Thomas Jefferson Papers

Augustus B. Woodward to Thomas Jefferson, 3 June 1809

From Augustus B. Woodward

New-York, june 3. 1809.

Your letter of may 27. awakens, sir, anew, my sense of your undeviating kindness and condescension.—

The system, of which the work I have transmitted is a partial developement, was formed in 1795, in rockbridge; and just before I had the happiness of a first interview at monticello. The result of the presidential elections of 1796, and 1800, prevented me from presenting it to the public. In the latter instance, and during the ensuing eight years, it would have appeared to me particularly unseasonable; a truly republican administration requiring every kind of honorable support.

I found the situation of the public concerns more propitious to an introductory investigation of this subject, at the present æra, than it was ever likely to be, during my life; or that short period, in which it is permitted to an individual to be useful. In this long interval I had full opportunity to consider the subject, deliberately; and, if my mind had not cordially approved a change, at some period, these propositions would have been forever suppressed.

I transmit you, sir, a prospective view of the whole subject, so far as relates to the executive department. The discussion of the legislative part, and the establishment of a national system of jurisprudence, are too remote in prospect to permit me the pleasure of a communication of them.

In the course of time, europe, and the events in it, will cease to be so interesting to us, as they have been. Our power, already firm, is sensibly advancing; and the foundation is laid for every production and manufacture desirable to a nation. France has failed in the republican experiment, less from the particular modifications of either her legislature, or executive; than from the want of republican habits in the people. I doubt not that under any1 arrangement of the executive authority the event would have been equally unfavorable to liberty.

Asia, and particularly China, ought not to be pretermitted in our comparisons. We shall attain a permanent, or asiatic population, at a period more early than we are aware of; and in proportion as we approach it, the present construction of our executive will prove incommodious.

I apprehend not the establishment of a monarchy in the United States; but I greatly fear a separation of them, if our political institutions, and particularly the construction of the executive, cannot be rendered more appropriate to our national circumstances.—

That the wing of time may not cease to fan with a sweet felicity the retirement of monticello; and him, who enjoys in its elevated shades, the grateful veneration of a free and magnanimous nation; is the constant wish of one, who bears for you, Sir, a respect, alike cordial, and unlimited.

A. B. Woodward.

RC (DLC); addressed: “The honorable Thomas Jefferson. Monticello. Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 11 June 1809 and so recorded in SJL.

In outline form Woodward enclosed a prospective view (MS in DLC: TJ Papers, 187:33327–9; in Woodward’s hand; undated) for a three-part study of the government. The first part had already appeared as his Considerations on the Executive Government of the United States of America (Flatbush, N.Y., 1809). The other sections, evidently never published, were a proposed “review of the constructions of executive governments in different ages and countries,” focusing on Greece, Rome, France, Great Britain, and the United States, followed by chapters on the opinions of Thomas More, James Harrington, John Locke, David Hume, William Godwin, and TJ; and a third part on “the construction of the ministerial departments of the American government.”

1Woodward here canceled “other.”

Index Entries

  • antiquities; and government search
  • Asia; immigrants from search
  • China; A. B. Woodward on search
  • Considerations on the Executive Government of the United States of America (Woodward) search
  • France; A. B. Woodward on government of search
  • Godwin, William search
  • Great Britain; A. B. Woodward on government of search
  • Greece, ancient; A. B. Woodward on government of search
  • Harrington, James; political opinions of search
  • Hume, David; political opinions of search
  • Locke, John; and A. B. Woodward’s work search
  • More, Thomas search
  • politics; books on government search
  • Rome, ancient; A. B. Woodward on government of search
  • United States; A. B. Woodward on government of search
  • Woodward, Augustus Elias Brevoort; Considerations on the Executive Government of the United States of America search
  • Woodward, Augustus Elias Brevoort; letters from search
  • Woodward, Augustus Elias Brevoort; on foreign government search