Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Wise, 12 February 1798

To John Wise

[Phila]delphia Feby 12th. 1798


I have duly recieved yours of the 28 Ult. mentioning that it had been communicated to you that in a Conversation in Francis’s hotel (where I lodge) I had Spoken of you as of tory politics: & you make enquiry as to the fact, & the Idea intended to be Conveyed1 I Shall answer you with frankness. It is now well understood that two political sects have arisen within the US. the one believeing that the Executive is the branch of our Government which the most needs support: the other that, like the analogous branch in the English government, it is already too strong for the republican parts of the Constitution, and therefore, in equivocal cases, they incline to the Legislative powers. the former of these are called Federalists, sometimes Aristocrats or monocrats and Sometimes tories, after the corresponding sect in the English government, of exactly the same definition: the latter are Stiled Republicans, Whigs, Jacobins, Anarchists, Disorganisers &c. these terms are in familiar use with most persons and which of those of the first Class I used on the occation alluded to I do not particularly remember. they are all well understood to designate persons who are for Strengthening the Executive rather than the Legislative branches of the government. but probably I used the last of those terms, & for these reasons, both parties claim to be Federalists and Republicans, & I believe with truth, as to the great Mass of them: these appellations therefore designate neither exclusively: and all the others are Slanders, except those of Whig & tory, which alone charactarise the Distinguishing principles of the two sects as I have before explained them, as they have been known and named in England for more than a Century, and as they are growing into daily use here with those whose respect for the right of private Judgment in others, as well as themselves does not permit them to use the other terms which either imply against themselves, or Charge others, Injuriously.

I remark with real Sensibility the Sentiments of esteem you are pleased to express for my Character, and do not Suffer myself to believe they will be lessened by any Difference which may happen to exist in our political opinions, if any there be. the most upright and conscientious Characters are on both Sides of the question; & as to myself, I Can say with truth that political tenets have never taken away my esteem for a moral and good man. on this head I have never uttered a word, nor entertained a thought to your prejudice: & even as to politics, I Could say nothing of my own Knowledge,2 as you must be sensible, but only from the information of Others, having understood on Different Occasions, that on public questions you have generally Concurred with those who were on the side of Executive powers. if in this I have been misinformed I shall with pleasure correct the error: if otherwise, your Conviction of the solidity of your opinions will render it Satisfactory to you that they have not been mistaken. this is the Sentiment which each side entertains of it’s own opinions, and neither thinks them the Subject of imputation.

I am really Sorry that any one should have found gratification in paining you or myself by such Communication, the Circumstance took place in a familiar conversation with gentlemen who, with myself mess together every day at our lodgings, and was therefore the less guarded. & I do not recollect that there was a person present but of our ordinary Society. the occasion too was as clear of exception being used in proof how little of party Spirit there is in Virginia, & how little it influences public proceedings there: & so transient withal, that I dare say it has not been since thought of nor repeated but to3 yourself: with what view is not for me to Consider.

I have thought I owed to your private and public character this Candid declaration and4 I have no fear you will mistake the Motives which lead to it.

I have the honour to be with great respect Sir Your most Obt. Servt.

Tho. Jefferson

Tr (MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers); in an unidentified hand; torn at top of sheet; at foot of text: “The Honble. John Wise”; endorsed by Pickering: “T. Jefferson’s letter to Mr. Wise Tory” and “Jefferson to Wise.” Tr (MWA); entirely in Dwight Foster’s hand; at head of text: “Copy of a Letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Honble. Mr. Wise—Speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia”; at foot of text:

“NB. The above is confidentially communicated & not to be printed—D.F.

See Bache’s Paper March 21. 1798 Letter Feb. 15. 1798.

Also —— April 25. 1798 another —.”

Tr (photostat in DLC: James McHenry Papers); in an unidentified hand; at foot of text: “Vide Bache’s paper of March 21: & April 25. 1798. two letters purporting to be written from a Citizen of Pennsylvania, the one bearing date Feby. 15, being 3 days after the present letter, & the other April 10: 1798.—Whether they proceeded from the same hand with the present, or whether at least they must not have been written in concert with the author of the present, let candour decide—And if either should be the case, what are we to think of the views of a man, standing in his honorable & influential station, in the present state of our affairs?—‘You ought to know that the diplomatic skill of France & the means she possesses in your Country, are sufficient to enable her, with the French Party in America, to throw &c. And you may assure yourselves this will be done.’—What further proof is necessary?,” the embedded quotation being extracted from comments of Pierre Bellamy (“Y”) to the American envoys as recorded in John Marshall’s journal and contained in a dispatch from Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Marshall, and Elbridge Gerry to Pickering on 8 Nov. 1797, which Pickering transmitted to Congress on 3 Apr. 1798 (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 3:180, 276, 285; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Foreign Relations, 2:157, 164); endorsed: “Copy of a Letter to J. Wise Esquire”; also endorsed, possibly by McHenry: “Copy of Mr. Jefferson’s letter to Mr J Wise—explanatory of the use he made of the epethet tory to Mr Wise recd. from. Mr Evans,” description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends possibly referring to Federalist Congressman Thomas Evans of Accomac County, Virginia. Tr (PHi: Fisher Family Papers); in an unidentified hand; endorsed in part: “Curiosity, political.” Tr (PHi: Spackman Papers); probably a 19th-century copy; with same distinctive variation as Tr in PHi: Fisher Family Papers. Printed in AHR description begins American Historical Review, 1895- description ends , 3 (1897–98), 488–9 (from Tr in PHi: Spackman Papers); in VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893- description ends , 12 (1905), 257–9 (from McHenry Tr); and in University of Virginia, Alumni Bulletin, 3d ser., 12 (1919), 195–7 (also from McHenry Tr). Although no version of this letter in TJ’s hand has been located, TJ did record a missive to Wise under this date in SJL.

In the application of the label tory from English usage to the Federalists, the frank acknowledgment that two political sects have arisen within the us, and the presumed identification of each party with a different branch of our government, the letter printed above shares certain characteristics with the two communications in Benjamin Franklin Bache’s Aurora that Federalists—to judge from the notations on Foster’s and McHenry’s copies of this letter—thought came from TJ’s pen or were written with his collusion. However, the length and style of the letters in the Aurora, their confrontational tone, and their appearance at a time when, in the aftermath of the publication of his controversial letter of 24 Apr. 1796 to Philip Mazzei, TJ was particularly averse to the publication of his opinions, would all seem to contradict the idea that he wrote the two Aurora letters. Moreover, one of the letters refers to $202.50 received for 81 subscriptions to the Aurora, a transaction that does not appear to have been associated with TJ. Both letters were unsigned but attributed to “a citizen of Pennsylvania.” The first, to the writer’s “friend in Baltimore,” was dated 15 Feb. 1798 and appeared in the Aurora on 21 Mch. 1798, when James Thomson Callender acted as editor in Bache’s absence (Durey, Callender description begins Michael Durey, “With the Hammer of Truth”: James Thomson Callender and America’s Early National Heroes, Charlottesville, 1990 description ends , 106–7). The second, addressed on 10 Apr. 1798 to a “Friend in Delaware,” appeared on 25 Apr. 1798.

1In McHenry Tr and Trs in MWA and PHi: Spackman Papers the preceding five words are enclosed in quotation marks.

2Preceding four words lacking in McHenry Tr.

3Tr in PHi: Fisher Family Papers and Tr in PHi: Spackman Papers: “repeated to any other person than.”

4In Tr in MWA Foster interlined “2” and “1” above “declaration” and “and,” respectively.

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