Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 27 April 1809

To James Madison

Monticello Apr. 27. 09.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 24th came to hand last night. the correspondence between mr Smith & mr Erskine had been recieved three days before. I sincerely congratulate you on the change it has produced in our situation. it is the source of very general joy here, & could it have arrived one month sooner would have had important effects not only on the elections of other states, but of this also, from which it would seem that wherever there was any considerable portion of federalism it has been so much reinforced by those of whose politics the price of wheat is the sole principle, that federalists will be returned from many districts of this state. the British ministry has been driven from it’s Algerine system, not by any remaining morality in the people but by their unsteadiness under severe trial. but whencesoever it comes, I rejoice in it as the triumph of our forbearing & yet persevering system. it will lighten your anxieties, take from cabal it’s most fertile ground of war, will give us peace during your time, & by the compleat extinguishment of our public debt, open upon us the noblest application of revenue that has ever been exhibited by any nation. I am sorry they are sending a minister to attempt a treaty. they never made an equal commercial treaty with any nation, & we have no right to expect to be the first. it will place you between the injunctions of true patriotism & the clamors of a faction devoted to a foreign interest in preference to that of their own country.1 it will confirm the English too in their practice of whipping us into a treaty. they did it in Jay’s case; were near it in Monroe’s, & on failure of that, have applied the scourge with tenfold vigour, & now come on to try it’s effect. but it is the moment when we should prove our consistence, by recurring to the principles we dictated to Monroe, the departure from which occasioned our rejection of his treaty, and by protesting against Jay’s treaty being ever quoted, or looked at, or even mentioned. that form will for ever be a millstone round our necks unless we now rid ourselves of it, once for all. the occasion is highly favorable, as we never can have them more in our power. As to Bonaparte, I should not doubt the revocation of his edicts, were he governed by reason. but his policy is so crooked that it eludes conjecture. I fear his first object now is to dry up the sources of British prosperity by excluding her manufactures from the continent. he may fear that opening the ports of Europe to our vessels will open them to an inundation of British wares. he ought to be satisfied with having forced her to revoke the orders on which he pretended to retaliate, & to be particularly satisfied with us by whose unyielding adherence to principle she has been forced into the revocation. he ought the more to conciliate our good will, as we can be such an obstacle to the new career opening on him in the Spanish colonies. that he would give us the Floridas to withold intercourse with the residue of those colonies cannot be doubted. but that is no price; because they are ours in the first moment of the first war, & until a war they are of no particular necessity to us. but, altho’ with difficulty, he will consent to our recieving Cuba into our union to prevent our aid to Mexico & the other provinces. that would be a price, & I would immediately erect a column on the Southernmost limit of Cuba & inscribe on it a Ne plus ultra as to us in that direction. we should then have only to include the North in our confederacy, which would be of course in the first war, and we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government. as the Mentor went away before this change, & will leave France probably while it is still a secret in that hemisphere, I presume the expediency of pursuing her by a swift sailing dispatch was considered. it will be objected to our recieving Cuba, that no limit can then be drawn for our future acquisitions. Cuba can be defended by us without a navy, & this developes the principle which ought to limit our views. nothing should ever be accepted which would require a navy to defend it.

Our spring continues cold & backward, rarely one growing day without two or three cold ones following. wheat is of very various complexions from very good to very bad. fruit has not suffered as much as was expected except in peculiar situations. gardens are nearly a month behind their usual state. I thank you for the Squashes from Maine. they shall be planted to day. I salute you with sincere & constant affection.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); at foot of first page: “the Pr. US.” PoC (DLC).

British minister David Erskine began negotiations with Secretary of State Robert Smith after receiving instructions from his government early in April 1809. Largely because Erskine did not reveal three stipulations to which George Canning, the British foreign minister, expected the United States to concede, Erskine concluded an agreement with the Madison administration that trade with Great Britain would be resumed and the British Orders in Council of January and November 1807 would be withdrawn. Madison accordingly issued a proclamation on 19 Apr. 1809 formally suspending the Non-Intercourse Act of 1 Mar. 1809 effective 10 June 1809 and announcing the imminent withdrawal of the Orders in Council. The proclamation was printed along with related correspondence between Smith and Erskine (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 6 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:117–9, 125–6; Washington National Intelligencer, 21 Apr. 1809; Bradford Perkins, Prologue to War: England and the United States, 1805–1812 [1961], 211–3).

they are sending a minister: Francis James Jackson was officially appointed the British minister to the United States on 6 July 1809 but apparently had no power to make treaties. Madison’s government demanded his recall in November 1809 (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.: Congress. Ser., 17 vols.; Pres. Ser., 5 vols.; Sec. of State Ser., 6 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:275; Washington National Intelligencer, 13 Nov. 1809). TJ and Madison rejected the treaty negotiated with Great Britain by William Pinkney and James monroe in 1806 because it did not ban impressment and it prohibited the United States from using economic sanctions for ten years (Ammon, Monroe description begins Harry Ammon, James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, 1971 description ends , 257–64). maine: Thomas Main, a Georgetown nurseryman.

1Reworked from “to their own.”

Index Entries

  • Canning, George; instructions to Erskine search
  • Cuba; possible acquisition by U.S. search
  • debt, public; TJ on search
  • Erskine, David M.; instructions to search
  • Erskine, David M.; negotiates with R. Smith search
  • Florida; acquisition of by U.S. search
  • food; squash search
  • Great Britain; commercial channels reopened search
  • Great Britain; Orders in Council (1807) search
  • Great Britain; “algerine system” of search
  • impressment; and Monroe-Pinkney Treaty search
  • Jackson, Francis James; expected to make treaty with U.S. search
  • Jay Treaty; TJ criticizes search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Cuba search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; effect of British policy search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Napoleon search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; public debt search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; treaties with Great Britain search
  • Madison, James; letters to search
  • Madison, James; presidential proclamations of search
  • Main (Maine), Thomas; plant nursery of search
  • Mentor (ship); carries dispatches search
  • Mexico; TJ on search
  • Monroe, James; and Monroe-Pinkney Treaty search
  • Monroe-Pinkney Treaty (1806) search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; intentions unclear search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; TJ on search
  • Non-Intercourse Act; suspended search
  • Pinkney, William; and Monroe-Pinkney Treaty search
  • Smith, Robert; and D. M. Erskine search
  • squash (vegetable) search
  • Virginia; elections in search
  • weather; effect on crops search