Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer, 21 July 1816

To William Plumer

Monticello July 21. 16.

I thank you, Sir, for the copy you have been so good as to send me of your late speech to the legislature of your state, which I have read a second time with great pleasure, as I had before done in the public papers. it is replete with sound principles, and truly republican. some articles too are worthy of peculiar notice. the idea that institutions established for the use of the nation, cannot be touched nor modified, even to make them answer their end, because of rights gratuitously supposed in those employed to manage them in trust for the public, may perhaps be a salutary provision against the abuses of a monarch, but is most absurd against the nation itself. yet our lawyers and priests generally inculcate this doctrine; and suppose that preceding generations held the earth more freely than we do; had a right to impose laws on us, unalterable by ourselves; and that we, in like manner, can make laws, and impose burthens on future generations, which they will have no right to alter: in fine that the earth belongs to the1 dead, & not the living—I remark also the phaenomenon of a chief magistrate recommending the reduction of his own compensation. this is a solecism of which the wisdom of our late Congress cannot be accused. I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared. we see in England the consequences of the want of it: their laborers reduced to live on a penny in the shilling of their earnings, to give up bread, & resort to oatmeal & potatoes for food; and their landholders exiling themselves to live in penury and obscurity abroad, because at home the government must have all the clear profits of their land. in fact they see the feesimple of the island transferred to the public creditors, all it’s profits going to them for the interest of their debts. our laborers and landholders must come to this also, unless they severely adhere to the economy you recommend. I salute you with entire esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NjP: Andre deCoppet Collection). RC (ViU: TJP); address cover only; addressed: “His Excellency William Plumer Governor of New Hampshire Epping”; franked; postmarked Milton, 24 July. PoC (DLC).

The late congress, in “An Act to change the mode of compensation to the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, and the delegates from territories,” 19 Mar. 1816, substituted annual salaries for the previous daily stipend awarded each member while in attendance. The Senate’s president pro tempore and the Speaker of the House each received $3,000 and the other congressmen got $1,500, with proportional deductions for each day’s absence (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States … 1789 to March 3, 1845, 1845–67, 8 vols. description ends , 3:257–8).

1TJ here canceled “living.”

Index Entries

  • Congress, U.S.; compensation for members of search
  • debt, public; TJ on search
  • Great Britain; TJ on financial policies of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; British government search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; public debt search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; republican institutions search
  • Plumer, William; gubernatorial addresses of search
  • Plumer, William; letters to search
  • United States; national debt search