Thomas Jefferson Papers

Richard Rush to Thomas Jefferson, 3 May 1820

From Richard Rush

London May 3. 1820.

Dear sir.

Your acceptable favor of June last, reached me safely. The letter which it enclosed for Sir John Philippart, was immediately sent. I beg to say, that whenever you will use my instrumentality towards forwarding your correspondence either with this country or France, opportunities by the route of England being always most frequent, I shall feel honored and gratified.

The just epitome of the evils of banking, presented in your letter, has become the more striking from intervening events. A heavy portion of evil existed when you wrote; but in comparing your predictions with what has happened since, I find, in a large extent, a melancholy fulfilment. The only effectual remedies would seem to be, an abolition of most of our banks, a retrenchment in our expenses, and a reduction of our commerce to the measure of our wants and surplus productions.

The distresses of this country are of a nature far more formidable than any that we know, or can know. I am not sure, however, that they are greater than they have been in times past. They seem to be the natural as they have been the constant result of the whole state of things here. There have been tumults and insurrections at all periods in England, from the taxes, or from the hand of government otherwise falling heavily upon the great body of the people. Looking into Smollet a few days ago, the coincidence struck me as curious, that there should have been a popular commotion in the town of Manchester in 1753 from the high price of provisions, and that the military should have been called in at that day to quell it, as they were, ostensibly for the same cause, last summer. Under an expensive hereditary monarchy, an opulent aristocracy, and where primogeniture exists, a glaring inequality in wealth, forms the key stone that holds every thing together. Hence the many must suffer that enjoyments may be accumulated in the lap of the few. Popular suffrage being but a name, there is no corrective. The machine of government, with its apparatus of influence and coercion, becomes monopolized by the few, and goes on throughout ages grinding the many, with scarcely so much as a perception on the part of the few, of the misery produced. I believe that there are in the British ministry, and surrounding the British throne, individuals of personal virtue and worth who, from the long bias of their minds, sincerely think, that that immense portion of the people who are made to constitute the lower orders in Britain, are created only to minister, by the sweat of their brows, to the comforts of those above them, and that they are not at all aware how fundamentally this delusion strikes at the happiness of the greatest numbers of mankind.

There is an opinion which formerly, if I do not mistake, had countenance in your eyes, to which I could not then assent, but the wisdom of which I have lived to acknowledge. It is the opinion which would inculcate the policy of abridging rather than increasing our diplomatick connexions with the governments of Europe.

I came here having never before had experience of any other political usages or institutions, than those of our country. By the time I had lived here six months, an opinion took possession of my mind, that we ought not to have a minister plenipotentiary resident at any one court of Europe. This opinion has been gaining strength with me ever since.

Am I then for becoming altogether anti-social? or would I, from sullenness or pride, or by conduct that might lay us open to the suspicion of such feelings, separate ourselves from all friendly intercourse with Europe because our form of government is different, thereby perhaps nourishing ill-will towards us to no good purpose?

Far from it. I would do nothing to provoke such a result. I would cultivate as sedulously as we have done, the good-will of cotemporary nations. But I would do so in ways that, while they could not be objectionable with them, would be, as it strikes me, more in unison with the spirit of our government in all things else. Our commercial concerns with them, I would go on to manage, as heretofore, by consuls. When business occurred of sufficient magnitude for diplomatick representation and correspondence, I would send out a special mission, instructing it to return home when the business was done. If, at one or two of the foreign courts, experience had shown such correspondence to be of frequent necessity, I would, if need be,1 station in their capitals a chargé d’affaires; but no higher agent. Such an agent is accredited only to the minister of foreign affairs; whilst all above him come accredited as we know to the sovereign himself. We also know, that even the minister plenipotentiary is not clothed, either by the usages of Europe, or the late ordinances of Vienna, with the full representative character. Whence then his use to us? As an organ of business, the chargé d’affaires commands equal advantages, whilst he is freed from many of those duties of ceremony one just objection to which is, that, from the nature of our system, they cannot be reciprocal.

On the footing that a minister from the United States is now placed, his salary is totally inadequate to his suitable subsistence. At the courts of the great powers, it would be low at double the present amount. In London, thrice its amount would barely raise him to the level of the rank and associations upon which he is thrown, and would then only be what the British minister receives with us; where too, all things considered, the dollar goes full as far as the pound sterling here, yet I see decisive objections to an augmentation upon such a scale, or to any augmentation. What he now receives transferred to a diplomatick agent of inferior degree, would be sufficient.

The sending and receiving of stated ambassadors and ministers, answers many mutual objects with the coterminus and congenial monarchies of Europe. Leagues, alliances, checks, the federative principle, with other sympathies of greater or less concern, (may I also add intrigues,) are, among them, constantly at work. We are a people by ourselves; a hemisphere by ourselves. As far as political connexions are at stake, it has been the wish of our wisest citizens that we should remain so. I fear that the present routine of our diplomacy will tend imperceptibly, and beyond any other single cause, to draw us more than we wish into these connexions. There were local and other reasons why the Republicks of Holland and Venice should once have interchanged ambassadors with the crowned heads around them, not applicable to us. Our very distance raises up a barrier. It has fallen to my lot, on the occasion of the death of an illustrious personage in the royal family, to present a letter of condolence from my government to the sovereign of this nation, many months after all the ambassadors and ministers of Europe had performed the same ceremony, and when the badges of mourning had been laid by for those of festivity and joy. How incongruous! Yet, as long as our credentials bring us within the pale of courts, it is proper that we should conform to usage, and omit no marks of reverence that others pay. It seems to me, that the only kind of intercourse we should desire with the governments of the old world, is a convenient and respectful intercourse of business; not of ceremonies, to which there is no counterpart in the genius or practices of our own government.

But, I owe an apology for obtruding upon you in this manner my private thoughts, and must hasten to recall them. The subject, indeed, is capable of being viewed in other lights; but I should feel it to be an intrusion upon the sanctity of your retirement to say more. To you it is more familiar under all aspects, than it can be to me. You will anticipate what I do not say, and perhaps see the errors, now hidden from me, of as much as I have presumed to bring under your perusal.2

With sentiments of attachment to your fame, and with ardent wishes for the continuance of every personal blessing upon you, I beg to remain, dear sir,

with the highest respect, your faithful and obt. servt—

Richard Rush.—

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 8 July 1820 and so recorded in SJL. FC (Lb in NjP: Rush Family Papers).

Tobias smollett described bread riots that took place in 1753 in Manchester and other cities in his Continuation of the Complete History of England (London, 1771), 1:159. Prince Edward, duke of Kent and Strathearn, and his father, King George III, were both members of the British royal family who died in January 1820 (ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ).

On 4 May 1820 Rush penned but did not send an addendum to this letter, which reads (two words editorially corrected):

“I have just finished reading, for the first time, in a London paper, the Presidents message to Congress of the 27th of March, respecting the Florida treaty. It is the message which communicates Count Nesselrodes letter to Mr Polettica; and which recommends, on the ground of the friendly interference and wishes of Russia, France, and England, that we should postpone all proceedings touching this treaty, until the next session of Congress. I am impelled to a few remarks on the occasion.
 The postponement I rejoice at. On such an occasion, moderation is the safest and best course. The intermediate changes in Spain make it also fortunate by opening new hopes to a satisfactory adjustment of our differences.
 But, quere as to the reasons assigned?
 The Monarchs on this side of the water can have no friendship for us. Their dislike of our cheap and popular government, has been known to overcome, so steady is it, even their own true interests regarding the system of checks and balances in Europe. France and Russia, are not exceptions. Witness 1814. They left us to perish, (when they thought the day for it had at last arrived) whilst fighting the just battle of maritime rights for them, in effect, as well as for ourselves.
 We may guess their motive for wishing us to be passive under the Florida Treaty. They have told us enough. They have told us frankly from the very beginning, that while they wished the contest between Spain and her Colonies made up, it was only upon the basis of the Supremacy of Spain. They have refused to lend themselves to any compromise upon any other basis.
 It has doubtless occurred to them, that should the United States take part with the Colonies, through a rupture with Spain, the complete independence of the Colonies would soon be settled. The cause of Kings would so far loose ground. Neither Russia France, or England, will if they can prevent it, see this cause suffer.
 Let us suppose a case. Let us suppose that the revolution (which has broken out in Spain subsequent to Count Nesselrodes letter, and to the wishes expressed by the other Courts) to end in overthrowing the Spanish throne. Let us suppose a free, rational and vigorous Republic, without either nobles or priests, and with an elective President at its head, set up in its place. Let us suppose that by some infatuation, this Republic should go on to wage War against the Colonies, determining that they should not be independent. Would the European Sovereigns in such a case exert a friendly influence to forestall our cooperation with the Colonies? I doubt it. They would be more likely to say ‘the sooner the power of this new Republic [in] Spain is dismembered, the better; a Republic in America is evil enough; one in Europe would be far worse; let the two Republics be left to weaken each other, by their contests.’
 Let us suppose another case. Let us suppose France again powerful, and herself and England about to go to War. We grow uneasy lest, from fresh orders in Council, impressments and I know not what, we may, as before, unavoidably be drawn into the vortex. Do we mean, when such a conjuncture arrives to interpose our Amicable expostulations with the Courts of London and Paris to induce them to postpone their conflict? If we do they will scarcely read them. Are we not as independent of them, and of Russia, as they of us? Our political independence would not last five years, if we were not. Our happy distance as well as our actual power exempt us from the European police. nothing else. It is not with us as with Denmark and Sweden in the late affair of the treaty of Kiel when the latter power was compelled to act as the Sovereigns advised.
 I write under first impressions. Perhaps I may be starting unnecessary anxi[e]ties. I have the fullest confidence in the pure views and comprehensive wisdom of our President and those who make up the Executive Council. But every year confirms me more and more strongly in the impolicy, not to say danger, of our coming in the slightest degree under the influence of the political connexions of Europe. We are safe thus far. But it is a subject upon which we cannot be too cautious. There would be here also besides other objections, an absence of just reciprocity; for if we submit ourselves to the influence of their advice, it is morally certain that they will not yield themselves to ours.
 Is—It to our corps of Ministers plenipotentiary; is it to the facilities of their communion with Courts abroad, that we owe in some measure, the above interference? As one of the parties concerned, I fear so. I endeavoured to do what I took to be my share of duty under the present system. So doubtless, did others. But is the system quite right? Is it necessary?” (MS in Lb in NjP: Rush Family Papers; entirely in Rush’s hand; at head of text: “Memorandum, written the day after the letter to Mr Jefferson, of May 3. 1820, and designed as an addendum to that letter,” followed by parenthetical note, “but not sent”).

1Preceding three words interlined.

2In FC Rush here inserted a symbol, presumably keyed to a note in the margin that reads “See green quarto manuscript book, No 2 E page 1035.”

Index Entries

  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); and U.S. relations with Spain search
  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); ratification of search
  • banks; distressed situation of search
  • banks; TJ on search
  • Continuation of the Complete History of England (T. G. Smollett) search
  • Denmark; government of search
  • Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn search
  • Florida; acquisition of by U.S. search
  • France; and U.S. search
  • George III, king of Great Britain; death of search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • Great Britain; aristocracy in search
  • Great Britain; economic distress in search
  • Great Britain; U.S. minister to search
  • Kiel, Treaty of (1814) search
  • London; newspapers in search
  • Monroe, James; presidential messages of search
  • Nesselrode, Karl Robert von search
  • Philippart, John; letter forwarded to search
  • Polética, Pierre de; counselor of Russian legation search
  • Rush, Richard; and banking system search
  • Rush, Richard; as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain search
  • Rush, Richard; letters forwarded to search
  • Rush, Richard; letters from search
  • Rush, Richard; on U.S. diplomatic organization search
  • Russia; and U.S. search
  • Smollett, Tobias George; Continuation of the Complete History of England search
  • Spain; and Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • Sweden; government of search
  • The Netherlands; government of search
  • United States; and France search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • United States; and Russia search
  • United States; and Spain search
  • Venice; government of search