Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, 29 November-14 December 1813

To Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours

Nov. 29. 13.

My very dear and estimable friend.

In answering the several very kind letters I have recieved from you, I owe to yourself, and to the most able and estimable author of the Commentaries on Montesquieu to begin by assuring you that I am not the author of that work, and of my own consciousness that it is far beyond my qualifications. in truth I consider it as the most profound and logical work which has been presented to the present generation. on the subject of government particularly there is a purity and soundness of principle which renders it precious, to our country particularly, where I trust it will become the elementary work for the youth of our academies and Colleges. the paradoxes of Montesquieu have been too long uncorrected. I will not fail to send you a copy of the work if possible to get it thro’ the perils of the sea. I am next to return you thanks for the copy of the works of Turgot, now compleated by the reciept of the last volume. in him we know not which most to admire, the comprehensiveness of his mind, or the benevolence and purity of his heart. in his Distribution of Riches, and other general works, and in the great principles developed in his smaller works, we admire the gigantic stature of his mind. but when we see that mind thwarted, harrassed, maligned and forced to exert all it’s powers in the details of provincial administration, we regret to see a Hercules laying his shoulder to the wheel of an ox-cart. the sound principles which he establishes in his particular as well as general works are a valuable legacy to ill-governed man, and will spread from their provincial limits to the great circle of mankind. I am indebted to you also for your letter by mr Correa, and the benefit it procured me of his acquaintance. he was so kind as to pay me a visit at Monticello which enabled me to see for myself that he was still beyond all the eulogies with which yourself and other friends had preconised him. learned beyond any one I had before met with, good, modest, and of the simplest manners, the idea of losing him again filled me with regret: and how much did I lament that we could not place him at the head of that great institution which I have so long nourished the hope of seeing established in my country; and towards which you had so kindly contributed your luminous views. but, my friend, that institution is still in embryo as you left it: and from the complexion of our popular legislature, and the narrow and niggardly views of ignorance courting the suffrage of ignorance to obtain a seat in it, I see little prospect of such an establishment until the national government shall be authorised to take it up and form it on the comprehensive basis of all the useful sciences. The inauspicious commencement of our war had damped at first the hopes of fulfilling your injunctions to add the Floridas and Canada to our confederacy. the former indeed might have been added but for our steady adherence to the sound principles of National integrity, which forbade us to take what was a neighbor’s merely because it suited us; and especially from a neighbor under circumstances of peculiar affliction. but seeing now that his afflictions do not prevent him from making those provinces the focus of hostile and savage combinations for the massacre of our women and children by the tomahawk and scalping knife of the Indian, these scruples must yield to the necessities of self defence: and I trust that the ensuing session of Congress will authorize the incorporation of it with ourselves. their inhabitants universally wish it and they are in truth the only legitimate proprietors of the soil & government. Canada might have been ours in the preceding year but for the treachery of our General who unfortunately commanded on it’s border. there could have been no serious resistance to the progress of the force he commanded, in it’s march thro’ Upper Canada. but he sold and delivered his army fortified and furnished as it was, to an enemy of one fourth his number. this was followed by a series of losses flowing from the same source of unqualified commanders. carelessness, cowardice, foolhardiness & sheer imbecility lost us 4 other successive bodies of men, who under faithful and capable leaders would have saved us from the affliction and the English from the crime of the thousands of men, women & children murdered & scalped by the savages under the procurement & direction of British officers, some on capitulation, some in the field, & some in their houses and beds. the determined bravery of our men, whether regulars or militia, evidenced in every circumstance where the treachery or imbecility of their commanders permitted, still kept up our confidence and sounder and abler men now placed at their head have given us possession of the whole of Upper Canada & the lakes. at the moment I am writing I am in hourly expectation of learning that Genl Wilkinson who about the 10th inst. was entering the Lake of St Francis in his descent upon Montreal, has taken possession of it, the force of the enemy there being not such as to give us much apprehension. between that place and Quebec there is nothing to stop us, but the advance of the season. the atchievements of our little navy have claimed and obtained the admiration of all, in spite of the Endeavors of the English by lying misrepresentations of the force of the vessels on both sides to conceal the truth. the loss indeed of half a dozen frigates and sloops of war is no sensible diminution of numbers to them; but the loss of the general opinion that they were invincible at sea, the lesson taught to the world that they can be beaten by an equal force, has, by it’s moral effect lost them half their physical force. I consider ourselves as now possessed of every thing from Florida point to the walls of Quebec. this last place is not worth the blood it would cost. it may be considered as impregnable to an enemy not possessing the water. I hope therefore we shall not attempt it, but leave it to be voluntarily evacuated by it’s inhabitants, cut off from all resources of subsistence by the loss of the upper country.

I will ask you no questions, my friend, about your return to the US. at your time of life it is scarcely perhaps advisable. an exchange of the society, the urbanity, and the real comforts to which you have been formed by the habits of a long life, would be a great and real sacrifice. whether therefore I shall ever see you again, or not, let me live in your esteem, as you ever will in mine most affectionately and devotedly.

Th: Jefferson

P.S. Monticello Dec. 14. 13. we have been disappointed in the result of the expedition against Montreal. the 2d in command who had been detached ashore with a large portion of the army, failing to join the main body according to orders at the entrance of Lake St Francis, the enterprize was of necessity abandoned at that point, and the inclemency of the winter being already set in, the army was forced to go into winter quarters near that place.—Since the date of my letter I have recieved yours of Sep. 18. & a printed copy of your plan of national education of which I possessed the MS. if I can get this translated and printed it will contribute1 to advance the public mind to undertake the institution. the persuading those of the value2 of science who possess none, is a slow operation.

RC (DeGH: Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours Papers, Winterthur Manuscripts); at foot of first page: “M. Dupont de Nemours.” PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ. Enclosed in TJ to David Bailie Warden, 29 Dec. 1813, and TJ to John Graham, 6 Jan. 1814.

Anne Robert Jacques Turgot’s piece on the distribution of riches was Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses ([Paris], 1788; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 2379), a work that Du Pont also included in the fifth volume of his edition of Turgot’s Oeuvres (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 2436). Preconized (preconised): “announced; extolled; commended” (OED description begins James A. H. Murray, J. A. Simpson, E. S. C. Weiner, and others, eds., The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed., 1989, 20 vols. description ends ). The great institution that TJ had long hoped to see established would eventually come to fruition as the University of Virginia (Jennings L. Wagoner Jr., Jefferson and Education [2004]; TJ to William Short, 9 Nov. 1813). TJ was convinced of the treachery of our general William Hull. the lakes: the Great Lakes. The 2d in command during the abortive United States campaign against Montreal was Wade Hampton. Du Pont’s letter to TJ was actually dated 8 Sept. 1813, not sep. 18.

1Manuscript: “contibute.”

2PoC: “benefit.”

Index Entries

  • Canada; TJ anticipates American conquest of search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); and P. S. Du Pont de Nemours search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; TJ on search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; visits Monticello search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; and Destutt de Tracy’s commentary on Montesquieu search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; edits Turgot’s Oeuvres search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; introduces J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; letters to search
  • Du Pont de Nemours, Pierre Samuel; Sur l’éducation nationale dans les États-Unis d’Amérique search
  • Florida; and War of1812 search
  • Florida; TJ on U.S. acquisition of search
  • Hampton, Wade; War of1812service of search
  • Hull, William; and surrender of Northwest Army search
  • Indians; and War of1812 search
  • Indians; as British allies search
  • Indians; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; conquest of Canada search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; incompetent U.S. military leaders search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Indians search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; militia search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; the acquisition of Florida search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Corrêa da Serra, José search
  • Montreal search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; and War of1812 search
  • Oeuvres (A. R. J. Turgot) search
  • Quebec; difficulty of capturing search
  • Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses (A. R. J. Turgot) search
  • Sur l’éducation nationale dans les États-Unis d’Amérique (P. S. Du Pont de Nemours) search
  • Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques; Oeuvres search
  • Turgot, Anne Robert Jacques; Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses search
  • Virginia, University of (Charlottesville); TJ’s vision for search
  • War of1812; and Indians search
  • War of1812; TJ on search
  • War of1812; U.S. naval victories during search
  • Wilkinson, James; War of1812service of search