Thomas Jefferson Papers
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William Duane to Thomas Jefferson, 14 February 1813 [postscript, 9 March 1813]

From William Duane

Phila Feb 14. 1813

Respected Sir,

I could not before this day find an opportunity undisturbed to answer yours of the 22d ult. Never having been much of a pecuniary calculator, it is absolutely out of my power to say how my account with the Review of Montesquieu stands. When pressed hard last year by the combination of one set of old friends and the desertion of the rest, I found in the sacrifice of a considerable number of the review, for the price of print and paper some little aid in saving me from wreck; and as every cent then was in effect as good as a dollar when I did not want the dollar, I have derived some gratification in that respect, that even my wants contributed to utility; and in fact I feel perfectly satisfied, beside that I have some copies remaining which I sell now and then at 2$ allowing the bookseller who rents my store, the usual discount. I have made various efforts to have the book reviewed in Boston, N. York, and here without success; and even a copy which Mr Ronaldson deposited in the hands of the Edinburg Reviewers Editor, has had no better success; such is the conspiracy against virtue even among those who profess themselves the lovers of light & literature. I had once an inclination to send a copy to W. L. Smith of Charleston in return for an anecdote of Dr Franklin which he volunteered to me; but as I was about to dispatch it, I found he took himself off. I shall send you the original French Mss. by mail as soon as the weather clears so as to secure it from danger of wet on the road; and I shall be grateful for the Copy of Tracys work, which I shall be able to go through as a change of exercise during the Summer.

I should not have ventured to touch upon political affairs, had you not mentioned the subject, having considered a former letter as in some measure interdicting me on that topic—and while I attempt it now I feel loth lest my ideas should give you pain; and am only justified to myself by the intention, which is not to give pain but to give the sentiments of a feeling and minute observer.

I believe it is unnecessary1 to repeat how fatally realized my predictions have been on our military affairs—the sacrifices in the west are not at an end, and I shall be very well content if Harrison after spending a million of dollars in his erratic course, returns with the western youth safe to their homes. The sacrifice on the Raisin river is only a second edition of Tippecanoe—Detroit—Queenstown, and Buffaloe, are all the fruit of the shocking disregard of common sense in the choice of unfit, incapable, and profligate men, raised by the vilest intrigues to stations in which the sacrifice of virtuous men was to be the fruit of their elevation. The solitary influence of gallantry in the subalterns & soldiers, reflects back and renders more conspicuous the imbecility of those who were the leaders! I could go into a history of transactions on this subject that would shock you—I forbear—but it will be history. What could we expect but reverses, when one general was appointed full of years only to prevent his being a rival candidate to a member of Congress from the same district. Another because the Secretary at War declared “he could not have conducted the business against Wilkinson, had it not been for his aid.” If I could believe that providence ever interfered in human affairs or murdered the innocent to expiate the sins of the guilty who were spared, I should consider our sufferings in the last campaign a punishment for the shocking persecution of the man of all others best adapted to save the country from such disasters as ignorance and imbecillity have brought upon us. How could we expect any thing but reverses—When I am well authorised to say, that the very first news of the war, given to the enemy, by which Machilimackinac was taken and baggage intercepted, was communicated from Washington! I have experienced your repugnance to believe any thing sinister of particular men—I therefore forbear to name the person under whose frank that news passed to the North West companys agent. Whenever Hull’s trial comes on the fact will appear. I do not choose to place myself again in that point of public view, which may expose me to persecution, my family to destruction, and the cruel abandonment of those who owed me nothing but gratitude, and to whom I owe nothing but the blushes which the recollection of their conduct always produces—

The policy which has been pursued towards British agents in admitting cargoes notoriously contrary to established law, has had a fatal effect on the minds of the men most devoted to the republic—a change in that course of policy and the influence which directs, is the wish of thousands, and it cannot be long before it cannot be avoided it squats like an incubus on the executive power and benumbs the whole government.

I have had repeated applications made to me to make a public exposition of numerous facts—I determined when the war was declared that I would not countenance any expositions which were not of vital importance to the state, and I have adhered to it; where I could not applaud I have been silent, and I have endeavored by private communications to render every service in my power.

I should write more frequently to you, if I did not apprehend, it would be disagreeable; I have written now only in consequence of your touching the subject.

I shall be glad to receive Tracys work whenever you may think proper to send it. Have you seen Ganilh’s book on Political Economy—I find it translated into English published at N. York is worthy of your perusal.

Believe me ever affectionately Yours

Wm Duane

This letter has been delayed till this date (9 March) by a rumor that you were unwell; Col. Coles who called here removed my fears first on that head—but the letter has lain over until taken up among the last months miscellaneous business. Mr Madisons message about the licenses and his speech on his reelection have given new hopes to the republicans—But the failure of the laws in the Senate has excited equal disgust. Mr M. chose the Greater Evil and got rid of the lesser two years ago.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 20 Mar. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

TJ eventually attributed the failure of efforts to have Destutt de Tracy, Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, evaluated by the edinburg reviewers editor Francis Jeffrey to the latter’s bias against any American publication (TJ to Lafayette, 17 May 1816). William Loughton smith, a prominent Federalist political leader and author, took himself off by dying on 19 Dec. 1812 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ). In a letter dated 30 Apr. 1811, TJ counseled Duane to seek compromise and trust his fellow Republicans more on political affairs.

Brigadier General William Henry harrison moved in January 1813 to the northwest theater of war with a force of Kentucky militiamen. He failed to unite his forces with those of Brigadier General James Winchester, who surrendered to the British at the raisin river on 22 Jan. The following day Indian troops avenged themselves for earlier Kentuckian assaults on Indian captives by killing about sixty American prisoners of war (John C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830 [1983], 224–5). full of years at fifty-seven when commissioned a brigadier general in April 1812, Morgan Lewis had been tapped by the powerful DeWitt Clinton to win the New York governorship in 1804, but their subsequent feud polarized their party, and Clinton may have wanted to prevent Lewis from becoming a congressional candidate in 1812 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ). secretary at war William Eustis likely gained Wade Hampton’s assistance in conducting the last court-martial against Brigadier General James wilkinson (Donald E. Graves, “The Hard School of War: A Collective Biography of the General Officers of the United States Army in the War of 1812,” War of 1812 Magazine [Feb. 2006]: 7–8, 12). Duane regularly criticized what he regarded as the shocking persecution of Wilkinson (Philadelphia Weekly Aurora, 7 Jan., 25 Feb., 10 Mar., 8 Sept., 6 Oct. 1812, 23 Feb. 1813).

Nearing Detroit late in June 1812 but not yet aware that war had been declared, Brigadier General William Hull hired the schooner Cuyahoga to carry his baggage, including official papers, which was quickly intercepted by the British who knew that war had commenced and welcomed the stategic advantage afforded them by the seized materials (Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict [1989], 81). The United States government had turned a blind eye to American wartime trade with Canada, the Iberian peninsula, the West Indies, and British ships in American waters conducted under special licenses issued by british agents (Hickey, “American Trade Restrictions during the War of 1812,” Journal of American History 68 [1981]: 527–8).

Charles ganilh’s work on political economy, Des Systèmes d’Économie Politique, de leurs Inconvéniens, de leurs Avantages, Et de la doctrine la plus favorable aux progrès de la richesse des nations, 2 vols. (Paris, 1809), had been translated into english as An Inquiry into the Various Systems of Political Economy; Their Advantages and Disadvantages, and The Theory Most Favourable to the Increase of National Wealth, trans. Daniel Boileau (New York, 1812).

In his 24 Feb. 1813 message about the licenses, President James Madison denounced especially the recent British policy of encouraging issuance of trade licenses in New England. He recommended an “effectual prohibition of any trade whatever, by Citizens or inhabitants of the United States, under special licenses, whether relating to persons or ports; and in aid thereof a prohibition of all exportations from the United States in foreign bottoms” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 8:708; printed in Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 6:61–2). The following month the House of Representatives accordingly passed bills “to prohibit the use of licenses or passes issued under the authority of any foreign Government” and “to prohibit the exportation of certain articles… in foreign ships and vessels,” but these bills languished in the Senate (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 8:708, 721, 730 [24 Feb., 1, 2 Mar. 1813]; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States description ends , 5:295 [3 Mar. 1813]).

Madison’s speech on his reelection, his 4 Mar. 1813 second inaugural address, justified the declaration of war against Great Britain, observed that nothing less than American sovereignty was at stake, reviewed British outrages including impressment of American seamen, denounced Great Britain for allying with Indians, accused the enemy of undermining political stability in the United States, praised American bounty and resourcefulness in meeting wartime needs, anticipated a short war, and highlighted American naval successes instead of disasters ashore (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 6:85–7). In 1811 Madison (mr m.) had chosen to keep the greater evil, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, while ousting the lesser, Secretary of State Robert Smith.

1Manuscript: “unnecssary.”

Index Entries

  • Clinton, DeWitt; and party politics search
  • Coles, Isaac A.; mentioned search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); reviews of search
  • Des Systèmes d’Économie Politique (Ganilh) search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Élémens d’Idéologie search
  • Duane, William; and Republican supporters search
  • Duane, William; letters from search
  • Duane, William; on War of1812 search
  • Edinburgh Review search
  • Élémens d’Idéologie (Destutt de Tracy) search
  • Eustis, William; and J. Wilkinson’s court-martial search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; mentioned search
  • Ganilh, Charles; Des Systèmes d’Économie Politique search
  • Great Britain; and trading licenses search
  • Hampton, Wade; mentioned search
  • Harrison, William Henry; War of1812service of search
  • House of Representatives, U.S.; and trade licenses search
  • Hull, William; papers of captured search
  • impressment; of American seamen search
  • Indians; and War of1812 search
  • Jeffrey, Francis search
  • Lewis, Morgan search
  • Madison, James; on trade licenses search
  • Madison, James; second inaugural address search
  • Ronaldson, James; mentioned search
  • Senate, U.S.; and trade licenses search
  • Smith, William Loughton; W. Duane on search
  • War of1812; W. Duane on search
  • Wilkinson, James; court-martial of search
  • Winchester, James; and Battle of River Raisin search