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From Thomas Jefferson to James Sullivan, 9 February 1797

To James Sullivan

Monticello Feb. 9. 1797

Dear Sir

I have many acknolegements to make for the friendly [anxiety you are pleased] to express in your letter of Jan. 12. for my undertaking the office to which I have been elected. The idea that I would accept the office of President, but not that of Vice President of the US. had not it’s origin with me. I never thought of questioning the free exercise of the right of my fellow citizens to marshall those whom they call into their service according to their fitnesses; nor ever presumed that they were not the best1 judges of these. Had I indulged a wish in what manner they should dispose of me, it would precisely have coincided with what they have done. Neither the splendor, nor the power, nor the difficulties, nor the fame, or defamation as may happen,2 attached to the first magistracy3 have any attractions for me. The helm of a free government is always arduous, and never was ours more so than at a moment when4 two friendly people5 are like to be committed in war by the ill temper of their administrations. I am so much attached to my domestic situation that I would not have wished to leave it at all. However if I am to be called from it,6 the shortest absences, and most tranquil station suit me best.7 I value highly indeed the part my fellow citizens gave me in their late vote, as an evidence of8 their esteem, and I am happy in the information you are so kind as to give that many in the Eastern quarter entertain the same sentiment. Where a constitution, like ours, wears a mixed aspect9 of monarchy and republicanism, it’s citizens will naturally divide into two10 classes of sentiment, according as their tone of body or mind, their habits, connections, and callings induce them to wish to strengthen either the monarchical or the republican features of the constitution.11 Some will consider it as an elective monarchy which had better be made12 hereditary, and therefore endeavor to lead towards that all the forms and principles of it’s administration. Others will [view it] as an energetic republic, turning in all it’s points on the pivot of free and frequent elect[ions]. The great body of our native citizens13 are unquestionably of the republican sentiment.14 Foreign education, and foreign connections of interest have produced some exceptions15 in every part of the Union, North and South,16 and perhaps [other circumstances] in your quarter better known to you,17 may have thrown into the scale of exceptions a greater number of the rich. Still, there I believe, and here I am sure, the great mass is republican. Nor do any of the forms in which the public disposition has been pronounced in the last half dozen years evince the contrary. All of them, when traced to their true source, have only been evidences of the preponderant18 popularity of a particular great19 character. That influence once withdrawn20 and our countrymen left to the operation of their own unbiassed good sense, I have no doubt we shall see a pretty rapid return of general harmony, and our citizens moving in phalanx21 in the paths of regular liberty,22 order,23 and a sacro-sanct adherence to the constitution. Thus I think it will be if war with France can be avoided. But if that untoward event comes athwart us in our present point of deviation, nobody I believe can foresee into what port it will24 drive us.

I am always glad of an opportunity of enquiring after my most antient and respected friend Mr. Samuel Adams. His principles, founded on the [immoveable basis] of equal right and reason,25 have continued pure and unchanged. Permit me to place here my sincere veneration for him and wishes for his health and happiness, and to assure yourself of the sentiments of esteem and respect with which I am Dear Sir Your most obedt & most humble servt.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); faded, with missing words supplied in brackets from Dft; at foot of first page: “James Sullivan esq.” Dft (DLC); includes numerous emendations, the most important of which are noted below.

1In Dft TJ first wrote “better” before reworking it to read as above.

2In Dft TJ began this sentence “Neither the abuse, nor the difficulties, nor the power nor splendor” before altering it to read as above.

3Word interlined in Dft in place of “office.”

4In Dft TJ first wrote “and never was there a moment when ours was more so than at the present crisis when the administrations of” before altering the passage to read as above.

5In Dft TJ here canceled: “have got into such temper towards each other which threatens to.”

6In Dft TJ first wrote “the shorter the times of absences and the <less> more tranquil the station assigned me, the more agreeable it is to me” before altering the remainder of the sentence to read as above.

7In Dft TJ reversed the order of the following two sentences.

8In Dft TJ first wrote “the place I hold in their esteem and am particularly pleased with your information that there are many in the eastern quarter of our […] who think of me with approbation” before altering the remainder of this sentence to read as above.

9Here in Dft TJ interlined the preceding four words in place of “takes a middle position between.”

10TJ here canceled “descriptions” in Dft.

11In Dft TJ wrote the following two sentences in the margin.

12In Dft TJ first wrote “they wish to make” before altering it to read “it would be better to make.”

13In Dft TJ first wrote “of the people” before altering the clause to read as above.

14TJ here canceled in Dft: “I can say the whole body in the South, and I in the South it is every class, in the North I believe” before proceeding with the following sentence.

15In Dft TJ here canceled “[…] warped individuals from a communion of sentiment with their countrymen” before interlining the preceding three words.

16Dft: “South and North.”

17In Dft TJ first wrote “of which you are a better judge than I am” before altering the passage to read as above.

18Preceding word interlined in Dft in place of “paramount.”

19Preceding word interlined in Dft.

20In Dft TJ here canceled “I have no doubt we shall see.”

21In Dft TJ interlined the preceding three words in place of “in mass following or drawing their government.”

22In Dft TJ here canceled “equality and.”

23In margin of Dft TJ canceled the following passage before interlining the remainder of the sentence: “sensible that when that compact is considered as blank paper, their general government loses it’s only basis, [such] that <when that> those who like Peter in the tale of a tub deem every thing as authorised <by that instrument> which they can find in <it> that instrument in so many words, in so many syllables or so many letters, it is making it a blank paper.”

24In Dft TJ here canceled “throw us.”

25In Dft TJ first wrote “the basis of reason and justice” before altering the passage to read as above.

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