Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to the Earl of Buchan, 10 July 1803

To the Earl of Buchan

Washington July 10, 1803.

My Lord

I recieved through the hands of mr Lenox, on his return to the US. the valuable volume you were so good as to send me on the life & writings of Fletcher of Saltoun. the political principles of that1 patriot were worthy the purest periods2 of the British constitution. they are those which were in vigour3 at the epoch of the American emigration. our ancestors brought them here, and they needed little strengthening to make us what we are. but in the weakened condition of4 English whiggism at this day, it requires more firmness to publish5 and advocate them, than it then did to act on them. this merit is peculiarly your Lordship’s; and no one honours it more than myself; freely admitting, at the same time,6 the right of a nation to change it’s political principles and constitution at will, and the impropriety of any but it’s own citizens, censuring that change. I expect your Lordship has been disappointed, as I acknowledge I have been, in the issue of the convulsions on the other side the channel. this has certainly lessened the interest which the Philanthropist warmly felt in those struggles. without befriending human liberty, a gigantic force has risen up which seems to threaten7 the world. but it hangs on the thread of opinion,8 which may break from one day to another. I feel real anxiety on the conflict9 in which your nation is again engaged; and bless the almighty10 being who in gathering together the waters under the heavens into one place,11 divided the dry lands of12 your hemisphere, from the dry lands of ours, and said, “here, at least, be there peace.” I hope that peace and amity with all nations will long be the charter of our land,13 and that it’s prosperity under this charter14 will re-act on the mind of Europe, and profit her by the example. my hope of preserving peace for our country15 is not founded in the quaker principle of non resistance under every wrong, but in the belief that a just and friendly conduct on our part will procure justice and friendship from others, and that, in the existing contest,16 each of the combatants will find an17 interest in our friendship.18   I cannot say we shall be unconcerned spectators of the combat. we feel for human sufferings; and we wish the good of all.19 we shall look on20 therefore with the sensations which these dispositions and the events of the war will produce.

I feel a pride in the justice which your lordship’s sentiments render to the character of my illustrious countryman Washington. the moderation of his desires and the strength of his judgment enabled him to calculate correctly21 that the road to that glory which never dies is to use power for the22 support of the laws and liberties of our country, not for their destruction, and his23 will accordingly survive the wreck of every thing now living.

Accept, my Lord, the tribute of esteem from one who renders it with warmth to the disinterested friend of mankind, and assurances of my very high consideration & respect

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Earl of Buchan.” Dft (same); undated. Tr (PPAmP); in Erskine’s hand; enclosed in Earl of Buchan to Dugald Stewart, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, 21 Dec. 1803. Tr (CU-BANC); in Erskine’s hand and endorsed by him: “considering the state of G. Britain & of Europe & what I believed to be the principles & character of Mr. Jefferson, I sent to him with a short expressive inscription a copy of my Essay on the life & writings of Fletcher of Saltoun; my intention was to defeat as far as my opinion could the prejudices conceived against Mr. J. on both sides of the Atlantic.” Enclosed in TJ to George W. Erving, 10 July 1803.

David Steuart Erskine, 11th earl of Buchan (1742–1829), was a Scottish lord, writer, and literary patron who founded the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1780. A supporter of the Americans during the Revolution, he considered moving to the United States after the war but instead purchased Dryburgh Abbey, hoping to make it a Scottish cultural center, and lived there from 1786 until his death. The Scottish agricultural reformer and economist James Anderson transmitted a letter from Buchan to TJ of 22 Oct. 1792. Buchan and Anderson were elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society on 18 Apr. 1794, the same day as TJ’s son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. While president of the Agriculture Society in London, Buchan had been a frequent correspondent of George Washington from 1790 to 1798. Buchan quoted the above letter from TJ in an address he delivered to a group of Americans at Edinburgh in 1811 on the occasion of Washington’s birthday. TJ’s letter and the earl’s address were published in a pamphlet and also in numerous American newspapers beginning in the summer of 1811 (DNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, In Association with The British Academy, From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, Oxford, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser. description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, Edward C. Lengel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1983- , 57 vols., Confed. Ser., 1992–97, 6 vols., Pres. Ser., 1987- , 16 vols., Ret. Ser., 1998–99, 4 vols., Rev. War Ser., 1985- , 21 vols. description ends , 5:284–5; same, Ret. Ser., 4:502n; National Intelligencer, 9 July 1811; Richmond Enquirer, 7 Dec. 1822; Sowerby description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends , No. 3403; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004- , 9 vols. description ends , 4:150, 153n; Vol. 24:565n; Vol. 27:656n).

valuable volume: Buchan’s work on the Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher, Essays on the Lives and Writings of Fletcher of Saltoun and the Poet Thomson: Biographical, Critical, and Political, was published in London in 1792 (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 437).

1In Dft TJ here canceled “worth illustrious.”

2In Dft word interlined in place of “stages.”

3TJ here continued in Dft “when the greater part of the emigrants came from thence to this country and which needed but a” before altering the remainder of the sentence to read as above.

4 TJ first wrote “weakened state of political principles” before altering the Dft to read as above.

5In Dft TJ first wrote “them with approbation than it did then to act on them” before altering the remainder of the sentence to read as above.

6Dft: “while I freely submit.”

7In Dft TJ first wrote “which threatens.”

8In Dft TJ first wrote “did it not hang on the slender thread of a single life” before altering the sentence to this point.

9In Dft TJ here continued to semicolon: “to which imperious circumstances seem to call your nation.”

10Word interlined in Dft.

11Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

12In Dft TJ first concluded the sentence “ ‘your hemisphere from the dry lands of the other,’ and said ‘here let there be peace.’ ”

13Word interlined in Dft in place of “republic.”

14In Dft word interlined in place of “system.”

15Preceding three words interlined in Dft.

16In Dft TJ interlined the passage from “belief” to this point.

17Dft: “their.”

18In Dft TJ interlined “friendship” in place of “neutrality.”

19Preceding sentence interlined in Dft.

20Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft in place of largely illegible canceled text.

21Word interlined in Dft.

22Remainder of sentence interlined in Dft in place of “good of those who confide it, & to lay it down when that good <call for> requires it. That it is the light which shines longest and not <the blaze of a moment> that which blazes most, is the [estimation] of true wisdom.”

23Tr in PPAmP: “his glory.” Tr in CU-BANC: “His.”

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