Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Roger Weightman

Unlike more recent WH events, JFK and JKO regularly brought extraordinary artistic talent to perform at our White House. JFK uttered his famous Jeffersonian quote on the occasion of one of those functions, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

In keeping with my periodic postings of historic documents, this letter written by Thomas Jefferson, 83, to the Mayor of Washington just 10-days before Mr. Jefferson passed away is “considered one of the sublime expressions of individual and national liberty.”

Thomas Jefferson to Roger Weightman, declining to attend the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in the District of Columbia. This was the last letter written by Jefferson, who died 10 days later, on July 4, 1826.

Monticello, June 24, 1826

Respected Sir -

The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them at their celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence, as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey.

 It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted to control. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

I will ask permission here to express the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of the city of Washington and its vicinities, with whom I passed so many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. With my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance, be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write, the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.

Remarkable (Mr. Jefferson passed away on July 4th)


Unknown said...

As a society we have certainly lost the art of WORDSMITHING.
I wonder how you would say that by 'texting' ? Enjoyed it, thanks

Gus said...

Fine wordsmithing is indeed an art and a joy to read when you find it.

Try as I may to raise my Flesch-Kincaid level over the course of years of business writing, the best I could muster on a good day was 14, most days it was 10-12.

Thinking the deck stacked against my particular writing style, I once keyed in a routine letter written by George Washington to General Clinton on the subject of preparing for Sullivan’s 1779 Expedition into western New York. General Washington earned an 18!

Mr. Jefferson earned but a 12 with this letter. On the other hand he was 83 and ill when he wrote it.