Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Taylor to Thomas Jefferson, 25 February 1821

From John Taylor

Hazelwood Feb: 25. 1821

Dear Sir

Yours of the 14th instant induces me to think, that the small sum mentioned in my last, may be of some use. Perhaps it may enable the young man intended for the law, to prosecute his studies in your university or elsewhere. Perhaps it may be beneficially applied to the unmarried daughters. But you do not say whether you will apply it. This is material, because it is my wish from some particular considerations, that the circumstance should be unknown to any other, even to a member of the family. If you will be so good as to undertake its application according to your own judgment, it will be easy to obtain the money by a draft on me through a Richmond bank, to be forwarded to a Fredericksburg bank, whence it can be transferred to your credit at the first bank; or in the mode suggested by my last letter. In this event, a draft for the first $125 payable at sight, may be forwarded as soon as you please.

Your approbation of my first political book transmitted to me by Mr: Ritchie, and that of the last in your letter to myself, is highly animating. It repays me for my labour, by making me hope that I have not written in vain. But either self love or a better motive, induces me to dissent from the reasons which have prevented you from bestowing on these works your publick approbation. I believe that an impression upon the western States, is the best, if not the only chance, for reforming our errors; that they are ripe for receiving it; and that your publick approbation of these books, or at least of the last, if they are calculated to produce it, can only give them the necessary circulation. Except for Judge Roane, the last would neither have been printed, nor have been introduced to its very limitted notice; nor can it do much good, without your publick countenance. Mr: Ritchie, as I perceive by your letter to him, had asked for it, undoubtedly because it would have extended the sale, and increased his profit, in which I have no participation. Books can only be made extensively useful by the exertions of book sellers, and if they inculcate truth, may it not be right for eminent men to bring their resting passion into activity? Age, competence, and retirement, bestow the greatest degree of human independence, and place us as near to truth, and as far above malevolence, as we can be placed. It is the best season for exerting that freedom of opinion, too often checked or corrupted by the passions of greener years, or the calculations of self interest; and the best use we can make of it may be, to express our convictions, regardless of the censure they may excite.

With such impressions, about three years past, I composed a long letter to you, containing sundry arguments to prove, that you ought to write memoirs of your own life. If Cesar, De Retz and Sully (men not immaculate) have rendered themselves famous by describing how they killed corrupted or defrauded thousands, a man, thought I (of unimpeachable integrity) by describing his efforts during a long life, to give liberty and happiness to millions, would render himself immortal. Yet this, I confess, was a subordinate consideration. An apprehension of a gradual but constant aberration of our policy from true republican principles, caused me to believe that the best conceivable check of so baleful a progress, would be this history; into which you would weave the wisdom of your learning and experience. But the idea of its being presumptuous destroyed the letter.

Your University possesses the good wishes of this section of the country. I ardently wish, and have no doubts of, its brilliant success. I see no incompatibility between believing that we ought to enable industry to obtain the best educations at home, and yet that we ought not to tax it to bestow the worst on idleness. The first is effected by one expense; the other is a perpetual eleemosynary bounty to idleness or fraud, like the English perennial pauper system. The school law has taken a great sum from industry, which has done no good except in the donation to the University—It would have been better had this donation included the whole fund. No vestige of benefit from its taxation has appeared in this quarter; but the number of scholars at the academies has greatly diminished, since the money has been taken from industry, with the intention of applying it by agents, more productively, to education, than its owners could do themselves. Eminently useful as the university will undoubtedly be, I firmly believe that the memoirs would be more so.—

I am, with the highest respect and esteem,

Your mo: obt Sert

John Taylor

RC (MeHi: John S. H. Fogg Autograph Collection); endorsed by TJ as received 13 Mar. 1821 from Port Royal. RC (MHi); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to de Bure Frères, 13 June 1822, on verso; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson esqr Monticello Albermarle”; stamped; postmarked Port Royal, 6 Mar. 1821. This document, located after the pertinent chronological volume was published, will appear in the concluding supplement to the print edition. The Editors are indebted to Clifford Humphrey for identifying it and calling it to their attention.

The young man intended for the law was Wilson Cary Nicholas (ca.1796–1828).

Index Entries

  • An Act appropriating part of the revenue of the Literary Fund, and for other purposes (1818) search
  • An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States (J. Taylor) search
  • banks; in Va. search
  • books; autobiographical search
  • books; on politics search
  • books; on U.S. Constitution search
  • Caesar, Julius; writings of search
  • charity; donations to families in need search
  • Constitution, U.S.; books on search
  • Construction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated (J. Taylor [of Caroline]) search
  • education; and taxation search
  • education; in Va. search
  • Fredericksburg, Va.; banks in search
  • Gondi, Jean François Paul de, Cardinal de Retz; Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz search
  • Great Britain; and poor relief search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; requested to review books search
  • Memoires de Maximilien de Bethune, Duc de Sully (Sully) search
  • Mémoires du Cardinal de Retz (Gondi) search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); family of search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (ca.1796–1828); family of search
  • Richmond, Va.; banks in search
  • Ritchie, Thomas; and J. Taylor’sConstruction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated search
  • Roane, Spencer; friendship with J. Taylor search
  • Sully, Maximilien de Béthune, duc de; Memoires de Maximillien de Bethune, Duc de Sully search
  • taxes; and education search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); and University of Virginia search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); Construction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); donation to W. C. Nicholas’s family search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); encourages TJ to write memoirs search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); letters from search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; opinions on search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; banks in search