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October 1 1812: Jefferson on Hull and Madison


On October 1, 1812, Thomas Jefferson, in Monticello, writes to Colonel William Duane and to Thomas C. Flourney. Jefferson's first letter has a long passage about how he is growing old and his faculties are impaired. Jefferson writes:
The hand of age is upon me. The decay of bodily faculties apprises me that those of the mind cannot be unimpaired, had I not still better proofs. Every year counts by increased debility, and departing faculties keep the score.  The last year it was the sight, this it is the hearing, the next something else will be going, until all is gone.  Of all this I was sensible before I left Washington, and probably my fellow laborers saw it before I did.  The decay of memory was obvious;  it is now become distressing.  But the mind too, is weakened.  
Having gotten that out of the way, he next undertakes an analysis of the present situation beginning with the capture of Detroit:
The detestable treason of Hull has, indeed, excited a deep anxiety in all breasts. The depression was in the first moment gloomy and portentous.  But it has been succeeded by a revived animation, and a determination to meet the occurrence with increased efforts;  and I have so much confidence in the vigorous minds and bodies of our countrymen, as to be fearless as to the final issue.  The treachery of Hull, like that of Arnold, cannot be matter of blame on our government...
Jefferson's letter to Thomas C. Flourney appears to be calculated to show his support for President James Madison as he is stands for election. Jefferson writes:
 You probably do not know Mr. Madison personally, or at least intimately, as I do.  I have known him from 1779, when he first came into the public councils, and from three and thirty years, trial, I can say conscientiously that I do not know in the world a man of purer integrity, more dispassionate, disinterested and devoted to genuine republicanism;  nor could I, in the whole scope of America and Europe, point out an abler head.  He may be illy seconded by others, betrayed by the Hulls and Arnolds of our country, for such there are in every country, and with sorrow and suffering we know it.  But what man can do will be done by Mr. Madison.  I hope, therefore, there will be no difference among republicans as to his re-election, and we shall know his value when we have to give him up, and to look at large for his successor.   
Jefferson's letters are reproduced below.   

To Colonel William Duane.
Monticello, October 1, 1812.

Dear Sir
Your favor of September the 20th has been duly received, and I cannot but be gratified by the assurance it expresses, that my aid in the councils of our government would increase the public confidence in them;  because it admits an inference that they have approved of the course pursued, when I heretofore bore a part in those councils.  I profess, too, so much of the Roman principle, as to deem it honorable for the general of yesterday to act as a corporal to-day, if his services can be useful to his country;  holding that to be false pride, which postpones the public good to any private or personal considerations.  But I am past service.  The hand of age is upon me.  The decay of bodily faculties apprises me that those of the mind cannot be unimpaired, had I not still better proofs.  Every year counts by increased debility, and departing faculties keep the score.  The last year it was the sight, this it is the hearing, the next something else will be going, until all is gone.  Of all this I was sensible before I left Washington, and probably my fellow laborers saw it before I did.  The decay of memory was obvious;  it is now become distressing.  But the mind too, is weakened.  When I was young, mathematics was the passion of my life.  The same passion has returned upon me, but with unequal powers.  Processes which I then read off with the facility of common discourse, now cost me labor, and time, and slow investigation.  When I offered this, therefore, as one of the reasons deciding my retirement from office, it was offered in sincerity and a consciousness of its truth.  And I think it a great blessing that I retain understanding enough to be sensible how much of it I have lost, and to avoid exposing myself as a spectacle for the pity of my friends;  that I have surmounted the difficult point of knowing when to retire.  As a compensation for faculties departed, nature gives me good health, and a perfect resignation to the laws of decay which she has prescribed to all the forms and combinations of matter. 

The detestable treason of Hull has, indeed, excited a deep anxiety in all breasts.  The depression was in the first moment gloomy and portentous.  But it has been succeeded by a revived animation, and a determination to meet the occurrence with increased efforts;  and I have so much confidence in the vigorous minds and bodies of our countrymen, as to be fearless as to the final issue.  The treachery of Hull, like that of Arnold, cannot be matter of blame on our government.  His character, as an officer of skill and bravery, was established on the trials of the last war, and no previous act of his life had led to doubt his fidelity.  Whether the Head of the war department is equal to his charge, I am not qualified to decide.  I knew him only as a pleasant, gentlemanly man in society;  and the indecision of his character rather added to the amenity of his conversation.  But when translated from the colloquial circle to the great stage of national concerns, and the direction of the extensive operations of war, whether he has been able to seize at one glance the long line of defenceless border presented by our enemy, the masses of strength which we hold on different points of it, the facility this gave us of attacking him, on the same day, on all his points, from the extremity of the lakes to the neighborhood of Quebec, and the perfect indifference with which this last place, impregnable as it is, might be left in the hands of the enemy to fall of itself ;  whether, I say, he could see and prepare vigorously for all this, or merely wrapped himself in the cloak of cold defence, I am uninformed.  I clearly think with you on the competence of Monroe to embrace great views of action.  The decision of his character, his enterprise, firmness, industry, and unceasing vigilance, would, I believe, secure, as I am sure they would merit, the public confidence, and give us all the success which our means can accomplish.  If our operations have suffered or languished from any want of energy in the present head which directs them, I have so much confidence in the wisdom and conscientious integrity of Mr. Madison, as to be satisfied, that however torturing to his feelings, he will fulfil his duty to the public and to his own reputation, by making the necessary change.  Perhaps he may be preparing it while we are talking about it; for of all these things I am uninformed.  I fear that Hull’s surrender has been more than the mere loss of a year to us. Besides bringing on us the whole mass of savage nations, whom fear and not affection has kept in quiet, there is danger that in giving time to an enemy who can send reinforcements of regulars faster than we can raise them, they may strengthen Canada and Halifax beyond the assailment of our lax and divided powers. Perhaps, however, the patriotic efforts from Kentucky and Ohio, by recalling the British force to its upper posts, may yet give time to Dearborn to strike a blow below.  Effectual possession of the river from Montreal to the Chaudiere, which is practicable, would give us the upper country at our leisure, and close forever the scenes of the tomahawk and scalping knife.

But these things are for others to plan and achieve.  The only succor from the old must lie in their prayers.  These I offer up with sincere devotion; and in my concern for the great public, I do not overlook my friends, but supplicate for them, as I do for yourself, a long course of freedom, happiness and prosperity.


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To Thomas C. Flourney.
Monticello, October 1, 1812.

SIR
Your letter of August 29th is just now received, having lingered long on the road.  I owe you much thankfulness for the favorable opinion you entertain of my services, and the assurance expressed that they would again be acceptable in the executive chair.  But, Sir, I was sincere in stating age as one of the reasons of my retirement from office, beginning then to be conscious of its effects, and now much more sensible of them.  Servile inertness is not what is to save our country;  the conduct of a war requires the vigor and enterprise of younger heads.  All such undertakings, therefore, are out of the question with me, and I say so with the greater satisfaction, when I contemplate the person to whom the executive powers were handed over.  You probably do not know Mr. Madison personally, or at least intimately, as I do.  I have known him from 1779, when he first came into the public councils, and from three and thirty years, trial, I can say conscientiously that I do not know in the world a man of purer integrity, more dispassionate, disinterested and devoted to genuine republicanism;  nor could I, in the whole scope of America and Europe, point out an abler head.  He may be illy seconded by others, betrayed by the Hulls and Arnolds of our country, for such there are in every country, and with sorrow and suffering we know it.  But what man can do will be done by Mr. Madison.  I hope, therefore, there will be no difference among republicans as to his re-election, and we shall know his value when we have to give him up, and to look at large for his successor.  With respect to the unfortunate loss of Detroit and our army, I with pleasure see the animation it has inspired through our whole country, but especially through the Western States, and the determination to retrieve our loss and our honor by increased exertions.  I am not without hope that the western efforts under General Harrison, may oblige the enemy to remain at their upper posts, and give Dearborn a fair opportunity to strike a blow below.  A possession of the river from Montreal to the Chaudiere, gives us the upper country of course, and closes forever the scenes of the tomahawk and scalping knife.  Quebec is impregnable, but it is also worthless, and may be safely left in their hands to fall of itself.  The vigorous minds and bodies of our countrymen leave me no fear as to ultimate results.  In this confidence I resign myself to the care of those whom in their younger days I assisted in taking care of, and salute you with assurances of esteem and respect.









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