JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826), President. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") to "my dear and ancient friend" James Maury, Jr., U.S. Consul in Liverpool; Monticello, 15 June 1815. 3 pages, 4to, integral address leaf with panel in Jefferson's hand, recipient's docket, seal tear to address leaf, otherwise in very fine condition.
JEFFERSON REJOICES IN THE END OF THE WAR OF 1812, WHOSE CAUSES "SHOULD BE LEFT TO HISTORY, AND IN THE MEANTIME BE SMOTHERED IN THE LIVING MIND....TIME IS DRAWING HER CURTAIN ON ME. BUT I SHOULD MAKE MY BOW WITH MORE SATISFACTION, IF I HAD MORE HOPE OF SEEING OUR COUNTRIES SHAKE HANDS TOGETHER CORDIALLY"
A long, highly personal letter, often quoted by biographers, to an old friend living in England, rejoicing in the return of peace (the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was ratified in February), stressing the natural affinities between the U.S. and Great Britain, predicting America's future growth in population and influence and calling upon leaders of both nations to "lead their citizens into good temper with each other." While Jefferson had long entertained "a high opinion of the character of the English as individuals he intensely disliked and strongly distrusted their government" (Malone, Jefferson: The Sage of Monticello, p.86). Strongly preferring America's agricultural economy to Britain's mercantile economy, he was convinced that British policies were mercenary, unprincipled, driven by the narrow commercial interest of her merchants and manufacturers. Britain's dominance of the sea lanes allowed her to impose unwarranted limitations on America's growing export trade. But Jefferson looked forward to a change of ministry and a shift in British policy, hoping it would permit an open, equitable relationship between the two former combatants. Nowhere else did Jefferson "voice his hopes better than in his letters to James Maury," (Ibid, p.130). The connections between Jefferson and Maury were deep and long-standing. As a young man, Jefferson had attended a small boarding school run by Maury's father. Jefferson and James, three years his junior, had become fast friends; their attachment endured until Jefferson's death, even though Maury, who had taken a consular post in England, resided permanently in England. Because of their old intimacy, Jefferson's letters to Maury on Anglo-British relations are extremely revealing; see his often-quoted letter of 25 April 1812, at the outset of the war (sold here, 19 December 2002, lot 257, $160,000). Referring to this correspondence, and specifically to a passage in this letter, Malone notes that Jefferson and Maury "had scanned Virgil together nearly threescore years before. Inviting this friend to look forward through a period of that length, he predicted that the United States would then have a population of eighty millions. His estimate was too high but he was abundantly warranted in pointing out that friendship with his rapidly growing country would be increasingly important to the British." (Ibid, p.130).
Jefferson writes: "I congratulate you, my dear and ancient friend, on the return of peace, and the restoration of intercourse between our two countries. What has past may be a lesson to both...and the peace now opened may show what would be the value of a cordial friendship: and I hope the first moments of it will be improved to remove the stumbling block which must otherwise keep us eternal enemies. I mean the impressment of our citizens. This was the sole object of the continuance of the late war, which the repeal of the orders in council would otherwise have ended at it's beginning. If, according to our estimate, England impressed into her navy 6000 of our citizens, let her count the cost of the war, and a greater number of men lost in it, and she will find this resource for manning her navy the most exppensive she can adopt, each of these men having cost her £30,000 sterling, and a man of her own besides. On that point we have thrown away the scabbard, and the moment an European war brings her back to this practice [impressment], adds us again to her enemies..."
"Have you no statesmen who can look forward two or threescore years? It is but 40 years since the battle of Lexington. One third of those now living saw that day when we were but 2 millions of people, and we have lived to see us at 10 millions. One third of those now living, who see us at 10 millions, will live another 40 years, and see us 40 millions, and looking forward only through such a portion of time as has past since you and I were scanning Virgil together...we shall be seen to have a population of 80 millions...What may not such a people be worth to England as customers, and friends? and what might she not apprehend from such a nation as enemies? Justice, and the comity usually observed between nation and nation. Would there not be more of dignity in this, more character and satisfaction than in her teasings and harassings, her briberies and intrigues to sow party discord among us...; which can never obstruct the begetting [of] children, the efficient source of growth; and, by nourishing a deadly hatred, will only produce & hasten events which both of us, in moments of sober reflection, should deplore and deprecate..."
"As we can never be at war with any other nation (for no other can get at us but Spain...) the idea may be generated that we are natural enemies, and a calamitous one it will be to both. I hope to god her [England's] government will come to a sense of this, and will see that honesty and interest are as intimately connected in the public, as in the private code of morality. Her ministers have been weak enough to believe from the newspapers that Mr. Madison and myself are personally her enemies. Such an idea is unworthy a man of sense...No two men in the U.S. have more sincerely wished for cordial friendship with her; not as her vassals, or dirty partizans, but as members of coequal states, respecting each other and sensible of the good as well as the harm which each is capable of doing the other. On this ground, there was never a moment we did not wish to embrace her. But...feeling their hatred at every point of contact...that happened which has happened...I hope they will...do their part towards healing the minds and cooling the temper of both nations."
"The irritation here is great and general, because the mode of warfare...has been most exasperating. We perceive the English passions to be high also, nourished by the newspapers, that first of all human contrivances for generating war. But it is the office of the rulers on both sides to rise above these vulgar vehicles of passion; to assuage angry feelings, and by examples and expressions of mutual regard...to lead their citizens into good temper with each other. No one feels more indignation...when reflecting on the insults and injuries of that country to this," he concludes, "but the interests of both require that these should be left to history, and the mean time be smothered in the living mind. I have indeed little personal concern in it. Time is drawing her curtain on me. But I should make my bow with more satisfaction, if I had more hope of seeing our countries shake hands together cordially. In this sentiment I am sure you are with me..."
Published from Jefferson's retained copy (which included comments not present in the final letter on his having offered his library to replace the destroyed Library of Congress) in Writings, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh, 1903, 14:315, frequently excerpted and often anthologized. Another letter to Maury, dated the following day but sent with the present letter, will be offered in Spring 2004.