Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel H. Smith to Thomas Jefferson, 6 April 1821

From Samuel H. Smith

Sidney, April 6. 1821.

Dear Sir

Mr Pennant Barton, son and only surviving child of Dr B. S. Barton, so well known to you, I believe, personally, as well as by his literary researches, is on the eve of embarking for Europe, through the greater part of wch. he means to travel. Being ambitious of having letters from you to some of your distinguished friends, and especially to M. La Fayette, I am emboldened, from my friendship to the father and a knowledge of your kindness, to ask the favor of a letter of introduction to that illustrious man, whose rare virtues have placed him among the first of mortals. Could the favor be extended, by letters to Count Lacepede, the Abbe Gregoire (old correspondents of Dr Barton) or any others, I am sure Mr Barton will feel grateful. I have myself but recently become acquainted with him; but the letters of my friends in Philada give every assurance of his merit, and his manners are those of a gentleman accustomed to good society. As he thinks of embarking in about a fortnight, he wod wish to receive any letters you may give him at an early day, and which, if sent to me, I will take care to transmit to him.

Although it is long since we have heard direct from you, we have very often thought of you, and sketched, in our imaginations, the picture of that felicity, which, I trust, you continue to enjoy with the least alloy that is incident to human life. I have rejoiced to learn that your health is restored, without wch. the proudest intellectual gifts are so insufficient to insure happiness.

It is now twelve years since, ceasing to be an actor, you have been a spectator of the active scenes of life; and have been thence the better able to test the accuracy of those great principles which divide our species, and of the best means for their accomplishment. In attempting myself to make this estimate, I have often said to myself what is the award of Mr Jefferson’s judgement on this or that particular point. Not that I have any diffidence in those respects in my own opinions, which, on the whole, are those of my youth; but because I know no one whose experience better qualifies him to sit in judgement on these great points. The cause of liberty and happiness is beyond all question generally advancing: but is it progressing in this country, and will not its final purity and prevalence depend greatly, if not altogether, on us? Is the state of public opinion sound, or is there not a dangerous security founded on specious coallitions that cannot endure; in other words, can a free country maintain its distinctive character without strong lines of party, springing, not from the hostilities of ins and, outs, but from the difference that eternally must subsist between virtue and vice, between luxury and simplicity, between patronage and patriotism, between—government that is the servant, and one that is the master of the people? These are momentous topics, [. . .] I fear, upon them, although our government [and?] people are the best in the world, we have fallen into some errors. But these are endless topics, and I will not further intrude upon your time.

Mrs Smith unites with me in tendering her most cordial and respectful remembrances.

I am with great respect Yo. obt. st.

Sa. H. Smith

RC (DLC); torn at seal; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire Monticello Virga”; franked; postmarked Washington, 7 Apr.; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 5 Apr. received 11 Apr. 1821 and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas Pennant Barton (ca. 1803–69), diplomat and bibliophile, was the son of TJ’s correspondent Benjamin Smith Barton. Educated in Philadelphia, the younger Barton spent some years in France after his father’s death in 1815. He married the sole surviving child and heir of Edward Livingston in 1833. Shortly thereafter President Andrew Jackson appointed Livingston minister plenipotentiary to France. Barton went with him as secretary of legation and remained in France until 1836, when he returned to New York and took up residence at Montgomery Place, the Livingston family estate in the Hudson River Valley. During his time in Europe, Barton began assembling one of the first important American collections of works by William Shakespeare as well as other rare items. After his death Barton’s widow sold his books to the Boston Public Library (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, repr. 1968, 20 vols. in 10 description ends ; NjP: Livingston Papers; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 4:344, 362 [21 Jan., 28 Feb. 1834]; Catalogue of the Barton Collection, Boston Public Library, in Two Parts [1888]; Boston Public Library, Bulletin, 4th ser., 3 [1921]: 173–7; John Alden, “America’s First Shakespeare Collection,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 58 [1964]: 169–73; New York Herald, 8 Apr. 1869).

Index Entries

  • Barton, Benjamin Smith; family of search
  • Barton, Thomas Pennant; identified search
  • Barton, Thomas Pennant; introduced to TJ search
  • Grégoire, Henri; mentioned search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of introduction to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; good health of search
  • Lacépède, Bernard Germain Étienne de La Ville-Sur-Illon, comte de; mentioned search
  • Lafayette, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, marquis de; TJ introduces T. P. Barton to search
  • politics; state of in U.S. search
  • Smith, Margaret Bayard (Samuel Harrison Smith’s wife); sends greetings to TJ search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; and politics search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; introduces T. P. Barton search
  • Smith, Samuel Harrison; letters from search