March 21, 1812: Jefferson Plants Almonds and Writes

Sweet Almond Tree
On March 21, 1812, Thomas Jefferson, before or after he had planted twenty-four sweet almond kernels that he had received from his friend George Divers, sat down to write a letter to Charles Christian.  

Jefferson is writing to Charles Christian to explain why he cannot send support to the family of the late Mr. Cheetham of New York. I cannot be certain, but the letter may refer to James Cheetham, the editor of the American Citizen who had died in 1810.  James Cheetham, born in Manchester, had an eventful career as editor, polemicist and writer. Cheetham was a strong supporter of the Republican party. He became a fierce critic of  Aaron Burr publishing highly inflammatory sexual slurs against Burr accusing him of being a libertine, engaging prostitutes and participating in orgies. Later, Cheetham became disillusioned with the Republicans. At the end of his life, he published a Life of Thomas Paine that was highly critical of the philosopher and represented a renunciation of much of what he had previously believed.  Cheetham died on October 1, 1810,  after contracting malaria, leaving little for his family partly  as a result of having been involved in nearly thirty libel cases as editor of the American Citizen [1]. In the circumstances, one can see why Thomas Jefferson would not want his name associated with that of James Cheetham.   The letter of March 21, 1812 is reproduced below:

To Charles Christian.

Monticello, March 21, 1812.


I have duly received your favor of the 10th instant, proposing to me to join in a contribution for the support of the family of the late Mr. Cheetham of New York.  Private charities, as well as contributions to public purposes in proportion to every one’s circumstances, are certainly among the duties we owe to society, and I have never felt a wish to withdraw from my portion of them.  The general relation in which I, some time since, stood to the citizens of all our States, drew on me such multitudes of these applications as exceeded all resource.  Nor have they much abated since my retirement to the limited duties of a private citizen, and the more limited resources of a private fortune.  They have obliged me to lay down as a law of conduct for myself, to restrain my contributions for public institutions to the circle of my own State, and for private charities to that which is under my own observation ;  and these calls I find more than sufficient for everything I can spare.  Nor was there anything in the case of the late Mr. Cheetham, which could claim with me to be taken out of a general rule.  On these considerations I must decline the contribution you propose, not doubting that the efforts of the family, aided by those who stand in the relation to them of neighbors and friends, in so great a mart for industry, as they are placed in, will save them from all danger of want or suffering.  With this apology for returning the paper sent me, unsubscribed, be pleased to accept the tender of my respect.
1. Steven C. Smith, Journalism, Community, and Identiy in New York City, 1800-1810 (Masters Thesis, Graduate School University of Missouri-Columbia) , pages 77-138, in particular 133 and 134
 found here

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