Transcript for: Jefferson to William Stephens Smith


Dear Sir,

Mr. Payne happened to be present when I received your favor of January 15. I read to him that part which stated the circumstances of your delivery of the letter of Dec 3. to Mr. Littlepage and of the place where he put it for greater care. Payne conjectured what had happened, that it’s separation from the common mass of letters had occasioned it to be overlooked. He repeated the circumstances to Littlepage on his return to his lodgings, and he immediately re-examined and found the letter, which I now have. I inclose you your press copies, with a supplement to our account, as far as my memorandum book or an examination of our letter enable one to make it out. You will be so good as to examine and correct the new articles where they read it, and whatever balance may remain, Mr. Trumbull will reissue and employ it for one. With respect to Mr. Adams’s picture I must again press it to be done by Brown, because Trumbul does not paint of the size of the life & could not be asked to hazard himself on it. I have sent to Florence for those of Columbus (if it exists) of Americus Vesputius, Magellan &c., and I must not be disappointed of Mr. Adams’s when done. Mr. Trumbul will receive & forward it to me. Be so good also as to let me know who undertook the Map of S. America, & even to get from him some acknowledgment in writing, of what he is to do. I am glad to learn by letters which come downto the 20th of December that the new Constitution will undoubtedly be received by a sufficiency of the States to set it a going. Were I in America, I would advocate it warmly till nine should have adopted & then as warmly take the other side to convince the remaining four that they ought not to come into it till the declaration of rights is annexed to it. By this means we should secure all the good of it, & procure so respectable an opposition as would induce the accepting states to offer a bill of rights. This would be the happiest turn the thing could take. I fear much the effects of the perpetual re-eligibility of the President. But it is not thought of in America, & have therefore no prospect of a change of that article. But I own it astonishes me to find such a change wrought in the opinions of our countrymen since I left them, as that three fourths of them should be contented to live under a system which leaves to their governors the power of taking from them the trial by jury in civil cases, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of commerce, the habeas corpus laws, & of yoking them with a standing army. This is a degeneracy in the principles of liberty to which I had given four centuries instead of four years. But I hope it will all come about. We are now vibrating between too much and too little government, and the pendulum will rest finally in the middle. Adieu, yours affectionately.

TH: Jefferson