Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 17 January 1814

To Joseph C. Cabell

Monticello Jan. 17. 14.

Dear Sir

In your last letter to me you expressed a desire to look into the question Whether, by the laws of nature, one generation of men can, by any act of theirs, bind those which are to follow them? I say, by the laws of nature, there being between generation and generation, as between nation and nation, no other obligatory law: and you requested to see what I had said on the subject to mr Eppes. I inclose, for your own perusal, therefore, three letters which I wrote to him on the course of our finances, which embrace the question before stated. when I wrote the 1st I had no thought of following it by a 2d. I was led to that by his subsequent request, and after the 2d I was induced, in a 3d to take up the subject of banks, by the communication of a proposition, to be laid before Congress, for the establishment of a new bank. I mention this to explain the total absence of order in these letters as a whole. I have said above that they are sent for your own perusal, not meaning to debar any use of the matter, but only that my name may in no wise be connected with it. I am too desirous of tranquility to bring such a nest of hornets on me as the fraternities of banking companies: and this infatuation of banks is a torrent which it would be a folly for me to get into the way of. I see that it must take it’s course, until actual ruin shall awaken us from it’s delusions. until the gigantic banking propositions of this winter had made their appearance in the different legislatures, I had hoped that the evil might still be checked. but I see now that it is desperate, and that we must fold our arms, and go to the bottom with the ship. I had been in hopes that good old Virginia, not yet so far embanked as her northern sisters, would have set the example, this winter, of beginning the process of cure, by passing a law that after a certain time, suppose of 6. months, no bank bill of less than 10.D. should be permitted: that after some other reasonable term there should be none less than 20.D. and so on, until those only should be left in circulation whose size would be above the common transactions of any but merchants. this would ensure to us an ordinary circulation of metallic money, and would reduce the quantum of paper within the bounds of moderate mischief: and it is the only way in which the reduction can be made without a shock to private fortunes. a sudden stoppage of this trash, either by law or it’s own worthlessness, would produce confusion and ruin. yet this will happen by it’s own extinction, if left to itself. whereas by a salutary interposition of the legislature, it may be withdrawn insensibly and safely. such a mode of doing it too would give less alarm to the bank holders, the discreet part of whom must wish to see themselves secured by some circumscription. it might be asked what we should do for change? the banks must provide it, 1st to pay off their 5.D. bills, next their 10.D. do and so on, and they ought to provide it to lessen the evils of their institution.—but I now give up all hope. after producing the same revolutions in private fortunes as the old continental paper did, it will die like that, adding a total incapacity to raise resources for the war.

Withdrawing myself within the shell of our own state, I have long contemplated a division of it into hundreds or wards as the most fundamental measure for securing good government, and for instilling the principles & exercise of self government into every fibre of every member of our commonwealth. but the details are too long for a letter, and must be the subject of conversation, whenever I shall have the pleasure of seeing you. it is for some of you young legislators to immortalise yourselves by laying this stone as the basis of our political edifice.

I must ask the favor of an early return of the inclosed papers, of which I have no copy. ever affectionately yours.

Th: Jefferson

RC (ViU: TJP); at foot of first page: “Joseph C. Cabell esq.”; endorsed by Cabell as answered 23 Jan. PoC (DLC). Enclosures: TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 24 June, 11 Sept., 6 Nov. 1813. Enclosed in TJ to James Monroe, 3 Aug. 1814, and Monroe to TJ, 26 Apr. 1815.

By Cabell’s last letter, TJ means his letter of 29 Nov. 1813, which was received at Monticello on the same day as the state senator’s most recent communication, dated 8 Dec. 1813. For TJ’s ideas about the necessity of dividing his home state into hundreds or wards, see his 1778 Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , 2:526–35, esp. 527–8), TJ to John Tyler, 26 May 1810, and TJ to John Adams, 28 Oct. 1813.

Index Entries

  • banks; currency issued by search
  • banks; in Va. search
  • banks; TJ on search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and TJ’s ideas on finance search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; as Va. state senator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; letters to search
  • Eppes, John Wayles (TJ’s son-in-law); and TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; banks search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; dividing states into hundreds or wards search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; government finance search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; paper money search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge search
  • political economy; TJ’s letters on finance search
  • Virginia; TJ on dividing into hundreds or wards search
  • War of1812; and economy search