Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Rogers Clark, 26 November 1782

To George Rogers Clark

Nov. 26. 1782.

Dear Sir

I received in August your favour wherein you give me hopes of your being able to procure for me some of the big bones. I should be unfaithful to my own feelings were I not to express to you how much I am obliged by your attention to the request I made you on that subject. A specimen of each of the several species of bones now to be found is to me the most desireable object in Natural history, and there is no expence of package or of safe transportation which I will not gladly reimburse to procure them safely. Elkhorns of very extraordinary size, petrifactions, or any thing else uncommon would be very acceptable. New London in Bedford, Staunton in Augusta, or Fredericksburg are places from whence I can surely get them. Mr. Steptoe in the first place, Colo. Matthews in the second, Mr. Dick in the third will take care of them for me. You will perhaps hear of my being gone to Europe, but my trip there will be short. I mention this lest you should hesitate in forwarding any curiosities for me. Any observations of your own on the subject of the big bones or their history, or on any thing else in the Western country, will come acceptably to me, because I know you see the works of nature in the great, and not merely in detail. Descriptions of animals, vegetables, minerals, or other curious things, notes as to the Indians, information of the country between the Missisipi and waters of the South sea &c. &c. will strike your mind as worthy being communicated. I wish you had more time to pay attention to them.

I perceive by your letter you are not unapprised that your services to your country have not made due impression on every mind. That you have enemies you must not doubt, when you reflect that you have made yourself eminent. If you meant to escape malice you should have confined yourself within the sleepy line of regular duty. When you transgressed this and enterprized deeds which will hand down your name with honour to future times, you made yourself a mark for malice and envy to shoot at. Of these there is enough both in and out of office. I was not a little surprized however to find one person hostile to you as far as he has personal courage to shew hostility to any man. Who he is you will probably have heard, or may know him by this description as being all tongue without either head or heart.1 In the variety of his crooked2 schemes however, his interests may probably veer about so as to put it in your power to be useful to him; in which case he certainly will be your friend again if you want him. That you may long continue a fit object for his enemity and for that of every person of his complexion in the state, which I know can only be by your continuing to do good to your country and honour to yourself is the earnest prayer of one who subscribes himself with great truth & sincerity Dr. Sir Your friend & servt.,

Th: Jefferson

RC (WHi); docketed in the hand of Lyman C. Draper. Dft (DLC). Neither copy bears external evidence as to the addressee, but RC is among the Clark Papers in the Draper Collection, and TJ is manifestly replying to Clark’s letter of 20 Feb. 1782, received in August. This letter has been printed from Dft by HAW description begins Henry A. Washington, ed.,The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,Washington, 1853–1854 description ends , by Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed.,The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,“Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends and by l & B as if addressed to “Mr.” or “James Steptoe,” who is, however, mentioned in the letter itself. Dft shows numerous corrections and varies in small details from RC; one major correction is recorded below.

Both the long deletion indicated below and the embittered characterization of the one person hostile to you in the text above prove that TJ had Patrick Henry in mind. On many other occasions for the next four decades TJ expressed derogatory (and occasionally commendatory) estimates of Henry, but rarely did he exceed the bitterness exhibited in the present letter. This attitude was undoubtedly due to the fact that TJ considered Henry the one who had induced George Nicholas to introduce the resolution in the General Assembly calling for an investigation of the conduct of the Executive and had made TJ the target of a cruel and vindictive but hidden assault (see TJ to Isaac Zane, 24 Dec. 1781; for other characterizations of Henry, see TJ to Madison, 7 May 1783, 8 Dec. 1784, and 18 Mch. 1785; to William Wirt, 12 Apr. 1812; to William Short, 16 Oct. 1792; and to Archibald Stuart, 14 May 1799).

1Preceding two sentences read as follows in Dft: “I was not a little surprized however to find one person <your enemy> hostile to you as far as he has personal courage to <be the enemy of> shew hostility to any man. <You will know who I mean by recollecting among those who concerted with you your first great expedition one who is> Who he is you will probably have heard, or may know him by this description as being,” &c., as in RC.

2By “crooked” TJ meant that the schemes were devious or tortuous, not criminal or dishonest. TJ thought that Henry’s capacity for intrigue and manipulation exceeded his indubitable eloquence, but there is no evidence that he ever considered him venal.

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