Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 26 May 1810

To John Tyler

Monticello May 26. 10.

Dear Sir

Your friendly letter of the 12th has been duly recieved. altho I have laid it down as a law to myself, never to embarras the President with my sollicitations, and have not till now broken thro’ it, yet I have made a part of your letter the subject of one to him, and have done it with all my heart, and in the full belief that I serve him and the public in urging that appointment. we have long enough suffered under1 the base prostitution of law to party passions in one judge, and the imbecility of another. in the hands of one, the law is nothing more than an ambiguous text to be explained by his sophistry into any meaning which may subserve his personal malices, nor can any milk & water associate maintain his own dependance, & by a firm pursuance of what the law really is, extend it’s protection to the citizens or the public. I believe you will do it, & where you cannot induce your collegue to do what is right, you will be firm enough to hinder him from doing what is wrong, & by opposing sense to sophistry, leave the juries free to follow their own judgment.

I have long lamented with you the depreciation of law science. the opinion seems to be that Blackstone is to us what the Alcoran is to the Mahometans, that every thing which is necessary is in him, & what is not in him is not necessary. I still lend my counsel & books to such young students as will fix themselves in the neighborhood. Coke’s institutes, all, & reports are their first, & Blackstone their last book, after an intermediate course of 2. or 3. years. it is nothing more than an elegant digest of what they will then have acquired from the real fountains of the law. now men are born scholars, lawyers, Doctors; in our day this was confined to poets. You wish to see me again in the legislature. but this is impossible. my mind is now so dissolved in tranquility that it can never again encounter a contentious assembly. the habits of thinking & speaking off hand, after a disuse of five & twenty years, have given place to the slower process of the pen. I have indeed two great measures at heart, without which no republic can maintain itself in strength. 1. that of2 general education to enable every man to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom. 2. to divide every county into hundreds, of such size that all the children of each will be within reach of a central school in it. but this division looks to many other fundamental provisions. every hundred, besides a school should have a justice of the peace, a constable & a captain of it’s militia. these officers, or some others within the hundred should be a corporation to manage all it’s concerns, to take care of it’s roads, it’s poor, & it’s police by patroles Etc (as the select men of the Eastern townships.) every hundred should elect one or two jurors to serve where requisite, and all other elections should be made in the hundreds separately, & the votes of all the hundreds be brought together. our present Captaincies, might be declared hundreds for the present with a power to the courts to alter them occasionally. these little republics would be the main strength of the great one. we owe to them the vigour given to our revolution in it’s commencement in the Eastern states, & by them the Eastern states were enabled to repeal3 the embargo in opposition to the middle, Southern & Western states & their large & lubberly division into counties which can never be assembled. general orders are given out from a center to the Foreman of every4 hundred, as to the serjeants of an army and the whole nation is thrown into energetic action, in the same direction in one instant &5 as one man and becomes absolutely irresistible. could I once see this I should consider it as the dawn of the salvation of the republic, & say with old Simeon, ‘nunc dimittas Domine.’ but our children will be as wise as we are, and will establish in the fulness of time those things not yet ripe for establishment. So be it; & to yourself health, happiness & long life.

Th: Jefferson6

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “Governor Tyler.”

TJ was referring to the party passions of John Marshall and the imbecility of Cyrus Griffin. nunc dimittas domine: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word” (Luke 2.29).

1TJ here canceled “the tyranny.”

2TJ here canceled “public.”

3Preceding two words interlined in place of “to defeat the exercise of.”

4Word interlined in place of “the.”

5Preceding four words interlined.

6Manuscript: “Th Jeff.”

Index Entries

  • American Revolution; TJ on search
  • Bible; Luke referenced by TJ search
  • Blackstone, William; Commentaries on the Laws of England search
  • Coke, Sir Edward; The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or a Commentary upon Littleton search
  • Commentaries on the Laws of England (W. Blackstone) search
  • education; TJ on search
  • Embargo Act (1807); repeal of search
  • Griffin, Cyrus; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; American Revolution search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; dividing states into hundreds or wards search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Marshall search
  • Koran search
  • law; books on search
  • law; TJ provides training in search
  • Madison, James; and J. Tyler search
  • Marshall, John; TJ on search
  • The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or a Commentary upon Littleton (E. Coke) search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); letters to search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); seeks judicial appointment search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and C. Griffin search