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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 1 January 1784

From Thomas Jefferson

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Cover missing. Docketed by JM, “Thos. Jefferson Jan 1 1784.” Beneath the docket appears in an unknown hand, “Buffons theory respecting the Globe.”

Annapolis Jan. 1. 1784.

Dear Sir

Your favour of the 10th. Dec. came to hand about a fortnight after its date.1 It has occasioned me to reflect a little more attentively on Buffon’s central heat than I did in the moment of our conversation and to form an opinion different from what I then expressed. the term ‘central heat’ does of itself give us a false idea of Buffon’s hypothesis. if it meant a heat lodged in the center of the earth and diffusing it’s warmth from thence to the extremities, then certainly it would be less in proportion to the distance from that center, & of course less under the equator than the poles, on high mountains than in deep vallies. but Buffon’s theory is that this earth was once in a state of hot fusion, and that it has been, and still continues to be cooling. What is the course of this process? a heated body being surrounded by a colder one whether solid or fluid, the heat, which is itself a fluid, flows into the colder body equally from every point of the hotter. hence if a heated spheroid of iron cools to a given degree, in a given space of time, an inch deep from its surface, in one point, it has in the same time done the same in any & every other point. in a given time more, it will be cooled all round to double that depth, so that it will always be equally cooled at equal depths from the surface. this would be the case of Buffon’s earth if it were a smooth figure without unevennesses, but it has mountains and vallies. the tops of mountains will cool to greater depths in the same time than the sides of mountains & than plains in proportion as the line a.b. is longer than a.c. or d.e. or f.g. in the valley the line h.i. or depth of the same temperature will be the same as on a plain. this

however is very different from Buffon’s opinion. he sais that the earth being thinnest at the poles will cool sooner there than under the equator where it is thicker. if my idea of the process of cooling be right his is wrong and his whole theory in the Epochs of nature is overset.2

The note which I delivered you contained an acknowledgement of my having borrowed from you a draught for 333 1/3 dollars and a promise to repay it on demand. This was exclusive of what I had borrowed in Philadelphia.3

We have never yet had more than 7. states, and very seldom that, as Maryland is scarcely ever present, and we are now without a hope of it’s attending till February. consequently having six states only, we do nothing. expresses & letters are gone forth to hasten on the absent states that we may have 9. for a ratification of the definitive treaty. Jersey perhaps may come in, and if Beresford will not come to Congress, Congress must go to him to do this one act. even now it is full late. the critical situation in which we are like to be gave birth to an idea that 7. might ratify, but it could not be supported.4 I will give you a further account of this when it shall be finally settled.5

The letters of our ministers inform us that the two empires have formed a league defensive against Christian powers & offensive agt the Turks. when announced by the Empress to the K. of Prussia he answered that he was very sensible on it as one is when informed of important things. France answered in a higher tone and offered to mediate. if Prussia will join France perhaps it may prevent the war: if he does not, it will be bold for France alone to take the aid of the Turks on herself.6 Ireland is likely to find employment for England.7 the United Netherlands are in high fermentation. the people now marshall themselves in arms and exercise regularly under the banners ensigns of their towns. their object is to reduce the powers of the Stadtholder.8

I have forwarded your letter to mrs. House. mrs. Trist I expect left Philadelphia about the 18th. of Dec. for Pittsburgh. I had a letter from her in which she complained of your not having written and desired me to mention it to you. I made your excuse on the good grounds of the delays you must have experienced on your journey & your distance from the post road: but I am afraid she was gone before my letter reached Philadelphia.9 I have had very ill health since I have been here and am getting rather lower than otherwise.10 I wish you every felicity and am with sincere affection

Your friend & servt.

Th: Jefferson

1Q.v. A letter from Montpelier, which was not on the post road, evidently took four days longer to go to Annapolis than a letter from Richmond to Philadelphia. See, however, Jefferson to JM, 20 Feb. 1784.

3Ibid., and n. 24.

4Ibid., and n. 3; Jefferson to JM, 11 Dec. 1783, and nn. 2, 3. On 23 December Congress adopted a motion, introduced by Hugh Williamson and seconded by Jefferson, instructing President Thomas Mifflin to inform the executives of New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Georgia “that the ratification of the definitive treaty, and several other matters” involving the national “safety, honor and good faith” now “require the immediate attendance of their delegates” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 836–37). On the same day Mifflin posted letters in conformance with this resolution. On 24 December 1783 he further emphasized the urgency by having an “Express” rush messages of the same tenor to the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 395–96).

Beginning on 2 January 1784 and continuing for five weeks thereafter, an effective vote was cast by Maryland, provided that its two delegates were in agreement on an issue. On 2 January 1784 Congress entertained a committee’s report, written by Jefferson, chairman, recommending that proposals upon “important” issues, including those relating “to the ratification of the Definitive Treaty,” require for their determination “the assent” of at least nine state delegations (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 2). For a compromise suggestion by Jefferson on this same matter, see Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 439–42. Until 25 February, New Jersey had only one delegate in attendance. Being detained in Philadelphia by illness, Richard Beresford was unable until 14 January to reach Annapolis and join his congressional colleague, Jacob Read, of South Carolina. On that day, “nine states being present,” Congress unanimously ratified the definitive peace treaty with Great Britain (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, lxvi, lxvii, lxx, lxxv, lxxvi; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXVI, 22–23).

6Jefferson appears to be referring to John Adams’ dispatch of 2 August to Robert R. Livingston, and perhaps also to Lafayette’s letter of 7 September 1783 to the president of Congress. This correspondence had been submitted to Congress on 13 December and referred to a committee of which Jefferson was chairman (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 87, 89; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 812, n. 2, 821–28; Wharton, Revol. Dipl. Corr description begins Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States (6 vols.; Washington, 1889). description ends ., VI, 629–31, 679–81).

In 1780 the “two empires” governed by Tsarina Catherine of Russia and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II of Austria, respectively, had concluded an offensive alliance against Turkey. Soon thereafter Joseph II resumed his policy of expanding the size of his personal domains at the expense of several German states. As countermoves, Frederick the Great of Prussia sought a rapprochement with Louis XVI of France and George III of Great Britain, continued to alienate Catherine the Great by threatening further encroachment upon Poland and by urging Turkey to resist Russian absorption of the Crimea, and in 1785, about a year before his death, succeeded in forming a confederation (Fürstenbund) of German princes to block Joseph II’s westward push. Turkey delayed until 1787 before declaring war on Russia, supported by Austria (A. W. Ward et al., eds., Cambridge Modern History, VI, 708–9).

7Although Parliament granted Ireland legislative independence in 1782, the Catholics there continued to demand the repeal of discriminatory legislation against them in the areas of religion, education, the legal profession, and ownership of property (Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates description begins William Cobbett, ed., The Parliamentary History of England from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806–20; continued as Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates). description ends , XXIII, cols. 17–47, 91–95, 147–51, 322–42, 730–57; A. W. Ward et al., eds., Cambridge Modern History, VI, 458–59, 496–505).

8Between “the” and “ensigns,” Jefferson interlineated “banners,” probably to make clear that by “ensigns” he meant flags rather than military officers. He seems to have read Charles G. F. Dumas’ missing dispatch from The Hague on 28 September. According to Charles Thomson’s record book of incoming letters, this communication dealt with “commotions in Holland” and reached Congress on 27 December 1783 (NA: PCC, No. 185, III, 90). The “commotions” had been caused by the generally unsuccessful demand of Emperor Joseph II that, in spite of the guarantee of the Treaty of Münster (1648), the Dutch should open their primary waterway, the Scheldt, to Austrian shipping (A. W. Ward et al., eds., Cambridge Modern History, VI, 642–46).

The efforts of the States-General to reduce the power of the stadtholder, William V, Prince of Orange and Nassau, reflected the dislike by the merchants in the Dutch cities of his partiality for Great Britain and his opposition, 1780–1782, to the conclusion of a treaty of amity and commerce between the Netherlands and the United States (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 220, n. 3; 287, n. 25; 291, n. 19; 292; V, 210; 211, n. 15; 214).

9JM to Jefferson, 10 Dec., and nn. 1, 25. For Mrs. Nicholas Trist’s letter of ca. 8 December to Jefferson, see Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N.J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 375–76. In his missing letter of 22 December 1783 to Mrs. Trist, Jefferson probably explained JM’s delay in writing (ibid., VI, 418).

10In a letter of 15 January 1784 to his daughter Patsy, Jefferson assured her that, although he had been in “very ill health” ever since his arrival in Annapolis, he was feeling “considerably better” (ibid., VI, 465–66).

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