Thomas Jefferson Papers

Charles Pinckney to Thomas Jefferson, 6 September 1820

From Charles Pinckney

Charleston September 6th 1820

Dear Sir.—

It is a great while since I have written you for which I feel regret & some shame, as I ought to have considered it in some degree my duty to have frequently enquired how you do & to have requested the pleasure to hear from you—it was very seriously my intention at the close of the late session of Congress to have endeavoured to visit both yourself & Mr Madison—but the great length of the Session & the fear of losing my passage home by water in a Ship then ready to sail from Philadelphia prevented & obliged me to go on there immediately after the adjourment.—

I have lately written Mr Madison but as is reported he is about to go to Europe on a visit he will not recieve it.—I had the pleasure to hear from some gentlemen in Congress You were well & perfectly recovered from the severe indisposition You had some time before suffered under.—my friend & connection Colonel Alston told me he had seen you among the mountains of Virginia the year before travelling in quest of health & shewed me a letter you had written him since by which I had the satisfaction to hear you had greatly benefited by the excursion

As Mr Madison by his going to Europe will not probably recieve my letter I shall not have the pleasure of hearing from him.—it was very much my wish to know your & his opinions on the subject which now agitates the Union although not so much as the Missouri yet still in a degree very much to destroy the harmony that ought ever to prevail in a government like this—I mean the Tariff Question—this favour I ask as I am obliged to go once more very reluctantly to that dreadfully cold & bleak place Washington & shall have to give opinions & votes on it if I live as my constituents in Charleston are meeting to express their abhorrence of it—by the by what do you think of these gentry at the northward on their Missouri & Tariff & other questions of that sort—You see how Mr King has come out on the former & is expected to do so on the latter at the next session—If not inconvenient I will thank you to give to me your opinions on the Tariff Question as I believe They have been misrepresented in Congress—not with a view that I should say any thing about them, as any thing which comes from you to me on that or any subject that may come before Congress shall be considered by me always as sacredly confidential unless you should express a wish to the contrary—I will thank you also for Your Opinions as to Spain & the Course to be pursued with her—I fear the Cortes will not advise or consent to ratify the Treaty.—if not what shall be done?—shall we occupy Florida or take any other course—please favour me with your opinions on this fully if convenient or at leisure to do so.—it is the last session in which I expect ever to be in Congress & must from the nature of the 2 Questions as they affect the Southern States say something upon them, & should be happy to find my opinions in unison with yours1—I congratulate you on the increase & rise of our Country in every thing which can make it great free & of course happy since I saw you—this I knew would always be & soon the case & used to tell them so in Europe—but they never would believe it—they always had the idea, to use Cevallos’s expression, that We were a People in the Woods & that as soon as We increased in numbers We would separate into small confederacies & therefore used to think very little about us2—unfortunately Graham who you sent me as Secretary had got the same Notions into his head & all that I could do I could never persuade him to the contrary.—In the Affair of the Deposit at New Orleans I never saw any one more astonished than he was when late one Evening I brought him home the Kings order to open it, as he was convinced they never would do it & did not care a farthing about what we said to them

Although I have in a great degree made up my own opinions on both the Questions I mention yet as I am always open to conviction I wish very much to have yours, as if coinciding with me, as I expect & hope, they may tend to strengthen me in them & give me new lights on them, or if differing, may give me such a View of them as may convince me I am wrong & induce me to give them further consideration.—As I suppose You take both Niles’s Register & the National Intellegencer3 You there saw my opinions at length on the Missouri Question & particularly on the importance of the State Governments & how much their increase would tend to strengthen & give permanency to our Union4—I hope they will not trouble us any more on this subject although I should not be surprised if they attempted it when the Constitution of Missouri comes to be laid before Congress—

I was surprised to see so great a number of very young men in Congress & to find so great a proportion of the older members had like myself determined to decline a reelection—my constituents wished me very much to be a candidate for reelection & I should have been reelected without an opponent—but the Trouble of going there—the long absence from my home & friends—the constant confinement—crowds of company & above all the dreadfully rigorous climate where the thermometer is sometimes 6 to 8 degrees below zero & 40. degrees colder than it is in Charleston make it not only prudent but indispensable to decline it—of the 2305 Members now in Congress there are only 4 or 5 who were there when I was last there in 1801—General Smith—.6 Mr Macon . . Mr Dana Mr Randolph & probably Mr Otis—of the Members who signed the declaration of7 Independence, I found only 4 are alive—but what is still more extraordinary there are only six who signed the Constitution so long afterwards & of these three are from the “unhealthy” South Carolina—General Pinckney Pierce Butler & myself—You have seen no doubt the newly published Journals of that body & I hear that Mr Madison is soon to publish an account of their proceedings with all the Speeches from his notes—is it so?—Lowndes mentioned something about it the other day but he did not know distinctly or positively.—

In writing to Mr Madison lately8 I told him it was 33 Years since we had seen each other & alluded to the great changes that had taken place since—& that in my opinion one of the worst to us was that we were so much older, for I cannot but think in spite of all that Divines & Philosophers may tell us that Old Age is not the most comfortable state in the World—I dare say You remember what I wrote him that Doctor Franklin used to frequently wish “he could live his life over—that it had been a very good world to him & his life a succesful one”—I have heard him say so at his own Table more than once—if the age of any one, can be comfortable to him it must be yours & living as You do on the mountains, with your temperate habits & mountain air & water I do not see why You should not live as long & as comfortably as Cornaro did—I remember You once wrote me some opinions, if not wishes rather contrary to these but it is so long agoe You had not the experience You have now & which I hope has given you reasons to alter them—

I will thank you to be so good as to let me hear from you as soon as convenient—I hope to be able to leave this if nothing should happen to prevent it about the middle of October for Philadelphia on my way to Congress—in the interim please direct Your letter to me in Charleston—With affectionate regard & best Wishes remain Dear Sir

Yours Truly

Charles Pinckney

RC (DLC); ellipsis in original; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Sept. 1820 and so recorded in SJL. Tr (ViU: TJP); extract in Nicholas P. Trist’s hand, with his note at foot of text made at a separate sitting: “The letter from T.J. of Sep. 30 is in answer to that from which these extracts are made.”

The late session of congress ran from 6 Dec. 1819 until 15 May 1820 (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States description ends , 13:3, 550). The 2 Sept. 1820 letter that Pinckney had lately written from Charleston to former president James Madison contained this postscript: “When you see Mr Jefferson please Remember me very affectionately to him—as his name was very repeatedly mentioned in Congress as favourable to the Tarif & manufacturers, I intend to write to him on it as Newton was the only Virginian who voted for it” (Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 2:95–8).

During the summer of 1820 some American newspapers announced that Madison was not just about to go to europe but had actually arrived in Ireland. The reports, however, often contained a disclaimer that correctly cast doubt on the story’s accuracy: “Mr. Madison, we suspect, is quietly cultivating his farm in Virginia. It is possible, that some impudent pretender has assumed his name, for the purpose of attracting a little more attention than is bestowed upon ordinary travellers; but it is more probable that the editor, and the London editors who have copied the paragraph, have been hoaxed” (New York Commercial Advertiser, 24 Aug. 1820, and elsewhere).

The treaty was the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain. Pinckney would have heard the expression by Pedro Cevallos (Ceballos) Guerra, the Spanish secretary of state, during his diplomatic service in that country. The affair of the deposit at New Orleans refers to Spain’s October 1802 closure of that port to American goods. King Charles IV ordered the ban lifted the following spring (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 4:469–71).

Pinckney spoke to the United States House of Representatives about the missouri question on 14 Feb. 1820 (Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 23, 24 June 1820; Baltimore Niles’ Weekly Register, 15 July 1820). The four surviving signers of the declaration of independence at this time were John Adams, Charles Carroll (of Carrollton), William Floyd, and TJ. In addition to the three South Carolinians listed by Pinckney, five people who signed the constitution were still alive: Jonathan Dayton, William Few, Jared Ingersoll, Rufus King, and James Madison.

Benjamin Franklin wrote Catharine Greene on 2 Mar. 1789 of his willingness to live his life over: “Hitherto this long Life has been tolerably happy, (God grant it may so continue to the End) so that if I were allow’d to live it over again, I should make no Objection, only wishing for Leave to do, what Authors do in a second Edition of their Works, correct some of my Errata” (PPAmP: Miscellaneous Franklin Collections). TJ expressed some opinions of a negative nature about his own descent into old age in a 3 Sept. 1816 letter to Pinckney.

1Tr begins here.

2Tr ends here.

3Tr begins here.

4Tr ends here.

5Reworked from “200.”

6Pinckney here canceled “Mr King.”

7Preceding three words interlined.

8Word interlined in place of “the other day.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; signer of Declaration of Independence search
  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); and U.S. relations with Spain search
  • aging; C. Pinckney on search
  • aging; TJ on his own search
  • Alston, William; and TJ’s health search
  • Butler, Pierce; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Carroll, Charles (of Carrollton); signer of Declaration of Independence search
  • Cevallos, Pedro; on U.S. search
  • Charles IV, king of Spain; and port of New Orleans search
  • Charleston, S.C.; weather in search
  • Congress, U.S.; adjourns search
  • Congress, U.S.; and Missouri question search
  • Congress, U.S.; and tariffs search
  • Congress, U.S.; C. Pinckney on search
  • Constitution, U.S.; 1787Constitutional Convention search
  • Constitution, U.S.; Journal, Acts and Proceedings, of the Convention, assembled at Philadelphia … 1787, which formed the Constitution of the United States search
  • Constitution, U.S.; signers of search
  • Cornaro, Luigi search
  • Dana, Samuel Whittlesey search
  • Dayton, Jonathan search
  • Declaration of Independence; signers of search
  • Few, William; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Florida; acquisition of by U.S. search
  • Floyd, William; signer of Declaration of Independence search
  • Franklin, Benjamin; on living his life over search
  • Graham, John (1774–1820); and closure of port of New Orleans search
  • Ingersoll, Jared; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; illness of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Travels; to Warm Springs search
  • Journal, Acts and Proceedings, of the Convention, assembled at Philadelphia … 1787, which formed the Constitution of the United States search
  • King, Rufus; and Missouri question search
  • King, Rufus; and tariffs search
  • King, Rufus; as U.S. senator search
  • King, Rufus; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Lowndes, William; and J. Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention search
  • Macon, Nathaniel; as U.S. representative from N.C. search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and C. Pinckney search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); notes on the Constitutional Convention search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); rumored visit to Europe of search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Missouri question; and C. Pinckney search
  • National Intelligencer (Washington newspaper); TJ subscribes to search
  • New Orleans; port of search
  • newspapers; BaltimoreNiles’ Weekly Register search
  • newspapers; subscriptions to, by TJ search
  • Newton, Thomas (1768–1847); as U.S. representative from Va. search
  • Niles’ Weekly Register (Baltimore newspaper) search
  • Otis, Harrison Gray; Federalist legislator search
  • Pinckney, Charles; and J. Madison search
  • Pinckney, Charles; and Missouri question search
  • Pinckney, Charles; and TJ’s health search
  • Pinckney, Charles; as U.S. representative from S.C. search
  • Pinckney, Charles; letters from search
  • Pinckney, Charles; on aging search
  • Pinckney, Charles; plans to visit Va. search
  • Pinckney, Charles; requests TJ’s opinion search
  • Pinckney, Charles; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth; signer of U.S. Constitution search
  • Randolph, John (of Roanoke); as U.S. representative from Va. search
  • scientific instruments; thermometers search
  • Smith, Samuel (of Maryland); as U.S. representative search
  • Spain; and Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • Spain; Cortes of search
  • subscriptions, for publications; newspapers search
  • taxes; on imports search
  • thermometers; and meteorological observations search
  • United States; and Spain search
  • Warm Springs (Bath Co.); TJ visits search
  • Washington, D.C.; weather in search
  • weather; cold search