JEFFERSON, Thomas, President. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as Secretary of State, to his friend and neighbor Philip Mazzei (1730-1816), Philadelphia, 2 August 1791. 4 pages, 4to, 232 x 190 mm., red quarter morocco gilt slipcase.
THE BURDEN OF A PUBLIC SERVANT: "I AM IN AN OFFICE OF INFINITE LABOUR, & AS DISAGREEABLE TO ME AS IT IS LABORIOUS. I CAME INTO IT UTTERLY AGAINST MY WILL...BUT I PANT AFTER MONTICELLO & MY FAMILY..."
A long letter in which Jefferson meticulously reports on financial transactions he has undertaken on his friend's behalf , offers a revealing confession of his regrets for the burdens of the office of Secretary of State and confesses his heartfelt wish to return to his Virginia home and family circle, concluding with the telling remark that he has "left so much of my affection" in France, "that I but half exist here" in America.
When offered the post of Secretary of State in Washington's new government, Jefferson had had very mixed feelings about taking on the office, preferring his post in France. Washington added his personal urgings though, writing Jefferson that "I consider the office of Secretary for the Department of State as very important on many accounts: and I know of no person, who in my judgement could better execute the duties of it than yourself." (quoted in Malone, Jefferson and the Rights of Man, p.248) The present letter contains one of Jefferson's most candid expressions of his frustration with his high office. To his friend he writes: "I am in an office of infinite labour, & as disagreeable to me as it is laborious. I came into it utterly against my will, and under the cogency of arguments derived from the novelty of the government, the necessity of its setting out well, &c., but I pant after Monticello & my family, & cannot let it be long before I join them. My elder daughter [Martha Randolph] is well, happy in her marriage & living at Monticello. She has made me a grandfather. The younger one is with her, but will come here with me..." As Malone concludes, "Jefferson's desire to retire from office was not at all surprising in view of his temperament and situation...[The post's] duties were miscellaneous and the work was arduous and confining. He was restive under the burden of incessant paperwork which seemed to have no appreciable results and he found the political atmosphere increasingly unpleasant..." (ibid., 431) At about this time, Jefferson had suffered the additional embarrassment of being linked to a reprint of Thomas Paine's inflammatory Rights of Man, which the American printer prefaced with a note from Jefferson expressing his approval of Paine's tract, increasing the estrangement between Jefferson and John Adams (for details, see Malone, pp. 355-359).
Jefferson was handling certain business matters for Mazzei, on which he reports at length, finishing with the observation that Mazzei's Virginia certificates "are worth between two and three thousand dollars," and speculating whether he should "transfer them to the funds of the general government...Virginia, like the other states, has abandoned the idea of providing for these debts since they have been assumed by the general government [as provided by Hamilton's plan]....[W]e will consult with [Attorney-General E[dmund] R[andolph] & also have J[ames] M[adison]'s opinion..."
He mentions plans to go to Monticello in September, and with a pronounced hint of weariness he adds that "...I have thus, I think, gone through every article of your affairs, as far as I am conversant with them. A word now of my own. Barrois [a bookseller] is the real debtor for the money due to me for the map. Tho' he cannot pay money, perhaps he can give me books to that amount. If he has the Byzantine historians, Gr[eek] & Lat[in] printed at Paris, it would pay the debt...If you can save me this, it will be so much got out of the fire. I am sincerely glad that you have got under the wings of the Diet as of the King, & equally so that you take the prudent resolution of not spending your whole allowance...Your friends all well, as far as I recollect. Present me affectionately to the Dutchess D'Anville, D. & Dss. de la Rochefoucault. I have left so much of my affection there, that I but half exist here..." He signs himself "your affectionate friend." Accompanied by copies of two letters from Julian P. Boyd, editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, regarding the letter and its significance.
Provenance: Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard (sale, Christie's, New York, 26 January 1996, lot 157, illustrated).