Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Holmes to Thomas Jefferson, 7 August 1815

From John Holmes

Alfred D.M. Masstts 7th Augt 1815

Dear Sir

You will I apprehend deem it evidence of my vanity, that I have ventured to submit the inclosed to your perusal—But I confess that I commit it to your liberality & candour with views somewhat selfish—It is my hope that should you deem it worth the perusal, you will generously point out to me its erroneous sentiments—We who have some trouble in resisting the attacks & preventing the encroachments on republican principles believe that we have some claim on your wisdom & experience—Should you be willing to incur the trouble & waste the time, let me expect the honour of a line from you as a parental monition

I hope that I am too discrete to believe that the inclosed is possessed of much merit—It is the production of a day, thrown together without method—The field is new & much too large—To compress correctly all the prominent facts & principles which the times require, is more than an audience on the 4th july could expect or would endure—It is presumed that you will view it, as a mere 4th July production, adapted to the taste of a country audience—In this adaptation, however there is, it is hoped, no sacrifice of principle. I may have treated some classes of our citisens with too much severity. Living among them as I do I trust that you will charitably suppose that it may arise from a discovery of acts & principles which are not known at a distance—

I could not well deny myself the pleasure of transmitting this imperfect mite to one whose literary & political character are entitled to my profoundest veneration—And permit me, Sir, to congratulate you on the war & the peace—The strength of our constitution could never have been known had it [not been] tried—The experiment of war was necessary to prove its excellency, its efficacy & its stability—To declare war for the sake of the experiment would have been wrong—The injustice of other nations compelled the experiment at a most unfavorable juncture, but it was successful—A stronger or more outrageous foreign & domestic combination is not to be apprehended—I hope & believe that the happy system of our Government will continue—That it will continue so long as the people remain virtuous I have no doubt—Should they become corrupt, our liberties will probably fall—Excuse this intrusion on your time & accept the high consideration & respect of Your friend & very humble Sert

John Holmes

RC (DLC); mutilated at seal; addressed: “Hon Thomas Jefferson Late President U.S. Monticello Va”; franked; postmarked Kennebunk, 5 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Aug. 1815 but recorded in SJL as received a day later.

John Holmes (1773–1843), attorney and public official, was a native of Kingston, Massachusetts. He graduated from the College of Rhode Island (later Brown University) in 1796, studied law, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1799, the same year that he moved to Alfred, in the District of Maine of that state. Holmes served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, 1802–03 and 1812–13, shifting his allegiance from the Federalist to the Republican parties between these two terms. He was in the Massachusetts Senate, 1813–16, served as a federal treaty commissioner in 1816, and sat in the United States House of Representatives, 1817–20. Holmes was an active proponent of the separation of Maine from Massachusetts and a leading force behind the adoption of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. On 22 Apr. 1820 TJ wrote him a letter eloquently likening the debate surrounding Missouri statehood to “a fire bell in the night” and indicating that slaveholders precariously held “the wolf by the ear.” After Maine became a state, Holmes served in the United States Senate, 1820–27 and 1829–33, and in the Maine House of Representatives, 1836–37. He was appointed United States attorney for Maine in 1841 and held that position until his death (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; MeHi: Holmes Papers; The Massachusetts Register … 1814 [Boston, 1813], 16–7; Rules and Orders to be observed in the Senate, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts [1815]: 3; [1816]: 3; Ronald F. Banks, Maine Becomes a State: The Movement to Separate Maine from Massachusetts, 1785–1820 [1970]; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:23, 24, 5:387, 410, 6:197 [15, 16 Jan. 1816, 17 June, 22 July 1841, 18 Dec. 1843]; Clay, Papers description begins James F. Hopkins and others, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay, 1959–1992, 11 vols. description ends , 2:741–2, 746; Charles M. Wiltse and others, eds., The Papers of Daniel Webster: Correspondence [1974–86], esp. 1:218; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 27 July 1843).

Holmes inclosed An Oration, Pronounced at Alfred, on the 4th of July, 1815, being the Thirty Ninth Anniversary of American Independence (Boston, 1815; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 13 [no. 826]; TJ’s copy at ViU), in which he extolled the decision to declare independence from Great Britain and the subsequent adoption of the United States Constitution; remarked that during the War of 1812 the administration was “assailed with the most outrageous abuse” (p. 6); suggested that among those classes of our citisens guilty of such behavior were those in Massachusetts who decided “that the United States had no controul over the militia,” despite the fact that the United States Constitution “gave, expressly, to Congress, the power to call forth, organize, arm and discipline the militia, and to employ them in the service of the United States” (pp. 7–8); singled out the “mercantile class of our citizens in the Eastern States,” who were “induced to believe that their rights were attacked, and that resistance was essential to the interests of commerce,” but later decided that “they had been deceived, made their calculations, found that resistance was unprofitable, compromised with their consciences, and engaged in the practice of privateering, which they had before denounced, as inconsistent with honor, morality and religion” (pp. 9–10); rebuked those in the clergy who, once war was declared, “took their stand in favor of the enemy” and “pronounced him [Great Britain] ‘the bulwark of our holy religion’” (p. 12); blamed Massachusetts for devising and promoting a scheme for a “final separation” of the New England states from the Union, a prospect rendered moot by the victory at New Orleans and the subsequent peace treaty (p. 14); and found that the war had had positive effects, in that it demonstrated “the danger of depending too much on foreign luxuries,” increased and improved domestic manufactures, and taught “the importance of agriculture,” which is the “favorite employment of Heaven” and gives the “greatest security to national attachments, prosperity, independence and happiness” (pp. 18–9).

Index Entries

  • An Oration, Pronounced at Alfred, on the 4th of July, 1815 (J. Holmes) search
  • books; of speeches search
  • Fourth of July; orations search
  • Holmes, John; An Oration, Pronounced at Alfred, on the 4th of July, 1815 search
  • Holmes, John; identified search
  • Holmes, John; letter from search
  • Holmes, John; on future of U.S. search
  • Holmes, John; opinion on War of1812 search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • United States; future of considered search
  • War of1812; orations supporting search