To Peregrine Fitzhugh from Thomas Jefferson
4 June 1797
This letter is written from Jefferson to Fitzhugh in response to Fitzhugh’s letter of 19 May 1797 (see Fitzhugh to Jefferson Letter 4 for more details). You will notice that Jefferson’s style in this letter is very flowery language and circumspect as was the style in those days…
Historical Background for this letter
Col. Fitzhugh still lives in Ann Arundel, Maryland, and resided there until he moved to Geneva, N.Y., in 1799. Jefferson first thanks Fitzhugh for the corn seed he has sent him. He then goes on to discuss the merits of several newspapers that Fitzhugh may consider for getting the best coverage of what is going on in the political happenings in Congress.
The next part of the letter is all politics. You will recall that in 1797, war is raging between England and France for dominance of Europe. Fitzhugh and Jefferson, like many farmers in the United States at that time, wants to stay neutral in the conflict so that it does not affect their commerce based on trading with both sides. Both men are very concerned that many in Congress are taking a decidedly anti-France attitude. Jefferson’s friend (James Madison who will ultimately be the 4th President of the United States, 1809-1817) is opposing a part of the draft constitution hammered out at the Constitutional Convention (1787-1789). James Madison is rumored to oppose the House of Representatives being left out of the Treaty making process which is the domain of the President with Senate approval. Ultimately this resistance by James Madison will prove to be futile. Jefferson is also concerned that John Adams (recently elected 2nd president of the United States) is being advised to perhaps enter into a war with France. Jefferson indicates that the fact that the new federal government has difficulty in collecting taxes from the states in a timely fashion is helping them because it would be very difficult to finance a war. He then discusses the idea of property taxes as a better way forward for states to collect and pass on this tax revenue to the federal government.
The next part of the letter is talking about Logan and Cresop. This discussion requires some historical background that many people today do not have. A good discussion of the historical events behind this discussion can be found on wikipedia:
In the last part of this letter, Jefferson addresses his concerns with the federal court of Virginia and the stifling of freedom of speech. Fitzhugh has shared one of his letters from Jefferson with an acquaintance and this person ( a hostile) is using it as a public weapon against some of Jefferson’s view. Jefferson chides Fitzhugh to keep his correspondence (and therefore his views) private.
At the end of the letter in the Jefferson letter in the Jefferson archives, are more details about this letter. You can click on the letter below to read the letter: