Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 13 May 1797

To Elbridge Gerry

Philadelphia May 13. 1797.

My dear friend

Your favor of the 4th. inst. came to hand yesterday. That of the 4th. of Apr. with the one for Monroe has never been recieved. The first of the 27th. of March did not reach me till Apr. 21. when I was within a few days of setting out for this place, and I put off acknoleging it till I should come here. I entirely commend your dispositions towards Mr. Adams, knowing his worth as intimately, and esteeming it as much, as any one, and acknoleging the preference of his claims, if any I could have had, to the high office conferred on him. But in truth I had neither claims nor wishes on the subject, tho’ I know it will be difficult to obtain belief of this. When I retired from this place and the office of Secretary of state, it was in the firmest contemplation of never more returning here. There had indeed been suggestions in the public papers that I was looking towards a succession to1 the President’s chair. But feeling a consciousness of their falsehood, and observing that the suggestions came2 from hostile quarters, I considered them as intended merely to excite public odium against me. I never in my life3 exchanged a word with any person on the subject till I found my name brought forward generally4 in competition with that of Mr. Adams. Those with whom I then communicated could say, if it were necessary, whether I met the call with desire or even with a ready acquiescence, and whether from the moment of my first acquiescence I did not devoutly pray that the very thing might happen which has happened.5 The second office of this government is honorable and easy. The first is but a splendid misery.6 You express apprehensions that stratagems will be used to produce a misunderstanding between the President and myself. Tho’ not a word having this tendency has ever been hazarded to me by any one, yet I consider as a certainty that nothing will be left untried to alienate him from me. These machinations will proceed from the Hamiltonians by whom he is surrounded,7 and who are only a little less hostile to him than to me. It cannot but damp the pleasure of cordiality when we suspect that it is suspected. I cannot help fearing that it is impossible for Mr. Adams to believe that the state of my mind is what it really is; that he may think I view him as an obstacle in my way. I have no supernatural power to impress truth on the mind of another,8 nor he any to discover that the estimate which he may form on a just view of the human mind as generally constituted, may not be just in it’s application to a special constitution. This may be a source of private uneasiness to us. I honestly confess that it is so to me at this time. But neither of us are capable of letting it have effect on our public duties.9 Those who may endeavor to separate us, are probably excited by the fear that I might have influence on the executive councils. But when they shall know that I consider my office as constitutionally confined to legislative functions, and that I could not take any part whatever in executive consultations, even were it proposed, their fears may perhaps subside, and their object be found not worth a machination. I do sincerely wish with you that we could take our stand on a ground perfectly neutral and independant towards all nations. It has been my constant object through public life; and with respect to the English and French particularly, I have too often expressed to the former my wishes, and made to them propositions verbally and in writing, officially and privately, to official and private characters, for them to doubt of my views, if they would be content with equality.10 Of this they are in possession of several written and formal proofs, in my own handwriting. But they have wished a monopoly of commerce and influence with us. And they have in fact obtained it. When we take notice that theirs is the workshop to which we go for all we want, that with them center either immediately or ultimately all the labors of our hands and lands,11 that to them belongs either openly or secretly the great mass of our navigation, that even the factorage of their affairs here is kept to themselves by factitious citizenships, that these foreign and12 false citizens now constitute the great body of what are called13 our merchants, fill our seaports, are planted in every little town and district of the interior country, sway every thing in the former place by their own votes and those of their dependants,14 in the latter by their insinuations and the influence of their ledgers,15 that they are advancing fast to a monopoly of our banks and public funds, and thereby placing our public finances under their controul,16 that they have in their alliance the most influential characters in and out of office, when they have shewn that by all these bearings on the differenct branches of the government they can force it to proceed in any direction they dictate, and bend the interests of this country entirely to the will of another,17 when all this I say is attended to, it is impossible for us to say we stand on independant ground,18 impossible for a free19 mind not to see and to groan under the bondage in which it is bound.20 If any thing after this could excite surprise, it would be that21 they have been able so far to throw dust into the eyes of our own citizens as to fix on those who wish merely to recover self-government the charge of sub-serving one foreign influence, because they resist submission to another. But they possess our printing presses,22 a powerful engine in their government of us. At this very moment they would have drawn us into war on the side of England23 had it not been for the failure of her bank. Such was their open and loud cry and that of their gazettes till this event.   After plunging us in all the broils of the European nations, there would remain but one act to close our tragedy, that is, to break up our union: and even this they have24 ventured seriously and solemnly to propose and maintain by argument,25 in a Connecticut paper. I have been happy however in believing, from the stifling of this effort that that dose was found too strong, and26 excited as much repugnance there as it did horror in other parts of our country,27 and that whatever follies we may be led into as to foreign nations, we shall never give up our union, the last anchor of our hope, and that alone which is to prevent this heavenly country from becoming an arena of gladiators. Much as I abhor war, and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind, and anxiously as I wish to keep out of the broils of Europe, I would yet go with my brethren into these rather than separate from them.28 But I hope29 we may still keep clear of them, notwithstanding our present thraldom, and that time may be given us to reflect30 on the awful crisis we have passed through, and to find some means of shielding ourselves in future from foreign influence, commercial, political, or in whatever other form it may be attempted.31 I can scarcely withold myself from joining in the wish of Silas Deane that there were an ocean of fire between us and the old world.   A perfect confidence that you are as much attached to peace and union as myself, that you equally prize independance of all nations and the blessings of self government, has induced me freely to unbosom myself to you, and let you see the light in which I have viewed what has been passing among us from the beginning of this war. And I shall be happy at all times in an intercommunication of sentiments with you, believing that the dispositions of the different parts of our country have been considerably misrepresented and misunderstood in each part as to the other,32 and that nothing but good can result from an exchange of opinions and information33 between those whose circumstances and morals admit no doubt of34 the integrity of their views. I remain with constant & sincere esteem Dear Sir Your affectionate friend & servt

Th: Jefferson

RC (InU-Li); at foot of first page: “Elbridge Gerry”; with significant emendations recorded in notes 22 and 27 below. PrC (DLC); consists of first page only; lacks Gerry’s name at foot. Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 101: 17371, 102: 17543); consisting of TJ’s heavily emended writing on both sides of two sheets, with damage causing loss of approximately one line each at bottom of recto and verso of the first sheet (see notes 8 and 21 below); the most significant changes and variations are recorded in notes below.

The hints of disunion in a Connecticut paper were contained in two pseudonymous letters which appeared in the Connecticut Courant in November and December 1796. The letters’ author, “Pelham,” suggested that the North should consider separating from the states south of the Potomac, citing differences between the regions and calling particular attention to the political advantage given to the South by the three-fifths clause of the United States Constitution, which counted that ratio of the slave population for purposes of representation. The suggestion elicited strong responses both in New England and in other parts of our country (Hartford Connecticut Courant, 21 Nov., 12 Dec. 1796; Stewart, Opposition Press description begins Donald H. Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period, Albany, 1969 description ends , 348–50).

1Preceding five words interlined in Dft in place of “to be made a candidate for.”

2In Dft TJ interlined preceding twelve words in place of “there was.”

3Preceding three words interlined in Dft in place of “had a suggestion from any.”

4In Dft TJ here canceled “as solely.”

5In Dft TJ here canceled “that is to say that I <might> since my name was before the public I might <obtain> the minor vote might be mine, but so nearly equal to the major the vote might be such as to testify that my fellow citizens had been satisfied with my conduct, yet” and continued the sentence.

6In Dft TJ here canceled: “I had been <near enough to> intimate enough with it’s condition to <know> have seen that.”

7Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft.

8In Dft TJ here canceled “[…] and must […] [meet] therefore with [acquiescence?] <this> a sentence which,” and text from that cancellation to “just view” has evidently been lost at the bottom of the page.

9Word interlined in Dft in place of “interest.”

10In Dft TJ first completed the sentence “to doubt it if they would have been content with it” before interlining “of my disposition towards them” in place of the first “it,” and then altering the passage to read as above.

11In Dft TJ first wrote “the proceeds of every thing we make for exportation” before altering the passage to read as above.

12Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

13In Dft TJ interlined the preceding three words.

14In Dft TJ first wrote “their votes” before altering the passage to read as above.

15Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “credit they can give.”

16In Dft TJ interlined the preceding nine words.

17Preceding thirteen words interlined in Dft, and after “entirely to” TJ first wrote and then canceled “<their own> those of.”

18In Dft TJ first ended the sentence here and continued with a passage, subsequently canceled, which read in part: “it is impossible and wonderful that.”

19In Dft TJ first wrote “an unbiassed” before altering the phrase to read as above.

20In Dft TJ first wrote “in which we are” before interlining “it finds itself” and then altering the passage to read as above.

21Here in Dft TJ canceled “by their possession of [all or nearly] all the public,” and interlined and canceled “almost every printing press in the Union.” Remainder of sentence and following sentence are missing in Dft due to damage at bottom of page, with the passages “so far to throw dust in the eyes of our own citizens to fix” and “[to] recover” visible as evident interlineations.

22Word written over “offices,” erased.

23Word interlined in Dft in place of “Great Britain.” This sentence begins the second sheet of the Dft, where TJ first wrote and then canceled with diagonal strokes the following passage: “<are struggling. I shall never forget the prediction of the count de Vergennes that we shall exhibit the singular phaenomenon of a fruit rotten before it is [ripe], nor cease to join in the wish of Silas Deane> that there were an ocean of fire between us and the old world. Indeed my dear friend I am so disgusted with <this foreign bondage that> this entire subjection to a foreign power that <I feel myself unfit to take a part in the administration of a country> if it <should shall> were in the end to appear to be the wish of the body of my countrymen to remain in that vassalage. I <shall> should feel my unfitness to be an agent in their affairs, and seek in retirement that personal independance without which this world has nothing I value. I am confident you set the same store by it which I do: but perhaps your situation may not give you the same <view of our situation> conviction of it’s existence. Entirely persuaded of the soundness of your views I shall always be happy whether in private or public to keep up an intercommunication with you, and <to continue> repeat to you through life assurances of the esteem with which I am my dear Sir Your sincere & affectionate friend & servt.” Above this passage TJ inserted and canceled “at this very moment they would have drawn us into war on the side of Gr. Britain had.”

24Here in Dft TJ canceled “dared.”

25In Dft TJ interlined the preceding six words in place of “attempted.”

26Preceding seven words interlined in Dft.

27Preceding two words written over “the Union.” Dft: “the union.”

28In Dft TJ first wrote “I would rather even join my brethren in European wars if that alone can save us from disuion among ourselves” before altering the sentence to read as above.

29In Dft TJ here canceled “that notwithstanding the present [report] of things.”

30In Dft preceding sixteen words are an interlineation in place of “ourselves at peace,” which TJ interlined in place of “clear of all parties, and have time to reflect and to see.”

31Preceding nine words interlined in Dft.

32Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft.

33Dft: “information and opinions,” interlined in place of “views and sentiments.”

34Preceding four words interlined in Dft in place of “can furnish the best security for.”

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