Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Donald (1788)

No study questions


I received duly your friendly letter of November the 12th. By this time, you will have seen published by Congress, the new regulations obtained from this court, in favor of our commerce. You will observe, that the arrangement relative to tobacco is a continuation of the order of Berni for five years, only leaving the price to be settled between the buyer and seller. You will see too, that all contracts for tobacco are forbidden, till it arrives in France. Of course, your proposition for contract is precluded. I fear the prices here will be low, especially if the market be crowded. You should be particularly attentive to the article, which requires that the tobacco should come in French or American bottoms, as this article will, in no instance, be departed from.

I wish with all my soul that the nine first conventions may accept the new constitution, because this will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. But I equally wish that the four latest conventions, which ever they be, may refuse to accede to it, till a declaration of rights be annexed. This would probably command the offer of such a declaration, and thus give to the whole fabric, perhaps as much perfection as any one of that kind ever had. By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce against monopolies, trial by juries in all cases, no suspensions of the habeas corpus, no standing armies. These are fetters against doing evil which no honest government should decline.There is another strong feature in the new constitution, which I as strongly dislike. That is, the perpetual reeligibility of the President. Of this I expect no amendment at present, beacuse I do not see that any body has objected to it on your side of the water. But it will be productive of cruel distress to our contry, even in you day and mine. The importance to France and England, to have our government in the hands of a friend or a foe, will occasion thier inferference by money, and even by arms. Our President will be of much more consequence to them than a King of Poland. We must take care, however, that neither this, nor any other objection to the new form, produces a schism in our Union. That would be an incurable evil, becasue near friends falling out, never re-unite cordially; wheras, all of us going together, we shall be sure to cure the evils of our new constitution, before they do great harm. The box of books I had taken the liberty to address to you, is but just gone from Havre for New York. I do not see, at present, any symptoms strongly indicating war. It is true, that the distrust existing between the two courts of Versailles and London, is so greate, that they can scarely do business together. However, the difficulty and doubt of obtaining money make both afraid to enter into war. The little preparations for war, which we see, are the effect of distrust, rater then of a design to to commence hostilities. and in such a state of mind, you know, small things may produce a rupture: so that though peace is rather probable, war is very possible.

Your letter has kindled all the fond recollections of antient times; recollections much dearer to me than any thing I have known since. There are minds which can be pleased by honors and preferments; but I see nothing in them but envy and enmity. It is only necessary to posses them, to know how little they contribute to happiness, or rather how hostile they are it it. No attachmetns soothe the mind so much as those contracted in early life; nor do I recollect any societies which have given me more pleasure, than those of which you have partaken with me. I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give. I shall be glad to hear from you often. Give me the small news as well as the great. Tell Dr. Currie, that I believe I am indebted to him a letter, but that like the mass of our countrymen, I am not, at this moment, able to pay all my debts; the post being to depart in an hour, and the last storke of a pen I am able to send by it, being that which assures you of the sentimetns of esteem and attachments, with which I am, Dear Sir, your affectionate friend and servant,

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