Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Destutt de Tracy, 26 December 1820

To Destutt de Tracy

Monticello. Dec. 26. 20.

Long ill health, dear Sir, has brought me much into default with my corresponding friends, and it’s sufferings have been augmented by the remorse resulting from this default. I learnt with pleasure from your last letter, and from a later one of M. de la Fayette, that you were mending in health, and particularly that your eye-sight was sensibly improved.

I have to thank you for the copy of your Commentary on Montesquieu accompanying your letter, and a second thro mr Barnet. the world ought to possess it in it’s native language, which cannot be compensated by any translation. the edition published here is now exhausted, and the copy-right being near out, it will be reprinted with a corrected translation. for altho the former one was sent to me for revisal, sheet by sheet, yet the original not being sent with them (for the printer was 100. leagues distant) I could correct inaccuracies of language only, and not inconformities of sentiment with the original. the original MS. was returned to me afterwards, and I hold it as testimony against the infidelities of Liege, or of another country.   A second edition of your Economie Politique will soon also be called for here, in which Milligan’s error on the freedom of your press will not be repeated. when he first printed the Prospectus of that work, the observation was true, as it was some time before your original was published in Paris. but he was so slow in getting it thro’ the press that the original appeared before his translation. he ought certainly after that to have omitted or corrected his Prospectus. the knolege however of your charter has corrected the error here, by it’s sanction of the freedom of the press: and the publication of the work there, and still more that of the Commentary on Montesquieu are a full vindication of the character of the Charter. these two works will become the Statesman’s Manual with us, and they certainly shall be the elementary books of the political department in our new University. this institution of my native state, the Hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it’s contemplation.

I still hold and duly value your little MS. entitled ‘Logique.’ being too small to make a volume of itself, I had put it into the hands of a very able editor of a periodical publication which promised to be valuable. it would have made a distinguished article in that work; but it’s continuance having failed for want of the encoragement it merited, I was disappointed in the hope of giving to the world this compendious demonstration of the reality & limits of human knolege. I am still on the watch for a favorable opportunity of doing it. I am not without the hope that the improvement in your health may enable you still to compleat your Encyclopedie Morale, by adding the volume which was to treat of our sentiments and passions. this would fill up our moral circle, and the measure of our obligations to you.

We go with you all lengths in friendly affections to the independance of S. America. but an immediate acknolegement of it calls up other considerations. we view Europe as covering at present a smothered fire, which may shortly burst forth and produce general conflagration. from this it is our duty to keep aloof. a formal acknolegement of the independance of her colonies, would involve us with Spain certainly, and perhaps too with England, if she thinks that a war would divert her internal troubles. such a war would hurt us more than it would help our brethren of the South: and our right may be doubted of mortgaging posterity for the expences of a war in which they will have a right to say their interests were not concerned. it is incumbent on every generation to pay it’s own debts as it goes. a principle which, if acted on, wou[ld] save one half the wars of the world; and justifies, I think our present circumspection. in the mean time we recieve & protect the flag of S. America in it’s commercial intercourse with us, on the acknoleged principles of neutrality between two belligerant parties in a civil war: and if we should not be the first, we shall certainly be the second nation in acknoleging the entire independance of our new friends. what that independanc[e] will end in, I fear is problematical. whether in wise governments or military despotisms. but prepared however, or not, for self-government, if it is their will to make the trial, it is our duty and desire to wish it cordially success. and of ultimate success there can be no doubt, and that it will richly repay all intermediate sufferings. of this your country, as well as ours, furnishes living examples. with the expression of hopes for them, accept my prayers for the perfect restoration of your health, & it’s continuance thro’ a life as long as you shall wish it.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); first two pages on reused address cover to TJ; final page on verso of reused address cover of otherwise unlocated letter from Francis Eppes to TJ, 27 Aug. 1819 (see note to TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 9 July 1819); edge trimmed; at head of text: “thro depmt of State”; at foot of first page: “M. le Comte Des-tutt de Tracy. pair de France”; endorsed by TJ. Recorded in SJL with the additional notation: “inclosed to mr D. Brent of the depmt of state.” Enclosed in TJ to Albert Gallatin, 26 Dec. 1820, and TJ to Daniel Brent, [ca. 27 Dec. 1820], not found (see note to Brent to TJ, 26 Feb. 1821).

Among TJ’s papers is an undated letter from Destutt de Tracy to Isaac Cox barnet, the United States consul at Paris: “Mr De Tracy fait mille Complimens à Mr Barnett. Il le prie de vouloir bien faire parvenir à M. Jefferson & à la Societé philosophique de Philadelphie les deux Volumes, cì joint en remplacement de Ceux qui ont été perdus Sur le factor. Mr De Tracy aurait bien Voulu ecrire Sur le premier feuillet hommage respectueux de l’auteur mais le papier boit trop pour que Cela Soit possible” (“Mr. de Tracy gives a thousand compliments to Mr. Barnet. He asks him to please have delivered to Mr. Jefferson and to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia the accompanying volumes, to replace those that were lost on the Factor. Mr. de Tracy would have liked to write ‘with the author’s respects’ on the first page, but the paper is too absorbent for that to be possible”) (RC in DLC: TJ Papers, 215:38321; in an unidentified hand; endorsed by TJ: “Tracy to Barnett”; translation by Dr. Roland H. Simon). On 3 Dec. 1819 the American Philosophical Society recorded receiving a donation to its library from Destutt de Tracy (APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes [MS in PPAmP]).

The printer was William Duane. TJ had himself written the prospectus for Joseph Milligan’s edition of Destutt de Tracy, Treatise on Political Economy (economie politique) (see TJ’s Title and Prospectus for Destutt de Tracy’s Treatise on Political Economy, [ca. 6 Apr. 1816]).

A previous reference to the University of Virginia as TJ’s hobby is in Hore Browse Trist to Nicholas P. Trist, 26 Jan. 1819, commenting on the recent passage of the bill chartering the institution: “Mr Jefferson will go now full tilt on his hobby you may depend he is infinitely delighted” (RC in DLC: NPT).

Robert Walsh was the very able editor of the short-lived periodical, the American Register; or Summary Review of History, Politics, and Literature. encyclopedie morale: Destutt de Tracy’s Élémens d’Idéologie.

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; and Destutt de Tracy search
  • American Philosophical Society; works given to search
  • American Register; or Summary Review of History, Politics, and Literature (ed. R. Walsh) search
  • A Treatise on Political Economy (Destutt de Tracy) search
  • Barnet, Isaac Cox; and Destutt de Tracy search
  • Barnet, Isaac Cox; letters to, from Destutt de Tracy search
  • Brent, Daniel; forwards letters to and from TJ search
  • Commentaire sur l’Esprit des Lois de Montesquieu (Destutt de Tracy); publication of search
  • Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws (Destutt de Tracy); TJ’s role in publication of search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; and American Philosophical Society search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; and freedom of the press in France search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; and South American republics search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; A Treatise on Political Economy search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentaire sur l’Esprit des Lois de Montesquieu search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Élémens d’Idéologie search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; health of search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; letters from, to I. C. Barnet search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; letters to search
  • Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude; Principes Logiques, ou Recueil de Faits relatifs a l’Intelligence Humaine search
  • Duane, William; and Destutt de Tracy’s works search
  • Élémens d’Idéologie (Destutt de Tracy); TJ on search
  • Europe; relations with U.S. search
  • Factor (brig) search
  • France; freedom of the press in search
  • French language; letters in, from; Destutt de Tracy to I. C. Barnet search
  • French language; TJ translates from search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • health; vision loss search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; receives works search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; illness of search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; European affairs search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; revolutions in Spanish colonies search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Title and Prospectus for Destutt de Tracy’sTreatise on Political Economy search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; translates Destutt de Tracy’s works search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; and Destutt de Tracy search
  • law; books on search
  • Milligan, Joseph; and Destutt de Tracy’sTreatise on Political Economy search
  • political economy; TJ’s title and prospectus for Destutt de Tracy’sTreatise on Political Economy search
  • political economy; works on search
  • Principes Logiques, ou Recueil de Faits relatifs a l’Intelligence Humaine (Destutt de Tracy) search
  • South America; and U.S. search
  • South America; republics in search
  • South America; TJ on independence movement in search
  • Spain; and U.S. search
  • Spain; colonies of search
  • Trist, Hore Browse (1802–56); correspondence with N. P. Trist search
  • Trist, Nicholas Philip; correspondence with H. B. Trist search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • United States; and South American republics search
  • United States; and Spain search
  • Virginia, University of; Books and Library; books and manuscripts for search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ as founder of search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ’s vision for search
  • Walsh, Robert; and Destutt de Tracy’sPrincipes Logiques search
  • Walsh, Robert; editor ofAmerican Register; or Summary Review of History, Politics, and Literature search