Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel Wood to Thomas Jefferson, 3 March 1821

From Samuel Wood

N York 3 Month 3d 1821

Fellow Citizen, Thomas Jefferson

Though we are strangers, never have, & likely never shall, see each other in mutability, yet, considering how far we are advanced in the Journey of Life, I am past 60, & thyself ahead of me, I think it safest, no longer to delay, to use my endeavours to pay a debt, I have conceived due to thee,—I am no party man.—

One side will flatter
The other Spatter—

I am thy friend, an Appellation only due to him, who out of pure & good will, can remind another of his faults—I have often quoted those excellent expressions of thine,—“We cannot form to ourselves an Idea of an Object more ridiculous, than an American Patriot signing declarations of independence with one hand, & with the other brandishing his whip over his affrighted Slave,,—But I have been rebutted with “Mr Jefferson holds Slaves,,—Is it so, Does that hand that penn’d that memorable Instrument, The Declaration of Independance, sway the Sceptre of authority over Slaves,—Perhaps thou wilt say, the laws of this section of the Union, forbids Manumission,—Do they—What then is the consequence,—Why the “Honest Man,, which Pope says,—“is the noblest Work of God,, will find, as Cowper says,

I would not have a slave to till my Ground,
To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinnews bot & sold have ever earn’d.
No; dear as freedom is, & in my heart’s
Just estimation priz’d above all price
I had much rather be my self the slave,
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him,,1

The truly honest man, would proclaim to the world, not only in words but in conduct, since it has been my unhappy lot, to be placed in a State, whose wicked Laws, are in direct opposition, to the precepts of my Saviour, To do as I would be done by, I will come as near it as I can, I will hold no authority over my fellow Men, no further, than shall be for their good,—they shall be well fed,—well clothed,—& urged to work no more than is reasonable,—I will educate them as my own children,—I will consider them, as they really are, my equals, & teach them, & all men, that I have no more right to them, than they have to me,

 “ That mercy which I to others show
That mercy show to me,,

And I will further so order it, that all their earnings shall be secured to themselves, & that, as soon as the inconsistent Laws of the State shall allow, which doubtless must eventually take place, & they are qualified, they shall go forth as free as Air,—Oh that the last glimmering in the socket of thy Taper, which of course, must soon take place, might in this particular, be so bright, as to convince mankind, that no human being, was a Slave to thee, but that thro the unreasonable effect of unjust Laws, thou wert com[pelled?] to be a slave to them

I am, & always have been, a Friend to my Country, I am an American, by birth & by choice,—I glory in it, but am—obliged to hang my head, when I reflect on this dreadful stain, & “foulest blot,, Slavery—I allways lov’d & respected that celebrated & eminent man Washington, but I mourn’d & expect to mourn while in time, as a Father over a Son, or one brother over another, for an error that beclouds many virtues,—Some think he fully perform’d his part, In giving his Slaves free at his death,—I think different,—What a General heading an Army, provided by that August body, who dare tell Kings & Tyrants, the truth, “all men are born free & equal,, & “we will not be hewers of wood & drawers of water &c,,—He hold Slaves, How inconsistent,—The moment he grasp’d his sword, in the cause of Liberty, he should have cut the Gordian Knot of Slavery, & severed the Hydra Head of that Monster, justly hateful to God & man

Wherever there is a Slave, there must (however we may dislike the term) be a Tyrant, one cant subsist without the other,—& must it be so, after so much blood spilt, & treasure expended (professionally in the cause of Liberty) & even, after so many blessings showered down on an undeserving People, such a lapse of time, such spread of Light, must the clanking of Chains, & the smacking of Whips be heard in our Land, on an unoffending People, & for why,—why they are Black, blush indeed, Oh my Countrymen,—Ah & indeed reflect, “that God is just, & that his Justice cannot always sleep,,—Is not the Signs of the times portentous—See the degrading & to be dreaded Missouri question shaking as it were to the centre our constitution & union,—Slave Holders do you not fear,—You do indeed, else why that patroling in your streets,—Why does your muskets & swords hang around your beds,—Why does the fond Mother cling to her lov’d husband, with her darling infant in her arms, at every unusual noise in the night,—The cause is obvious, who can reflect on the Scenes of St Domingo, & of often occurrences among you, of now one, & then another, murdered by his Slaves, Houses fired &c

Oppression,, it is said “will make a wise man mad,, if so, is it not as likely to make a poor Negro mad, treated as he is, & when once drove to a state of madness, what may not be feared from such, so educated & abused, especially, when they have so often heard us say “Poor freedom is better than rich slavery,,—“Liberty or Death,,

I am a friend to all Men, without respect to color name or nation, I most assuredly am the white Mans friend, & can but hope, they may “undo the heavy burdens, & let the oppressed go free,, do as they would be done by, without which they cannot be Christians, Else I greatly fear the awful consequences,—When Justice & Equity walk hand in hand, Mercy & Truth meet together, Righteous & Peace kiss each other, Then & not till then, will every man rest under his own Vine, and Fig Tree, & none shall make them afraid

I now close by an affectionate Farewell thy Friend

Samuel Wood

RC (MoSHi: TJC-BC); mutilated at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Monticello Virginia”; franked; postmarked New York, 5 Mar.; endorsed by TJ as received 11 Mar. 1821 and so recorded in SJL.

Samuel Wood (1760–1844), publisher and author, was born on Long Island, New York. He joined the Society of Friends and was married at the Westbury Meeting in 1782. Wood began his career as a teacher before relocating to New York City by 1804 and opening a bookstore. He soon extended his business to publishing, initially specializing in children’s books. By 1817 three of Wood’s sons had joined the firm, which expanded to develop a focus on medical works and traded under the name of Samuel Wood & Sons. Wood retired from publishing in 1836, but his descendants continued the business under variant names until 1932. He was devoted to a number of charitable causes including the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism, the New York Institution for the Blind, the Manumission Society, and the Public School Society. Wood died in Brooklyn (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, repr. 1968, 20 vols. in 10 description ends ; Arnold Wood, John Wood of Aftercliffe, Yorkshire, England, and Falls, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and His Descendants in the United States [1903], 35–44; New-York Evening Post, 7 Nov. 1804, 6 May 1844; gravestone inscription in Friends Quaker Cemetery, Brooklyn).

The British abolitionist Thomas Day, not TJ, penned a variation on the phrase we cannot form … affrighted slave in his Fragment of an original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes; Written in the Year 1776 (London, [1784]), 33. honest man … noblest work of god comes from line 244 of Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man. In Epistles to a Friend. Epistle IV (London, [1734]), 12. William Cowper wrote that i would not have a slave … fasten them on him in book 2 of The Task, A Poem, in Six Books (London, 1785), 46–7. to do as i would be done by is a version of the Golden Rule. that mercy which i to others show that mercy show to me comes from Pope’s The Universal Prayer (London, 1738). Cowper referred to slavery as the foulest blot in book 2 of The Task, 46.

The phrase all men are born free & equal was used in the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution. we will not be hewers of wood & drawers of water &c paraphrases the Bible, Joshua 9.23. TJ’s comment that god is just, & that his justice cannot always sleep is in Query XVIII of his Notes on the State of Virginia (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, 1955; repr. 1995 description ends , 163). oppression … wise man mad comes from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 7.7. Patrick Henry reportedly said “give me liberty, or give me death!” (liberty or death) in a speech to the Virginia Convention of March 1775 (William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry [Philadelphia, 1817; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 (no. 131)], 123).

undo the heavy burdens, & let the oppressed go free is a phrase from the Bible, Isaiah 58.6. A variant of mercy & truth meet together, righteous & peace kiss each other, is in Psalms 85.10. The phrase every man rest under his own vine, and fig tree, & none shall make them afraid, comes from Micah 4.4.

1Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

Index Entries

  • An Essay on Man. In Epistles to a Friend. Epistle IV (A. Pope) search
  • antislavery; support for search
  • Bible; Ecclesiastes referenced search
  • Bible; Isaiah referenced search
  • Bible; Jonah referenced search
  • Bible; Joshua referenced search
  • Bible; Micah referenced search
  • Bible; Psalms referenced search
  • books; on slavery search
  • Christianity; and slavery search
  • Cowper, William; The Task, A Poem search
  • Day, Thomas (of Great Britain); Fragment of an original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes; Written in the Year 1776 search
  • Declaration of Independence; TJ as author of search
  • Fragment of an original Letter on the Slavery of the Negroes; Written in the Year 1776 (T. Day) search
  • Haiti, Republic of; revolution in search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); quoted search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Declaration of Independence search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Massachusetts; constitution of search
  • Missouri question; and antislavery search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); references to search
  • Pope, Alexander; An Essay on Man. In Epistles to a Friend. Epistle IV search
  • Pope, Alexander; The Universal Prayer search
  • slavery; books on search
  • slavery; opposition to search
  • The Task, A Poem (W. Cowper) search
  • The Universal Prayer (A. Pope) search
  • Virginia; conventions of1775–76 search
  • Washington, George; and slavery search
  • Wood, Samuel; identified search
  • Wood, Samuel; letter from search
  • Wood, Samuel; on slavery search