JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as Vice-President and putative President-elect, to Dr. William Bache, Philadelphia, 2 February 1800. 2 pages, 4to, 9 7/8 x 8 in. [With:] Autograph free frank ("free Th:Jefferson") on address panel in Jefferson's hand to "Doctr. William Bache Charlottesville," small hole from seal, address leaf only silked.
TWO MONTHS AFTER NAPOLEON IS NAMED FIRST CONSUL AND "KICKS DOWN" THE FRENCH CONSTITUTION, JEFFERSON FERVENTLY HOPES HIS COUNTRYMEN WILL "RALLY FIRMLY AND IN CLOSE BANDS ROUND THEIR CONSTITUTION" AND "NEVER TO SUFFER AN IOTA OF IT TO BE INFRINGED"
An exceptional personal letter, discussing financial matters and window sashes at Monticello but concluding with an impassioned statement of his profound dissillusionment ("I have never seen so awful a moment") at the news of France's new Constitution, adopted by overwhelming popular vote in December, which dismantled the First Republic and confirmed Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul with nearly absolute powers. This new tyranny--so antithetical to the high hopes Jefferson had long entertained for France's revolution--carried dire implications for the continued existence of the American republican experiment that he had helped launch, and he stresses the critical need, in a republic, to balance minority and majority rights. At this date, Jefferson was still awaiting resolution of the crisis caused of the election of 1800, when both he and Burr had received the same number of electoral votes, and it was not for another two weeks that he would finally learn that Congress had voted, narrowly, to make Jefferson the third President.
"You have seen the afflicting details from Paris [news of the Constitution and Napoleon's being named First Consul had reached America in mid-January]. On what grounds a revolution has been made, we are not informed, & are still more at a loss to divine what will be it's issue; Whether we are to have over again the history of Robespierre, of Caesar, or the new phenomenon of the usurpation of the government for the purpose of making it free. Our citizens however should derive from this some useful lessons. They should see in it a necessity to rally firmly and in close bands round their constitution; never to suffer an iota of it to be infringed; to inculcate on minorities the duties of acquiesence in the will of the majority, and on majorities a respect for the rights of the minority; to beware of a military force, even of citizens; and to beware of too much confidence in any man. The confidence of the French people in Buonaparte, has enabled him to kick down their Constitution, & instead of that to leave them dependent on his will & his life. I have never seen so awful a moment as the present--prospects too in this state, important as it is in our union, are very discouraging. On the other side however there seems to be a gleam of hope that a general peace will take place..."
As one historian observes, Jefferson's attitude toward France had undergone a radical transformation: "In the last year of the French Revolution's existence Jefferson had begun to associate 'the cause of France,' no longer with hope for America, but with what was wrong with America....Jefferson's feelings about what France stood for in relation to America underwent a complete reversal from what they had been in 1789-93. France now stood, no longer for the regeneration of American freedom, but for the forces that were threatening American freedom" (C. C. O'Brien, The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800, p.252).
In the remainder of this lengthy letter, Jefferson complains of difficulty in "purchasing a draught here in Richmond," which made it necessary to acquire one in Norfolk; this is to be placed "to the credit of James Key as paid by you...to guard against the dangers of the mail being robbed." He regrets having failed to meet and adds that "I think it unfortunate that Mrs. Bache should have commenced her new residence just as the disagreeable season was beginning, and at a moment when our society was to a certain degree breaking up. However I hope we shall rally together again in the spring, and that the return of Mrs. Trist, Col. Monroe, & my family will add to the number of those who wish to render her new situation as agreeable as possible." He considers it unlikely that Bache will be able to get the new residence in order before winter ends. He has told his caretaker, Mr. Dinsmore, to deliver to Bache certain window sashes from Monticello, not the same that "I pointed out to you," but rather some of the "London sashes," which are "better made than those from Philadelphia although of slightly different measurements."
On the address leaf in ink, is a small schematic drawing of one of the sashes in question, probably drawn by Bache after receiving Jefferson's letter.