Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 29 May 1797

To Thomas Pinckney

Philadelphia May 29. 1797.

Dear Sir

I recieved from you, before you left England, a letter inclosing one from the Prince of Parma. As I learnt soon after that you were shortly to return to America, I concluded to join my acknolegements of it with my congratulations on your arrival; and both have been delayed by a blameable spirit of procrastination for ever suggesting to our indolence that we need not1 do to-day what may be done tomorrow. Accept them now in the sincerity of my heart. It is but lately I have answered the Prince’s letter. It required some time to establish arrangements which might effect his purpose; and I wished also to forward a particular article or two of curiosity.

You have found on your return a higher style of political difference than you had left here. I fear this is inseparable from the different constitutions of the human mind, and that degree of freedom which permits unrestrained expression. Political dissension2 is doubtless a less evil than the lethargy of despotism:3 but still it is a great evil, and it would be as worthy the efforts of the patriot as of the philosopher, to exclude it’s influence if possible, from social life. The good are rare enough at best. There is no reason to subdivide them4 by artificial lines. But whether we shall ever be able so far to perfect the principles of society as that political opinions shall, in it’s intercourse, be as inoffensive as those of philosophy, mechanics or any others, may well be doubted.5 Foreign influence is the present and just object of public hue and cry, and, as often happens, the most guilty are foremost and loudest in the cry6 If those who are truly independant can so trim our vessel as to beat thro’ the waves now agitating us,7 they will merit a glory the greater as it seems less possible. When I contemplate the spirit which is driving us on here, and that beyond the water which will view us but as a mouthful the more, I have little hope of peace. I anticipate the burning of our seaports, havoc of our frontiers, houshold insurgency, with a long train of etceteras which it is enough for a man to have met once in his life.8 The exchange which is to give us new neighbors in Louisiana (probably the present French armies, when disbanded)9 has opened us to combinations of enemies on that side where we are most vulnerable.10 War is not the best engine for us to resort to. Nature has given us one in our commerce which, if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging11 the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice. If the commercial regulations12 had been adopted which our legislature were at one time proposing, we should at this moment have been standing on such an eminence of safety and respect as ages can never recover. But having wandered from that,13 our object should now be to get back14 with as little loss as possible;15 and when peace shall be restored to the world, endeavor so to form our commercial regulations, as that justice from other nations shall be their mechanical result.16

I am very happy to assure you that the conduct of Genl. Pinckney has met universal approbation. It was marked with that coolness, dignity and good sense17 which we expected from him. I am told the French government had taken up an uphappy idea that Monroe was recalled for the candor of his conduct in what related to the British treaty, and that Genl. Pinckney was sent as having other dispositions towards them. I learn further that some of their well informed citizens here are setting them right as to Genl. Pinckney’s disposition, so well known to have been just towards them; and I sincerely hope not only that he may be employed as envoy extraordinary to them, but that their minds will be better prepared to recieve him. I candidly acknolege however that I do not think the speech and addresses of Congress18 as conciliatory as the preceding irritations on both sides would have rendered wise. I shall be happy to hear from you at all times, to make myself useful to you whenever opportunity offers,19 and to give every proof of the sincerity of the sentiments of esteem & respect with which I am Dear Sir Your most obedient & most humble servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); with one significant emendation (see note 19 below); at foot of first page, clipped: “T[homas Pinckney].” Dft (DLC); with numerous emendations, the most important of which are noted below.

Pinckney’s letter to TJ of 16 Mch. 1796 enclosed one to TJ from Louis, Prince of Parma of 2 Nov. 1795. TJ answered the prince’s letter on 23 May 1797.

For the commercial regulations that Madison introduced in the House of Representatives on 3 Jan. 1794, which were based upon recommendations from TJ’s commercial report, see Editorial Note on Report on Commerce, 16 Dec. 1793, in 27: 532–5.

1Preceding ten words interlined in Dft in place of “which never lets us.”

2Preceding two words written in margin of Dft in place of “it.”

3Preceding eight words interlined in Dft in place of “a great tho lesser evil.”

4In Dft TJ first wrote “to divide them then” before altering the clause to read as above.

5Preceding eight words interlined in Dft in place of “in […] the intercourse of society.”

6In Dft TJ here canceled “of stop thief. If the” and then interlined the first four words of the following sentence.

7In Dft TJ first wrote “can steer us clear of the present war now [hovering?] over us” before altering the preceding passage to read as above.

8In Dft TJ here canceled the following sentence: “So many steps of [a]mbition and injury have taken place on both sides that unless one or the other will stop and propose a parley blows must come […].”

9Words in parentheses interlined in Dft.

10In Dft TJ here added “and defenseless” and then canceled the following: “For a few days past we have been hoping that [tho?] our honor [was] lost with the first insult, the [wrecks?] of it are surely not worth all these evils.”

11In Dft TJ wrote “is a sufficient instrument of coercion for coercing” before altering the preceding passage to read as above.

12In Dft TJ first wrote “from which the late administration witheld tho legislature had been adopting” before altering the following passage to read as above.

13In Dft TJ first wrote and canceled “Respect is for the present at least out of question with us safety and loss <were> are now to be weighed and to decide if we can now [keep?] ourselves” before interlining the beginning of this sentence as above.

14In Dft TJ wrote the preceding two words in place of “with draw.”

15In Dft TJ here canceled “from the mistaken path in which we have been ever drawing.”

16In Dft TJ here canceled the following sentences: “The recovery of respect will be a longer operation. <Respect> Honor is a plant of such slow growth that [where] once it has been killed to the root new seeds must be sown and time allowed for their development. They will thrive too the worse as their bed is tainted.”

17Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft.

18Preceding two words interlined in Dft.

19TJ here canceled the first six words of the following passage, canceled here in Dft: “to assure you that the intrigues of which we have both been the subject have been to me as I trust they have to you as if they had never happened.”

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