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Jefferson’s Conversation with Washington, 10 July 1792, and What Came Before: Weekend Reading

Washington thought it was fine that Jefferson argued with Hamilton inside the continent, but that funding and stoking opposition to policies once Washington had decided was not kosher. Did Jefferson get that Washington was on to him?

Thomas Jefferson: To George Washington, 23 May 1792: "I have determined to make the subject of a letter, what... has been a subject of inquietude to my mind without having found a good occasion of disburthening itself to you in conversation, during the busy scenes which occupied you here. perhaps too you may be able, in your present situation, or on the road, to give it more time & reflection than you could do here at any moment...

...Of all the mischiefs objected to the system of [Hamilton's] measures... none is so afflicting, and fatal to every honest hope, as the corruption of the legislature. as it was the earliest of these measures it became the instrument for producing the rest, and will be the instrument for producing in future a king, lords & commons, or whatever else those who direct it may chuse.... The only hope of safety hangs now on the numerous representation which is to come forward the ensuing year. Some of the new members will probably be either in principle or interest, with the present majority. but it is expected that the great mass will form an accession to the republican party. They will not be able to undo all which the two preceding legislatures, and especially the first have done.... But some parts of the system may be rightfully reformed; a liberation from the rest unremittingly pursued as fast as right will permit, and the door shut in future against similar commitments of the nation....

But should the majority of the new members be still in the same principles with the present & shew that we have nothing to expect but a continuance of the same practices, it is not easy to conjecture what would be the result, nor what means would be resorted to for correction of the evil. true wisdom would direct that they should be temperate & peaceable. but the division of sentiment & interest happens unfortunately to be so geographical, that no mortal can say that what is most wise & temperate would prevail against what is more easy & obvious?

I can scarcely contemplate a more incalculable evil than the breaking of the union into two or more parts. Yet when we review the mass which opposed the original coalescence, when we consider that it lay chiefly in the Southern quarter:

  • that the legislature have availed themselves of no occasion of allaying it, but on the contrary whenever Northern and Southern prejudices have come into conflict, the latter have been sacrificed & the former soothed;
  • that the owers of the debt are in the Southern & the holders of it in the Northern division;
  • that the Antifederal champions are now strengthened in argument by the fulfilment of their predictions;
  • that this has been brought about by the Monarchical federalists themselves, who, having been for the new government merely as a stepping stone to monarchy, have themselves adopted the very constructions of the constitution, of which, when advocating it’s acceptance before the tribunal of the people, they declared it insusceptible;
  • that the republican federalists, who espoused the same government for it’s intrinsic merits, are disarmed of their weapons,
  • that which they denied as prophecy being now become true history

Who can be sure that these things may not proselyte the small number which was wanting to place the majority on the other side? And this is the event at which I tremble, and to prevent which I consider your continuance at the head of affairs as of the last importance. The confidence of the whole union is centered in you. Your being at the helm, will be more than an answer to every argument which can be used to alarm and lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession. North and South will hang together, if they have you to hang on: and, if the first corrective of a numerous representation should fail in it’s effect, your presence will give time for trying others not inconsistent with the union and peace of the states.

I am perfectly aware of the oppression under which your present office lays your mind, and of the ardor with which you pant for retirement to domestic life. But there is sometimes an eminence of character on which society have such peculiar claims as to controul the predilection of the individual for a particular walk of happiness, and restrain him to that alone arising from the present and future benedictions of mankind. This seems to be your condition, and the law imposed on you by providence in forming your character, and fashioning the events on which it was to operate: and it is to motives like these, and not to personal anxieties of mine or others who have no right to call on you for sacrifices, that I appeal from your former determination and urge a revisal of it, on the ground of change in the aspect of things.

Should an honest majority result from the new and enlarged representation; should those acquiesce whose principles or interests they may controul, your wishes for retirement would be gratified with less danger, as soon as that shall be manifest, without awaiting the completion of the second period of four years. One or two sessions will determine the crisis: and I cannot but hope that you can resolve to add one or two more to the many years you have already sacrificed to the good of mankind.

The fear of suspicion that any selfish motive of continuance in office may enter into this sollicitation on my part obliges me to declare that no such motive exists. It is a thing of mere indifference to the public whether I retain or relinquish my purpose of closing my tour with the first periodical renovation of the government. I know my own measure too well to suppose that my services contribute any thing to the public confidence, or the public utility. Multitudes can fill the office in which you have been pleased to place me, as much to their advantage and satisfaction.

I, therefore, have no motive to consult but my own inclination, which is bent irresistably on the tranquil enjoyment of my family, my farm, and my books. I should repose among them it is true, in far greater security, if I were to know that you remained at the watch, and I hope it will be so.

To the inducements urged from a view of our domestic affairs, I will add a bare mention, of what indeed need only be mentioned, that weighty motives for your continuance are to be found in our foreign affairs. I think it probable that both the Spanish and English negociations, if not completed before your purpose is known, will be suspended from the moment it is known; and that the latter nation will then use double diligence in fomenting the Indian war.

With my wishes for the future, I shall at the same time express my gratitude for the past, at least my portion in it; and beg permission to follow you whether in public or private life with those sentiments of sincere attachment and respect...


Thomas Jefferson: Notes on a Conversation with Washington, 10 July 1792: "He was sensible too of a decay of his hearing [and] perhaps his other faculties. [They] might fall off, and he [might] not be sensible of it...

  • That with respect to the existing causes of uneasiness, he thought there were suspicions against a particular party which had been carried a gre[at] deal too far. There might be desires, but he did not believe there were designs, to change the form of government into a monarchy.

  • That there might be a few who wished [for monarchy] in the higher walks of life, particularly in the great cities, but that the main body of the people in the Eastern states were steadily for republicanism, as in the Southern.

  • That the pieces lately published, and particularly in Freneau’s paper, seemed to have in view the exciting [of] opposition to the government.

  • That this had taken place in Pennsylvania as to the excise law, according to information he had recieved from General Hand, that they tended to produce a separation of the union, the most dreadful of all calamities.

  • That whatever tended to produce anarchy tended of course to produce a resort to monarchical government.

  • He considered those papers as attacking him directly, for he must be a fool inde[e]d to swallow the little sugar plumbs here and there thrown out to him.

  • That in condemning the administration of the government they condemned him, for if they thought there were measures pursued contrary to his sentiment, they must conceive him too careless to attend to them or too stupid to understand them.

  • That tho indeed he had signed many acts which he did not approve in all their parts, yet he had never put his name to one which he did not think on the whole was eligible.

  • That as to the bank which had been an act of so much complaint, until there were some infallible criterion of reason, a difference of opinion must be tolerated...

Plus: What I think to be the last substantive contact Washington ever had with Jefferson

George Washington: To Thomas Jefferson, 6 July 1796: "When I inform you, that your letter of the 19th Ulto went to Philadelphia and returned to this place, before it was received by me; it will be admitted, I am persuaded, as an apology for my not having acknowledged the receipt of it sooner...

...If I had entertained any suspicions before, that the queries which have been published in Bache’s Paper proceeded from you, the assurances you have given of the contrary, would have removed them; but the truth is, I harboured none. I am at no loss to conjecture from what source they flowed; through what channel they were conveyed; and for what purpose they, and similar publications, appear. They were known to be in the hands of Mr Parker, in the early part of the last Session of Congress; They were shown about by Mr Giles during the Cession—and they made their public exhibition about the close of it.

Percieving, and probably, hearing, that no abuse in the Gazettes would induce me to take notice of anonymous publications, against me; those who were disposed to do me such friendly Offices, have embraced without restraint every opportunity to weaken the confidence of the People—and by having the whole game in their hands, they have scrupled not to publish things that do not, as well as those which do exist; and to mutilate the latter, so as to make them subserve the purposes which they have in view.

As you have mentioned the Subject yourself, it would not be frank, candid, or friendly to conceal, that your conduct has been represented as derogating from that opinion I had conceived you entertained of me. That to your particular friends & connexions, you have described, and they have announced me, as a person under a dangerous influence; and that, if I would listen more to some other opinions all would be well. My answer invariably has been, that I had never discovered any thing in the conduct of Mr Jefferson to raise suspicions, in my mind, of his insincerity; that if he would retrace my public conduct while he was in the Administration, abundant proofs would occur to him, that truth and right decisions, were the sole objects of my pursuit; that there were as many instances within his own knowledge of my having decided against, as in favor of the opinions of the person evidently alluded to; and moreover, that I was no believer in the infallibility of the politics, or measures of any man living. In short, that I was no party man myself, and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.

To this I may add, and very truly, that, until within the last year or two, I had no conception that Parties Would, or even could go, the length I have been witness to; nor did I believe until lately, that it was within the bounds of probability—hardly within that of possibility, that while I was using my utmost exertions to establish a National character of our own, independent, as far as our obligations, and justice would permit, of every Nation of the earth; and wished, by steering a steady course, to preserve this Country from the horrors of a desolating war, that I should be accused of being the enemy of one Nation, and Subject to the influence of another; and to prove it, that every act of my Administration would be tortured, and the grossest, & most insiduous mis-representations of them be made (by giving one side only of a subject, and that too in such exagerated, & indecent term[s] as could scarcely be applied to a Nero; a notorious defaulter; or even to a common pickpocket). But enough of this; I have already gone farther in the expression of my feelings, than I intended.

The particulars of the case you mention (relative to the Little Sarah) is a good deal out of my Recollection at present; and I have no public papers here to resort to. When I get back to Philadelphia (which, unless I am called there by something new, will not be ’till towards the last of August) I will examine my files.

It must be pleasing to a Cultivator, to possess land which will yield Clover kindly; for it is certainly a great Desiderata in Husbandry. My Soil, without very good dressings, does not produce it well: owing, I believe, to its stiffness; hardness at bottom; and retention of Water. A farmer, in my opinion, need never despair of raising Wheat to advantage, upon a Clover lay; with a single ploughing, agreeably to the Norfolk and Suffolk practice.

By a misconception of my Manager last year, a field at one of my Farms which I intended shd have been fallowed for Wheat, went untouched. Unwilling to have my crop of Wheat at that place so much reduced, as would have been occasioned by this omission, I directed, as soon as I returned from Philadelphia (about the middle of September) another field, not in the usual rotation, which had lain out two years, and well covered with mixed grasses, principally white clover, to be turned over with a good Bar-share; and the Wheat to be sown, and harrowed in at the tail of the Plough. It was done so accordingly, and was, by odds, the best Wheat I made this year. It exhibits an unequivocal proof to my Mind, of the great advantage of a Clover lay, for Wheat. Our Crops of this article, hereabouts, are more or less injured by what some call the Rot—others the Scab; occasioned, I believe, by high wind & beating rain when the grain is in blossom, & before the Farina has performed its duties.

Desirous of trying the field Peas of England, and the Winter Vetch, I sent last fall to Mr Murray of Liverpool for eight bushels of each sort. Of the Peas he sent me two kinds (a white & dark, but not having his letter by me, I am unable to give the names). They did not arrive until the latter end of April, when they ought to have been in the ground the beginning of March. They were sown however, but will yield no Seed; of course the experiment I intended to make, is lost. The Vetch is yet on hand for Autumn Seeding. That the Albany Peas will grow well with us, I know from my own experience: but they are subject to the same bug which perforates, and injures the Garden Peas, and which will do the same, I fear, to the imported Peas, of any sort, from England, in this climate, from the heat of it.

I do not know what is meant by, or to what uses the Caroline drill is applied. How does your Chicorium prosper? Four years since, I exterminated all the Plants raised from Seed sent me by Mr Young, and to get into it again, the Seed I purchased in Philadelphia last Winter, and what has been sent me by Mr Murray this Spring, has cost me upwards of twelve pounds Sterling. This, it may be observed, is a left handed way to make money; but the first was occasioned by the manager I then had, who pretended to know it well in England, and pronounced it a noxious weed; the restoration of it, is indebted to Mr Strickland & others (besides Mr Young) who speak of it in exalted terms. I sowed mine broadcast, some with, and some without grain. It has come up well, but there seems to be a serious struggle between it and the grass & weeds; the issue of which (as I can afford no relief to the former) is doubtful at present, & may be useful to know.

If you can bring a moveable threshing Machine, constructed upon simple principles to perfection, it will be among the most valuable institutions in this Country; for nothing is more wanting, & to be wished for on our farms. Mrs Washington begs you to accept her best wishes—and with very great esteem & regard I am—Dear Sir Your Obedient Hble Servt...

And Washington ended his life convinced that Jefferson sought to overthrow the constitution and turn America into a French puppet:

George Washington: To John Nicholas, 8 March 1798: "Nothing short of the Evidence you have adduced, corroborative of intimations which I had received long before, through another channel, could have shaken my belief in the sincerity of a friendship, which I had conceived was possessed for me, by the person to whom you allude...

...But attempts to injure those who are supposed to stand well in the estimation of the People, and are stumbling blocks in their way (by misrepresenting their political tenets) thereby to destroy all confidence in them, is one of the means by which the Government is to be assailed, and the Constitution destroyed. The conduct of this Party is systematized, and every thing that is opposed to its execution, will be sacrificed, without hesitation, or remorse; if the end can be answered by it.

If the person whom you suspect, was really the Author of the letter under the signature of John Langhorne, it is not at all surprising, to me, that the correspondence should have ended where it did; for the penetration of that man would have perceived at the first glance of the answer, that nothing was to be drawn from that mode of attack; In what form, the next insidious attempt may appear, remains to be discovered. But as the attempts to explain away the Constitution, & weaken the Government are now become so open; and the desire of placing the Affairs of this Country under the influence & controul of a foreign Nation is so apparant, & strong, it is hardly to be expected that a resort to covert means to effect these objects, will be longer regarded...

Thomas Jefferson: To Philip Mazzei, 24 April 1796: "Our political state has changed tremendously since you left us...

...Instead of that noble love of liberty and republican government, which made us triumph through the dangers of war, an Anglican-monarchical-aristocratic party arose. His avowed object is to impose the substance upon us, as he has already given us the forms of the British government; however, the main body of our citizens remains faithful to republican principles. All landowners are for these principles, as well as a large mass of men with talents.

We have against us (republicans) the executive power, the judicial power (two of the three branches of the legislature) all the officers of the government, all those who aspire to be, all the timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the stormy sea of ​​liberty, the Breton merchants, and the Americans who trade with Breton capitals, the speculators, the people interested in the bank and in the public funds. (Establishments invented in views of corruption, and to assimilate us to the British model in its rotten parts.)

I would give you fever if I named you apostates who embraced these heresies, men who were Salomons in the council, and Samsons in the fighting, but whose hair was cut off by England.

We would like to take away the freedom we have gained through so much work and danger. But we will keep it; our mass of weight and wealth is too great for us to fear that we are trying to use force against us. It is enough for us to wake up and break the Lilliputian bonds with which they have bound us during the first sleep that followed our labors.

It suffices that we stop the progress of this system of ingratitude and injustice towards France, from whom we would like to alienate ourselves in order to return to British influence, & c.

Commentary from the Paris Moniteur:

This interesting letter, from one of the most virtuous and enlightened citizens of the United States, explains the conduct of the Americans towards France. It is certain that of all the neutral and friendly powers, there is none of which France could expect more interest and help than the United States. She is their true mother, since she has guaranteed their freedom and independence.

As grateful sons, far from abandoning him, they had to arm themselves for his defense. But if imperious circumstances prevented them from declaring themselves openly for the French Republic, they had at least to make demonstrations, and to let England fear that from one moment to the next they might declare themselves. This fear alone would have sufficed to force the London cabinet to make peace. It is indeed clear that the war with the United States bore the blows most sensitive to the English trade, gave them anxiety for the conservation of their estates on the American continent, and deprived them of the means of conquering the French colonies. and Dutch.

As ungrateful as it was bad policy, the congress hastened to reassure the English, that they might quietly continue their war of extermination against France, and invade the colonies and commerce of England. He sent to London a minister, Mr. Jay, known for his attachment to England and his personal relations with Lord Grenville, and hastily concluded a treaty of commerce which united him to Great Britain, more than a treaty of alliance.

Such a treaty, in the circumstances in which it was done, and by the consequences it ought to have, is an act of hostility towards France. The French government has at last been able to testify the resentment of the French Nation, and it has done so by breaking all communication with an ungrateful and unfaithful ally, until it returns to a more just and more benevolent conduct. Justice and sound politics also support this approach of the French government. There is no doubt that it will give rise, in the United States, to discussions which may make the party of good republicans, friends of France, triumph.

Some writers, to disapprove of this wise and necessary measure of the Directory, maintain that in the United States, the French have as partisans only demagogues who would like to overthrow the current government. But their impudent lies of persuading no one, and only proving, which is only too obvious, that they use the liberty of the press to serve the enemies of France.