SELECTIONS FROM JEFFERSON'S CORRESPONDENCE
by Thomas Jefferson
To Peter Carrwith Good Advice to a Young Man
DEAR PETER: I receivedby Mr. Mazzeiyour letter of April the 20th. I ammuch mortified to hear that you have lost so much time; and thatwhen youarrived in Williamsburgyou were not at all advanced from what you were whenyou left Monticello. Time now begins to be precious to you. Every day you losewill retard a day your entrance on that public stage whereon you may begin to beuseful to yourself. Howeverthe way to repair the loss is to improve the futuretime. I trustthat with your dispositionseven the acquisition of science is apleasing employment. I can assure youthat the possession of it iswhat (nextto an honest heart) will above all things render you dear to your friendsandgive you fame and promotion in your own country. When your mind shall be wellimproved with sciencenothing will be necessary to place you in the highestpoints of viewbut to pursue the interests of your countrythe interests ofyour friendsand your own interests alsowith the purest integritythe mostchaste honor. The defect of these virtues can never be made up by all the otheracquirements of body and mind. Make thesethenyour first object. Give upmoney give up famegive up sciencegive the earth itself and all it containsrather than do an immoral act. And never suppose that in any possible situationor under any circumstancesit is it best for you to do a dishonorable thinghowever slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thingthoughit can never be known but to yourselfask yourself how you would act were allthe world lookingat youand act accordingly. Encourage all your virtuousdispositionsand exercise them whenever an opportunity arises; being assuredthat they will gain strength by exerciseas a limb of the body doesand thatexercise will make them habitual. From the practice of the purest virtueyoumay be assured you will derive the most sublime comforts in every moment oflifeand in the moment of death. If ever you find yourself environed withdifficulties and perplexing circumstancesout of which you are at a loss how toextricate yourselfdo what is rightand be assured that that will extricateyou the best way out of the worst situations. Though you cannot seewhen youtake one stepwhat will be the nextyet follow truthjusticeand plaindealingand never fear their leading you out of the labyrinthin the easiestmanner possible. The knot which you thought a Gordian onewill untie itselfbefore you. Nothing is so mistaken as the suppositionthat a person is toextricate himself from a difficultyby intrigueby chicaneryby dissimulationby trimmingby an untruthby an injustice. This increases the difficultiestenfold; and thosewho pursue these methodsget themselves so involved atlengththat they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed. It isof great importance to set a resolutionnot to be shakennever to tell anuntruth. There is no vice so meanso pitifulso contemptible; and he whopermits himself to tell a lie oncefinds it much easier to do it a second andthird timetill at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attendingto itand truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of thetongue leads to that of the heartand in time depraves all its gooddispositions. PARIS19 August1785.
To Madame La Comtesse De Tesse in a Complimentary Vein
HERE I amMadamgazing whole hours at the Maison quarrelike a lover athis mistress. The stocking weavers and silk spinners around it consider me ahypochondriac Englishmanabout to write with a pistol the last chapter of hishistory. This is the second time I have been in love since I left Paris. Thefirst was with a Diana at the Chateau de Laye-Epinaye in Beaujoloisa deliciousmorsel of sculptureby M. A. Slodtz. Thisyou will saywas in ruleto fallin love with a female beauty; but with a house! it is out of all precedent. NoMadamit is not without a precedent in my own history. While in ParisI wasviolently smitten with the Hotel de Salmand used to go to the Tuileries almostdailyto look at it. The loueuse des chaisesinattentive to my passionneverhad the complaisance to place a chair thereso thatsitting on the parapetand twisting my neck round to see the object of my admirationI generally leftit with a torti- colli.
From Lyons to Nismes I have been nourished with the remains of Roman grandeur.They have always brought you to my mindbecause I know your affection forwhatever is Roman and noble. At Vienne I thought of you. But I am glad you werenot there; for you would have seen me more angry thanI hopeyou will ever seeme. The Pr'torian Palaceas it is calledcomparablefor its fine proportionsto the Maison quarredefaced by the barbarians who have converted it to itspresent purposeits beautiful fluted Corinthian columns cut outin parttomake space for Gothic windowsand hewed downin the residueto the plane ofthe buildingwas enoughyou must admitto disturb my composure. At OrangetooI thought of you. I was sure you had seen with pleasure the sublimetriumphal arch of Marius at the entrance of the city. I went then to the Aren'.Would you believeMadamthat in this eighteenth centuryin Franceunder thereign of Louis XVI.they are at this moment pulling down the circular wall ofthis superb remainto pave a road? And thattoofrom a hill which is itselfan entire mass of stonejust as fitand more accessible? A former intendantaM. de Basvillehas rendered his memory dear to the traveller and amateurbythe pains he took to preserve and restore these monuments of antiquity. Thepresent one (I do not know who he is) is demolishing the objectto make a goodroad to it. I thought of you againand I was then in great good- humorat thePont du Garda sublime antiquityand well preserved. But most of all herewhere Roman tastegeniusand magnificenceexcite ideas analogous to yours atevery step. I could no longer oppose the inclination to avail myself of yourpermission to write to youa permission given with too much complaisance by youand used by me with too much indiscretion. Madame de Tott did me the same honor.But shebeing only the de- scendant of some of those puny heroes who boiledtheir own kettles before the walls of TroyI shall write to her from a Grecianrather than a Roman canton; when I shall find myselffor exampleamong herPhoc'an relations at Marseilles. NISMES20 March1787.
To P. Mazzeiupon the Political Condition of the Country
THE aspect of our politics has wonderfully changed since you left us. Inplace of that noble love of liberty and republican government which carried ustriumphantly through the waran Anglican monarchical aristocratical party hassprung upwhose avowed object is to draw over us the substanceas they havealready done the formsof the British government. The main body of our citizenshoweverremain true to their republican principles; the whole landed interestis republicanand so is a great mass of talents. Against us are the Executivethe Judiciarytwo out of three branches of the Legislatureall the officers ofthe governmentall who want to be officersall timid men who prefer the calmof despotism to the boisterous sea of libertyBritish merchants and Americanstrading on British capitalsspeculators and holders in the banks and publicfundsa contrivance invented for the purposes of corruptionand forassimilating us in all things to the rotten as well as the sound parts of theBritish model. It would give you a fever were I to name to you the apostates whohave gone over to these heresiesmen who were Samsons in the field and Solomonsin the councilbut who have had their heads shorn by the harlot England. Inshortwe are likely to preserve the liberty we have obtained only byunremitting labors and perils. But we shall preserve it; and our mass of weightand wealth on the good side is so greatas to leave no danger that force willever be attempted against us. We have only to awake and snap the Liliputiancords with which they have been entangling us during the first sleep whichsucceeded our labors. MONTICELLO24 April1796.
To Doctor Benjamin Rush upon the Christian Religion
DEAR SIR: In some of the delightful conversations with youin the eveningsof 1798-99and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisisthrough which our country was then laboringthe Christian religion wassometimes our topic; and I then promised youthat one day or otherI wouldgive you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry and reflectionand very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those whoknow nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeedopposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christianinthe only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to hisdoctrinesin preference to all others; ascribing to himself every humanexcellence; and believing he never claimed any other. At the short intervalssince these conversationswhen I could justifiably abstract my mind from publicaffairsthe subject has been under my contemplation. But the more I considereditthe more it expanded beyond the measure of either my time or information. Inthe moment of my late departure from MonticelloI received from DoctorPriestleyhis little treatise of "Socrates and Jesus compared." Thisbeing a section of the general view I had taken of the fieldit became asubject of reflection while on the roadand unoccupied otherwise. The resultwasto arrange in my mind a syllabusor outline of such an estimate of thecomparative merits of Christianityas I wished to see executed by some one ofmore leisure and information for the taskthan myself. This I now send youasthe only discharge of my promise I can probably ever execute. And in confidingto youI know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those whomake every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I ammoreoveraverse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public;because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored todraw them before that tribunaland to seduce public opinion to erect itselfinto that inquisition over the rights of consciencewhich the laws have sojustly proscribed. It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience forhimselfto resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case maybychange of circumstancesbecome his own. It behooves himtooin his own caseto give no example of concessionbetraying the common right of independentopinionby answering questions of faithwhich the laws have left between Godand himself. Accept my affectionate salutations. WASHINGTON21 April1803.
To Governor Sullivan Concerning Presidential Tours
WITH respect to the tour my friends to the north have proposed that I shouldmake in that quarterI have not made up a final opinion. The course of lifewhich General Washington had runcivil and militarythe services he hadrenderedand the space he therefore occupied in the affections of hisfellow-citizenstake from his examples the weight of precedents for othersbecause no others can arrogate to themselves the claims which he had on thepublic homage. To myselfthereforeit comes as a new questionto be viewedunder all the phases it may present I confess that I am not reconciled to theidea of a chief magistrate parading himself through the several Statesas anobject of public gazeand in quest of an applause whichto be valuableshouldbe purely voluntary. I had rather acquire silent good will bya faithfuldischarge of my dutiesthan owe expressions of it to my putting myself in theway of receiving them. Were I to make such a tour to Portsmouth or PortlandImust do it to Savannahperhaps to Orleans and Frankfort. As I have never yetseen the time when the public business would have permitted me to be so long ina situation in which I could not carry it onso I have no reason to expect thatsuch a time will come while I remain in office. A journey to Boston orPortsmouthafter I shall be a private citizenwould much better harmonize withmy feelingsas well as duties; andfounded in curiositywould give no claimsto an extension of it. I should see my friendstoomore at our mutual easeand be left more exclusively to their society. HoweverI end as I beganbydeclaring I have made up no opinion on the subjectand that I reserve it as aquestion for future consideration and advice. WASHINGTON19 June1807.
To Thomas Jefferson RandolphGiving some Rules of Conduct
I HAVE mentioned good humor as one of the preservatives of our peace andtranquillity. It is among the most effectualand its effect is so well imitatedand aidedartificiallyby politenessthat this also becomes an acquisition offirst-rate value. In truthpoliteness is artificial good humorit covers thenatural want of itand ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearlyequivalent to the real virtue. It is the practice of sacrificing to those whomwe meet in societyall the little conveniences and preferences which willgratify themand deprive us of nothing worth a moment's consideration; it isthe giving a pleasing and flattering turn to our expressionswhich willconciliate othersand make them pleased with us as well as themselves. Howcheap a price for the good will of another! When this is in return for a rudething said by anotherit brings him to his sensesit mortifies and correctshim in the most salutary wayand places him at the feet of your good natureinthe eyes of the company. But in stating prudential rules for our government insocietyI must not omit the important one of never entering into dispute orargument with another. I never saw an instance of one of two disputantsconvincing the other by argument. I have seen manyon their getting warmbecoming rudeand shooting one another. Conviction is the effect of our owndispassionate reasoningeither in solitudeor weighing within ourselvesdispassionatelywhat we hear from othersstanding uncommitted in argumentourselves. It was one of the rules whichabove all othersmade Doctor Franklinthe most amiable of men in society"never to contradict anybody." Ifhe was urged to announce an opinionhe did it rather by asking questionsas iffor informationor by suggesting doubts. When I hear another express an opinionwhich is not mineI say to myselfhe has a right too his opinionas I tomine; why should I question it? His error does me no injuryand shall I becomea Don Quixoteto bring all men by force of argument to one opinion? If a factbe misstatedit is probable he is gratified by a belief of itand I have noright to deprive him of the gratification. If he wants informationhe will askitand then I will give it in measured terms; but if he still believes his ownstoryand shows a desire to dispute the fact with meI hear him and saynothing. It is his affairnot mineif he prefers error. There are two classesof disputants most frequently to be met with among us. The first is of youngstudentsjust entered the threshold of sciencewith a first view of itsoutlinesnot yet filled up with the details and modifications which a furtherprogress would bring to their knowledge. The other consists of the ill-temperedand rude men in societywho have taken up a passion for politics. (Good humorand politeness never introduce into mixed society a question on which theyforesee there will be a difference of opinion.) From both of those classes ofdisputantsmy dear Jeffersonkeep aloofas you would from the infectedsubjects of yellow fever or pestilence. Consider yourselfwhen with themasamong the patients of Bedlamneeding medical more than moral counsel. Be alistener onlykeep within yourselfand endeavor to establish with yourself thehabit of silenceespecially on politics. In the fevered state of our countryno good can ever result from any attempt to set one of these fiery zealots torightseither in fact or principle. They are determined as to the facts theywill believeand the opinions on which they will act. Get by themthereforeas you would by an angry bull; it is not for a man of sense to dispute the roadwith such an animal. WASHINGTON24 November1808.
To John AdamsTaking a Cheerful View of Life
YOU askif I would agree to live my seventy or rather seventy-three yearsover again? To which I sayyea. I think with youthat it is a good world onthe whole; that it has been framed on a principle of benevolenceand morepleasure than pain dealt out to us. There areindeed(who might say nay)gloomy and hypochondriac mindsinhabitants of diseased bodiesdisgusted withthe presentand despairing of the future; always counting that the worst willhappenbecause it may happen. To these I sayhow much pain have cost us theevils which have never happened! My temperament is sanguine. I steer my barkwith Hope in the headleaving Fear astern. My hopesindeedsometimes fail;but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy. There areI acknowledgeeven in the happiest lifesome terrible convulsionsheavy set-offs against theopposite page of the account. I have often wondered for what good end thesensations of grief could be intended. All our other passionswithin properboundshave an useful object. And the perfection of the moral character isnotin a stoical apathyso hypocritically vauntedand so untrulytoobecauseimpossiblebut in a just equilibrium of all the passions. I wish thepathologiststhenwould tell us what is the use of grief in the economyandof what good it is the causeproximate or remote. MONTICELLO8 April1816.
To Doctor Vine UtleyDescribing the Writers Physical Condition
SIR: Your letter of February the 18th came to hand on the 1st instant; andthe request of the history of my physical habits would have puzzled me not alittlehad it not been for the model with which you accompanied itof Dr.Rush's answer to a similar inquiry. I live so much like other peoplethat Imight refer to ordinary life as the history of my own. Like my friend the DoctorI have lived temperatelyeating little animal foodand that not as an alimentso much as a condiment for the vegetableswhich constitute my principal diet. Idoublehoweverthe Doctor's glass and a half of wineand even treble it witha friend; but halve its effects by drinking the weak wines only. The ardentwines I cannot drinknor do I use ardent spirits in any form. Malt liquors andcider are my table drinksand my breakfastlike that also of my friendis oftea and coffee. I have been blessed with organs of digestion which accept andconcoctwithout ever murmuringwhat- ever the palate chooses to consign tothemand I have not yet lost a tooth by age. I was a hard student until Ientered on the business of lifethe duties of which leave no idle time to thosedisposed to fulfil them; and nowretiredand at the age of seventy-sixI amagain a hard student. Indeedmy fondness for reading and study revolts me fromthe drudgery of letter writing.
And a stiff wristthe consequence of an early dislocationmakes writingboth slow and painful. I am not so regular in my sleep as the Doctor says he wasdevoting to it from five to eight hoursaccording as my company or the book Iam reading interests me; and I never go to bed without an houror half hour'sprevious reading of something moralwhereon to ruminate in the intervals ofsleep. But whether I retire to bed early or lateI rise with the sun. I usespectacles at nightbut not necessarily in the dayunless in reading smallprint. My hearing is distinct in particular conversationbut confused whenseveral voices cross each otherwhich unfits me for the society of the table. Ihave been more fortunate than my friend in the article of health. So free fromcatarrhs that I have not had one (in the breastI mean) on an average of eightor ten years through life. I ascribe this exemption partly to the habit ofbathing my feet in cold water every morningfor sixty years past. A fever ofmore than twenty- four hours I have not had above two or three times in my life.A periodical headache has afflicted me occasionallyonceperhapsin six oreight yearsfor two or three weeks at a timewhich seems now to have left me;andexcept on a late occasion of indispositionI enjoy good health; too feebleindeedto walk muchbut riding without fatigue six or eight miles a dayandsometimes thirty or forty. I may end these egotismsthereforeas I beganbysaying that my life has been so much like that of other peoplethat I might saywith Horaceto every one "nomine mutatonarraturfabula de te."MONTICELLO21 March1819.
To John AdamsOn Political Parties
THE summum bonum with me is now truly epicureanease of body andtranquillity of mind; and to these I wish to consign my remaining days. Men havediffered in opinionand been divided into parties by these opinionsfrom thefirst origin of societiesand in all governments where they have been permittedfreely to think and to speak. The same political parties which now agitate theUnited Stateshave existed through all time. Whether the power of the people orthat of the aristoi- Transliterated from Greek} should prevailwere questionswhich kept the States of Greece and Rome in eternal convulsionsas they nowschismatize every people whose minds and mouths are not shut up by the gag of adespot. Andin factthe terms of whig and tory belong to natural as well as tocivil history. They denote the temper and constitution of mind of differentindividuals. To come to our own countryand to the times when you and I becamefirst acquaintedwe well remember the violent parties which agitated the oldCongressand their bitter contests. There you and I were togetherand the Jaysand the Dickinsonsand other anti-independentswere arrayed against us. Theycherished the monarchy of Englandand we the rights of our countrymen. When ourpresent government was in the mewpassing from Confederation to Unionhowbitter was the schism between the Feds and Antis. Here you and I were togetheragain. For althoughfor a momentseparated by the Atlantic from the scene ofactionI favored the opinion that nine States should confirm the constitutionin order to secure itand the others hold off until certain amendmentsdeemedfavorable to freedomshould be made. I rallied in the first instant to thewiser proposition of Massachusettsthat all should confirmand then allinstruct their delegates to urge those amendments. The amendments were madeandall were reconciled to the government. But as soon as it was put into motionthe line of division was again drawn. We broke into two partieseach wishing togive the government a different direction; the one to strengthen the mostpopular branchthe other the more permanent branchesand to extend theirpermanence. Here you and I separated for the first timeand as we had beenlonger than most others on the public theatreand our names therefore were morefamiliar to our countrymenthe party which considered you as thinking with themplaced your name at their head; the otherfor the same reasonselected mine.But neither decency nor inclination permitted us to become the advocates ofourselvesor to take part personally in the violent contests which followed. Wesuffered ourselvesas you so well expressed itto be passive subjects ofpublic discussion. And these discussionswhether relating to menmeasures oropinionswere conducted by the parties with an animositya bitterness and anindecency which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason and ofwrath were exhausted by each party in support of its ownand to prostrate theadversary opinions; one was upbraided with receiving the anti- federaliststheother the old tories and refugeesinto their bosom. Of this acrimonythepublic papers of the day exhibit ample testimonyin the debates of CongressofState Legislaturesof stump-oratorsin addressesanswersand newspaperessays; and to thesewithout questionmay be added the private correspondencesof individuals; and the less guarded in thesebecause not meant for the publiceyenot restrained by the respect due to thatbut poured forth from theoverflowings of the heart into the bosom of a friendas a momentary easement ofour feelings. In this wayand in answers to addressesyou and I could indulgeourselves. We have probably done itsometimes with warmthoften with prejudicebut alwaysas we believedadhering to truth. MONTICELLO27 June1813.
To Timothy Pickeringon a Sermon by Doctor Channing
I THANK you for Mr. Channing's discoursewhich you have been so kind as toforward me. It is not yet at handbut is doubtless on its way. I hadreceivedit through another channeland read it with high satisfaction. No one sees withgreater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towardrational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargonof the Trinitarian arithmeticthat three are oneand one is three; when weshall have knocked down the artificial scaffoldingreared to mask from view thesimple structure of Jesus; whenin shortwe shall have unlearned every-thingwhich has been taught since his dayand got back to the pure and simpledoctrineshe inculcatedwe shall then be truly and worthilyhis disciples;and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely fromhis lipsthe whole world would at this day have been Christian. I know that thecase you citeof Dr. Drakehas been a common one. The religion-builders haveso distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesusso muffled them in mysticismsfanciesand falsehoodshave caricatured them into forms so monstrous andinconceivableas to shock reasonable thinkersto revolt them against the wholeand drive them rashly to pronounce its founder an impostor. Had there never beena commentatorthere never would have been an infidel. In the present advance oftruthwhich we both approveI do not know that you and I may think alike
on all points. As the Creator has made no two faces alikeso no two mindsand probably no two creeds. We well know that among Unitarians themselves thereare strong shades of differenceas between Doctors Price-and Priestleyforexample. So there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. They arehonestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with minenorto be troubled for them. These accounts are to be settled only with him who madeus; and to him we leave itwith charity for all othersof whomalsohe isthe only rightful and competent judge. I have little doubt that the whole of ourcountry will soon be rallied to the unity of the CreatorandI hopeto thepure doctrines of Jesus also.
In saying to you so muchand without reserveon a subject on which I neverpermit myself to go before the publicI know that I am safe againsttheinfidelities which have so often betrayed my letters to the strictures of thosefor whom they were not writtenand to whom I never meant to commit my peace. Toyourself I wish every happinessand will concludeas you have donein thesame simple style of antiquityda operam ut valeas; hoc mihi gratius facerenihil potes. MONTICELLO27 February1821.
To John Adams Recalling Their Long Friendship
PUTTING aside these thingshoweverfor the presentI write this letter asdue to a friendship coeval with our governmentand now attempted to be poisonedwhen too late in life to be replaced by new affections. I had for sometimeobserved in the public papersdark hints and mysterious innuendoes of acorrespondence of yours with a friendto whom you had opened your bosom withoutreserveand which was to be made public by that friend or his representative.And now it is said to be actually published. It has not yet reached usbutextracts have been givenand such as seemed most likely to draw a curtain ofseparation between you and myself. Were there no other motive than that ofindignation against the author of this outrage on private confidencewhoseshaft seems to have been aimed at yourself more particularlythis would make itthe duty of every honorable mind to disappoint that aimby opposing to itsimpression a seven-fold shield of apathy and insensibility. With mehowevernosuch armor is needed. The circumstances of the times in which we have happenedto liveand the partiality of our friends at a particular periodplaced us ina state of apparent oppositionwhich some might suppose to be personal also;and there might not be wanting those who wished to make it soby filling ourears with malignant falsehoodsby dressing up hideous phantoms of their owncreationpresenting them to you under my nameto me under yoursandendeavoring to instil into our minds things concerning each other the mostdestitute of truth. And if there had beenat any timea moment when we wereoff our guardand in a temper to let the whispers of these people make usforget what we had known of each other for so many yearsand years of so muchtrialyet all men who have attended to the workings of the human mindwho haveseen the false colors under which passion sometimes dresses the actions andmotives of othershave seen also those passions subsiding with time andreflectiondissipating like mists before the rising sunand restoring to usthe sight of all things in their true shape and colors. It would be strangeindeedifat our yearswe were to go back an age to hunt up imaginary orforgotten factsto disturb the repose of affections so sweetening to theevening of our lives. Be assuredmy dear sirthat I am incapable of receivingthe slightest impression from the effort now made to plant thorns on the pillowof ageworth and wisdomand to sow tares between friends who have been suchfor near half a century. Beseeching youthennot to suffer your mind to bedisquieted by this wicked attempt to poison its peaceand praying you to throwit by among the things which have never happenedI add sincere assurances of myunabated and constant attachmentfriendshipand respect. MONTICELLO12October1823.