[Back to Homepage | Back to Literature Links Homepage]

Letter from Thomas Jefferson

Letter To William Duane - Monticello, August 12, 1810

        _To William Duane_
        _Monticello, August 12, 1810_


        SIR, -- Your letter of July 16th has been duly received, with
the paper it enclosed, for which accept my thanks, and especially for
the kind sentiments expressed towards myself.  These testimonies of
approbation, and friendly remembrance, are the highest gratifications
I can receive from any, and especially from those in whose principles
and zeal for the public good I have confidence.  Of that confidence
in yourself the military appointment to which you allude was
sufficient proof, as it was made, not on the recommendations of
others, but on our own knowledge of your principles and
qualifications.  While I cherish with feeling the recollections of my
friends, I banish from my mind all political animosities which might
disturb its tranquillity, or the happiness I derive from my present
pursuits.  I have thought it among the most fortunate circumstances
of my late administration that, during its eight years continuance,
it was conducted with a cordiality and harmony among all the members,
which never were ruffled on any, the greatest or smallest occasion.
I left my brethren with sentiments of sincere affection and
friendship, so rooted in the uniform tenor of a long and intimate
intercourse, that the evidence of my own senses alone ought to be
permitted to shake them.  Anxious, in my retirement, to enjoy
undisturbed repose, my knowledge of my successor and late coadjutors,
and my entire confidence in their wisdom and integrity, were
assurances to me that I might sleep in security with such watchmen at
the helm, and that whatever difficulties and dangers should assail
our course, they would do what could be done to avoid or surmount
them.  In this confidence I envelope myself, and hope to slumber on
to my last sleep.  And should difficulties occur which they cannot
avert, if we follow them in phalanx, we shall surmount them without
danger.


        I have been long intending to write to you as one of the
associated company for printing useful works.


        Our laws, language, religion, politics and manners are so
deeply laid in English foundations, that we shall never cease to
consider their history as a part of ours, and to study ours in that
as its origin.  Every one knows that judicious matter and charms of
style have rendered Hume's history the manual of every student.  I
remember well the enthusiasm with which I devoured it when young, and
the length of time, the research and reflection which were necessary
to eradicate the poison it had instilled into my mind.  It was
unfortunate that he first took up the history of the Stuarts, became
their apologist, and advocated all their enormities.  To support his
work, when done, he went back to the Tudors, and so selected and
arranged the materials of their history as to present their arbitrary
acts only, as the genuine samples of the constitutional power of the
crown, and, still writing backwards, he then reverted to the early
history, and wrote the Saxon and Norman periods with the same
perverted view.  Although all this is known, he still continues to be
put into the hands of all our young people, and to infect them with
the poison of his own principles of government.  It is this book
which has undermined the free principles of the English government,
has persuaded readers of all classes that these were usurpations on
the legitimate and salutary rights of the crown, and has spread
universal toryism over the land.  And the book will still continue to
be read here as well as there.  Baxter, one of Horne Tooke's
associates in persecution, has hit on the only remedy the evil
admits.  He has taken Hume's work, corrected in the text his
misrepresentations, supplied the truths which he suppressed, and yet
has given the mass of the work in Hume's own words.  And it is
wonderful how little interpolation has been necessary to make it a
sound history, and to justify what should have been its title, to
wit, "Hume's history of England abridged and rendered faithful to
fact and principle." I cannot say that his amendments are either in
matter or manner in the fine style of Hume.  Yet they are often
unperceived, and occupy so little of the whole work as not to
depreciate it.  Unfortunately he has _abridged_ Hume, by leaving out
all the less important details.  It is thus reduced to about one half
its original size.  He has also continued the history, but very
summarily, to 1801.  The whole work is of 834 quarto pages, printed
close, of which the continuation occupies 283.  I have read but
little of this part.  As far as I can judge from that little, it is a
mere chronicle, offering nothing profound.  This work is so
unpopular, so distasteful to the present Tory palates and principles
of England, that I believe it has never reached a second edition.  I
have often inquired for it in our book shops, but never could find a
copy in them, and I think it possible the one I imported may be the
only one in America.  Can we not have it re-printed here?  It would
be about four volumes 8vo.


        I have another enterprise to propose for some good printer.  I
have in my possession a MS. work in French, confided to me by a
friend, whose name alone would give it celebrity were it permitted to
be mentioned.  But considerations insuperable forbid that.  It is a
Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws.  The history
of that work is well known.  He had been a great reader, and had
commonplaced everything he read.  At length he wished to undertake
some work into which he could bring his whole commonplace book in a
digested form.  He fixed on the subject of his Spirit of Laws, and
wrote the book.  He consulted his friend Helvetius about publishing
it, who strongly dissuaded it.  He published it, however, and the
world did not confirm Helvetius' opinion.  Still, every man who
reflects as he reads, has considered it as a book of paradoxes;
having, indeed, much of truth and sound principle, but abounding also
with inconsistencies, apochryphal facts and false inferences.  It is
a correction of these which has been executed in the work I mention,
by way of commentary and review; not by criticising words or
sentences, but by taking a book at a time, considering its general
scope, and proceeding to confirm or confute it.  And much of
confutation there is, and of substitution of true for false
principle, and the true principle is ever that of republicanism.  I
will not venture to say that every sentiment in the book will be
approved, because, being in manuscript, and the French characters, I
have not read the whole, but so much only as might enable me to
estimate the soundness of the author's way of viewing his subject;
and, judging from that which I have read, I infer with confidence
that we shall find the work generally worthy of our high approbation,
and that it everywhere maintains the preeminence of representative
government, by showing that its foundations are laid in reason, in
right, and in general good.  I had expected this from my knowledge of
the other writings of the author, which have always a precision
rarely to be met with.  But to give you an idea of the manner of its
execution, I translate and enclose his commentary on Montesquieu's
eleventh book, which contains the division of the work.  I wish I
could have added his review at the close of the twelve first books,
as this would give a more complete idea of the extraordinary merit of
the work.  But it is too long to be copied.  I add from it, however,
a few extracts of his reviews of some of the books, as specimens of
his plan and principles.  If printed in French, it would be of about
180 pages 8vo, or 23 sheets.  If any one will undertake to have it
translated and printed on their own account, I will send on the MS.
by post, and they can take the copyright as of an original work,
which it ought to be understood to be.  I am anxious it should be
ably translated by some one who possesses style as well as capacity
to do justice to abstruse conceptions.  I would even undertake to
revise the translation if required.  The original sheets must be
returned to me, and I should wish the work to be executed with as
little delay as possible.


        I close this long letter with assurances of my great esteem and
respect.