James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Jefferson, 1 January 1797

From Thomas Jefferson

Jan. 1. 97.

Yours of Dec. 19. has come safely. The event of the election has never been a matter of doubt in my mind. I knew that the Eastern states were disciplined in the schools of their town meetings to sacrifice differences of opinion to the great object of operating in phalanx, and that the more free & moral agency practised in the other states would always make up the supplement of their weight. Indeed the vote comes much nearer an equality than I had expected. I know the difficulty of obtaining belief to one’s declarations of a disinclination to honors, and that it is greatest with those who still remain in the world. But no arguments were wanting to reconcile me to a relinquishment of the first office or acquiescence under the second. As to the first it was impossible that a more solid unwillingness settled on full calculation, could have existed in any man’s mind, short of the degree of absolute refusal. The only view on which I would have gone into it for a while was to put our vessel on her republican tack before she should be thrown too much to leeward of her true principles. As to the second, it is the only office in the world about which I am unable to decide in my own mind whether I had rather have it or not have it.1 Pride does not enter into the estimate; for I think with the Romans that the General of to-day should be a soldier tomorrow if necessary. I can particularly have no feelings which would revolt at a secondary position to mr. Adams. I am his junior in life, was his junior in Congress, his junior in the diplomatic line, his junior lately in our civil government. Before the receipt of your letter I had written the inclosed one to him.2 I had intended it some time, but had deferred it from time to time under the disco[u]ragement of a despair of making him believe I could be sincere in it. The papers by the last post not rendering it necessary to change any thing in the letter I inclose it open for your perusal, not only that you may possess the actual state of dispositions between us, but that if any thing should render the delivery of it ineligible in your opinion, you may return it to me. If mr. Adams can be induced to administer the government on it’s true principles, and to relinquish his bias to an English constitution, it is to be considered whether it would not be on the whole for the public good to come to a good understanding with him as to his future elections. He is perhaps the only sure barrier against Hamilton’s getting in.3

Since my last I have recieved a packet of books & pamphlets, the choiceness of which testifies that they come from you. The Incidents of Hamilton’s insurrection is a curious work indeed.4 The hero of it exhibits himself in all the attitudes of a dexterous balance master.

The Political progress is a work of value & of a singular complexion.5 The eye of the author seems to be a natural achromatic, which divests every object of the glare of colour. The preceding work under the same title had the same merit. One is disgusted indeed with the ulcerated state which it presents of the human mind: but to cure an ulcer we must go to it’s bottom: and no writer has ever done this more radically than this one. The reflections into which he leads one are not flattering to our species. In truth I do not recollect in all the Animal kingdom a single species but man which is eternally & systematically engaged in the destruction of it’s own species. What is called civilization seems to have no other effect on him than to teach him to pursue the principle of bellum omnium in omnia6 on a larger scale, & in place of the little contests of tribe against tribe, to engage all the quarters of the earth in the same work of destruction. When we add to this that as to the other species of animals, the lions & tygers are mere lambs compared with man as a destroyer, we must conclude that it is in man alone that Nature has been able to find a sufficient barrier against the too great multiplication of other animals & of man himself, an equilibriating power against the fecundity of generation. My situation points my views chiefly to his wars in the physical world: yours perhaps exhibit him as equally warring in the Moral one. We both, I believe, join in wishing to see him softened. Adieu.

RC (DLC); FC (DLC: Jefferson Papers); Tr (DLC: Nicholas P. Trist Papers). Unsigned. FC endorsed by Jefferson as “a statement from memory of a letter I wrote to J. Madison, and omitted to retain a copy.” Variations between the RC and FC have not been noted. Enclosure, Jefferson to Adams, 28 Dec. 1796, given by JM to Nicholas P. Trist in December 1827 and presented by Trist on 2 Apr. 1856 to Henry S. Randall “in recognition of the spirit manifested by him—the love of Truth, and the determination to uphold it, without ‘fear, favour or affection’—in his researches as the biographer of Jefferson” (NN: Emmet Collection).

1In the Tr, Trist noted: “The estimate here expressed of the office of Vice President, Mr Jefferson retained to the end of his life. In his latter days, he on several occasions, expressed it to me: pointing out the advantages which it combined—high consideration—sufficient salary—leisure &c &c.”

2Jefferson enclosed a letter to John Adams, dated 28 Dec. 1796, stating that he had never doubted Adams would be elected president, yet warning him at the same time that he might be “cheated of [his] succession by a trick worthy the subtlety of [his] arch-friend of New York” (Hamilton). Disclaiming all ambitions to govern and wishing others “the sublime delights of riding in the storm,” Jefferson congratulated Adams and “devoutly” hoped his administration could avoid a war “by which our agriculture, commerce & credit will be destroyed.”

3To the Tr, Trist added: “On the   December 1827, just before I left Montpelleir, Mr Madison & myself were reading over this letter together, which he had just found, after considerable search among his papers. When we came to the end of this paragraph, Mr M. stopt, shook his head, and said ‘Hamilton never could have got in.’”

4Jefferson was referring to Hugh Henry Brackenridge, Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 (Philadelphia, 1795; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 28332); also mentioned in Sowerby, Catalogue of Jefferson’s Library, 1:261. Later in life JM seriously considered deleting Jefferson’s remarks. To Thomas Jefferson Randolph he wrote, on 28 Feb. 1829: “The implied charge of a connection with the Insurrection in Penna: and the express one of dishonorable agency in a presidential Election, are certainly of a serious character, and can hardly fail to produce calls for proof, by those sympathizing most with the fame of the accused: and if this cannot be conveniently found, an anticipation of the calls may have a just influence on the question of publishing the charges” (NNPM).

5[James Thomson Callender], The Political Progress of Britain; or, An Impartial History of Abuses in the Government of the British Empire, in Europe, Asia, and America. From the Revolution, in 1688, to the Present Time: The Whole Tending to Prove the Ruinous Consequences of the Popular System of Taxation, War, and Conquest … Part Second (Philadelphia, 1795; Evans description begins Charles Evans, ed., American Bibliography … 1639 … 1820 (12 vols.; Chicago, 1903–34). description ends 28381). The first part of Callender’s work had been published anonymously in Edinburgh and London in 1792 and in Philadelphia in 1794. Jefferson’s library did not include a copy of part one—see Sowerby, Catalogue of Jefferson’s Library, 3:291—but for his opinion of it, see Jefferson to Monroe, 15 July 1802 (Ford, Writings of Jefferson description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (10 vols.; New York, 1892–99). description ends , 8:164–65).

6Jefferson’s allusions here are Hobbesian, not classical. For the argument that the natural state of men before entering civil society is “a mere war, and that not simply, but a war of all men against all men,” see Thomas Hobbes, Elementa philosophica de Cive (Amsterdam, 1669), p. 15. For Jefferson’s ownership of this title, see Sowerby, Catalogue of Jefferson’s Library, 3:35.

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