Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Knight, 14 May 1806

14th May 1806 Monongalia County Via.


Perhaps you may think it strange, that one who is entirely unacquainted (personnally) with you, should thus trouble you with a letter: for it is impossible for any Sovereign or Ruler of a Nation to be acquainted with each individual Subject; and as I am placed in a humble, and You in an elevated station of life, I have taken this method of forming an acquaintance with and expressing my esteem for You. my knowledge of You is gain’d by information, and by that same Channel my acquaintance with they Virtues of your Noble Character are acquired; I am unable to express or describe the fine feelings and Sensations which inspire my breast, for the blessings of Liberty and equal Justice which we do enjoy, & which shine so conspicuously under the present Administration. after ascending they effusions of a grateful heart to the Supreme Being, I acknowledge our Country is in a great degree indebted to Him that fills the Executive department, for the smiling Liberty and defence of Commerce which we possess. I have frequently made observations on the imperfection and depravity of man which according to Authentic History is verifyed in the case of Princes who were endow’d by nature & art with the most bright and shining talents but were devoid of they principles of mercy and of doing equal Justice to their subjects and Constituents and tyrannized over the greater number of them with oppression and cruelty, rendering their power absolute and unlimited. and indeed if we consider the various talents and modes of excellance of which man is capable, we shall acknowledge that neither all, nor any considerable number of them, have ever been found united in any one Individual. were it possible that all the fine talents and excellencies of nature & art penetration and comprehension were combined in any one individual, yet if He was void of Phylanthrophy, (that fine principle so requisite in every Prince) He would be an improper person to govern a People. the Illustrious Person I am now addressing, I am conscious detests flattery and adulation, which Principle I also am incapable of exercising, and on the present as well as every other occasion my observations are real and sincere: according to the best and general information the great and Patriotic Personage who Presides over the United States possess’s as many and perhaps more of the above-mentioned abilities than any other Person in the present age but more than this those abilities are blended with that noble Sentiment Phylanthropy by which Principle the most renown’d Character aims at the general welfare of each Individual Citizen or Subject; and renders him complete and fit to govern.   but Mr. Jefferson well knows that like other great men, He was not entirely exempt from envy at the time of his introduction, to fill the Presidential chair; for many of our Politicians (as they call themselves) and Editors of News-papers probagated and publish’d a great many Calumnies which were the fruits of envy and prejudice. in they years of 1800 & 1801 what broils and contentions then existed between the two parties? but the Session of Congress in the early part of 1801 prov’d decisive in favour of the Republicans and they have held the ascendancy ever since, for at that period our noble President was elected and appointed to occupy the Executive then the tempestous storm and the noisy and jarring elements of contention and division on Politics, seem’d gradually to subside, and our Political Atmosphere now enjoys a mildness and serenity a peace and tranquility which no other Nation enjoys; for the division subsiding, both parties have mingled and cemented together: in one mass. and such traits of Public good has taken place under the present Administration as was never before perform’d, in the same time, under any Government; amongst which are the acquisition of Louisiana. the abolishment of the excise duty and direct tax.—the encouragement of a tour to the West which is now performing by a number of brave Adventurers, on whose return we shall receive an accurate measurement of the Missoura River with a correct account of the adjacent Country’s and from the Source of the Missouri to the Western or Pacific Ocean. Surely it must be entertaining and Interesting to every man of Reason to receive correct information with regard to the bounds and extent of his Country together with the soil and Natural produce animals and inhabitants.—and the preparations for defence of our commerce against the encroachments of the Spaniards. (however it was proposed in the Presidents Message.)   when I take a view of other Country’s and compare them with that of our own, I find the Contrast to be exceeding great; when I compare the troubles and miseries of Germany (which is now or has lately been the Theatre of War, the powerful and terrible Armies of the French making havock and devastation therein. Other Countries are either Immersed in war or crush’d by slavery and Oppression,) with our own Tranquil Country where joyous peace doth reign, and the verdant and smiling leaves of the tall tree of Liberty covers our extensive land, I address the all-wise Creator with themes of thankfulness for my birth being in a land of Liberty. I suppose, from the Treaty of peace with Tripoli to this time our Country is at peace or amity with all nations of the World: but different reports and rumours are in circulation, of certain existing differences between the United States, and Spain, which are most likely ultimately to lead to war. it is an important truth that every Nation should stand in defence of the rights and liberties of the different persons who compose it, and also to support that consequence and respect which entitles it to a proper Rank among other Nations. though peace with other Powers is good National Policy, while it can be supported without loss or disgrace; though War be destructive and calamitous generally on both sides, ought to be preferred to slavery, oppression, or disgrace. and as Spain and some other Powers of Europe, through their subjects having committed depredations on our Citizens and Commerce. if they do not make just compensations, and settle those differences amicably, they should be compell’d to lose and suffer Infinitely more by the bravery of our soldiers and force of our arms. but I must observe that were our Legislative or Executive to declare war against several of the most Prominent Powers of Europe, it would prove disadvantageous to [. . . .] Commerce at first, or till our infant Navy should [. . . .] itself and become formidable, for many of our valuable Articles are imported from Europe of which salt is the most necessary. but I hope the aggreeable and harmonizing bands of Pacification and friendship, will still exist between our own and all other Nations; and the best methods and means will be exercis’d by our Patriotic and Sagacious Politicians (in office) to strengthen and preserve those ties of peace. in this Epistle I know there is a great deal of imperfection the head that dictates and the hand that traces those lines being engaged in the hurry and throng of business, there is an incoherence in the different parts, and the lines are badly scribbled, I have not expatiated in a flow’ryy manner the different topics, nor used fine Rhetorical figures in this letter, but I hope you will excuse those imperfections as they proceed from and are combined with a real and sincere mind, unaffected either by flattery or insanity. this is a small tribute of respect as I am not in affluent Circumstances. Long may you occupy the Executive.

William Knight

29th May, 1806

PS. Since I wrote the above Letter, I have received Information of the British Squadron blockading the port and harbour of Newyork, and committing barbarous aggressions on our Commercial Citizens, such repeated insults and injuries, is no less than lawless plundering, as I doubt those tyrannical officers have received no such instructions from their Government, or the Lords of the Admiralty. may Justice come home upon the perpetrators of robbery and wrong

In the letter to which this is annex’d as a post-script in speaking of the many good and auspicious occurrences of the present Administration, I omitted speaking on the restoration of Peace on the Coast of Barbary and Medetirranean Sea. I was too concise in relating the many great advantages in the attainment of Louisiania. I shall esteem it a favour if you would take the trouble to write to one of your dutiful sons in the West.

Wm. Knight


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