PASSAGES FROM HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
by Thomas Jefferson
Concerning the Decleration of Independence
IT appearing in the course of these debatesthat the colonies of New YorkNew JerseyPennsylvaniaDelawareMaryland and South Carolina were not yetmatured for falling from the parent stembut that they were fast advancing tothat stateit was thought most prudent to wait a while for themand topostpone the final decision to July 1st; butthat this might occasion as littledelay as possiblea committee was appointed to prepare a Declaration ofIndependence. The committee were John AdamsDr. FranklinRoger ShermanRobertR. Livingstonand myself. Committees were also appointedat the same timetoprepare a Plan of confederation for the coloniesand to state the terms properto be proposed for foreign alliance. The committee for drawing the Declarationof Independence desired me to do it. It was accordingly doneand being approvedby themI reported it to the House on Fridaythe 28th of Junewhen it wasreadand ordered to lie on the table. On Mondaythe 1st of Julythe Houseresolved itself into a committee of the wholeand resumed the consideration ofthe original motion made by the delegates of Virginiawhichbeing againdebated through the daywas carried in the affirmative by the votes of NewHampshireConnecticutMassachusettsRhode IslandNew JerseyMarylandVirginiaNorth Carolina and Georgia. South Carolina and Pennsylvania votedagainst it. Delaware had but two members presentand they were divided. Thedelegates from New York declared they were for it themselvesand were assuredtheir constituents were for it; but that their instructions having been drawnnear a twelvemonth beforewhen reconciliation was still the general objectthey were enjoined by them to do nothing which should impede that object. Theythereforethought themselves not justifiable in voting on either sideandasked leave to withdraw from the question; which was given them. The committeerose and reported their resolution to the House. Mr. Edward Rutledgeof SouthCarolinathen requested the determination might be put off to the next dayashe believed his colleaguesthough they disapproved of the resolutionwouldthen join in it for the sake of unanimity. The ultimate questionwhether theHouse would agree to the resolution of the committeewas accordingly postponedto the next daywhen it was again movedand South Carolina concurred in votingfor it. In the mean timea third member had come post from the Delawarecountiesand turned the vote of that colony in favor of the resolution. Membersof a different sentiment attending that morning from Pennsylvania alsoher votewas changedso that the whole twelve colonies who were authorized to vote atall gave their voices for it; andwithin a few daysthe convention of New Yorkapproved of itand thus supplied the void occasioned by the withdrawing of herdelegates from the vote.
Congress proceeded the same day to consider the Declaration of Independencewhich had been reported and laid on the table the Friday precedingand onMonday referred to a committee of the whole. The pusillanimous idea that we hadfriends in England worth keeping terms withstill haunted the minds of many.For this reasonthose passages which conveyed censures on the people of Englandwere struck outlest they should give them offence. The clausetooreprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa was struck outincomplaisance to South Carolina and Georgiawho had never attempted to restrainthe importation of slavesand whoon the contrarystill wished to continueit. Our northern brethren alsoI believefelt a little tender under thosecensures; for though their people had very few slaves themselvesyet they hadbeen pretty considerable carriers of them to others. The debateshaving takenup the greater parts of the 2d3dand 4th days of Julywereon the eveningof the lastclosed; the Declaration was reported by the committeeagreed to bythe Houseand signed by every member presentexcept Mr. Dickinson.
Character of James Madison
Mr. Madison came into the House in 177 a new member and young; whichcircumstancesconcurring with his extreme modestyprevented his venturinghimself in debate before his removal to the Council of Statein November'77.From thence he went to Congressthen consisting of few members. Trained inthese successive schoolshe acquired a habit of self-possession which placed atready command the rich resources of his luminous and discriminating mindand ofhis extensive informationand rendered him the first of every assemblyafterwardof which he became a member. Never wandering from his subject intovain declamationbut pursuing it closelyin language pureclassical andcopioussoothing always the feelings of his adversaries by civilities andsoftness of expressionhe rose to the eminent station which he held in thegreat National Convention of 1787; and in that of Virginia which followedhesustained the new constitution in all its partsbearing off the palm againstthe logic of George Masonand the fervid declamation of Mr. Henry. With theseconsummate powers were united a pure and spotless virtuewhich no calumny hasever attempted to sully. Of the powers and polish of his penand of the wisdomof his administration in the highest office of the nationI need say nothing.They have spokenand will forever speak for themselves.
Congress at Annapolis
Our body was little numerousbut very contentious. Day after day was wastedon the most unimportant questions. A memberone of those afflicted with themorbid rage of debateof an ardent mindprompt imaginationand copious flowof wordswho heard with
impatience any logic which was not his ownsitting near me on some occasionof a trifling but wordy debateasked me how I could sit in silencehearing somuch false reasoningwhich a word should refute? I observed to himthat torefute indeed was easybut to silence was impossible; that in measures broughtforward by myselfI took the laboring oaras was incumbent on me; but that ingeneral I was willing to listen; that if every sound argument or objection wasused by some one or other of the numerous debatersit was enough; if notIthought it sufficient to suggest the omissionwithout going into a repetitionof what had been already said by others: that this was a waste and abuse of thetime and patience of the Housewhich could not be justified. And I believe thatif the members of deliberate bodies were to observe this course generallytheywould do in a day what takes them a week; and it is really more questionablethan may at first be thoughtwhether Bonaparte's dumb legislaturewhich saidnothing and did muchmay not be preferable to one which talks much and doesnothing. I served with General Washington in the legislature of Virginiabeforethe Revolutionandduring itwith Dr. Franklin in Congress. I never heardeither of them speak ten minutes at a timenor to any but the main point whichwas to decide the question. They laid their shoulders to the great pointsknowing that the little ones would follow of themselves. If the present Congresserrs in too much talkinghow can it be otherwisein a body to which the peoplesend one hundred and fifty lawyerswhose trade it is to question everythingyield nothingand talk by the hour? That one hundred and fifty lawyers shoulddo business togetherought not to be expected.
A Glimpse of the French Revolution
The King was now completely in the hands of menthe principal among whom hadbeen notedthrough their livesfor the Turkish despotism of their charactersand who were associated around the Kingas proper instruments for what was tobe executed. The news of this change began to be known at Parisabout one ortwo o'clock. In the afternoona body of about one hundred German cavalry wereadvancedand drawn up in the Place Louis XV.and about two hundred Swissposted at a little distance in their rear. This drew people to the spotwhothus accidentally found themselves in front of the troopsmerely at first asspectators; butas their numbers increasedtheir indignation rose. Theyretired a few stepsand posted themselves on and behind large piles of stoneslarge and smallcollected in that place for a bridgewhich was to be builtadjacent to it. In this positionhappening to be in my carriage on a visitIpassed through the lane they had formedwithout interruption. But the momentafter I had passedthe people attacked the cavalry with stones. They chargedbut the advantageous position of the peopleand the showers of stonesobligedthe horse to retireand quit the field altogetherleaving one of their numberon the groundand the Swiss in the rear not moving to their aid. This was thesignal for universal insurrectionand this body of cavalryto avoid beingmassacredretired toward Versailles. The people now armed themselves with suchweapons as they could find in armorers' shopsand private housesand withbludgeons; and were roaming all nightthrough all parts of the citywithoutany decided object. . The next day (the 13th) the Assembly pressed on the Kingto send away the troopsto permit the Bourgeoisie of Paris to arm for thepreservation of order in the cityand offered to send a deputation from theirbody to tranquillize them; but their propositions were refused. A committee ofmagistrates and electors of the city were appointed by those bodiesto takeupon them its government. The peoplenow openly joined by the French guardsforced the prison of St. Lazarereleased all the prisonersand took a greatstore of cornwhich they carried to the corn-market. Here they got some armsand the French guards began to form and train them. The city- committeedetermined to raise forty-eight thousand Bourgeoisieor rather to restraintheir numbers to forty-eight thousand. On the 14ththey sent one of theirmembers (Monsieur de Corny) to the Hotel des Invalidesto ask arms for theirGarde Bourgeoise. He was followed byand he found therea great collection ofpeople. The Governor of the Invalids came outand represented the impossibilityof his delivering armswithout the orders of those from whom he received them.De Corny advised the people then to retireand retired himself; but the peopletook possession of the arms. It was remarkablethat not only the Invalidsthemselves made no oppositionbut that a body of five thousand foreign troopswithin four hundred yardsnever stirred. M. de Cornyand five otherswerethen sent to ask arms of M. de LaunayGovernor of the Bastile. They found agreat collection of people already before the placeand they immediatelyplanted a flag of trucewhich was answered by a like flag hoisted on theparapet. The deputation prevailed on the people to fall back a littleadvancedthemselves to make their demand of the Governorand in that instantadischarge from the Bastile killed four persons of those nearest to the deputies.The deputies retired. I happened to be at the house of M. de Cornywhen hereturned to itand received from him a narrative of these transactions. On theretirement of the deputiesthe people rushed forwardand almost in an instantwere in possession of a fortification of infinite strengthdefended by onehundred menwhich in other times had stood several regular siegesand hadnever been taken. How they forced their entrance has never been explained. Theytook all the armsdischarged the prisonersand such of the garrison as werenot killed in the first moment of fury; carried the Governor andLieutenant-Governor to the Place de Grve (the place of public execution)cutoff their headsand sent them through the cityin triumphto the Palais royal.About the same instanta treacherous correspondence having been discovered inM. de FlessellesPrevt des Marchandsthey seized him in the Hotel de Villewhere he was in the execution of his officeand cut off his head. These eventscarried imperfectly to Versailleswere the subject of two successivedeputations from the Assembly to the Kingto both of which he gave dry and hardanswers; for nobody had as yet been permitted to inform himtruly and fullyofwhat had passed at Paris. But at nightthe Duke de Liancourt forced his wayinto the King's bed chamberand obliged him to hear a full and animated detailof the disasters of the day in Paris. He went to bed fearfully impressed. Thedecapitation of de Launay worked powerfully through the night on the wholeAristocratic party; insomuchthat in the morningthose of the greatestinfluence on the Count d'Artoisrepresented to him the absolute necessity thatthe King should give up everything to the Assembly. This according with thedispositions of the Kinghe went about eleven o'clockaccompanied only by hisbrothersto the Assemblyand there read to them a speechin which he askedtheir interposition to re-establish order. Although couched in terms of somecautionyet the manner in which it was delivered made it evident that it wasmeant as a surrender at discretion. He returned to the Chateau afootaccompanied by the Assembly. They sent off a deputation to quiet Parisat thehead of which was the Marquis de La Fayettewho hadthe same morningbeennamed Commandant en chef of the Milice Bourgeoise; and Monsieur BaillyformerPresident of the States Generalwas called for as Prevt des Marchands. Thedemolition of the Bastille was now ordered and begun. A body of the Swiss guardsof the regiment of Ventimilleand the city horse guards joined the people. Thealarm at Versailles increased. The foreign troops were ordered off instantly.Every minister resigned. The King confirmed Bailly as Prevt des Marchandswroteto M. Neckerto recall himsent his letter open to the Assemblyto beforwarded by themand invited them to go with him to Paris the next daytosatisfy the city of his dispositions; and that nightand the next morningtheCount d'Artoisand M. de Montessona deputy connected with himMadame dePolignacMadame de Guicheand the Count de Vaudreuilfavorites of the Queenthe Abbe de Vermont her confessorthe Prince of Condeand Duke of Bourbon fled.The King came to Parisleaving the Queen in consternation for his return.Omitting the less important flgures of the processionthe King's carriage wasin the centre; on each side of itthe Assemblyin two ranks afoot; at theirhead the Marquis de La Fayetteas Commander-in- chiefon horsebackandBourgeois guards before and behind. About sixty thousand citizensof all formsand conditionsarmed with the conquests of the Bastille and Invalidsas far asthey would gothe rest with pistolsswordspikespruning-hooksscythesetc.lined all the streets through which the procession passedand with the crowdsof people in the streetsdoorsand windowssaluted them everywhere with thecries of "vive la nation" but not a single "vive le Roi"was heard. The King stopped at the Hotel de Ville. There M. Bailly presentedand put into his hatthe popular cockadeand addressed him. The King beingunpreparedand unable to answerBailly went to himgathered from him somescraps of sentencesand made out an answerwhich he delivered to the audienceas from the King. On their returnthe popular cries were "vive le Roi etla nation." He was conducted by a garde Bourgeoise to his palace atVersaillesand thus concluded an "amende honorable" as no sovereignever madeand no people ever received.
And hereagainwas lost another precious occasion of sparing to France thecrimes and cruelties through which she has since passedand to Europeandfinally Americathe evils which flowed on them also from this mortal source.The King was now become a passive machine in the hands of the National Assemblyand had he been left to himselfhe would have willingly acquiesced in whateverthey should devise as best for the nation. A wise constitution would have beenformedhereditary in his linehimself placed at its headwith powers so largeas to enable him to do all the good of his stationand so limitedas torestrain him from its abuse. This he would have faithfully administeredandmore than this) I do not believehe ever wished. But he had a Queen of absolutesway over his weak mind and timid virtueand of a character the reverse of hisin all points. This angelas gaudilypainted in the rhapsodies of Burkewithsome smartness of fancybut no sound sensewas prouddisdainful of restraintindignant at all obstacles to her willeager in the pursuit of pleasureandfirm enough to hold to her desiresor perish in their wreck. Her inordinategambling and dissipationswith those of the Count d'Artoisand others of hercliquehad been a sensible item in the exhaustion of the treasurywhich calledinto action the reforming hand of the nation; and her opposition to itherinflexible perversenessand dauntless spiritled herself to the Guillotinedrew the King on with herand plunged the world into crimes and calamitieswhich will forever stain the pages of modern history. I have ever believed thathad there been no Queenthere would have been no revolution. No force wouldhave been provokednor exercised. The King would have gone hand in hand withthe wisdom of his sounder counsellorswhoguided by the increased lights ofthe agewished onlywith the same paceto advance the principles of theirsocial constitution. The deed which closed the mortal course of these sovereignsI shall neither approve nor condemn. I am not prepared to say that the firstmagistrate of a nation cannot commit treason against his country or isunamenable to its punishment; nor yetthat where there is no written lawnoregulated tribunalthere is not a law in our heartsand a power in our handsgiven for righteous employment in maintaining rightand redressing wrong. Ofthose who judged the Kingmany thought him wilfully criminal; manythat hisexistence would keep the nation in perpetual conflict with the horde of Kingswho would war against a generation which might come home to themselvesand thatit were better that one should die than all. I should not have voted with thisportion of the Legislature. I should have shut up the Queen in a conventputting harm out of her powerand placed the King in his stationinvesting himwith limited powerswhichI verily believehe would have honestly exercisedaccording to the measure of his understanding. In this wayno void would havebeen createdcourting the usurpation of a military adventurernor occasiongiven for those enormities which demoralized the nations of the worldanddestroyedand are yet to destroymillions and millions of its inhabitants.
A Tribute to France
And hereI cannot leave this great and good country without expressing mysense of its pre-eminence of character among the nations of the earth. A morebenevolent people I have never knownnor greater warmth and devotedness intheir select friendships. Their kindness and accommodation to strangers isunparalleledand the hospitality of Paris is beyond anything I had conceived tobe practicable in a large city. Their eminencetooin sciencethecommunicative dispositions of their scientific menthe politeness of thegeneral mannersthe ease and vivacity of their conversationgive a charm totheir societyto be found nowhere else. In a comparison of thiswith othercountrieswe have the proof of primacywhich was given to Themistoclesafterthe battle of Salamis. Every general voted to himself the first reward of valorand the second to Themistocles. Soask the travelled inhabitant of any nationin what country on earth would you rather live? Certainlyin my ownwhere areall my friendsmy relationsand the earliest and sweetest affections andrecollections of my life. Which would be your second choice? France.