Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 9 March 1813

To Benjamin Waterhouse

Monticello Mar. 9. 13.

Dear Sir

I thank you for the book you have been so kind as to send me. it puts a dry subject into a pleasant dress; and explaining the principles of vegetation as well as of Botany, it will be a better preparation to a student than the elementary books generally are. that it’s sale should have succeeded only South of Connecticut proves two things; one which I have long observed, that the scale of science cultivated in the east is more limited than that to the South, the clergy, who are afraid of science every where, controuling it there. the second, that the fell hatred of party spirit thinks no persecution too mean. but you should not wonder at their hue and cry against you who declared the heresy of1 the possibility of the existence of a mountain of salt, when you recollect that against myself who had never uttered a word on the subject, verbal or written. it is true that in a paper written by Majr Stoddert an officer, a federalist and an honest man, abridged by Jacob Wagner then Chief clerk of the Secy of State, now printer of a favorite federal paper in Baltimore, and put by him into the bundle of documents made up at that office for Congress, & passed through me without ever having been seen or read by me2 such a fact was stated by Stoddert; but I never heard of it till the federal writers drew forth the morsel so delicious for the exercise of their wit. I thought it as innocent a tub for the whale as could be given them, & said nothing. it shewed too the extent of the science of which they boast they possess the whole. but if truth is their object, they may now take up the Major’s book on Louisiana lately published, in which (page 403) he vindicates his former assertion, and produces facts, on which the federal wits may display all their science, and after demolishing Major Stoddert’s Salt mountain, may sollicit an Auto da fé to burn you who believed in the heresy, or force you to fly South of Connecticut, where no truth is feared, science is honored, not reviled, & where you, as one of it’s sons would always be recieved with cordiality. Accept my prayers for the success of your efforts to do good wherever you are.

Th: Jefferson

RC (MBCo: Waterhouse Letterbook); at foot of text: “Doctr Benjamin Waterhouse.” PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

stoddert: Amos Stoddard. The favorite federal paper was the Baltimore Federal Republican. On 14 Nov. 1803 TJ submitted a bundle of documents to the United States Congress that digested information on the vast territories recently acquired from France, “furnished to the Executive by several individuals among the best informed upon that subject.” A section containing a “General Description of Upper Louisiana” mentioned the existence of a salt mountain “about one thousand miles up the Missouri, and not far from that river. … The existence of such a mountain might well be questioned, were it not for the testimony of several respectable and enterprising traders who have visited it. … This mountain is said to be one hundred and eighty miles long, and forty-five in width, composed of solid rock salt, without any trees, or even shrubs on it” (ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:344, 346). Federalist writers referred sardonically to this report for years, with one editor confessing to standing “for some minutes as if I had been … metamorphosed into a block of Louisiana mountain rock-salt!” before proceeding to excoriate Republican leaders, including “Emperor Thomas” (New York Weekly Inspector, 20 Sept. 1806). tub for the whale: “Sea-men have a Custom when they meet a Whale, to fling him out an empty Tub, by way of Amusement, to divert him from laying violent Hands upon the Ship” (Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub. Written for the Universal Improvement of Mankind, 2d ed. [London, 1704], 14). Stoddard’s book on louisiana reported that a salt mountain was said to be “situated at the head of one of the western branches of the Arkansas. This mountain, if it may be so called, has been visited by Indians only, and on them we are unfortunately obliged to rely for a description of it” (Stoddard, Sketches, Historical and Descriptive, of Louisiana [Philadelphia, 1812; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4077], 403). The “mountain” in question seems actually to have been a red-sand plain with large underlying salt deposits situated in present-day northwest Oklahoma (Thomas D. Isern, “Jefferson’s Salt Mountain: The Big Salt Plain of the Cimarron River,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 58 [1980]: 160–75).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • books; on botany search
  • botany; books on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Swift search
  • newspapers; Baltimore Federal Republican & Commercial Gazette search
  • salt; mountain of search
  • Sketches, Historical and Descriptive of Louisiana (Stoddard) search
  • Stoddard, Amos; Sketches, Historical and Descriptive of Louisiana search
  • Swift, Jonathan; TJ quotes search
  • The Botanist (Waterhouse) search
  • Wagner, Jacob; editor of Baltimore Federal Republican search
  • Wagner, Jacob; hostility to TJ search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; and mountain of salt search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; letters to search
  • Waterhouse, Benjamin; The Botanist search