Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, 24 June 1797

To Edward Rutledge

Philadelphia June 24. 97.

My Dear Sir

I have to acknolege your two favors of May 4. and 19. and to thank you for your attention to the commissions for the peas and oranges, which I learn are arrived in Virginia.1 Your draught I hope will soon follow on Mr. John Barnes merchant here, who, as I before advised you, is directed to answer it.

When Congress first met, the assemblage of facts presented in the President’s speech with the multiplied accounts of spoliations by the French West Indians appeared, by sundry votes on the address, to incline a majority to put themselves into a posture of war. Under this influence the address was formed and it’s spirit would probably have been pursued by corresponding measures, had the events of Europe been of an ordinary train. But this has been so extraordinary that numbers have gone over to those, who, from the first, feeling with sensibility the French insults, as they had felt those of England before, thought now, as they thought then, that war measures should be avoided and those of peace pursued. Their favorite engine, on the former occasion, was commercial regulations,2 in preference to negociation, to war preparations and increase of debt. On the latter, as we have no commerce with France, the restriction of which could press on them, they wished for negociation. Those of the opposite sentiment had, on the former occasion, preferred negociation; but at the same time voted for great war-preparations and increase of debt: now also they were for negociation, war preparation and debt. The parties have in debate mutually charged each other with inconsistency, and with being governed by an attachment to this or that of the belligerent nations, rather than the dictates of reason and pure Americanism. But in truth both have been consistent: the same men having voted for war measures now who did before, and the same against them now who did before. The events of Europe coming to us in astonishing and rapid succession, to wit, the public bankruptcy of England, Buonaparte’s successes, the successes in the Rhine, the Austrian peace, mutiny of the British fleet, Irish insurrection, a demand of 43. millions for the current services of the year,3 and above all the warning voice, as is said,4 of Mr. King to abandon all thought of connection with Great Britain, that she is going down irrecoverably, and will sink us also if we do not clear ourselves, have brought over several to the pacific party,5 so as at present to give majorities against all threatening measures. They go on with their frigates and fortifications because they were going on with them before. They direct 80,000 of their militia to hold themselves in readiness for service. But they reject the propositions to raise cavalry, artillery and a provisional army, and to trust private ships with arms in the present combustible state of things. They believe the present is the last campaign of Europe and6 wish to [rub?]7 through this fragment of a year as they have through the four preceding ones, opposing patience to insult, and interest to honor. They will therefore immediately adjourn. This is indeed a most humiliating state of things. But it commenced in 93. Causes have been adding to causes, and effects accumulating on effects, from that time to this. We had in 93. the most respectable8 character in the universe. What the neutral nations think of us now I know not: but we are low indeed with the belligerents. Their kicks and cuffs prove their contempt.9 If we weather the present storm10 I hope we shall avail ourselves of the calm11 of peace to place our foreign connections12 under a new and different arrangement. We must make the interest of every nation stand surety for it’s justice, and their own loss to follow injury to us, as effect follows it’s cause. As to every thing except commerce, we ought to13 divorce ourselves from them all. But this system would require time, temper, wisdom and occasional sacrifices of interest: and how far all of these will be ours, our children may see, but we shall not. The passions are too high at present to be cooled in our day. You and I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions.14 But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, and separate the business of the senate from that of15 society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the streets to avoid meeting, and turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hat. This may do for young men, with whom passion is enjoiment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds.16 Tranquility is the old man’s milk. I go to enjoy it in a few days, and to exchange the roar and tumult of bulls and bears for the prattle of my grandchildren and senile rest. Be these yours, my dear friend, through long years, with every other blessing, and the attachment of friends as warm and sincere as17 Your’s affectionately

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of first page: “E. Rutledge esq.” Dft (DLC); with one significant variation (see note 2 below); with numerous emendations, the most important of which are noted below.

The House of Representatives passed the Militia bill on 20 June 1797 and the Senate concurred two days later (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , iii, 38; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , ii, 375).

1In Dft TJ here continued the sentence and then canceled “where I shall my self join them in a few days.”

2In Dft TJ wrote “restrictions.”

3In Dft TJ wrote the passage from this point to “clear ourselves” in the margin.

4TJ interlined the preceding three words in Dft.

5In Dft TJ first wrote “to the moderate party a number of individuals” before altering the passage to read as above.

6TJ here canceled “hope” in Dft.

7Possibly “rule.”

8Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “first.”

9Sentence interlined in Dft.

10In Dft TJ wrote “If we escape the present danger” before altering the passage to read as above.

11Interlined in Dft in place of “leisure.”

12In Dft TJ first wrote “on such arrangement as may make it the interest of other nations to be just to us, and that injustice shall bring on them loss as an immediate and necessary effect and that.”

13Preceding two words interlined in Dft in place of “may.”

14In Dft TJ first wrote “We have formerly seen <high> warm debates and great political differences” before altering the sentence to read as above.

15In Dft TJ interlined the preceding eight words in place of “politics and.”

16In Dft TJ wrote “But it is too much for me” before altering the sentence to read as above.

17In Dft TJ first wrote “May these be yours <with> through long years, with every other blessing of life, and the affection of a thousand friends as warm and sincere as Dear Sir” before altering the closing to read as above.

Index Entries