Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Abner Nash, 11 March 1783

To Abner Nash

Philadelphia Mar. 11. 1783

Dear Sir

Since I had the pleasure of seeing you at Baltimore I have further reflected on the proposition you were so kind as to make me there of entering into a partnership for the purpose of purchasing some of the escheated territory in your state. I consider it as one of those fair opportunities of bettering my situation which in private prudence I ought to adopt, and which were I to consider myself merely as a private man I should adopt without condition or hesitation. But I find it is the opinion of some gentlemen that the interests of land companies may by possibility be brought on the carpet of negotiation in Europe.1 Whether I may or may not participate in those negotiations remains still as incertain as it was in the moment of our conversation on this subject. However I having hitherto while concerned in the direction of public affairs made it a rule to avoid engaging in any of those enterprizes which on becoming the subjects of public deliberation might lay my judgment under bias or oblige me for fear of that to withdraw from the decision altogether, I would wish still to pursue that line of conduct.2 Indeed I feel the obligation to do it the stronger in proportion to the magnitude of the trust at present confided to me. If my mission to Europe be still pursued I would chuse for my own satisfaction as well as for that of Congress to have not a single interest which in any point of the negotiation might separate me from the great bulk of my countrymen, or expose me to a suspicion of having any object to pursue which might lead me astray from the general. You will therefore be sensible that my situation does not leave me an equal liberty with the other gentlemen of availing myself of this opportunity of repairing some of my losses; on the contrary that it calls for this in addition to the sacrifices I have already made. I therefore make it; begging leave at the same time to tender you my sincerest acknowledgements for this proof of your friendship. A return to a private character and determination to continue in it may yet perhaps restore me the liberty enjoyed by the mass of my fellow citizens of doing something for myself.3 In this event it is not improbable that I may trouble you with an application for readmission to this proposition if it should not be too far advanced to admit it, which in such case I shall do with all the freedom your former friendship has encouraged me to use. We are still as I before mentioned to you uninformed what is likely to be the issue of the present negotiations. While circumstances in general seem to portend a happy conclusion some have arisen which bear a more doubtful aspect. The common cry is that we cannot possibly be left much longer in suspence. Should the gentleman who furnishes me with a conveiance of this letter be on the road, you may possibly hear the great event before you receive this. Whether I may be disposed of on this or the other side the water I shall always be happy to hear from you and to avail myself of every opportunity of assuring you of the sincer[e] esteem with which I have the honour to be Dr Sir Your friend & servt.

Dft (DLC); endorsed: “Nash, Govr. 83. Mar. 11.” Dft was heavily corrected in the course of composition, revealing the difficulties TJ experienced in the effort to withdraw from his first tentative engagement in land speculation. Some of the corrections are noted below.

When TJ wrote this letter, he was convinced that he would not be sent to Europe and would soon return to Virginia (see his letters to Eppes and Pendleton of 4 Mch. 1783). The question at once arises: why, if this was so, did he feel it necessary to withdraw from a scheme that a return to private life would leave him free to pursue? The answer may lie hidden in the labored attempt to phrase the declaration of his intention to retire from public life. As shown in note 3, every attempt at phrasing this intent was qualified by such words as “at present,” “I think,” and, as finally expressed, “may yet perhaps.” This is very different indeed from the categorical assertions to be found in letters of preceding months (e.g., TJ to Monroe, 20 May 1782). In view of this, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that TJ at this time began to think of entering Congress again, where the interests of land companies would certainly be brought on the carpet. Madison must have had much to do with persuading TJ to arrive at this conclusion, for, as TJ later remarked, the matter of his going into Congress was “sometimes the subject of our conversation” during this interval in Philadelphia (TJ to Madison, 7 May 1783).

1TJ deleted at this point: “a very strange subject … without doubt for foreign nations.”

2TJ first wrote: “which might on any question whatever separate my interests from those of the bulk of the people or coming before me in a public character might leave my judgment under bias” and then altered the passage to read as above.

3TJ made several false starts at this point and deleted the following: “and have only to entreat of your goodness and friendship that my becoming or not becoming an adventurer may … [depend?] on the issue of my going or not going to Europe in a public character. If I go, be pleased to consider me as declining it altogether. If I do not, as I am at present resolved against any further intermeddling in public affairs in any other character I shall hold myself indebted to you for this opportunity of doing something for myself. The suspension of this question cannot be long: should it however be longer than is convenient for you to wait consistent with the formation of your company, and a determination whether I be a member or not become necessary”; then he began again: “Should conclusion of peace progress &c. … and permit me again to retire to that private situation from which I think I shall not emerge, I shall very probably”; and finally he altered the passage to read as above.

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