Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to José Corrêa da Serra, 27 December 1814

To José Corrêa da Serra

Monticello Dec. 27. 14.

Dear Sir

Yours of the 9th has been duly recieved, & I thank you for the Recipe for imitating Puzzolane; which I shall certainly try on my cisterns the ensuing summer. the making them impermeable to water is of great consequence to me. that one chemical subject may follow another, I inclose you two morsels of ore found in this neighborhood, & supposed to be of Antimony. I am not certain, but I believe both are from the same peice: and altho’ the very spot where that was found is not known, yet it is known to be within a certain space not too large to be minutely examined, if the material be worth it. this you can have ascertained in Philadelphia, where it is best known to the artists how great a desideratum antimony is with them.

You will have seen that I resigned the chair of the American Philosophical society, not awaiting your further information as to the settlement of the general opinion on a successor, without schism. I did it because the term of election was too near to admit further delay.

On the subject which entered incidentally into our conversation while you were here, when I came to reflect maturely, I concluded to be silent. to do wrong is a melancholy resource. even where retaliation renders it indispensably necessary. it is better to suffer much from the scalpings, the conflagrations,1 the rapes and rapine of savages, than to countenance and strengthen such barbarisms by retortion. I have ever deemed it more honorable, & more profitable too, to set a good example than to follow a bad one. the good opinion of mankind, like the lever of Archimedes, with the given fulcrum, moves the world. I therefore have never proposed or mentioned the subject to any one.

I have recieved a letter from mr Say, in which he expresses a thought of removing to this country, having discontinued the manufactory in which he was engaged; and he asks information from me of the prices of land, labor, produce Etc. in the neighborhood of Charlottesville, on which he has cast his eye. it’s neighborhood has certainly the advantages of good soil, fine climate, navigation to market, and rational and republican society. it would be a good enough position too for the reestablishment of his cotton works, on a moderate scale, and combined with the small plan of agriculture, to which he seems solely to look. but when called on to name prices, what is to be said? we have no fixed prices now. our dropsical medium is long since divested of the quality of a measure of value; nor can I find any other. in most countries a fixed quantity of wheat is perhaps the best permanent standard. but here the blockade of our whole coast preventing all access to a market, has depressed the price of that, and exalted that of other things, in opposite directions, and, combined with the effects of the paper deluge, leaves really no common measure of values to be resorted to. this paper too, recieved now without confidence & for momentary purposes only, may, in a moment, be worth nothing. I shall think further on the subject, and give to mr Say the best information in my power. to myself such an addition to our rural society would be inestimable; and I can readily concieve that it may be for the benefit of his children & their descendants to remove to a country where, for enterprise & talents, so many avenues are open to fortune and fame. but whether, at his time of life, & with habits formed on the state of society in France, a change for one so entirely different will be for his personal happiness you can better judge than myself.

Mr Say will be surprised to find that 40. years after the developement of sound financial principles by Adam Smith and the Economists, and a dozen years after he has given them to us in a corrected, dense & lucid form, there should be so much ignorance of them in our country: that instead of funding issues of paper on the hypothecation of specific redeeming taxes, (the only method of anticipating, in a time of war, the resources of times of peace, tested by the experience of nations,) we are trusting to tricks of jugglers on the cards, to the illusions of banking schemes for the resources of the war, and for the cure of colic to inflations of more wind. the wise proposition of the Secretary at war too for filling our ranks with regulars, and putting our militia into an effective form, seems to be laid aside. I fear therefore that, if the war continues, it will require another year of sufferance for men and money to lead our legislators into such a military and financial regimen as may carry us thro’ a war of any length. but my hope is in peace. the Negociators at Ghent are agreed now on every point save one, the demand and cession of a portion of Maine. this, it is well known, cannot be yielded by us, nor deemed by them an object for continuing a war so expensive, so injurious to their commerce & manufactures, & so odious in the eyes of the world. but it is a thread to hold by until they can hear the result, not of the Congress of Vienna, but of Hartford. when they shall know, as they will know, that nothing will be done there, they will let go their hold, and complete the peace of the world, by agreeing to the status ante bellum. indemnity for the past, and security for the future, which was our motto at the beginning of this war, must be adjourned to another, when, disarmed & bankrupt, our enemy shall be less able to insult and plunder the world with impunity. this will be after my time. one war, such as that of our revolution, is enough for one life. mine has been too much prolonged to make me the witness of a second, & I hope for a coup de grace before a third shall come upon us. if indeed Europe has matters to settle which may reduce this hostis humani generis to a state of peace and moral order, I shall see that with pleasure, and then sing, with old Simeon, nunc dimittas Domine. for yourself cura ut valeas, et me, ut amaris, ama.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “M. Correa de Serra.”

puzzolane is a variant spelling of “pozzolana,” a volcanic ash used to make waterproof cement (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 ). Frank Carr had sent TJ the enclosed specimens of what he thought to be antimony in his letter of 26 June 1813. Jean Baptiste Say published his Traité d’Economie Politique (Paris, 1803; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3547; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 11 [no. 697]) about a dozen years previously. hostis humani generis: “enemy of the human race” (Black’s Law Dictionary description begins Bryan A. Garner and others, eds., Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed., 1999 description ends ). cura ut valeas, et me, ut amaris, ama: “take care that you fare well, and love me as you are loved.”

1Word interlined in place of “incensions,” an obsolete synonym for “burnings” or “conflagrations” (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 ).

Index Entries

  • Albemarle County, Va.; land prices in search
  • Albemarle County, Va.; prices in search
  • Albemarle County, Va.; TJ on search
  • American Philosophical Society; and J. Corrêa da Serra search
  • American Philosophical Society; TJ resigns from presidency of search
  • antimony; ore search
  • Archimedes; lever of search
  • Army, U.S.; and militia search
  • Army, U.S.; expansion of search
  • banks; currency issued by search
  • Bible; Luke referenced by TJ search
  • building materials; cement search
  • cisterns; at Monticello search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and American Philosophical Society search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and J. B. Say’s proposed immigration to America search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; and TJ’s cisterns search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; letters to search
  • Corrêa da Serra, José; mineral specimen sent to search
  • currency; paper search
  • Ghent; peace negotiations at search
  • Great Britain; peace with search
  • Great Britain; TJ on war with search
  • Hartford, Conn.; Federalist convention at search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Albemarle Co. search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; government finance search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Hartford Convention search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. B. Say’s proposed immigration to America search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. B. Say’s writings search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; paper money search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; peace with Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; taxes search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; war with Great Britain search
  • Maine; British claims to portion of search
  • military; expansion of search
  • militia; organization of search
  • Monroe, James; on expansion of U.S. military search
  • Monticello (TJ’s estate); cisterns at search
  • political economy; and wartime finance search
  • political economy; works on search
  • pozzolana (volcanic ash) search
  • Say, Jean Baptiste; considers immigrating to U.S. search
  • Say, Jean Baptiste; spinning factory of search
  • Say, Jean Baptiste; Traité d’Économie Politique search
  • Smith, Adam; economic theories of search
  • taxes; TJ on search
  • Traité d’Économie Politique (J. B. Say) search
  • Vienna, Congress of; negotiations at search
  • War of1812; and peace negotiations search
  • War of1812; British blockade search
  • War of1812; U.S. financing of search
  • wheat; price of search