JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson") to Robert S. Garnett, Monticello, 26 February 1821. 1 page, 4to clean fold separations, neatly backed.
JEFFERSON ON THE INSCRUTABLE RIDDLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY WHICH CALL FOR LAISSEZ-FAIRE ECONOMICS
A letter incorporating an eloquent, unequivocal statement of Jefferson's mature view of the interactions between political processes and economic variables. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson moderated his deep-seated agrarianism and accepted commerce as the "handmaiden" of agriculture; later, having witnessed the disappointing results of his embargo, he came to envision an "equilibrium between the occupations of agriculture, manufactures and commerce" (Malone, Sage of Monticello, p.147). Here, in retirement, Jefferson gives clear expression to his conviction that the science of political economy is inherently so complex as to be practically unknowable, thereby justifying a "hand's off" approach to general economic matters.
Jefferson thanks Garnett for sending the "Report of the Agricultural Committee on the subject of the Tariff," observing that "between that and the Report on the Committee of Manufactures, the justice and the expediency of the system of protecting duties is ably discussed." Of all the questions which fall within the scope of the human mind, none are more perplexing than those which arise in the branch of Political economy. The facts are so numerous, so various, so entangled and difficult of access, and the combinations of these facts are so complicated, that differences of opinion are to be expected. If there be heads in this world capable of seeing all these facts, all the bearings on one another, of making all the combinations into which they enter, and drawing sound conclusions from the whole, no doubt that a wisdom of that grade may form a system of regulations for directing to the greatest possible advantage the public industry and interest: the difficulty of doing this however has produced the modern and general conviction that it is safest 'to let things alone,' and the nation which has pursued the regulating system with the most apparent success [Great Britain?] is now proposing its gradual abandonment. But I leave these puzzling decisions to those who are to live under them, confident that they will do what is best for themselves."
Provenance: Calvin Bullock (sale, Christie's, 14 May 1985, lot 69).