Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John F. Watson, 17 May 1814

To John F. Watson

Monticello May 17. 1814.


I have long been a subscriber to the edition of the Edinburgh review first published by mr Sargeant, and latterly by Eastburn Kirk and co. and already possess from No 30. to 42. inclusive; except that Nos 31. & 37 never came to hand. these two and No 29. I should be glad to recieve, with all subsequently published thro the channel of messrs Fitzwhylson & Potter of Richmond, with whom I originally subscribed, and to whom it is more convenient to make paiment by a standing order on my correspondent at Richmond. I willingly also subscribe for the republication of the first 28. Nos to be furnished me thro the same channel for the convenience of paiment. this work is certainly unrivalled in merit, and if continued by the same talents, information and principles which distinguish it in every department of science which it reviews, it will become a real Encyclopaedia, justly taking it’s station in our libraries with the most valuable depositories of human knolege. of the Quarterly Review I have not seen many numbers. as the Antagonist of the other it appeared to me a pigmy against a giant. the precept ‘Audi alteram partem,’1 on which it is republished here, should be sacred with the judge who is to decide between the contending claims of individual & individual, it is well enough for the young who have yet opinions to make up on questions of principle in ethics or politics. but to those who have gone thro’ this process with industry, reflection, and singleness of heart, who have formed their conclusions and acted on them thro’ life, to be reading over and over again what they have already read, considered and condemned, is an idle waste of time. it is not in the history of modern England or among the advocates of the principles or practices of her government, that the friend of freedom, or of political morality, is to seek instruction. there has indeed been a period, during which both were to be found, not in her government, but in the band of worthies who so boldly and ably reclaimed the rights of the people, and wrested from their government theoretic acknolegements of them. this period began with the Stuarts, and continued but one reign after them. since that the vital principle of the English constitution is Corruption, it’s practices the natural result of that principle, and their consequences a pampered aristocracy, annihilation of the substantial middle class, a degraded populace, oppressive taxes, general pauperism, & national bankruptcy. those who long for these blessings here will find their generating principles well developed and advocated by the Antagonists of the Edinburgh Review. still those who doubt should read them; every man’s reason being his sole rightful umpire. this principle, with that of acquiescence in the will of the Majority will preserve us free & prosperous as long as they are sacredly observed. Accept the assurance of my respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (PHi: Dreer Collection); addressed: “Mr John F. Watson Bookseller Philadelphia”; franked; postmarked Charlottesville, 18 May; endorsed by Watson as received 23 May and answered 2 June 1814, with added notation: “Books—11.25.” PoC (DLC). Tr (MHi); posthumous copy.

audi alteram partem: “hear the other side.”

Sometime before this date, South Carolina Episcopal bishop Theodore Dehon and a friend visited TJ at Monticello. Dehon’s biographer and probable companion, Christopher E. Gadsden, later described the visit as follows: “On his journey to attend the Convention at Philadelphia, (May, 1814,) the road brought him within a half-day’s ride of Monticello. His companion having expressed an earnest wish to see both that seat and its illustrious proprietor, he kindly and promptly surrendered his own inclination. Unprovided with a letter, we were nevertheless hospitably invited to pass the night. The extensive and varied scenery from this mountain—the arrangements of the grounds, and of the interior of the mansion, and its scientific decorations, presented many interesting novelties; but our attention was chiefly engaged by the presence and the conversation of the great man. Mr. Jefferson’s large person seemed the appropriate tenement of his capacious and largely stored mind. He moved with great ease and more rapidity, than one unaccustomed to it could have done, over his well-waxed, tessellated mahogany-floor. He spoke, almost constantly, on various topics seasonably introduced, very sensibly, and seemed never to hesitate for a thought or a word. The impression was unavoidable, that he was a master mind. The regret was equally unavoidable, that it had been so indifferent, if not averse, to moral studies, important beyond all comparison—studies which had deeply interested Newton, Locke and Bacon. Having breakfasted with Mr. Jefferson, we proceeded to the seat of President Madison, with whom Bishop Dehon was acquainted” (Christopher E. Gadsden, An Essay on the Life of the Right Reverend Theodore Dehon, D. D. [1833], 239).

1Opening double quotation mark editorially altered for consistency.

Index Entries

  • Dehon, Theodore; visits Monticello search
  • Eastburn, Kirk & Company (New York firm); and Edinburgh Review search
  • Edinburgh Review search
  • Fitzwhylsonn & Potter (Richmond firm); and Edinburgh Review search
  • Gadsden, Christopher E.; describes visit to Monticello search
  • Gibson, Patrick; payments made for TJ search
  • Great Britain; TJ on history of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; subscriptions search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; British government search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); Visitors to; Dehon, Theodore search
  • Quarterly Review search
  • Sargeant, Ezra; and Edinburgh Review search
  • Watson, John Fanning; letters to search