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June 6 1812: Jefferson writes to Madison


On June 6 1812, Thomas Jefferson writes to President James Madison and provides typically encyclopedic advice on a number of issues. First, he forwards a letter on some military stores that he thinks should be sent to the Secretary of War. He adds some information on Virginia's militia while trying to assuage any punctilious legal concerns on whether a state militia can fight on foreign soil. He writes: "The only inquiry they make is whether they are to go to Canada or Florida? Not a man, as far as I have learned, entertains any of those doubts which puzzle the lawyers of Congress and astonish common sense, whether it is lawful for them to pursue a retreating enemy across the boundary line of the Union?" For good measure, he passes on some information on how to make better bullets that he has received from a Dr. Bruff.  Jefferson's letter is reproduced below.

To the President of the United States (James Madison).
Monticello, June 6, 1812.

Dear Sir,—I have taken the liberty of drawing the attention of the Secretary of War to a small depot of military stores at New London, and leave the letter open for your perusal.  Be so good as to seal it before delivery.  I really thought that General Dearborn had removed them to Lynchburg, undoubtedly a safer and more convenient deposit.

Our country is the only one I have heard of which has required a draught;  this proceeded from a mistake of the colonel, who thought he could not receive individual offers, but that the whole quota, 241, must present themselves at once.  Every one, however, manifests the utmost alacrity;  of the 241 there having been but ten absentees at the first muster called.  A further proof is that Captain Carr’s company of volunteer cavalry being specifically called for by the Governor, though consisting of but 28 when called on, has got up to 50 by new engagements since their call was known.  The only inquiry they make is whether they are to go to Canada or Florida?  Not a man, as far as I have learned, entertains any of those doubts which puzzle the lawyers of Congress and astonish common sense, whether it is lawful for them to pursue a retreating enemy across the boundary line of the Union ?

I hope Barlow’s correspondence has satisfied all our Quixotes who thought we should undertake nothing less than to fight all Europe at once.  I enclose you a letter from Dr. Bruff, a mighty good and very ingenious man.  His method of manufacturing bullets and shot, has the merit of increasing their specific gravity greatly, (being made by composition,) and rendering them as much heavier and better than the common leaden bullet, as that is than an iron one.  It is a pity he should not have the benefit of furnishing the public when it would be equally to their benefit also.  God bless you.

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