Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Louis H. Girardin, 27 March 1815

To Louis H. Girardin

Monticello Mar. 27. 15.

Th: Jefferson to mr Girardin.

I return your 14th Chapter with only 2. or 3. unimportant alterations as usual, and with a note suggested, of doubtful admissibility. I believe it would be acceptable to the reader of every nation except England, and I do not suppose that, even without it, your book will be a popular one there. however you will decide for yourself.

As to what is to be said of myself, I of course am not the judge. but my sincere wish is that the faithful historian, like the able Surgeon, would consider me in his hands, while living, as a dead subject: that the same judgment may now be expressed which will be rendered hereafter, so far as my small agency in human affairs may attract future notice: & I would of choice now stand as at the bar of posterity ‘Cum semel occideris, et de te ultima Minos Fecerit arbitria.’ the only exact testimony of a man is his actions, leaving the reader to pronounce on them his own judgment. in anticipating this, too little is safer than too much; and I sincerely assure you that you will please me most by a rigorous suppression of all friendly partialities. this candid expression of sentiment once delivered, passive silence becomes the future duty.

It is with real regret I inform you that the day of delivering the library is close at hand. a letter by last mail informs me that mr Millegan is ordered to come on the instant I am ready to deliver. I shall compleat the arrangement of the books on Saturday. there will then remain only to paste on them their numbers which will be begun on Sunday. of this mr Millegan1 has notice and may be expected every hour after Monday next. he will examine the books by the catalogue, and nail up the presses, one by one, as he gets thro’ them. but it is indispensable for me to have all the books in their places when we begin to number them, and it would be a great convenience to have all you can do without now, to put them into the places they should occupy. Antient history is numbered. Modern history comes next. the bearer carries a basket to recieve what he can bring of those you are done with. I salute you with friendship and respect.

RC (PPAmP: Thomas Jefferson Papers); dateline at foot of text. PoC (DLC). Tr (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Cambridge, Mass., 1945); posthumous copy. Enclosure: manuscript, not found, of chap. 14 of Burk, Jones, and Girardin, History of Virginia, vol. 4.

The note suggested by TJ for Burk, Jones, and Girardin, History of Virginia, was probably the one on 4:328 concerning the invasion and occupation of Georgia by the British in 1779: “The British principle, here avowed by the Ministers and Commissioners of that nation, was not new. It was long before that of the Carthagenians, a people in whose political code morality had no chapter, and with whom, in every transaction, the only question was, what was best for themselves? Observe their conduct towards those friends in Italy, whom they had alienated. ‘Præceps in avaritiam et crudelitatem animus, ad spolianda quæ tueri nequibat, ut vastata hosti relinquerentur, inclinavit Fædum consilium quum incepto, tum exitu, fuit. Neque enim indigna patientium modo abalienabantur animi, sed cæterorum etiam Quippe ad plures exemplum, quam calamatas pertinebat’— Liv. 26, 28.” This passage, which TJ cited incorrectly, translates as “Naturally inclined to greed and cruelty, his temperament favoured despoiling what he was unable to protect, in order to leave desolated lands to the enemy. That policy was shameful in the beginning, and especially so in the outcome. For not only were those who suffered undeserved treatment alienated, but all the rest as well; for the lesson reached larger numbers than did the suffering” and is from Livy, History of Rome, 26.38.3–5 (Livy, trans. Benjamin O. Foster, Frank Gardner Moore, Evan T. Sage, and Alfred C. Schlesinger, Loeb Classical Library [1919–59; repr. dates vary], 7:140–3). Readers in england would also have been displeased by Girardin’s accounts on 4:314–7 of “ruthless incursions” committed by Native Americans who had been “stimulated by the corrupting liberality and insidious promises of British emissaries” and by the description on 4:334–5 of British troops as “devils incarnate” who displayed “savage barbarity” and who, by committing “murder, rapine, rape, violence, fill up the dark catalogue of their detestable transactions” in Virginia in 1779.

Another note in the History of Virginia that probably reflects TJ’s input is that on 4:349–50, which describes legislation drafted by TJ that would “divide every county into wards of 5 or 6 miles square.—To establish in each ward a free school for reading, writing, and common arithmetic—to provide for the annual selection of the best subjects from these schools, who might receive at the public expence a higher degree of education at a district school—and from these district schools, to select a certain number of the most promising subjects, to be completed at an university, where all the useful sciences should be taught, worth and genius would thus be sought out of every condition of life, and completely prepared by education for defeating the competition of wealth and birth for public trusts. Had this bill been adopted, we have understood that Mr. Jefferson had in contemplation a further object; It was to impart to the wards or Townships those portions of self government for which they are best qualified, by confiding to them the care of their poor, their roads, police, elections, the nomination of jurors, administration of justice in small cases, elementary exercise of militia; in short, to have made them little republics with a warden at the head of each, for all those concerns which, being under their eye, they would better manage than the larger republics of the country or State. A general call of ward-meetings by their wardens on the same day, through the State, would, at any time, produce the genuine sense of the people on any required point, and would enable the State to act in a mass, as is done in some other States.” For TJ’s original proposal, see “A 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– , 37 vols. description ends , 2:526–35.

The phrase cum semel occideris, et de te ultima minos fecerit arbitria is from Horace, Odes, 4.7.21–4, and continues with “non, Torquate, genus, non te facundia, non te restituet pietas”: “Once you have died and Minos has pronounced his solemn verdict, neither high birth, nor eloquence, Torquatus, nor piety will bring you back” (Horace: Odes and Epodes, trans. Niall Rudd, Loeb Classical Library [2004], 240–1).

Girardin’s friendly partialities are evident in a number of places in the History of Virginia, including 4:352, where he notes that the “virtues, abilities, and services” of TJ made him an obvious choice for governor in 1779, as did “his early and efficient attachment to the cause of America.—We have seen his name gloriously connected with the most important revolutionary transactions—especially, with the declaration of Independence.” Although TJ “did not aspire to the eminence and pomp of office” and preferred “a more tranquil sphere of usefulness, in which the labours of the statesman were occasionally intermingled with the pursuits of the philosopher, and the pleasures of domestic retirement,” he nevertheless accepted the call to serve his country, relying in part on “the purity and zeal of his own bosom, for the successful discharge of his new duties.”

The letter in the last mail, which arrived 24 Mar., was Samuel H. Smith to TJ, 21 Mar. 1815. TJ expected to finish arranging his books on saturday, 1 Apr. 1815.

Missing letters from Girardin to TJ of 20 and 27 Mar. 1815 are recorded in SJL as received from Glenmore on 21 and 27 Mar. 1815, respectively.

1TJ here canceled “will.”

Index Entries

  • Burk, John Daly; The History of Virginia search
  • education; TJ on search
  • Georgia; British atrocities in1779 search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; and J. D. Burk’s History of Virginia search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; letters from accounted for search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; letters to search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; on TJ search
  • Girardin, Louis Hue; TJ critiques manuscript of search
  • Great Britain; atrocities committed by search
  • Horace; TJ quotes search
  • Indians, American; as British allies search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; catalogue of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; requests return of books lent search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Horace search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Livy search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; subdividing states into hundreds or wards search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as governor of Va. search
  • Library of Congress; TJ prepares books for transportation search
  • Library of Congress; TJ’s catalogue of books sold to search
  • Livy; TJ quotes search
  • Milligan, Joseph; assists with packing and transportation of TJ’s library search
  • Revolutionary War; Indians during search
  • Revolutionary War; TJ on search
  • The History of Virginia (J. D. Burk, S. Jones, and L. H. Girardin); TJ’s role in the preparation of search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; British attacks on search
  • Virginia; TJ as governor of search
  • Virginia; TJ on subdividing into hundreds or wards search