Thomas Jefferson to Colonel James Monroe
Monticello, May 20th, 1782
Dear Sir,—I have been gratified with your two favors of the 6th and 11th inst. It gives me pleasure that your county has been wise enough to enlist your talent into their service. I am much obliged by the kind wishes you express of seeing me also in Richmond, and am always mortified when anything is expected from me which I cannot fulfill, and more especially if it relate to the public service. Before I ventured to declare to my countrymen my determination to retire from public employment, I examined well my heart to know whether it were thoroughly cured of every principle of political ambition, whether no lurking particle remained which might leave me uneasy, when reduced within the limits of mere private life. I became satisfied that every fibre of that passion was thoroughly eradicated. I examined also, in other views, my right to withdraw. I considered that I had been thirteen years engaged in public service— that, during that time, I had so totally abandoned all attention to my private affairs as to permit them to run into great disorder and ruin—that I had now a family advanced to years which require my attention and instruction—that, to these, was added the hopeful offspring of a deceased friend, whose memory must be forever dear to me, and who have no other reliance for being rendered useful to themselves or their country—that by a constant sacrifice of time, labor, parental and friendly duties, I had, so far from gaining the affection of my countrymen, which was the only reward I ever asked or could have felt, even lost the small estimation I had before possessed.
That, however I might have comforted myself under the disapprobation of the well-meaning but uninformed people, yet, that of their representatives was a shock on which I had not calculated. That this, indeed, had been followed by an exculpatory declaration. But, in the meantime, I had been suspected in the eyes of the world, without the least hint then or afterwards being made public, which might restrain them from supposing that I stood arraigned for treason of the heart, and not merely weakness of the mind ; and I felt that these injuries, for such they have been since acknowledged, had inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave. If reason and inclination unite in justifying my retirement, the laws of my country are equally in favor of it. Whether the State may command the political services of all its members to an indefinite extent, or, if these be among the rights never wholly ceded to the public power, is a question which I do not find expressly decided in England. Obiter dictums on the subject I have indeed met with, but the complexion of the times in which these have dropped would generally answer them. Besides that, this species of authority is not acknowledged in our possession. In this country, however, since the present government has been established, the point has been settled by uniform, pointed and multiplied precedents. Offices of every kind, and given by every power, have been daily and hourly declined and resigned from the Declaration of Independence to this moment. The General Assembly has accepted these without discrimination of office, and without ever questioning them in point of right. If the difference between the office of a delegate and any other could ever have been supposed, yet in the case of Mr. Thompson Mason, who declined the office of delegate, and was permitted so to do by the House, that supposition has been proved to be groundless. But, indeed, no such distinction of offices can be admitted. Reason, and the opinions of the lawyers, putting all on a footing as to this question, and so giving to the delegate the aid of all the precedents of the refusal of other offices. The law then does not warrant the assumption of such a power by the State over its members. For if it does, where is that law ? nor yet does reason. For though I will admit that this does subject every individual, if called on, to an equal tour of political duty, yet it can never go so far as to submit to it his whole existence. If we are made in some degree for others, yet, in a greater, are we made for ourselves. It were contrary to feeling, and indeed ridiculous to suppose that a man had less rights in himself than one of his neighbors, or indeed all of them put together. This would be slavery, and not that liberty which the bill of rights has made inviolable, and for the preservation of which our government has been charged. Nothing could so completely divest us of that liberty as the establishment of the opinion, that the State has a perpetual right to the services of all its members. This, to men of certain ways of thinking, would be to annihilate the blessings of existence, and to contradict the Giver of life, who gave it for happiness and not for wretchedness. And certainly, to such it were better that they had never been born. However, with these, I may think public service and private misery inseparably linked together, I have not the vanity to count myself among those whom the State would think worth oppressing with perpetual service. I have received a sufficient memento to the contrary. I am persuaded that, having hitherto dedicated to them the whole of the active and useful part of my life, I shall be permitted to pass the rest in mental quiet. I hope, too, that I did not mistake modes any more than the matter of right when I preferred a simple act of renunciation, to the taking sanctuary under those disqualifications (provided by the law for other purposes indeed but) affording asylum also for rest to the wearied. I dare say you did not expect by the few words you dropped on the right of renunciation to expose yourself to the fatigue of so long a letter, but I wished you to see that, if I had done wrong, I had been betrayed by a semblance of right at least. I take the liberty of enclosing to you a letter for General Chattellux, for which you will readily find means of conveyance. But I mean to give you more trouble with the one to Pelham, who lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and to ask the favor of you to send it by your servant—express—which I am in hopes may be done without absenting him from your person, but during those hours in which you will be engaged in the house. I am anxious that it should be received immediately. ****** it will give me great pleasure to see you here whenever you can favor us with your company. You will find me still busy, but in lighter occupations. But in these and all others you will find me to retain a due sense of your friendship, and to be, with sincere esteem, dear Sir, Your most obedient and most humble servant. of the 12th instant, renewing my appointment as one of their ministers plenipotentiary for negotiating a peace — and beg leave, through you, to return my sincere thanks to that august body, for the confidence they are pleased to repose in me, and to tender the same to yourself for the obliging manner in which you have notified it. I will employ in this arduous charge, with diligence and integrity, the best of my poor talents, which I am conscious are far short of what it requires. This, I hope, will ensure to me from Congress a kind construction of all my transactions. And it gives me no small pleasure, that my communications will pass through the hands of a gentleman with whom I have acted in the earlier stages of this contest, and whose candor and discernment I had the good fortune then to approve and esteem. Your letter finds me at a distance from home, attending my family under inoculation. This will add to the delay which the arrangements of my particular affairs would necessarily occasion. I shall lose no moment, however, in preparing for my departure, and shall hope to pay my respects to Congress and yourself at sometime between the 20th and the last of December.
I have the honor to be, with very great esteem and respect, dear Sir,
Your most obedient and most humble servant.
Jefferson was replying to the following letter by Monroe, dated
Richmond, 11th of May, 1782.
Dear Sir,—As I so lately wrote you by Mr. Short, and have since daily expected to see you here, I did not propose writing to you till after I should have that pleasure; but as I begin to fear you will not abate that firmness and decision which you have frequently shown in the service of your country, even upon this occasion, and as I have had an opportunity since I last wrote of being better informed of the sentiments of those whom I know you put the greatest value on, I think it my duty to make you acquainted therewith. It is publicly said here, that the people of your country informed you that they had frequently elected you in times of less difficulty and danger than the present to please you; but that now they had called you forth into public office to serve themselves. This is a language which has been often used in my presence ; and you will readily conceive that, as it furnishes those who argue on the fundamental maxims of a Republican government with ample field for declamation, the conclusion has always been, that you should not decline the service of your country. The present is generally conceived to be an important era, which, of course, makes your attendance particularly necessary. And as I have taken the liberty to give you the public opinion and desire upon this occasion, and as I am warmly interested in whatever concerns the public interest or has relation to you, it will be necessary to add, it is earnestly the desire of, dear Sir,