Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, 2 February 1816

To Joseph C. Cabell

Monticello Feb. 2. 16.

Dear Sir

Your favors of the 23d & 24th ult. were a week coming to us. I instantly inclosed to you the deeds of Capt Miller; but I understand that the Post-master, having locked his mail before they got to the office, would not unlock it to give them a passage.

Having been prevented from retaining my collection of the acts & Journals of our legislature by the lumping manner in which the Committee of Congress chose to take my library, it may be useful to our public bodies to know what acts and journals I had, and where they can now have access to them. I therefore inclose you a copy of my catalogue which I pray you to deposit in the council office for public use. it is in the 18th & 24th chapters they will find what is interesting to them. the form of the catalogue has been much injured in the publication: for altho they have preserved my division into chapters, they have reduced the books in each chapter to Alphabetical order, instead of the Chronological or Analytical arrangements I had given them. you will see sketches of what were my arrangements at the heads of some of the chapters.1

The bill on the obstructions in our navigable waters appears to me proper; as do also the amendments proposed. I think the state should reserve a right to the use of the waters for navigation, and that where an individual landholder impedes that use, he should remove the impediment, and leave the subject in as good a state as nature formed it. this I hold to be the true principle; and to this Colo Green’s amendments go. all I ask in my own case is that the legislature will not take from me my own works: I am ready to cut my dam in any place, and at any moment requisite, so as to remove that impediment if it be thought one2 and to leave those interested to make the most of the natural circumstances of the place. but I hope they will never take from me my canal, made thro’ the body of my own lands, at an expence of twenty thousand Dollars, and which is no impediment to the navigation of the river. I have permitted the riparian proprietors above (and they are not more than a dozen or twenty) to use it gratis, and shall not withdraw the permission unless they so use it as to obstruct too much the operations of my mills, of which there is some likelihood.

Doctr Smith, you say, asks what is the best elementary book on the principles of government? none in the world equal to the Review of Montesquieu printed at Philadelphia a few years ago. it has the advantage too of being equally sound and corrective of the principles of Political economy: and all within the compass of a thin 8vo. Chipman’s and Priestley’s Principles of government, & the Federalist are excellent in many respects, but for fundamental principles not comparable to the Review. I have no objections to the printing my letter to mr Carr, if it will promote the interests of science; altho’ it was not written with a view to it’s publication.

My letter of the 24th ult. conveyed to you the grounds of the two articles objected to in the College bill. your last presents one of them in a new point of view, that of the commencement of the Ward schools as likely to render the law unpopular to the county. it must be a very inconsiderate and rough process of execution that would do this. my idea of the mode of carrying it into execution would be this. declare the county ipso facto divided into wards, for the present by the boundaries of the militia captaincies: somebody attend the ordinary muster of each company, having first desired the Captain to call together a full one. there explain the object of the law to the people of the company, put to their vote whether they will have a school established, and the most central and convenient place for it; get them to meet & build a log school house, have a roll taken of the children who would attend it, and of those of them able to pay: these would probably be sufficient to support a common teacher, instructing gratis the few unable to pay. if there should be a deficiency, it would require too trifling a contribution from the county to be complained of; and especially as the whole county would participate, where necessary, in the same resource. should the company, by it’s vote, decide that it would have no school, let them remain without one. the advantages of this proceeding would be that it would become the duty of the Wardens3 elected by the county to take an active part in pressing the introduction of schools, and to look out for tutors.4 If however it is intended that the State government shall take this business into it’s own hands, and provide schools for every county,5 then by all means strike out this provision of our bill. I would never wish that it6 should be placed on a worse footing than the rest of the state. but if it is beleived that these elementary schools will be better managed by the Governor & council, the Commissioners of the literary fund, or any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience. try the principle one step further, and amend the bill so as to commit to the Governor & Council the management of all our farms, our mills, & merchants’ stores. No, my friend, the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one; but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. let the National government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and it’s foreign & federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police & administration of what concerns the state generally; the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; and each Ward direct the interests within itself.7 it is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down thro’ all it’s subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. what has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? the generalising & concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the Autocrats of Russia or France, or of the Aristocrats of a Venetian Senate. and I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that Man shall never be free, (and it is blasphemy to believe it) that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher & higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers, in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. the elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union, would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one it’s delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government. where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs not merely at an election, one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of some one of it’s councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte. how powerfully did we feel the energy of this organisation in the case of the Embargo? I felt the foundations of the government shaken under my feet by the New England townships. there was not an individual in their states whose body was not thrown, with all it’s momentum, into action, and altho’ the whole of the other states were known to be in favor of the measure, yet the organisation of this little selfish minority enabled it to overrule the Union. what could the unwieldy counties of the middle, the South and the West do? call a county meeting, and the drunken loungers at and about the Court houses would have collected, the distances being too great for the good people and the industrious generally to attend. the character of those who really met would have been the measure of the weight they would have had in the scale of public opinion. as Cato then concluded every speech with the words ‘Carthago delenda est,’ so do I every opinion with the injunction ‘divide the counties into wards.’ begin them only for a single purpose; they will soon shew for what others they are the best instruments.8 God bless you, and all our rulers, and give them the wisdom, as I am sure they have the will, to fortify us against the degeneracy of our government, and the concentration of all it’s powers in the hands of the one, the few, the well-born or but the many.

Th: Jefferson

RC (ViU: TJP); addressed: “Joseph C. Cabell esquire Richmond”; franked; postmarked Milton, 4 Feb.; endorsed by Cabell. PoC (DLC). PoC of Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, 199:35492–3); extract entirely in TJ’s hand; at head of text: “Extract of a letter from Th: Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell esq. Feb. 2. 1816”; conjoined with PoC of Tr of TJ to John Adams, 28 Oct. 1813, and PoC of TJ’s Notes on Popular Election of Juries, [ca. 2 Apr. 1816]; enclosed in TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 2 Apr. 1816. Tr (ViU: TJP); extract by Nicholas P. Trist. Tr (Vi: RG 3, Governor’s Office, Executive Papers); extract in Cabell’s hand; at head of text: “Extract of a Letter from Mr Jefferson to a member of the Senate Feb: 2. 1816.”

The 18th & 24th chapters of the enclosed Catalogue of U.S. Library description begins Catalogue of the Library of the United States. To which is annexed, A Copious Index, alphabetically arranged, Washington, 1815 description ends listed works on “Jurisprudence. Equity” and “Politics” respectively. The latter (p. 93) included one of the sketches of what were my arrangements, breaking the category down into “General Theories of Government” and “Special Governments, Antient” and “Modern,” followed by sections on France, England, the United States, and “Political Oeconomy,” with the last four broken down further still.

my letter to mr carr: TJ to Peter Carr, 7 Sept. 1814. carthago delenda est: “Carthage must be destroyed” (see note to TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 11 Sept. 1813).

1Vi Tr consists solely of this paragraph.

2Preceding five words interlined.

3In PoC TJ interlined “Aldermen” in place of this word.

4PoC of Tr to this point consists of the following revision of this paragraph: “the proposition to give to the Visitors of our Albemarle College the power of dividing the county into wards, and of establishing a school in each was with a view to exhibit an example of that salutary measure. I expected that the Aldermen when elected by the county would declare it ipso facto divided into wards, for the present, by the boundaries of the militia Captaincies; that one of them would have attended a meeting of each company on a muster day, would have referred to their election the most eligible site for their school, would have engaged them to join force and build log houses for the school and dwelling of the master, would have taken a roll of the children who would attend, and of the parents able to pay, the unable alone being to be instructed gratis. such buildings, good enough at all times, would certainly have been sufficient, until there should be time and occasion for making a more regular designation of the wards, the variations of which might call for a change of site. the Aldermen would then have had to provide a schoolmaster for every ward, and to induct him.” ViUTr begins with the opening sentence only of this revision and continues at this point.

5Preceding six words not in ViU Tr.

6PoC of Tr and ViU Tr substitute “our county” for this word.

7PoC of Tr and ViU Tr delete the “and” at the beginning of this clause and here add “and each man manage his own farm and concerns.”

8PoC of Tr and ViU Tr end here.

Index Entries

  • An Act to prevent obstructions in the navigable water courses within the Commonwealth (1816) search
  • An Essay on the First Principles of Government (J. Priestley) search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and Central College establishment search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; and J. Miller’s petition search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; as Va. state senator search
  • Cabell, Joseph Carrington; letters to search
  • Caesar, Julius; TJ on search
  • Carr, Peter (1770–1815) (TJ’s nephew); and Albemarle Academy search
  • Catalogue of the Library of the United States (G. Watterston) search
  • Central College, Board of Visitors; duties of search
  • Central College; Draft Bill to Create Central College and Amend the1796Public Schools Act search
  • Chipman, Nathaniel; Sketches of the Principles of Government search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); as textbook search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • education; elementary search
  • education; TJ on search
  • Embargo Act (1807); TJ on search
  • Green, John Williams; as Va. state senator search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); The Federalist search
  • Jay, John; The Federalist search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; catalogue of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Literary Quotes; Plutarch search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Embargo acts search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; fundamentals of a free government search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Caesar search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Napoleon search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; state versus federal authority search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; subdividing states into hundreds or wards search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Draft Bill to Create Central College and Amend the1796Public Schools Act search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Petition of Joseph Miller to the Virginia General Assembly search
  • Library of Congress; Catalogue of the Library of the United States. To Which is Annexed, A Copious Index, Alphabetically Arranged (G. Watterston) search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); The Federalist search
  • Miller, Joseph; petition to General Assembly search
  • Napoleon I, emperor of France; TJ on search
  • Plutarch; TJ quotes search
  • Priestley, Joseph; An Essay on the First Principles of Government search
  • Rivanna Company; navigation rights of search
  • Sketches of the Principles of Government (N. Chipman) search
  • Smith, John Augustine; as president of College of William and Mary search
  • The Federalist (A. Hamilton, J. Madison, and J. Jay) search
  • Virginia; TJ on subdividing into hundreds or wards search
  • Virginia; TJ’s collection of laws of search
  • Watterston, George; Catalogue of the Library of the United States search
  • William and Mary, College of; president of search