Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Small, 7 May 1775

To William Small

Virginia May 7. 1775.

Dear Sir

I had the pleasure by a gentleman who saw you at Birmingham to hear of your welfare. By Capt. Aselby of the True-patriot belonging to Messrs. Farrell & Jones of Bristol I send you three dozen bottles of Madeira, being the half of a present which I had laid by for you. The captain was afraid to take more on board lest it should draw upon him the officers of the customs. The remaining three dozen therefore I propose to send by Capt. Drew belonging to the same mercantile house, who is just arrived here. That which goes by Aselby will be delivered by him to your order; the residue by Drew, or by Farrell & Jones, I know not which as yet. I hope you will find it fine as it came to me genuine from the island and has been kept in my own cellar eight years.

Within this week we have received the unhappy news of an action of considerable magnitude between the king’s troops and our brethren of Boston, in which it is said 500. of the former with Earl Piercy are slain. That such an action has happened is undoubted, tho’ perhaps the circumstances may not yet have reached us with truth. This accident has cut off our last hopes of reconciliation, and a phrenzy of revenge seems to have seized all ranks of people.1 It is a lamentable circumstance that the only mediatory power acknoleged by both parties, instead of leading to a reconciliation his divided people, should pursue the incendiary purpose of still blowing up the flames as we find him constantly doing in every speech and public declaration. This may perhaps be intended to intimidate into acquiescence, but the effect has been most unfortunately otherwise. A little knolege of human nature and attention to it’s ordinary workings might have foreseen that the spirits of the people here were in a state in which they were more likely to be provoked than frightened by haughty deportment. And, to fill up the measure of irritation, proscription of individuals has been substituted in the room of just trial. Can it be beleived that a grateful people will suffer those to be consigned to execution whose sole crime has been the developing and asserting their rights? Had the parliament possessed the liberty of reflection they would have avoided a measure as impotent as it was inflammatory.2 When I saw Lord Chatham’s bill I entertained high hope that a reconciliation could have been brought about. The difference between his terms and those offered by our congress might have been accomodated if entered on by both parties with a disposition to accomodate. But the dignity of parliament it seems can brook no opposition to it’s power. Strange that a set of men who have made sale of their virtue to the minister should yet talk of retaining dignity!—But I am getting into politics tho’ I sat down only to ask your acceptance of the wine, and express my constant wishes for your happiness. This however seems secured by your philosophy and peaceful vocation. I shall still hope that amidst public dissension private friendship may be preserved inviolate, and among the warmest you can ever possess is that of Your obliged humble servt.,

Th. Jefferson

RC (Assay Office, Birmingham, England). Dft (DLC). The recipient’s copy is addressed to William Small “in Birmingham by the true patriot,” but the address is not in TJ’s hand and is partly obscured by a stain. Endorsed by the unknown recipient: “T. Jefferson to Dr Small 1775.” Two significant variations between the two copies are given in the textual notes.

Small, TJ’s former teacher and close friend, had returned to England in the fall of 1764; he died 18 Feb. 1775, at the age of forty, some months before TJ’s letter was written (Herbert L. Ganter, “William Small, Jefferson’s Beloved Teacher,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly description ends ,3d ser., iv [1947], 505–11; Mr. Ganter prints and thoroughly annotates the present letter in his article). Composed with extreme care, and bringing in political issues in a studiously casual way, the letter to Small should be compared with TJ’s letter to John Randolph of 25 Aug. 1775. Lord Chatham’s bill, presented in the House of Lords on 1 Feb. 1775 after consultation with Benjamin Franklin, was a plan for an imperial union: he proposed that the Continental Congress be made official and permanent, that it be asked to make a voluntary grant for imperial purposes, and that Parliament suspend the punitive acts; this plan, after warm debate, was voted down by the ministerial majority (Hansard, Parl. Hist., xviii, 198–215; Van Doren, Franklin, p. 508–13).

1In the Dft there follows a long passage which has been struck out: “It is a lamentable thing that the persons entrusted by the king with the administration of government should have kept their emploiers under such constant delusion. It appears now by their letters laid before the parliament that from the beginning they have labored to make the ministry beleive that the whole ferment has been raised and constantly kept up by a few <hot headed demagogues> principal men in every colony, and that it might be expected to subside in a short time either of itself, or by the assistance of a coercive power. The reverse of this is most assuredly the truth: the utmost efforts of the more intelligent people having been requisite and exerted to moderate the almost ungovernable fury of the people. That the abler part has been pushed forward to support their rights in the feild of reason is true; and it was there alone they wished to decide the contest. To these men those very governors who have so much traduced them are indebted that there is this day one man of them left in existence. Within this week past there have been at least 10,000 men in arms in this colony, from whom Ld. Dunmore was in the last danger. Some of them had got within 16. miles of the capitol before the intercessions of the principal people could prevail on them to return to their habitations. This however was at length done and at present we appear to possess internal quiet.”

2Lined out in Dft: “But for god’s sake where am I got to? For ever absorbed in the distresses of my country I cannot for three sentences keep clear of it’s political struggles.” TJ then added at the foot of the page the following sentences on Chatham’s Bill for insertion at this point.

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