Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John Melish, 10 December 1814

To John Melish

Monticello Dec. 10. 14.

Dear Sir

I thank you for your favor of the map of the Sine quâ non, inclosed in your letter of Nov. 12. it was an excellent idea; and if, with the Documents distributed by Congress, copies of these had been sent to be posted up in every street, on every Town-house and Court-house, it would have painted to the eyes of those who cannot read, and of those also who read without reflecting, that reconquest is the ultimate object of Britain. the first step towards this is to set a limit to their expansion by taking from them that noble country which the foresight of their fathers provided for their multiplying and needy offspring: to be followed up by the compression, land-board and sea-board, of that omnipotence which the English fancy themselves now to possess. a vain & foolish imagination! instead of fearing and endeavoring to crush our prosperity, had they cultivated it in friendship, it might have become a bulwark instead of a breaker to them. there has never been an administration in this country which would not gladly have met them more than half way on the road to an equal, a just, & solid connection of friendship and intercourse. and as to repressing our growth, they might as well attempt to repress the waves of the ocean.

Your American Atlas is an useful undertaking for those who will live to see and to use it. to me every mail, in the departure of some Cotemporary, brings warning to be in readiness my self also and to cease from new engagements.1 it is a warning of no alarm. when faculty after faculty is retiring from us, and all the avenues to chearful sensation closing, sight failing now, hearing next, then memory, debility of body, habetude of mind, nothing remaining but a sickly vegetation, with scarcely the relief of a little loco-motion, the last cannot be but a coup de grace.

You propose to me the preparation of a new edition of the Notes on Virginia. I formerly entertained the idea, and from time to time noted some new [ma]tter, which I thought I would arrange at leisure for a posthumous edition. [but I?] begin to see that it is impracticable for me. nearly forty years of addi[tional experie]nce in the affairs of mankind would lead me into dilatations ending I know not where. that experience indeed has not altered a single principle. but it has furnished matter of abundant developement. every moment too, which I have to spare from my daily exercise and affairs is engrossed by a correspondence, the result of the extensive relations which my course of life has necessarily occasioned. and now the act of writing itself is becoming slow, laborious and irksome. I consider therefore the idea of preparing a new copy of that work as no more to be entertained. the work itself indeed is nothing more than the measure of a shadow, never stationary, but lengthening as the sun advances, and to be taken anew from hour to hour. it must remain therefore for some other hand to sketch it’s appearance at another epoch, to furnish another element for calculating the course and motion of this member of our federal system. for this every day is adding new matter, & strange matter. that of reducing, by impulse instead of attraction, a sister planet into it’s orbit, will be as new in our political, as in the planetary system. the operation however will be painful rather than difficult. the sound part of our wandering star will probably, by it’s own internal energies, keep the unsound within it’s course: or, if a foreign power is called in, we shall have to meet it but so much the nearer, and with a more overwhelming force. it will probably shorten the war. for I think it probable that the Sine quâ non was designedly put into an impossible form to give time for the developement of their plots & concerts with the factionists of Boston, and that they are holding off to see the issue, not of the Congress of Vienna, but of that of Hartford. this will begin a new chapter in our history, and with a wish that you may live in health to see it’s easy close, I tender you the assurance of my great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); lower left corner of recto torn away.

Virginia’s sister planet was Massachusetts. The hartford Convention, which met between 15 Dec. 1814 and 5 Jan. 1815, brought together representatives from the five New England states to discuss their grievances against the federal government and its mismanagement of the war. Far from advocating secession, the body’s final report merely chastised Washington officials for failing to defend the region adequately, repeated longstanding complaints about embargoes, slave representation, western expansion, and the admission of new states, proposed constitutional amendments to address these problems, and recommended that a suitable portion of the federal tax revenue be set aside for the defense of states threatened during wartime (Banner, Hartford Convention; Malcomson, Historical Dictionary description begins Robert Malcomson, Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812, 2006 description ends , 239–40; Stagg, Madison’s War description begins John C. A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic, 1783–1830, 1983 description ends , 479, 482).

1Preceding six words interlined, with redundant period at end of insertion editorially omitted.

Index Entries

  • aging; TJ on his own search
  • Boston, Mass.; support for Great Britain in search
  • Canada; TJ anticipates American conquest of search
  • Congress, U.S.; and foreign affairs search
  • Constitution, U.S.; proposed amendments to search
  • deafness; and old age search
  • Federalist party; in New England search
  • Great Britain; and Massachusetts search
  • Great Britain; TJ on war with search
  • Hartford, Conn.; Federalist convention at search
  • health; deafness search
  • health; vision loss search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; debility search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; eyesight search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; faulty memory search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; hearing search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; aging search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; death of old friends search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Massachusetts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; the acquisition of Canada search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; war with Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • maps; of U.S. search
  • Massachusetts; TJ on search
  • Melish, John; and revised edition of TJ’s Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Melish, John; letters to search
  • Melish, John; proposal for printing an American atlas search
  • Melish, John; The Sine Qua Non: A Map of the United States search
  • New England; Federalists in search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); revised edition proposed search
  • The Sine Qua Non: A Map of the United States (J. Melish) search
  • United States; maps of search
  • Vienna, Congress of; negotiations at search
  • War of1812; TJ on search