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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

41. Foreign Relations

The United States was a new nation, founded on different principles than all other nations then existing. Because its objectives were peace and prosperity, not conquest and domination, it should therefore avoid involvement with other nations that could only deter it from those peaceful pursuits.

"I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of Kings to war against the principles of liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:77

"I have ever deemed it fundamental for the United States never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe. Their political interests are entirely distinct from ours. Their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war. All their energies are expended in the destruction of the labor, property and lives of their people." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823. ME: 15:436

"I sincerely join... in abjuring all political connection with every foreign power; and though I cordially wish well to the progress of liberty in all nations, and would forever give it the weight of our countenance, yet they are not to be touched without contamination from their other bad principles. Commerce with all nations, alliance with none, should be our motto." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Lomax, 1799. ME 10:124

"We have a perfect horror at everything like connecting ourselves with the politics of Europe." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1801. ME 10:285

"Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Inaugural Address, 1801. ME 3:321

"We wish the happiness and prosperity of every nation." --Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Stael-Holstein, 1815. ME 14:333

41.1 Peace and Justice for All Nations

"We wish to cultivate peace and friendship with all nations, believing that course most conducive to the welfare of our own. It is natural that these friendships should bear some proportion to the common interests of the parties." --Thomas Jefferson to Rufus King, 1802. ME 10:329

"It is our duty and our interest to cultivate with all nations... a spirit of justice and friendly accommodation." --Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Annual Message, 1802. ME 3:341

"What is the price we ask for our friendship? Justice, and the comity usually observed between nation and nation." --Thomas Jefferson to James Maury, 1815. ME 14:313

"It is in the power of neighbor nations to contribute to mutual happiness and prosperity by faithfully using their good offices wherever they can procure the peace and advantage of each other." --Thomas Jefferson to de Viar and de Jaudenes, 1792. ME 8:339

"I have ever cherished the same spirit with all nations, from a consciousness that peace, prosperity, liberty and morals have an intimate connection." --Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1813. ME 13:384

"We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with the general affairs of Europe. Peace with all nations, and the right which that gives us with respect to all nations, are our object." --Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1793. ME 9:56

"I wish that all nations may recover and retain their independence; that those which are overgrown may not advance beyond safe measures of power; that a salutary balance may be ever maintained among nations; and that our peace, commerce and friendship may be sought and cultivated by all." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Leiper, 1815. ME 14:308

41.2 Keeping Informed

"I know, too, that it is a maxim with us, and I think it a wise one, not to entangle ourselves with the affairs of Europe. Still, I think we should know them." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:396

"While there are powers in Europe which fear our views, or have views on us, we should keep an eye on them, their connections and oppositions, that in a moment of need, we may avail ourselves of their weakness with respect to others as well as ourselves, and calculate their designs and movements, on all the circumstances under which they exist." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:396

"Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better, the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization and a very inexpensive one; a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants." --Thomas Jefferson to Gideon Granger, 1800. ME 10:168

41.3 Few if Any Treaties

"I see... not much harm in annihilating the whole treaty-making power except as to making peace" --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1796. ME 9:330

"On the subject of treaties, our system is to have none with any nation, as far as can be avoided... We believe that with nations as with individuals, dealings may be carried on as advantageously, perhaps more so, while their continuance depends on a voluntary good treatment as if fixed by contract which, when it becomes injurious to either, is made by forced constructions to mean what suits them and becomes a cause of war instead of a bond of peace... It is against our system to embarrass ourselves with treaties, or to entangle ourselves at all with the affairs of Europe." --Thomas Jefferson to Philip Mazzei, 1804. ME 11:38

"In national as in individual dealings, more liberality will, perhaps, be found in voluntary regulations than in those which are measured out by the strict letter of a treaty, which, whenever it becomes onerous, is made by forced construction to mean anything or nothing, engenders disputes and brings on war." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander, Emperor of Russia, 1804. ME 19:143

"An injured friend is the bitterest of foes." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on French Treaties, 1793. ME 3:235

"We had better have no treaty than a bad one. It will not restore friendship, but keep us in a state of constant irritation." --Thomas Jefferson: The Anas, 1807. ME 1:467

"Observations on the expediency of making short treaties are most sound. Our situation is too changing and too improving to render an unchangeable treaty expedient for us." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Rutledge, 1790. ME 8:60

"We wish to let every treaty we have drop off without renewal... The interest which European nations feel as well as ourselves in the mutual patronage of commercial intercourse is a sufficient stimulus on both sides to ensure that patronage. A treaty contrary to that interest renders war necessary to get rid of it." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1801. ME 10:287

41.4 A Separate System from the European

"Nothing is so important as that America shall separate herself from the systems of Europe, and establish one of her own. Our circumstances, our pursuits, our interests, are distinct. The principles of our policy should be so also. All entanglements with that quarter of the globe should be avoided if we mean that peace and justice shall be the polar stars of the American societies." --Thomas Jefferson to J. Correa de Serra, 1820. ME 15:285

"It ought to be the very first object of our pursuits to have nothing to do with the European interests and politics. Let them be free or slaves at will, navigators or agriculturists, swallowed into one government or divided into a thousand, we have nothing to fear from them in any form." --Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1801.

"Our nation has wisely avoided entangling itself in the system of European interests, has taken no side between its rival powers, attached itself to none of its ever-changing confederacies." --Thomas Jefferson to Baltimore Baptists, 1808. ME 16:318

"To take part in [the European] conflicts would be to divert our energies from creation to destruction. Our commerce is so valuable to them that they will be glad to purchase it when the only price we ask is to do us justice. I believe we have in our hands the means of peaceable coercion, and that the moment they see our government so united as that they can make use of it, they will for their own interest be disposed to do us justice. In this way [we] shall not be obliged by any treaty of confederation to go to war for injuries done to others." --Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1801.

"The successful example of recalling nations to the practice of justice by peaceable appeals to their interests, will doubtless have salutary effects on our future course." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Tammany Society of Baltimore, 1809. ME 16:366

"Separated by a wide ocean from the nations of Europe and from the political interests which entangle them together, with productions and wants which render our commerce and friendship useful to them and theirs to us, it cannot be the interest of any to assail us, nor ours to disturb them. We should be most unwise, indeed, were we to cast away the singular blessings of the position in which nature has placed us, the opportunity she has endowed us with of pursuing at a distance from foreign contentions the paths of industry, peace and happiness; of cultivating general friendship and of bringing collisions of interest to the umpirage of reason rather than of force." --Thomas Jefferson: 3rd Annual Message, 1803. ME 3:359

"Our distance enables us to pursue a course which the crowded situation of Europe renders perhaps impracticable there." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, 1803. ME 10:405

"Distant as we are from the powers of Europe, and devoted to pursuits which separate us from their affairs, we still look with brotherly concern on whatever affects those nations, and offer constant prayers for their welfare." --Thomas Jefferson to the King of Holland, 1807. ME 11:161

41.5 Avoiding European Wars

"The fundamental principle of our government [is] never to entangle us with the broils of Europe." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:481

"Our first and fundamental maxim should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe. Our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with cis-Atlantic affairs. America, North and South, has a set of interests distinct from those of Europe and peculiarly her own. She should therefore have a system of her own, separate and apart from that of Europe. While the last is laboring to become the domicile of despotism, our endeavor should surely be to make our hemisphere that of freedom." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823. ME 15:477

"Exhortations to avoid taking part in the war... raging in Europe... were a confirmation of the policy I had myself pursued, and which I thought and still think should be the governing canon of our republic." --Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Stael-Holstein, 1815. ME 14:331

"I hope we may still keep clear of [the broils of Europe],... and that time may be given us to... find some means of shielding ourselves in future from foreign influence, political, commercial, or in whatever other form it may be attempted. I can scarcely withhold myself from joining in the wish of Silas Deane that there were an ocean of fire between us and the old world." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1797. ME 9:385

41.6 A Separate Hemisphere

"I hope [all will see and] promote... the advantages of a cordial fraternization among all the American nations, and the advantage of their coalescing in an American system of policy, totally independent of and unconnected with that of Europe. The day is not distant when we may formally require a meridian of partition through the ocean which separates the two hemispheres, on the hither side of which no European gun shall ever be heard, nor an American on the other; and when, during the rage of the eternal wars of Europe, the lion and the lamb within our regions shall lie down together in peace... The principles of society there and here... are radically different, and I hope no American patriot will ever lose sight of the essential policy of interdicting in the seas and territories of both Americas the ferocious and sanguinary contests of Europe." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1820. ME 15:262

"[Our] object [in this hemisphere] is to introduce and establish the American system, of keeping out of our land all foreign powers, of never permitting those of Europe to intermeddle with the affairs of our nations." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823. ME 15:478

"We begin to broach the idea that we consider the whole Gulf Stream as of our waters, in which hostilities and cruising are to be frowned on for the present, and prohibited so soon as either consent or force will permit us. We shall never permit another privateer to cruise within it, and shall forbid our harbors to national cruisers. This is essential for our tranquillity and commerce." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1806. ME 11:111

"When our strength will permit us to give the law of our hemisphere, it should be that the meridian of the mid-Atlantic should be the line of demarkation between war and peace, on this side of which no act of hostility should be committed, and the lion and the lamb lie down in peace together." --Thomas Jefferson to John Crawford, 1812. ME 13:119

"We aim not at the acquisition of any of [Europe's American] possessions,... we will not stand in the way of any amicable arrangement between them and the Mother country; but... we will oppose, with all our means, the forcible interposition of any other power, as auxiliary, stipendiary, or under any other form or pretext, and most especially, their transfer to any power by conquest, cession, or acquisition in any other way." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823. ME 15:479

"Distance and difference of pursuits, of interests, of connections and other circumstances prescribe to us a different system having no object in common with Europe but a peaceful interchange of mutual comforts for mutual wants." --Thomas Jefferson to Mme de Stael-Holstein, 1815. ME 14:331

"The European nations constitute a separate division of the globe; their localities make them part of a distinct system; they have a set of interests of their own in which it is our business never to engage ourselves. America has a hemisphere to itself. It must have its separate system of interest, which must not be subordinated to those of Europe. The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent should so far avail it that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them." --Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, 1813. ME 14:22

"I hope no American patriot will ever lose sight of the essential policy of interdicting in the seas and territories of both Americas the ferocious and sanguinary contests of Europe." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1820.

41.7 The American Union Above Foreign Ties

"Do what is right, leaving the people of Europe to act their follies and crimes among themselves, while we pursue in good faith the paths of peace and prosperity." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823.

"The politics of Europe render it indispensably necessary that, with respect to everything external, we be one nation only, firmly hooped together." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1786. ME 5:278

"The first object of my heart is my country. In that is embarked my family, my fortune and my own existence. I have not one farthing of interest nor one fibre of attachment out of it, nor a single motive of preference of any one nation to another but in proportion as they are more or less friendly to us." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1799. ME 10:78

"I have been happy... in believing that... whatever follies we may be led into as to foreign nations, we shall never give up our Union, the last anchor of our hope, and that alone which is to prevent this heavenly country from becoming an arena of gladiators." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1797. ME 9:384

"Our attachment to no nation on earth should supplant our attachment to liberty." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration on Taking Up Arms, 1775. Papers 1:201

"Much as I abhor war, and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind, and anxiously as I wish to keep out of the broils of Europe, I would yet go with my brethren into these, rather than separate from them." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1797. ME 9:385

ME, FE = Memorial Edition, Ford Edition.   See Sources.

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