Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Clarke to Thomas Jefferson, 2 December 1813

From John Clarke

near Richmond Decr 2d 1813.

Dear Sir

In addressing the first man of an enlightened nation, upon a political subject; I feel that diffidence which a consciousness of the great disparity between our respective intellects, naturally inspires.—The sun cannot borrow light from a twinkling star, nor can the brilliancy of your mind, receive additional lustre from the weak and obscure reflections of mine. But as the most able Generals sometimes receive salutary hints from the lowest subaltern, and even from the humble soldier; And as the most unenlightened citizen, may suggest ideas, which abler minds may improve into real benefits; I am tempted again to address you.

As we cannot subdue our enemy on the ocean, for want of a sufficient navy; And as the war on our part must therefore be carried on chiefly by land forces; it is a matter of the first importance, that we should adopt effectual measures for raising a strong and efficient Army. The efforts of our Marine force in the present war, have been crowned with the most brilliant success, and have filled the public mind with exultation; Whilst those of the Military, have, in several instances been so unsuccessful; as to fall far short of the public expectation. But as the success of Armies, as well as of Navies, depend upon the skill, as well as the courage, of the individuals who compose them; we should not expect that the success of our Military force, will equal that of the Marine; until the Army shall be composed of troops, voluntarily enlisted for regular service, and skilled in the arts of war. Until that object shall be accomplished; we must continue to employ the Militia, in our Armies. And notwithstanding they sometimes object, to passing beyond the limits of the United States; they must guard our frontiers. And although they are undisciplined, they must contend against a veteran enemy, until regular troops can be provided. It is true, that, during the period of life, in which our citizens are militia, they necessarily bear a greater portion of the burthens of war, than other members of the community; since they like others, meet the expenses of war, with the purse; And moreover, meet the enemy with the bayonet. But the militia of the present day, merely stand in the predicament in which others have stood, whom old age has exempted from militia duty; and the same in which, our male infants must stand, when they shall arrive at the proper age, to perform that duty. Our militia citizens are brave and patriotic, but they are unacquainted with military operations. A considerable portion of them, are married men, who follow the occupations of agriculture; And although they perform their respective tour’s of military duty without complaint, and are anxiously disposed to support a vigorous prosecution of the war; yet the performance of that duty, is generally attended with much disadvantage and inconvenience to themselves. Moreover, the reluctance with which they leave their wives & children, and cease to cultivate the fields that yield them bread,—the consciousness, when in service, that their want of military skill, will render them unequal to the enemy in battle;—and their anxiety to return to the bosom of domestic enjoyment; Are considerations which operate on the minds of the married militia-men with such force, as to prevent them from receiving, even the rudiments of a military education; and disqualify them for the performance of their duty with the intrepidity and manly spirit of soldiers. But notwithstanding the militia is a mass too heterogeneous for an Army, if taken indiscriminately; yet the materials for gallant armies, are to be found amongst that class of our citizens. Let us then, seperate the metal from the dross; by enlisting from amongst the militia, the unmarried men, who feel the influence of military pride & valour, and are anxious to become the avengers of their country’s wrongs. Men who possess those feelings, and are free from the cares & uninfluenced by the considerations above mentioned, are the materials, of which, our military columns should be composed. But in this country, the temptations are great, which agriculture, and the mechanic, arts; hold out to enterprise and industry; We should not therefore, expect that such men; should encounter the hardships & perils of war, for a smaller reward than their domestic labours would produce. And I may add, that it is owing more to the want of a liberal bounty, than perhaps to any other cause, that so few recruits are enlisted for regular service.

I now come to the object of this communication, which is; to suggest for your consideration, a method, not yet resorted to; for the enlistment of regular troops.—The project simply is; That the militia of the United States, shall be legally authorised or allowed, to furnish from time to time, such numbers of regular troops raised among themselves by their own voluntary contributions in money or other property, as may be sufficient for all the purposes of war; instead of performing military services themselves.

I may perhaps be mistaken in the effect of this project, but I am induced to believe it would succeed; not merely from my own reflections on the subject, but by the opinions of many militia officers of high rank, as well as of privates, of good judgment; to whom I have mentioned it.

If all the troops required for our armies were regulars, there would be no necessity for calling out the militia; but whilst there is not a sufficient number of regular troops, the militia are continually subject to be called into service: And the circumstances under which they perform military duty are such; that there is scarcely a man among them who, would not much rather contribute a small sum, for the enlistment of regulars, than perform that duty himself. It could not be deemed a hardship on the militia, that they should apply their own funds to the enlistment of regulars; because they would have the option, of doing so, or not; and if they should choose to enlist regulars, it would be for their own accomodation. Let us now consider, whether the pecuniary interest as well as the convenience of the militia, would not be promoted by their contributing money for the enlistment of regular troops, instead of performing military duty themselves.—Every militia-man who is possessed of health & strength, sufficient for the performance of military duty, has it in his power to earn (even by the most common occupations of husbandry) an hundred dollars per annum, But when he is called into service, one tour of duty for the usual term of six months, will deprive him of the profits of half a year’s labour; which is equal to fifty dollars: and as he looses fifty dollars by the performance of a tour of duty; it may be presumed that he would rather pay that sum, and continue his attention to his own affairs at home; than, go into the army, even for the term of one tour. But for want of regular troops in the army, he may be made to perform many tour’s; It would therefore be greatly to his interest, to contribute fifty dollars (which one tour of duty would cost him) for the enlistment of regular troops, who, by continuing in the army, would perhaps exonerate the militia-man from military service, during the whole war. I have endeavoured to shew, that the pecuniary interest, as well as the convenience, of the militia generally, would be promoted by their contributing fifty dollars each, for the enlistment of regular troops. But a contribution of only half that sum (to wit twenty five dollars) by each militia-man; would perhaps raise as many regulars, as the army now requires to make it so strong, as to render the service of the militia unnecessary. Although every militia-man, may by labour earn, an hundred dollars per annum; yet if a bounty of an hundred dollars should be offered for each citizen who would enlist to serve in the regular army during the war; I think it probable that the requisite number would soon be raised. Because the present war is not expected to be of long continuance; Because the occupation of a soldier, although, sometimes attended with hardship & danger; is not so laborious as the business of the Farm or the Work-shop: And because enterprising unmarried men, when the country is involved in war; are prompted to engage in it, by a natural impulse; and that impulse would be increased by a bounty of one hundred dollars. But suppose the bounty should be even greater than the annual amount of a man’s labour while domesticated among the militia;—let it be an hundred and twenty five dollars:—It only requires five militia-men to contribute twenty five dollars each, and that bounty for a regular soldier is immediately made up. Twenty five dollars, is indeed a small sum to contribute to so important an object; especially when we consider, that every militia-man who is sufficiently able-bodied to perform military duty, may earn it, at any kind of business; in the course of two or three months,—in half the time that one tour of militia duty would require of him. As the burthen of war, falls more heavily on the militia, than any other class of citizens; every militia-man in the United States, should bear his portion of it; and when that shall be the case; the burthen will in reality be a light one. If five militia-men by a contribution of Twenty five dollars each, can enlist a regular soldier for the war; every militia regiment of a thousand men, may in like manner enlist Two hundred; And the whole militia of the Union (by apportioning the proper number to each regiment,) might raise an army of regular troops, so strong; as, to render the military service of the Militia, unnecessary.

I merely suggest this outline of a project, in the hope; that, it may be so improved; as to add strength and vigour to the military force upon which we chiefly depend, in the present war.

The present belligerant state of the nations of Europe & America, and their respective relations to each other; furnish matter for deep & interesting speculation; but we cannot foretel the consequences that may result from such a state of things. It is pleasing however, to reflect; that, ’tho’ robbed of commerce, and involved in war; yet happy is the condition of free, self-governed America, contrasted with that of miserable Europe, still smarting under the lash of Tyrants; still convulsed; and bleeding at every pore. But we should not depend for our happiness & prosperity, upon the Justice of foreign nations; We must rely upon the exertion of our own strength, and prudence. The ambition and pride, of kings and emperors; which inflames all Europe and sends forth its sparks to America; is sufficient to awaken us to a sense of our assailable & unprepared situation for war. It should stimulate our energies and call into action our resources; by means of which; we should be able to repel the most formidable efforts of our enemy. The anxious hope for peace, which we still cherish; is attributed, by our enemy, to our inability, and unwillingness to carry on the war. And whilst we trust to that hope, and rely on negotiation, as we now do upon the mediation of Russia; whilst public opinion wavers upon points that require the most prompt decision; we shall probably continue at war, without being prepared for it. As great Britain (with her european allies,) is now contending against the greatest military nation on earth; we should strike the blow, that would give us complete possession of her american provinces; And banish from the Florida’s, her spanish allies; who make war upon us, through the instrumentality of the southern Indians;—those savages whose happiness, your philanthropy has long laboured to promote, by introducing among them, the blessings of peace and civilization. Should the present campaign, in Europe, terminate in favor of the allies; perhaps Britain; already elated with success in Spain; may be induced to send a considerable number of troops from thence to america.—That is an event that may happen, and one which we should be prepared to meet. The future happiness of our country, and the stand which we shall hereafter occupy in the scale of nations; may perhaps depend upon the character, which the present war will stamp upon us. Our love of peace, and confidence in the Justice and moderation, with which our government has long endeavoured to prevent encroachments upon our rights; have been considered, by the nations of europe, as a base submission to wrongs, which we had not sufficient energy to counteract: But since we have buckled on1the armour and taken the attitude of war;” Since we have been compelled to lay aside the olive branch and draw the sword; we ought ere it is sheathed; to engrave with its point, the character of our nation. We ought to prove to piratical Britain; that we are as brave and generous, as we have been moderate and Just; And convince imperial Europe, that republican America, though in peace like the lamb is, in war like the lion. By a courageous & determined spirit, and by improvements in the science of war; France has acquired a weight of character, which she could not otherwise attain. She is now not only able to combat the most powerful of her enemies, but to meet in battle, their whole united force. And although we do not Justify the acts of her present ruler; we may profit by the examples she has furnished, of bravery, activity and perseverance.

But I fear, that any attempt to establish such a reputation as our nation deserves, will be ineffectual; whilst the salutary measures of the national Executive, are trammelled & thwarted by the national Legislature. The honor and the interests of the nation are confided to its agents; but they cannot be supported in war; without unanimity and energy in our councils; aided by skill, and bravery, in our Army, and navy. That the federalists or british partisans; should act in opposition to the administration of our government; is neither new nor unexpected. But that men who, by professing a devotion to the principles of our government; were elected to represent a republican people, in the national legislature; should in time of war assist the enemy, by counteracting the patriotic measures of the Executive branch of the government; is a circumstance which could not have been expected by their constituents. It is a species of treachery that has the effect of studied treason; and excites the warmest indignation of the people. It is, perhaps, owing to the ambition and envy, of men of that stamp; that we are now involved in war. Their hostility to the Executive; manifested to the british government; that beside the federal party, there were republicans of high standing, in Congress; who were equally inimical to the Administration;—that in the event of a war; its measures would probably be cramped and paralyzed by a republican, as well as a federal, opposition; And that war, could not therefore be carried on with great effect. And if such were the predictions of the british government; they have been most fully verified. For the President, since the commencement of the war; has scarcely appointed any citizen to an office of importance, either civil or military; or adopted any important measure relative to carrying on the war with vigour; or for making peace on honourable terms: but his appointments and his measures, have been invariably condemned by those pretended republicans, as well as the federalists; And all the means in their power exerted, to prevent any beneficial result from them.

yet not content with the opposition made while on the floor of Congress, nor with the opprobrious invectives uttered in private circles, against the Executive; We have recently seen, that the ambition & envy of a certain senator who professes to be a republican; has lately prompted him to attack our patriotic President, through the medium of the public prints; Under the pretence of Justifying his own conduct. But he is mistaken in the estimate he has formed of the public discernment. The veil of sophistry with which he attempts to shroud his designs, is not impervious to the public eye. The american people behold him, as a public servant, who has abused their confidence; and as a statesman, who would sacrifice the interests of the nation, and the well-merited fame of our best patriots; at the shrine of his ambition. It is much to be regretted, that, the public voice, cannot now reduce this envious, ostentatious man, to the obscurity to which (at the last congressional election) it consigned a late celebrated demagogue of opposition, in the lower house, for a similar dereliction of political principles.

But the war, I trust; will be prosecuted with vigour, notwithstanding the opposition of monarchists, federalists, and pretended republicans. And if we can succeed in filling the ranks of our armies with regular troops; we may smile at the contemptible opposition made to it; by the tory governors of some of the eastern States; as we shall not then require the militia, to fight our battles.

I take this opportunity, to acknowledge the receipt of your favor of the 8th April, in reply to my letter of the 9th march last; And to tender you the assurance of my veneration and Cordial esteem.

John Clarke

RC (DLC: James Madison Papers); at head of text: “The hon’ble Thomas Jefferson, late President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as a letter “relating to war” received 13 Dec. 1813 and recorded under that date of receipt in SJL. Enclosed in TJ to James Monroe, 27 Jan. 1814.

The 1813 campaigns of Great Britain and her continental allies against France, the greatest military nation on earth, achieved such success that by the end of the year French forces had been driven out of both central Europe and spain (Chandler, Campaigns of Napoleon, 945). the armour and taken the attitude of war references President James Madison’s 5 Nov. 1811 annual message to Congress, in which he urged the legislature to put the nation “into an armour, and an attitude demanded by the crisis” (Madison, Papers, Pres. Ser., 4:3). France’s present ruler was Napoleon.William B. Giles, a United States senator from Virginia, repeatedly attacked President James Madison’s policies through the medium of the public prints. His letters “To the People of Virginia,” dated between 20 Oct. and 25 Nov. 1813, were printed in newspapers across the country and also published separately (Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 16 Nov., 1, 13 Dec. 1813; Address of the Honorable William B. Giles, to the People of Virginia [n.d.]). The celebrated demagogue who lost his seat in the United States House of Representatives in the 1812 election was John Randolph of Roanoke (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Manuscript: “on on.”

Index Entries

  • Army, U.S.; and militia search
  • Army, U.S.; enlistment for search
  • Clarke, John (1766–1844); letters from search
  • Clarke, John (1766–1844); on U.S. position internationally search
  • Clarke, John (1766–1844); on wartime political wrangling search
  • Clarke, John (1766–1844); plan for increasing enlistment of regular troops search
  • Congress, U.S.; J. Madison’s messages to search
  • Florida; and War of1812 search
  • France; and Great Britain search
  • Giles, William Branch; as U.S. senator search
  • Great Britain; and France search
  • Indians; and War of1812 search
  • Indians; as British allies search
  • Madison, James; and party politics search
  • Madison, James; annual message to Congress by search
  • Madison, James; criticized search
  • Madison, James; Federalist opposition to search
  • militia; and increasing regular army enlistments search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; and Spain search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; mentioned search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; and War of1812 search
  • Randolph, John (of Roanoke); electoral defeat of search
  • Republican party; unity within search
  • Spain; relations with Great Britain search
  • Spain; resists Napoleonic rule search
  • War of1812; and Indians search
  • War of1812; and peace negotiations search
  • War of1812; U.S. naval victories during search
  • War of1812; volunteer troops search