Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Circular to the Governors of the States, 25 February 1803

Circular to the Governors of the States

Washington City
February 25th. 1803

Sir

In compliance with a request of the House of Representatives of the US. as well as with a sense of what is necessary, I take the liberty of urging on you the importance and indispensible necessity of vigorous exertions, on the part of the state governments, to carry into effect the militia system adopted by the national legislature, agreeably to the powers reserved to the states respectively, by the constitution of the US. and in a manner the best calculated to ensure such a degree of military discipline, & knowledge of tactics, as will, under the auspices of a benign providence, render the militia a sure and permanent bulwark of national defence.

None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. to keep ours armed and disciplined, is therefore at all times important. but especially so at a moment when rights the most essential to our welfare1 have been violated, and an infraction of treaty committed without colour or pretext. and altho’ we are willing to believe that this has been the act of a subordinate agent only, yet it is wise to prepare for the possibility that it may have been the leading measure of a system. While therefore we are endeavoring, and with a considerable degree of confidence, to obtain by friendly negociation a peaceable redress of the injury, and effectual provision against it’s repetition, let us array the strength of the nation, and be ready to do with promptitude & effect whatever a regard to justice & our future security may require.

In order that I may have a full and correct view of the resources of our country in all it’s different parts, I must desire you, with as little delay as possible, to have me furnished with a return of the militia, & of the arms & accoutrements of your state, and of the several counties, or other geographical divisions of it.

Accept assurances of my high consideration and respect.

Dft (DLC); in TJ’s hand, except for dateline added in an unidentified hand. RC (VtMS); dated 25 Feb. 1803; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; at foot of text: “Vermont”; endorsed: “In General Assembly Octr. 15th. 1803. Read and referred to the Committee appointed to enquire into the state of the Militia” and “In Council 15th. Octr. 1803. Read and Concurred.” RC (Vi); dated February 1803; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; at foot of text: “Virginia”; endorsed. RC (CSmH); dated February 1803; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ. RC (Christie’s, New York City, 1995); dated February 1803; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; at foot of text: “Georgia.” RC (Christie’s, New York City, 2004); dated February 1803; in a clerk’s hand, signed by TJ; at foot of text: “Maryland”; endorsed. Recorded in SJL at 25 Feb. 1803 with notation “Governors. circular. resoln. of Congress.”

request of the house: on 7 Feb. 1803, the House committee considering the portion of TJ’s annual message that related to the militia made its report. It concluded with a resolution requesting that the president write the state governors “urging the importance and indispensible necessity of vigorous exertions, on the part of the state governments,” to carry into effect the militia system adopted by Congress, “in a manner the best calculated to ensure such a degree of military discipline and knowlege of tactics, as will under the auspices of a benign providence, render the militia a sure and permanent bulwark of national defence.” The House agreed to the resolution on 14 Feb. and appointed Joseph B. Varnum and William Butler to present it to the president (Report of the Committee, Appointed on so Much of the President’s Message, of the 15th of December Last, “As Relates to the Militia Institution of the United States” [Washington, D.C., 1803], 5; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 4:340).

infraction of treaty committed: the termination by the Spanish intendant of the right of deposit at New Orleans.

1Word interlined in place of “existence.”

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