Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to John Armstrong, 6 March 1809

To John Armstrong

Washington Mar. 6. 09.

Dear Sir

This will be handed you by mr Coles, the bearer of public dispatches, by an Aviso. he has lived with me as Secretary, is my wealthy neighbor at Monticello, & worthy of all confidence. his intimate knolege of our situation has induced us to send him, because he will be a full supplement as to all those things which cannot be detailed in writing. he can possess you of our present situation much more intimately than you can understand it from letters. the belligerent edicts rendered our embargo necessary to call home our ships, our seamen, & property. we expected some effect too from the coercion of interest. some it has had; but much less on account of evasions & domestic opposition to it. after 15. months continuance it is now discontinued, because, losing 50 millions of D. of exports annually by it, it costs more than war, which might be carried on for a third of that, besides what might be got by reprisal. war therefore must follow if the edicts are not repealed before the meeting of Congress in May. you have thought it advisable sooner to take possession of adjacent territories. but we know that they are ours the first moment that any war is forced upon us for other causes, that we are at hand to anticipate their possession, if attempted by any other power, and, in the meantime, we are lengthening the term of our prosperity, liberating our revenues, & increasing our power. I suppose Napoleon will get possession of Spain: but her colonies will deliver themselves to any member of the Bourbon family. perhaps Mexico will chuse it’s sovereign within itself. he will find them much more difficult to subdue than Austria or Prussia; because an enemy (even in peace an enemy) possesses the element over which he is to pass to get at them; & a more powerful enemy (climate) will soon mow down his armies after arrival. this will be, without any doubt, the most difficult enterprise the emperor has ever undertaken. he may subdue the small colonies; he never can the old & strong: & the former will break off from him the first war he has again with a naval power.

I thank you for having procured for me the Dynamometer which I have safely recieved, as well as the plough. mr Coles will reimburse what you were so kind as to advance for me on that account. The letters which will be written you by the new Secretary of State (mr Smith)) say to you what is meant to be official. for altho’ I too have written on politics, it is merely as a private individual, which I am now happily become. within two or three days I retire from scenes of difficulty, anxiety & of contending passions to the elysium of domestic affections & the irresponsible direction of my own affairs. safe in port myself, I shall look anxiously at my friends still buffeting the storm, and wish you all safe in port also. with my prayers for your happiness & prosperity, Accept the assurances of my sincere friendship & great respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NN: Thomas Jefferson Papers); at foot of first page: “Genl Armstrong”; endorsed by Armstrong. PoC (DLC). Tr (MHi); posthumous copy.

John Armstrong (1758–1843), a native of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, attended the College of New Jersey and served as a Continental army staff officer during the Revolutionary War. After representing New York in the United States Senate, 1800–02 and 1803–04, he was appointed minister to France by TJ in June 1804, replacing his brother-in-law Robert R. Livingston. Armstrong held this appointment until 1810. He was commissioned a brigadier general during the War of 1812 and became James Madison’s secretary of war in February 1813, resigning in September 1814 shortly after the British capture of Washington, for which he was widely blamed (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 ; Princetonians description begins James McLachlan and others, eds., Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 1976–90, 5 vols. description ends , 1776–83, pp. 4–14; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:471, 473 [12, 20 Nov. 1804]; C. Edward Skeen, John Armstrong, Jr., 1758–1843: A Biography [1981]).

An aviso is a ship commissioned to carry dispatches (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). The belligerent edicts were Napoleon’sBerlin and Milan decrees (1806 and 1807, respectively) allowing French ships to capture neutral vessels that visited British ports, and the British Orders in Council (November 1807), which established an economic blockade of European ports.On 1 Mar. 1809, shortly before its final adjournment, the Tenth Congress repealed the embargo by enacting the Non-Intercourse Act, which opened trade with other countries but prohibited it with Great Britain and France. The Embargo Act of December 1807 had prohibited all ships in United States ports from sailing abroad.An early session of the Eleventh Congress was called for 22 may 1809 in order to review foreign policy.

TJ had wanted a dynamometer since 1796, although he did not then know what it was called. In May of that year William Strickland attempted to get him one in London. A spring-operated instrument for measuring the amount of energy exerted by an animal or any mechanical force, the dynamometer was used in testing a plough’s resistance. TJ received a Guillaume plough from the Société d’agriculture du département de la Seine sometime in the spring of 1808 (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 29:115–6; Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, 1953 description ends , 58; Betts, Garden Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, 1944 description ends , 372, 374, 376).

Index Entries

  • Armstrong, John; identified search
  • Armstrong, John; letters to search
  • Armstrong, John; sends dynamometer to TJ search
  • avisos search
  • Berlin and Milan decrees; described search
  • Berlin and Milan decrees; TJ on search
  • Coles, Isaac A.; carries TJ’s correspondence to Europe search
  • Congress, U.S.; and Non-Intercourse Act search
  • Congress, U.S.; early session called search
  • dynamometers; forwarded by I. A. Coles search
  • Embargo Act (1807); TJ on search
  • France; Berlin and Milan decrees search
  • Great Britain; Orders in Council (1807) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Napoleon search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; retirement search
  • Livingston, Robert R.; family of search
  • Madison, James; and appointments search
  • Mexico; TJ on search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; TJ on search
  • Non-Intercourse Act; enacted search
  • plows.; Guillaume search
  • Smith, Robert; secretary of state search
  • Société d’agriculture du département de la Seine; sends plow to TJ search
  • Spain; TJ on search
  • Strickland, Sir William search