clermont State of New York”; franked; postmarked Milton, 22 Apr., and New York, 27 Apr.; endorsed by Livingston as “private.” PoC (MHi); endorsed by TJ. Enclosure: Jefferson, Proceedings description begins Thomas Jefferson, The Proceedings of the Government of the United States, in maintaining The Public Right to the Beach of the Missisipi, Adjacent to New-Orleans, against the Intrusion of Edward Livingston. prepared for the use of counsel, by Thomas Jefferson, New York, 1812; Sowerby, nos. 3501, 3508; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 10 (no. 604) description ends .

Robert R. Livingston (1746–1813), statesman, diplomat, and agriculturist, was born in New York City and graduated from King’s College (now Columbia University) in 1765. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1770, served as recorder of New York City from 1773 until his revolutionary sympathies led to his removal in 1775, and represented New York in the Continental Congress, 1775–76, 1779–81, and 1784–85. Livingston served with TJ on the committee charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence but left for New York before the document was completed. He played a key role in drafting New York’s 1777 constitution and served as the state’s first chancellor, 1777–1801, in which capacity he administered the presidential oath to George Washington in 1789. As Congress’s first secretary of foreign affairs, 1781–83, Livingston directed the efforts of the American commissioners who negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris. In 1788 he made important contributions to New York’s ratification of the new federal constitution. Livingston refused TJ’s offer of the post of secretary of the navy in 1801 but accepted nomination the same year as minister plenipotentiary to France, serving until 1804 and successfully negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. His lifelong interest in experimental agriculture and mechanical inventions included service as the first president of New York’s Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts and Manufactures, 1791–1813, and first president of the American Academy of Fine Arts (later part of the National Academy of Design), 1801–02. Livingston was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1801. He did pioneering work on merino sheep husbandry and the use of gypsum as fertilizer and, in partnership with Robert Fulton, established a controversial steamboat monopoly on the Hudson and Mississippi rivers. Throughout TJ’s presidency the two leaders corresponded frequently on subjects ranging from politics to experimental science (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746–1813 [1960]; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 6:202, 22:467, 30:653–7, 31:56–7; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 16 Jan. 1801 [MS in PPAmP]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 9 Mar. 1813).

TJ began raising sheep of the tunisian breed, also known as barbary or broadtails, about 1806 (Lucia Stanton, Sheep for the President [2000], 3; Thornton to TJ, 30 Aug. 1809).

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Barrett, Oliver; spinning machine of search
  • cotton; as textile search
  • cotton; for clothing search
  • Essay on Sheep (Livingston) search
  • fiorin grass; TJ on search
  • flax; for clothing search
  • grass; fiorin search
  • Great Britain; TJ on war with search
  • hemp; weaving search
  • Herrick, Ebenezer; and Domestic Spinner (spinning machine) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; domestic manufacturing search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; newspapers search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; war with Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; The Proceedings of the Government of the United States, in maintaining the Public Right to the Beach of the Missisipi, Adjacent to New-Orleans, against the Intrusion of Edward Livingston search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; and merino sheep search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; Essay on Sheep search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; identified search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; letters to search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; TJ sends batture pamphlet to search
  • machines; spinning search
  • machines; spinning jenny search
  • manufacturing, household; TJ on search
  • merino sheep; TJ raises search
  • newspapers; TJ on search
  • sheep; Barbary search
  • sheep; broadtail search
  • spinning jennies search
  • spinning machines; TJ orders search
  • textiles; cotton search
  • textiles; home manufacture of search
  • The Proceedings of the Government of the United States, in maintaining the Public Right to the Beach of the Missisipi, Adjacent to New-Orleans, against the Intrusion of Edward Livingston (Thomas Jefferson); TJ distributes remaining copies search
  • wool; Barbary sheep search
  • wool; used for clothing search