Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Mathew Carey, 13 October 1815

To Mathew Carey

Monticello Oct. 13. 15.

Dear Sir

I thank you for the copy of the 6th edition of your Olive branch, which you have been so good as to send me. I am glad to see that it grows in size and demand: and in compliance with the invitation of your printed letter of the 4th inst. which is also recieved, I will notice a circumstance in your Appendix which may be worthy of correction in the new edition proposed. in page 400. the introduction of the conscription into France is ascribed to Bonaparte. this however is not correct. it was instituted there by the republican government before Bonaparte’s name was known. the exact date of it I do not recollect, whether under the Committee of safety or their successors the Directory. this however you can ascertain by turning to histories which I have not an opportunity of doing. he found the conscription ready established to his hand, and conquered the world with it. and his ultimate failure was from the abuse of it, the whole of the youth of France being killed up, and the defence of the country left to their old men, who being inadequate to it, they are now suffering under the yoke of conquest. convinced myself that the classification of our militia according to ages, the ascribing to each class it’s proper sphere of duty, and giving the government compleat command of it’s service, with the addition proposed by Secretary1 Monroe of sectional divisions, each to keep a man constantly in the regular lines, as was the law of this state in the revolutionary war, is the only means by which a country, with our constitution, can ever be defended in war, I think it all important to remove every prejudice which stands in it’s way. among other federal artifices in the same style, the ascription of this institution to Bonaparte (whose name is so justly detested by every friend to the liberty of man, and independance of nations) has been too successfully used to prevent this only measure of salvation to our country, and it’s republican constitution. I salute you with esteem and respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjMoHP: Lloyd W. Smith Collection); addressed: “Mr Matthew Cary Philadelphia”; frank clipped; postmarked Charlottesville, 18 Oct.; endorsed by Carey as received 21 Oct. PoC (DLC); on verso of reused address cover of George P. Stevenson to TJ, 10 Aug. 1815; endorsed by TJ.

On page 400 of the sixth edition of his publication, Carey argues that the system of military conscription that drew soldiers from set divisions was used during the American Revolution and that “This relieves the system of classification from the odium attached to it as a discovery of the prolific brain of Bonaparte. His inventive powers have had more credit in this respect than they deserve. He has taken the plan at second hand from the sages and heroes of the revolution” (Carey, The Olive Branch: or, Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic. A Serious Appeal on the Necessity of Mutual Forgiveness and Harmony, 6th ed. [Philadelphia, 1815]). In the seventh edition of the same work, published on 20 Dec. of the same year, Carey revised the beginning of this passage to read “This relieves the system of classification from the odium attached to it as a discovery of the French republic” (Carey, Olive Branch, 7th ed. [Philadelphia, 1815], 404).

The levée en masse of 1793 was the first large-scale conscription of the French Revolution. The directory followed it in 1798 with the Jourdan-Delbrel Law, which mandated the drafting of all single men between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. It remained in effect until 1814 (Connelly, Napoleonic France description begins Owen Connelly and others, eds., Historical Dictionary of Napoleonic France, 1799–1815, 1985 description ends , 126–7, 270–1). In October 1814 Secretary of War James monroe had proposed several different plans of conscription, under the first of which men aged between eighteen and forty-five would be grouped into classes of one hundred men, with each class to provide four soldiers at all times (ASP, Military Affairs, 1:515; John H. Cocke to TJ, 6 Nov. 1814, and note). During the revolutionary war Virginia ordered several drafts. One such call in October 1780, during TJ’s service as governor, divided militia units into classes, each of which was to provide a recruit for the Continental army (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–23, 13 vols.; Sowerby, no. 1863; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 10 (no. 573) description ends 10:326–37; John R. Van Atta, “Conscription in Revolutionary Virginia: The Case of Culpeper County, 1780–1781,” VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 92 [1984]: 263–7).

1Word interlined in place of “Colo.”

Index Entries

  • books; on politics search
  • Carey, Mathew; letters to search
  • Carey, Mathew; The Olive Branch: or Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic search
  • France; and conscription search
  • France; Directory search
  • French Revolution; and conscription search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as governor of Va. search
  • military; conscription search
  • Monroe, James; as secretary of war search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; and conscription search
  • Revolutionary War; and conscription search
  • The Olive Branch: or Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic (M. Carey) search
  • Virginia; conscription in search