Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Vaughan, 11 May 1791

To Benjamin Vaughan

Philadelphia May 11. 1791.

Dear Sir

It is rare that my public occupations will permit me to take up the pen for my private correspondencies however desireable to me. This must be my apology for being so late in acknowleging the reciept of your favors of Sep. 21 Oct. 21. Dec. 2. and 16. and Jan. 6. The parcels of Mountain rice from Timor came to hand too late in the last season to produce seed. I have sowed this spring some of the same, but it has not yet come up. I was fortunate in recieving from the coast of Africa last fall a cask of Mountain rice of the last year’s growth. This I have dispersed into many hands, having sent the mass of it to S. Carolina. The information which accompanied this cask was that they have there (on the coast of Africa) 3. kinds of Mountain rice, which sowed at the same time, comes to harvest a month distant from each other. They did not say of which kind that is which was sent to me. The kind which ripens quickest will surely find sun enough to ripen it in our middle states.

I thank you, my dear Sir, for the Sacontalá, and for Smeaton’s book: but the latter is of a value which obliges me to request you to put more reasonable bounds to your liberalities, neither the state of the sciences nor of the arts here putting it in my power to fulfill that reciprocity which my wishes would lead me to.—The Revolution of France does not astonish me so much as the Revolution of Mr. Burke. I wish I could believe the latter proceeded from as pure motives as the former. But what demonstration could scarcely have established before, less than the hints of Dr. Priestly and Mr. Paine establish firmly now. How mortifying that this evidence of the rotteness of his mind must oblige us now to ascribe to wicked motives those actions of his life which wore the mask of virtue and patriotism. To judge from what we see published, we must believe that the spirit of toryism has gained nearly the whole of the nation: that the whig principles are utterly extinguished except in the breasts of certain descriptions of dissenters. This sudden change in the principles of a nation would be a curious morsel in the history of man.—We have some names of note here who have apostatised from the true faith: but they are few indeed, and the body of our citizens are pure and insusceptible of taint in their republicanism. Mr. Paine’s answer to Burke will be a refreshing shower to their minds. It would bring England itself to reason and revolution if it was permitted to be read there. However the same things will be said in milder forms, will make their way among the people, and you must reform at last.

We have great reason to be satisfied with the train of our affairs. Our government is going on with a firm and steady pace, our taxes, increasing with our population, are always ahead of our calculations, favorable seasons for several years past have given great crops of produce, and the increase of industry, economy, and domestic manufacture are very sensible. Our credit both at home and abroad is equal to our wishes. So that on the whole we are in as prosperous a way as a nation can well be. This shews the advantage of the changeableness of a constitution. Had our former one been unalterable (pardon the absurdity of the hypothesis) we must have gone to ruin with our eyes open.—We are in hopes the operations of this summer will bring our savage neighbors to accept our peace, friendship and good offices, which is all we desire of them. If you see Ld. Wycombe sometimes present my esteem to him; so also and ever to Dr. Price. I am Dear Sir with sincere attachment Your most obedt. & most humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

RC (Mrs. Langdon Marvin, Hallowell, Maine, 1944); addressed: “Benjamin Vaughan esq. Jefferies square London”; endorsed. PrC (DLC).

TJ’s letter to the printer of Paine’s Rights of Man, with its indirect allusion to John Adams’ political heresies, had been an indiscretion, but the more veiled reference here was calculated. So also was the glowing account of the firm and steady pace of the government, about whose divisions and conflicting policies no one was more troubled at this moment than TJ. Both comments, like his earlier intimation to Vaughan that maple sugar would make the nation independent of the British sugar islands for that commodity, were intended for English consumption.

The copy of the greatest Sanskrit drama, Sakuntala, by Kalidasa, the great Hindu poet of the fifth century A.D., which Vaughan sent to TJ was the translation by Sir William Jones (1746–1794), published in London in 1790 (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 4435). TJ probably was less enthusiastic about this work than Vaughan was (see Vaughan to TJ, 21 Sep. 1790). But, as his allusion to it indicates, he fully appreciated the copy of the work by John Smeaton (1724–1792), the English engineer: A narrative of the building and a description of the construction of the Edystone Lighthouse (London, 1791; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 4213).

The Rev. Richard Price, whom TJ greatly admired, never received TJ’s felicitation. He died less than a month before the above letter was written.

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