Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 9 March 1821

To Spencer Roane

Monticello Mar. 9. 21.

Dear Sir

I am indebted for your favor of Feb. 25. & especially for your friendly indulgence to my excuses for retiring from the polemical world. I should not shrink from the post of duty, had not the decays of nature withdrawn me from the list of combatants. great decline in the energies of the body import naturally a corresponding wane of the mind, and a honing after tranquility as the last and sweetest asylum of age. it is a law of nature that the generations of men should give way, one to another, and I hope that the one now on the stage will preserve for their sons the political blessings delivered into their hands by their fathers. time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. but time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible. we see already germs of this, as might be expected. but we are not the less bound to press against them. the multiplication of public offices, increase of expence beyond income, growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications solliciting the employment of the pruning knife; and I doubt not it will be employed; good principles being as yet prevalent enough for that.

The great object of my fear is the federal judiciary. that body, like Gravity, ever acting, with noiseless foot, & unalarming advance, gaining ground step by step, and holding what it gains, is ingulphing insidiously the special governments into the jaws of that which feeds them. the recent recall to first principles however, by Colo Taylor, by yourself and now by Alexander Smyth will, I hope, be heard, & obeyed, & that a temporary check will be effected. yet be not weary of welldoing. let the eye of vigilance never be closed.

Last and most portentous of all is the Missouri question. it is smeared over for the present: but it’s geographical demarcation is indelible. what it is to become I see not; and leave to those who will live to see it. the University will give employment to my remaining years, and quite enough for my senile faculties. it is the last act of usefulness I can render, and could I see it open, I would not ask an hour more of life. to you I hope many will still be given; and, certain they will all be employed for the good of our beloved country, I salute you with sentiments of especial friendship and respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (CLjC, 2002); addressed: “The honble Spencer Roane Richmond”; franked; postmarked Milton, 13 Mar. PoC (DLC).

Governor Thomas Mann Randolph appointed two Virginia members of the United States House of Representatives, alexander smyth and Philip P. Barbour, to represent the state in the Supreme Court case of Cohens v. Virginia. Smyth argued for the separation and independence of state judicial systems from the federal judiciary (Richmond Enquirer, 3 Mar. 1821). Under Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court voided state laws that opposed national statutes and asserted that the Supreme Court’s powers included appellate jurisdiction and ultimate authority over any case arising in the United States (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 9:106–42, 143–7).

Index Entries

  • Barbour, Philip Pendleton; andCohens v. Virginia search
  • books; on U.S. Constitution search
  • Cohens v. Virginia search
  • Constitution, U.S.; books on search
  • Construction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated (J. Taylor [of Caroline]) search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; aging search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; aging search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; expansion of federal government search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; federal judiciary search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Missouri question search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; U.S. future search
  • Marshall, John; as chief justice of U.S. Supreme Court search
  • Missouri question; TJ on search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as governor of Va. search
  • Roane, Spencer; and Va. politics search
  • Roane, Spencer; letters to search
  • Roane, Spencer; urges TJ to resume political activity search
  • Smyth, Alexander; andCohens v. Virginia search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; andCohens v. Virginia search
  • Supreme Court, U.S.; and J. Marshall search
  • Taylor, John (of Caroline); Construction Construed, and Constitutions Vindicated search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ’s vision for search