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To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 8 February 1813

From Thomas Jefferson

Monticello Feb. 8. 13.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 27th. Ult.1 has been duly recieved. You have had a long holiday from my intrusions. In truth I have had nothing to write about; and your time should not be consumed by letters about nothing. The inclosed paper however makes it a duty to give you the trouble of reading it.2 You know the handwriting and the faith due to it. Our intimacy with the writer leaves no doubt about his facts, & in his letter to me he pledges himself for their fidelity.3 He says the Narrative was written at the request of a young friend in Virginia, and a copy made for my perusal on the presumption it would be interesting to me. Whether the word “Confidential” at the head of the paper was meant only for his young friend or for myself also, nothing in his letter indicates. I must therefore govern myself by considerations of discretion & of duty combined. Discretion dictates that I ought not so to use the paper as to compromit my friend; an effect which would be as fatal to my peace as it might be to his person. But duty tells me that the public interest is so deeply concerned in your perfect knolege of the characters employed in it’s high stations, that nothing should be witheld which can give you useful information. On these grounds I commit it to yourself & the Secretary at War, to whose functions it relates more immediately.4 It may have effect on your future designation of those to whom particular enterprizes are to be committed; and this is the object of the communication. If you should think it necessary that the minds of the other members of the Cabinet should be equally apprised of it’s contents, altho’ not immediately respecting their departments, the same considerations, and an entire confidence in them personally, would dictate it’s communication to them also. But beyond this no sense of duty calls on me for it’s disclosure, & fidelity to my friend strongly forbids it. The paper presents such a picture of indecision in purpose, inattention to preparation, & imprudence of demeanor, as to fix a total incompetence for military direction. How greatly we were decieved in this character, as is generally the case in appointments not on our own knolege. I remember when we appointed him we rejoiced in the acquisition of an officer of so much understanding & integrity as we imputed to him; and placed him as near the head of the army as the commands then at our disposal admitted.5 Perhaps still you may possess information giving a different aspect to this case, of which I sincerely wish it may be susceptible. I will ask the return of the paper when no longer useful to you.

The accession to your Cabinet meets general approbation.6 This is chiefly at present given to the character most known, but will be equally so to the other when better known. I think you could not have made better appointments.

The autumn and winter have been most unfriendly to the wheat in red lands, by continued cold and alternate frosts & thaws. The late snows of about 10. I. now disappearing, have revived it. That grain is got to two Dollars at Richmond. This is the true barometer of the popularity of the war. Ever affectionately Yours

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); FC and enclosure (DLC: Jefferson Papers). For enclosure, see n. 2.

1PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (6 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 5:628–29.

2Jefferson enclosed a copy of a 30 Dec. 1812 letter (22 pp.) from Isaac A. Coles, lieutenant colonel of the Twentieth Regiment of Infantry and formerly JM’s private secretary, to “a young friend in Virginia.” The letter described Alexander Smyth’s Niagara peninsular campaign, and was accompanied by seven pages of attachments providing an update on the campaign since Coles’s last letter of 30 Oct., together with a one-page hand-drawn map of Black Rock, Fort Erie, Squaw Island, and other locations along the Niagara River. The attachments consisted of “A” (Capt. James Bankhead’s order of 7 Nov. positioning troops, with an attached 8 Nov. order to build huts); “B” (a newspaper clipping of Smyth’s 10 Nov. 1812 letter “To the Men of the State of New York,” soliciting volunteers to support his planned invasion of Canada); “C” (a newspaper clipping of Smyth to “the Soldiers of the Army of the Centre,” dated 17 Nov. 1812, urging the volunteers and soldiers on to the conquest of Canada); “D” (Smyth’s order of 25 Nov. calling the troops to prepare for battle); “E” (Bankhead’s order of 26 Nov. stating that the general was “pleased with the example of silence and steadiness given by the soldiers last night”); “F” (an extract from the same order requiring the officers to have their men ready to be sent to the boatyard to practice rowing on the Niagara River); “G” (an order of 27 Nov. from Smyth calling up soldiers to march to the navy yard the following day prepared for embarkation and battle); and “H” (Smyth’s order of 29 Nov. again rallying the troops). Attachments “B,” “C,” “H,” and extracts from “D” are printed in Severance, “The Case of Alexander Smyth,” Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society 18 (1914): 226–34.

3Coles to Jefferson, 8 Jan. 1813 (DLC: Jefferson Papers).

4In an 8 Feb. 1813 letter to incoming Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jefferson wrote that he had “inclosed a paper to the President, with a request to communicate it to you” as well as to the rest of the cabinet if JM thought fit. He cautioned that “it should go no further” (ibid.).

5Jefferson referred to Smyth’s appointment as a colonel of Riflemen on 8 July 1808 (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 2:99).

6Jefferson referred to JM’s recent appointments of John Armstrong as secretary of war and William Jones as secretary of the navy (ibid., 2:315–16).

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