JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson"), as President, to George Jefferson, his cousin and financial agent, Washington, 24 December 1808. 1½ pages, 4to.
"I HAVE BEEN UNDER AN AGONY OF MORTIFICATION...MY...NIGHTS WILL BE ALMOST SLEEPLESS..." JEFFERSON REALIZES HE'S BROKE AT THE END OF HIS SECOND TERM AND SCRAMBLES TO RAISE CASH
"Nothing had been more fixed than my determination to keep my expences here within the limits of my salary," says the President who preached "economy in the public expense" and "the honest payment of our debts" but could not practice it in his own affairs. "I had great confidence that I had done so. Having however trusted to rough estimates by my head, & not sufficiently apprised of the outstanding accounts, I find on a review of my affairs here, as they will stand on the 3rd of March, that I shall be 3 or 4 months salary behind hand. In ordinary cases this degree of arrearage would not be serious, but on the scale of the establishment here it amounts to 7. or 8,000 D. which being to come out of my private funds will be felt by them sensibly." His best hopes, he admits, is "to turn to the provincial bank of my own state, where my character, my possessions and my circumstances entirely unembarrassed, are best known. It would be necessary for me to ask from them the use of this sum for a year." He's willing to put up "my crop of tobo. of this year, which will be in your hands before I shall want the money," as well the next year's crop, which Jefferson estimates (optimistically) at $5,000 each. He's also willing to sell "a detached tract of land in Rockbridge" for which a local merchant offered him $2,000. "To relieve me under this difficulty," he tells George, "I must sollicit your friendly negociation with the bank of Richmond, to be conducted with that degree of prudence & reserve which I know you to possess. If other security than the endorser be wanting, it shall be given. Indeed I would rather give real than personal security, having never in my life had occasion to ask any one to be my security. Since I have become sensible of this deficit I have been under an agony of mortification; & therefore must sollicit as much urgency in the negociation as the case will admit. My intervening nights will be almost sleepless, as nothing could be more distressing to me than to leave debts here unpaid, if indeed I should be permitted to depart with them unpaid, of which I am by no means certain." He hopes George will use Jefferson's connection with the bank's president to speed the loan through as quickly "as his duty" and "the laws of their institution will permit."
A revealing look into Jefferson's chronic problems with money. That a man in his position should trust to guesswork and conjecture about the state of his finances goes far in explaining his difficulties. He could never discipline his spending, and preferred to avoid contemplating the consequences of his actions until it was no longer possible to do so. Some $11,000 in debt when he left office, and relying on the precarious cash flows generated by his tobacco and wheat crops, Jefferson was forced to borrow not only from the Bank of Virginia in Richmond, but from the Bank of the United States in Washington. "Despite later payments" to the Richmond bank, writes biographer Dumas Malone, Jefferson "was never able to extricate himself wholly from debt to it" (Malone, 6:39).