Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William Bentley, 28 December 1815

To William Bentley

Monticello Dec.1 28. 15

Dear Sir

At the date of your letter of Oct. 30. I had just left home on a journey from which I am recently returned. I had many years ago understood that Professor Ebeling was engaged in a geographical work which would comprehend the US. and indeed I expected it was finished and published. I am glad to learn that his candor and discrimination have been sufficient to guard him against trusting the libel of Dr Morse on this state. I wish it were in my power to give him the aid you ask. but it is not. the whole forenoon with me is engrossed by a correspondence too extensive and laborious for my age. health, habit, and necessary attention to my farms require me then to be on horseback until a late dinner, and the society of my family and friends, with some reading furnish the necessary relaxations of the rest of the day. add to this that the cession of my library to Congress has left me without materials for such an undertaking. I wish the part of his work which gives the geography of this country may be translated and published, that ourselves and the world may at length have something like a dispassionate account of these states. poor human nature! when we are obliged to appeal for the truth of mere facts from an eye-witness to one whose faculties for discovering it are only an honest candor and caution in sifting the grain from it’s chaff!

The Professor’s history of Hamburg is doubtless interesting and instructive, and valuable as a corrective of the false information we derive from newspapers. I should read it with pleasure; but I fear it’s transportation and return would expose it to too much risk. notwithstanding all the French and British atrocities, which will for ever disgrace the present aera of history; their shameless2 prostration of all the laws of morality which constitute the security, the peace and comfort of man, notwithstanding the waste of human life, and measure of human suffering which they have inflicted on the world, nations hitherto in slavery, have descried, thro’ all this bloody mist, a glimmering of their own rights have dared to open their eyes, and to see that their own power & their own will suffice for their emancipation. their tyrants must now give them more moderate forms of government, and they seem now to be sensible of this themselves. instead of the parricide treason of Bonaparte in employing the means confided to him as a republican magistrate to the overthrow of that republic, and establishment of a military despotism in himself & his descendants, to the subversion of the neighboring governments, and erection of thrones for his brothers, his sisters and sycophants, had he honestly employed that power in the establishment & support of the freedom of his own country, there is not a nation in Europe which would not at this day have had a more rational government, one in which the will of the people should have had a moderating and salutary influence. the work will now be longer, will swell more rivers with blood, produce more sufferings & more crimes. but it will be consummated. and that it may be, will be the theme of my constant prayers, while I shall remain in the earth beneath, or in the heavens above. to these I add sincere wishes for your own health & happiness.

Th: Jefferson

RC (MWA: Thomas Jefferson Papers); addressed: “Mr William Bentley Salem Massachusets”; franked; postmarked Milton, 3 Jan. PoC (DLC). Tr (MHi); posthumous copy; frayed at top, with loss of dateline; incomplete. Recorded in SJL as a letter of 28 Dec. 1815.

Christoph Daniel Ebeling had consulted TJ on his work many years ago, in 1795. In composing his thoughts on Ebeling’s queries at that time (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 28:423–9, 506–10), TJ wrote that Jedidiah morse and Noah Webster were “Good authorities for whatever relates to the Eastern states, and perhaps as far South as the Delaware. But South of that, their information is worse than none at all; except as far as they quote good authorities” (p. 506).

1RC: “Jan.” Corrected to “Dec.” in PoC.

2Tr ends here.

Index Entries

  • Bentley, William (of Massachusetts); letters to search
  • books; on geography search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; on Germany search
  • Ebeling, Christoph Daniel; seeks TJ’s assistance search
  • Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von Amerika (C. D. Ebeling) search
  • geography; books on search
  • Germany; scholarship in search
  • Great Britain; atrocities committed by search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; fatiguing to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Napoleon search
  • Library of Congress; TJ sells personal library to search
  • Morse, Jedidiah; writings of search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; TJ on search
  • Webster, Noah; writings of search