Lot 49: Jefferson, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th: Jefferson"), 1 page (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
49. Jefferson, Thomas. Autograph letter signed (“Th: Jefferson”), 1 page (10 x 8 in.; 254 x 203 mm.), “Monticello,” 10 May 1810, to John W. Eppes; browned; seal tears to integral address leaf and split to page fold.
On the eve of the War of 1812, Former President Thomas Jefferson correctly predicts the coming war while offering his opinion that the present situation offered proof as to what was condemnable among mankind.
Jefferson writes in full: Mr. Thweatt’s letter with your P. S. came to hand late last night, and I shall dispatch Francis tomorrow morning in the case of one of our most trusty servants I have. it will take to-day to have Francis affairs ready for the road, and he will be obliged to make but two days of the journey to arrive at Eppington on the eve of your departure for Carolina. considering the shortness of the time you will be with him I was almost tempted to keep him till your return from Carolina, but I thought it better by a prompt compliance with your wish, to merit the receiving him in deposit again during your next winter’s visit to Washington. You will receive in him in good health, and his reading and writing have been well attended to.
In the present unexplained state of the world, the difficulty of deciding what is best to be done for us, has produced a general disposition to acquiese in whatever our public councils shall decide. Between the convoy system (which is war) and that which has been adopted, the opposite considerations appear so equally balanced, that the decision in favor of those which continue the state of peace will probably be approved. the republican papers of this winter have not at all been in unison with the public sentiment as far as I could judge of it from limited specimen under my observation. I think when peace shall be restored that the examples present mad epoch will be so far from being appealed to as precedent of right, that they will be considered as prima facia proofs of whatever is wrong and condemable among mankind. I have learnt with great concern the very ill state of your health during the winter, have you tried the daily use of the warm bath? From it’s effect on rheumation in one instance within my knowledge, it is worthy of trial.
Jefferson’s postscript relates to the gift of a dog: I send you by Francis a female puppy of the shepard dog breed. The next year I can give you a male. The most careful intelligent dogs in the world excellent for the house or plantation.
In the years leading up to the War of 1812, America attempted to maintain its neutrality in the Anglo-French wars that had been raging off and on since 1793. Both French and British ships were harassing American merchants bound for the other’s ports. This was seriously affecting American economic interests while British impressment of American sailors further deteriorated relations with that country. The debate over the best way to deal with these issues was dividing the Americans into two political camps with the Republicans favoring economic sanctions over military force.
During his administration, Jefferson took the typical republican stance. From December of 1807 a series of economic measures were attempted by his administration to convince both the French and English to respect the neutrality of American shipping. These measures, which suspended trade with the belligerents, were unsuccessful at gaining respect for U.S. neutrality while at the same time causing severe economic hardship in America. With each failure of these economic sanctions came more popular support for a military solution.
Congress made one final effort in May of 1810 to reach a peaceful solution by passing the Macon’s Bill No. 2. This act reopened trade with France and Britain but also authorized the president to suspend trade with either of the major powers if the other should lift its restrictions. Trade with Britain swiftly reached pre December 1807 levels. However, trade with France remained much more limited due to the strength of the British fleet. Napoleon therefore announced that his restrictions on U.S. shipping would be revoked in November 1810. Madison therefore reapplied non-intercourse with Britain.
It was while congress was considering Macon’s bill no. 2 that Jefferson penned this letter. Here he predicts that the country will momentarily side with those attempting to use peaceful means to gain respect for U.S. neutrality. However he also notes that public sentiment is no longer in unison with the republican’s pacifist stance and foretells of the war that was to come two years later. After France was the first country to lift its sanctions, Britain soon continued the harassment of American shipping and the impressment of American sailors. Because of the Americans inability to peaceably induce Britain into respecting U.S. neutrality on the seas, even Republicans came to view war as the only solution to Britain’s refusal to recognize American neutrality.
An important letter in which former President Jefferson correctly predicts the events leading to the War of 1812, and uncharacteristically offers his feelings on the madness of the era.