Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 30 May 1813

To James Monroe

Monticello May 30. 13

Dear Sir

I thank you for the communication of the President’s message which has not yet reached us thro’ the public papers. it is an interesting document, always looked for with anxiety, and the late one is equally able as interesting. I hope Congress will act in conformity with it in all it’s parts. the unwarrantable ideas often expressed in the newspapers, and by persons who ought to know better, that I intermeddle in the Executive councils, and the indecent expressions sometimes of a hope that mr Madison will pursue the principles of my administration, expressions so disrespectful to his known abilities & dispositions, have rendered it improper in me to hazard suggestions to him on occasions even where ideas might occur to me, that might accidentally escape him. this reserve has been strengthened too by a consciousness that my views must be very imperfect from the want of a correct knolege of the whole ground.

I lately however hazarded to him a suggestion on the defence of the Chesapeak because altho’ decided on provisionally with the Secretaries of War & the Navy formerly, yet as it was proposed only in the case of war, which did not actually arise, and not relating to his department, might not then have been communicated to him. of this fact my memory did not ascertain me. I will now hazard another suggestion to yourself, which indeed grows out of that one: it is, the policy of keeping our frigates together in a body, in some place where they can be defended against a superior naval force, and from whence nevertheless they can easily sally forth on the shortest warning. this would oblige the enemy to take stations or to cruize only in masses equal at least each of them to our whole force: and of course they could be acting only in 2. or 3. spots at a time, and the whole of our coast, except the 2. or 3. portions where they might1 be present, would be open to exportation and importation. I think all that part of the US. over which the waters of the Chesapeake spread themselves was blockaded in the early season by a single ship. this would keep our frigates in entire safety, as they would go out only occasionally to oppress a blockading force known to be weaker than themselves, and thus make them a real protection to our whole commerce. and it seems to me that this would be a more essential service, than that of going out by ones, or by twos, in search of adventures, which contribute little to the protection of our commerce, and not at all to the defence of our coast, or the shores of our inland waters. a defence of these by militia, is most harassing to them. the applications from Maryland, which I have seen in the papers, & those from Virginia which I suspect, merely because I see such masses of the militia calld off from their farms must be embarrassing to the Executive, not only from a knolege of the incompetency of such a mode of defence, but from the exhausture of funds which ought to be husbanded for the effectual operations of a long war. I fear too it will render the militia discontented, perhaps clamorous for an end of the war on any terms. I am happy to see that it is entirely popular as yet, and that no symptom2 of flinching from it appears among the people, as far as I can judge from the public papers, or from my own observation, limited to the few counties adjacent to the two branches of James river. I have such confidence that what I suggest has been already maturely discussed in the Cabinet, and that for wise & sufficient reasons the present mode of employing the frigates is the best, that I hesitate about sending this even after having written. yet, in that case it will only have given you the trouble of reading it, you will bury it in your own breast, as non-avenue, and see in it only an unnecessary zeal on my part, and a proof of the unlimited confidence of Your’s ever & affectionately

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Monroe Papers); addressed: “James Monroe Secretary of State Washington. Col.”; franked; postmarked Charlottesville, 2 June; endorsed by Monroe. PoC (DLC).

For the president’s message, see note to John Wayles Eppes to TJ, 25 May 1813. The applications from maryland included appeals from Governor Levin Winder and the state’s council and legislature to President James Madison in the spring of 1813 for federal assistance in defraying the expenses incurred by Maryland for its defense against British naval forces invading the Chesapeake (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., 6:240–1, 322–3). In a message to the state legislature dated 17 May 1813, Winder reported that military supplies were running low. In order to comply with new orders from the secretary of war to raise an additional militia force, he suggested that the legislature authorize the organization of volunteer militias with the power of electing their own officers as a way to reduce the strain of mobilizing further contingents of ordinary militia (Georgetown Federal Republican and Commercial Gazette, 24 May 1813). non-avenue: a short form of “nul et non avenu”; not having happened, annulled (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 ).

1Word interlined in place of “would.”

2Manuscript: “sumptom.” In attempting to correct this spelling error, TJ mistakenly attached the tail of the “y” to the first “m.”

Index Entries

  • Chesapeake Bay; British blockade of search
  • Chesapeake Bay; defense of search
  • Congress, U.S.; J. Madison’s messages to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; defense of Chesapeake Bay search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; militia search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; newspapers search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; U.S. Navy search
  • Madison, James; messages to Congress search
  • Madison, James; TJ’s supposed influence over search
  • Maryland; calls for federal assistance from search
  • Maryland; legislature of search
  • Maryland; militia of search
  • militia; TJ on search
  • Monroe, James; letters to search
  • Monroe, James; TJ advises on U.S. naval policy search
  • newspapers; TJ on search
  • War of1812; support for search
  • Winder, Levin search