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Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government

44. Peace & War

Unlike those nations whose rulers use their country's resources to seek conquests, to carry on warring contests with one another, and consequently plunge their people into debt and devastation, free societies are organized for the happiness and prosperity of their people, and this is best pursued in a state of peace.

"By nature's law, man is at peace with man till some aggression is committed, which, by the same law, authorizes one to destroy another as his enemy." --Thomas Jefferson to Edmond C. Genet, 1793. ME 9:136

"Peace... has been our principle, peace is our interest, and peace has saved to the world this only plant of free and rational government now existing in it... However, therefore, we may have been reproached for pursuing our Quaker system, time will affix the stamp of wisdom on it, and the happiness and prosperity of our citizens will attest its merit. And this, I believe, is the only legitimate object of government and the first duty of governors, and not the slaughter of men and devastation of the countries placed under their care in pursuit of a fantastic honor unallied to virtue or happiness; or in gratification of the angry passions or the pride of administrators excited by personal incidents in which their citizens have no concern." --Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1811. ME 13:41

"The state of peace is that which most improves the manners and morals, the prosperity and happiness of mankind." --Thomas Jefferson to Noah Worcester, 1817. ME 18:299

44.1 Peace as National Policy

"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

"Peace and abstinence from European interferences are our objects, and so will continue while the present order of things in America remain uninterrupted." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1802. ME 10:318

"[Montesquieu wrote in his Spirit of Laws, IX,c.2:] 'The spirit of monarchy is war and enlargement of domain: peace and moderation are the spirit of a republic." --Thomas Jefferson: copied into his Commonplace Book.

"Believing that the happiness of mankind is best promoted by the useful pursuits of peace, that on these alone a stable prosperity can be founded, that the evils of war are great in their endurance, and have a long reckoning for ages to come, I have used my best endeavors to keep our country uncommitted in the troubles which afflict Europe, and which assail us on every side." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Pittsburgh Republicans, 1808. ME 16:324

"Determined as we are to avoid, if possible, wasting the energies of our people in war and destruction, we shall avoid implicating ourselves with the powers of Europe, even in support of principles which we mean to pursue. They have so many other interests different from ours, that we must avoid being entangled in them. We believe we can enforce these principles as to ourselves by peaceable means, now that we are likely to have our public councils detached from foreign views." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Paine, 1801. ME 10:223

"Nothing but the failure of every peaceable mode of redress, nothing but dire necessity, should force us from the path of peace which would be our wisest pursuit, to embark in the broils and contentions of Europe and become a satellite to any power there." --Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, 1803. ME 19:132

"War has been avoided from a due sense of the miseries, and the demoralization it produces, and of the superior blessings of a state of peace and friendship with all mankind." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Queen Anne's Country Republicans, 1809. ME 16:363

"A sincere affection between... two peoples is the broadest basis on which their peace can be built." --Thomas Jefferson to Comte de Vergennes, 1785. Papers 8:656

44.2 Peace and Domestic Tranquility

"Peace and the prosperity so visibly flowing from it have but strengthened our attachment to it and the blessings it brings, and we do not despair of being always a peaceable nation." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, 1803.

"Our desire [is] to pursue ourselves the path of peace as the only one leading surely to prosperity, and our wish [is] to preserve the morals of our citizens from being vitiated by courses of lawless plunder and murder." --Thomas Jefferson to George Hammond, 1793. ME 9:91

"Peace is our most important interest, and a recovery from debt." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1801. ME 10:287

"Wars and contentions indeed fill the pages of history with more matter. But more blest is that nation whose silent course of happiness furnishes nothing for history to say. This is what I ambition for my own country." --Thomas Jefferson to Comte Diodati, 1807. ME 11:181

"We love and we value peace; we know its blessings from experience. We abhor the follies of war, and are not untried in its distresses and calamities. Unmeddling with the affairs of other nations, we had hoped that our distance and our dispositions would have left us free, in the example and indulgence of peace with all the world." --Thomas Jefferson to Carmichael and Short, 1793. ME 9:159

"How much better is it for neighbors to help than to hurt one another; how much happier must it make them. If [nations] will cease to make war on one another, if [they] will live in friendship with all mankind, [they] can employ all [their] time in providing food and clothing for [themselves] and [their people]. [Their] men will not be destroyed in war, [their] women and children will lie down to sleep in their [homes] without fear of being surprised by their enemies and killed or carried away. [Their] numbers will be increased instead of diminished and [they] will live in plenty and in quiet." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Mandar Nation, 1806. (*) ME 16:414

"The desire to preserve our country from the calamities and ravages of war by cultivating a disposition and pursuing a conduct conciliatory and friendly to all nations has been sincerely entertained and faithfully followed [during my administration of public affairs]. It was dictated by the principles of humanity, the precepts of the gospel and the general wish of our country." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Address, 1807.

"I hope we shall prove how much happier for man the Quaker policy is, and that the life of the feeder is better than that of the fighter." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1822.

"Always a friend to peace, and believing it to promote eminently the happiness and prosperity of nations, I am ever unwilling that it should be disturbed, until greater and more important interests call for an appeal to force. Whenever that shall take place, I feel a perfect confidence that the energy and enterprise displayed by my fellow citizens in the pursuits of peace will be equally eminent in those of war." --Thomas Jefferson to John Shee, 1807. ME 11:140

44.3 Avoiding War

"[Many] years of peace and the prosperity so visibly flowing from it have but strengthened our attachment to it and the blessings it brings, and we do not despair of being always a peaceable nation. We think that peaceable means may be devised of keeping nations in the path of justice towards us by making justice their interest and injuries to react on themselves." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis, Jul 12, 1803. (*) ME 10:405

"I do not believe war the most certain means of enforcing principles. Those peaceable coercions which are in the power of every nation, if undertaken in concert and in time of peace, are more likely to produce the desired effect." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert Livingston, 1801.

"We have obtained by a peaceable appeal to justice, in four months, what we should not have obtained under seven years of war, the loss of one hundred thousand lives, an hundred millions of additional debt, many hundred millions worth of produce and property lost for want of market, or in seeking it, and that demoralization which war superinduces on the human mind." --Thomas Jefferson to Hugh Williamson, 1803. ME 10:386

"War is not the best engine for us to resort to; nature has given us one in our commerce, which, if properly managed will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice... Our object should now be to... endeavor so to form our commercial regulations as that justice from other nations shall be their mechanical result." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 1797. ME 9:389

"To cherish and maintain the rights and liberties of our citizens and to ward from them the burthens, the miseries and the crimes of war, by a just and friendly conduct towards all nations [are] among the most obvious and important duties of those to whom the management of their public interests have been confided." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to John Thomas, et al., 1807. ME 16:290

44.4 Resisting War Fever

"A world in arms and trampling on all those moral principles which have heretofore been deemed sacred in the intercourse between nations, could not suffer us to remain insensible of all agitation. During such a course of lawless violence, it was certainly wise to withdraw ourselves from all intercourse with the belligerent nations, to avoid its pernicious effects on manners and morals and the dangers it threatens to free governments, and to cultivate our own resources until our natural and progressive growth should leave us nothing to fear from foreign enterprise." --Thomas Jefferson to Messrs. Bloodgood and Hammond, 1809. ME 12:317

"The maxim... "slow and sure," is not less a good one in agriculture than in politics. I sincerely wish it may extricate us from the event of a war, if this can be done saving our faith and our rights." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1794. ME 9:287

"My affections were first for my own country, and then, generally, for all mankind; and nothing but minds placing themselves above the passions, in the functionaries of this country, could have preserved us from the war to which... provocations have been constantly urging us." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1811. ME 12:439

"If ever I was gratified with the possession of power, and of the confidence of those who had entrusted me with it, it was on that occasion when I was enabled to use both for the prevention of war, towards which the torrent of passion here was directed almost irresistibly, and when not another person in the United States, less supported by authority and favor, could have resisted it." --Thomas Jefferson to James Maury, 1812. ME 13:148

"We had relied with great security on that provision, which requires two-thirds of the Legislature to declare war. But this is completely eluded by a majority's taking measures as will be sure to produce war." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1798. ME 10:10

44.5 A State of Neutrality

"Reason and usage have established that when two nations go to war, those who choose to live in peace retain their natural right to pursue their agriculture, manufactures, and other ordinary vocations, to carry the produce of their industry for exchange to all nations, belligerent or neutral, as usual, to go and come freely without injury or molestation, and in short, that the war among others shall be, for them, as if it did not exist. One restriction on their natural rights has been submitted to by nations at peace, that is to say, that of not furnishing to either party implements merely of war for the annoyance of the other, nor anything whatever to a place blockaded by its enemy." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 1793. ME 9:221

"War between two nations cannot diminish the rights of the rest of the world remaining at peace. The doctrine that the rights of nations remaining quietly in the exercise of moral and social duties, are to give way to the convenience of those who prefer plundering and murdering one another, is a monstrous doctrine, and ought to yield to the more rational law, that "the wrong which two nations endeavor to inflict on each other must not infringe on the rights or conveniences of those remaining at peace." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 1801.

"We ask for peace and justice from all nations; and we will remain uprightly neutral in fact." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1806. ME 11:111

"A declaration of neutrality... was opposed on these grounds: 1. That a declaration of neutrality was a declaration there should be no war, to which the Executive was not competent. 2. That it would be better to hold back the declaration of neutrality, as a thing worth something to the powers at war, that they would bid for it, and we might reasonably ask a price, the broadest privileges of neutral nations." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1793. ME 9:138

"We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties; that favors to one to the prejudice of the other, would import a fraudulent neutrality, of which no nation would be the dupe; that no succor should be given to either, unless stipulated by treaty, in men, arms, or anything else directly serving for war; that the right of raising troops being one of the rights of sovereignty, and consequently appertaining exclusively to the nation itself, no foreign power or person can levy men within its territory without its consent; and he who does may be rightfully and severely punished; that if the United States have a right to refuse the permission to arm vessels and raise men within their ports and territories, they are bound by the laws of neutrality to exercise that right, and to prohibit such armaments and enlistments." --Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, 1793. ME 9:185

"No nation has strove more than we have done to merit the peace of all by the most rigorous impartiality to all." --Thomas Jefferson to Enoch Edwards, 1793. ME 9:277

"If any nation whatever has a right to shut up to our produce all the ports of the earth except her own and those of her friends, she may shut up these also, and so confine us within our own limits. No nation can subscribe to such pretensions; no nation can agree, at the mere will or interest of another, to have its peaceable industry suspended and its citizens reduced to idleness and want. The loss of our produce destined for foreign markets, or that loss which would result from an arbitrary restraint of our markets, is a tax too serious for us to acquiesce in. It is not enough for a nation to say, we and our friends will buy your produce. We have a right to answer, that it suits us better to sell to their enemies as well as their friends... We have a right to judge for ourselves what market best suits us, and they have none to forbid to us the enjoyment of the necessaries and comforts which we may obtain from any other independent country." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Pinckney, 1793. ME 9:223

"My principle has ever been that war should not suspend either exports or imports." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1813. ME 13:258

"We believe the practice of seizing what is called contraband of war, is an abusive practice, not founded in natural right... And what is contraband, by the law of nature? Either everything which may aid or comfort an enemy, or nothing. Either all commerce which would accommodate him is unlawful, or none is. The difference between articles of one or another description, is a difference in degree only. No line between them can be drawn. Either all intercourse must cease between neutrals and belligerents, or all be permitted. Can the world hesitate to say which shall be the rule? Shall two nations turning tigers, break up in one instant the peaceable relations of the whole world? Reason and nature clearly pronounce that the neutral is to go on in the enjoyment of all its rights, that its commerce remains free, not subject to the jurisdiction of another, nor consequently its vessels to search, or to enquiries whether their contents are the property of an enemy, or are of those which have been called contraband of war." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 1801.

"Undertaking to raise, organize and commission an army... independent of that of the government, the object of which is to go and possess themselves of lands which have never yet been granted by any authority which the government admits to be legal, and with an avowed design to hold them by force against any power, foreign or domestic,... will inevitably commit our whole nation in war with the Indian nations, and perhaps others. It cannot be permitted that all the inhabitants of the United States shall be involved in the calamities of war and the blood of thousands of them be poured out, merely that a few adventurers may possess themselves of lands; nor can a well-ordered government tolerate such an assumption of its sovereignty by unauthorized individuals." --Thomas Jefferson to the Attorney of the District of Kentucky, 1791. ME 8:191

44.6 Peace with Honor

"Peace is undoubtedly... the first object of our nation. Interest and honor are also national considerations." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1797.

"We are for a peaceable accommodation with all... nations if it can be effected honorably." --Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1806. ME 11:95

"We wish to do what is agreeable to [others], if we find we can do it with prudence." --Thomas Jefferson to the Choctaw Nation, 1805. ME 19:146

"I wish for peace if it can be preserved salve fide et honore [saving faith and honor.]" --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1794.

"Peace is our passion, and the wrongs might drive us from it. We prefer trying ever other just principles, right and safety, before we would recur to war." --Thomas Jefferson to John Sinclair, 1803. ME 10:397

"The war [of 1812] has done us... this good... of assuring the world, that although attached to peace from a sense of its blessings, we will meet war when it is made necessary." --Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1817. ME 15:116

"We are alarmed... with the apprehensions of war, and sincerely anxious that it may be avoided; but not at the expense either of our faith or honor. [If] the latter has been too much wounded,... [the general opinion is] to require reparation, and to seek it even in war if that be necessary. As to myself, I love peace, and I am anxious that we should give the world still another useful lesson by showing to them other modes of punishing injuries than by war, which is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer. I love, therefore, [the] proposition of cutting off all communication with the nation which has conducted itself so atrociously. This, [some] will say, may bring on war. If it does, we will meet it like men; but it may not bring on war, and then the experiment will have been a happy one." --Thomas Jefferson to Tench Coxe, May 1, 1794. (*) ME 9:285

"To demand satisfaction beyond what is adequate is wrong." --Thomas Jefferson: Opinion on Captured English Vessel, 1793.

44.7 Preventing Acts of War

"We have already given... one effectual check to the dog of war, by transferring the power of letting him loose from the Executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:461

"All observations are unnecessary on the value of peace with other nations. It would be wise however, by timely provisions, to guard against those acts of our own citizens which might tend to disturb it and to put ourselves in a condition to give satisfaction to foreign nations which we may sometimes have occasion to require from them. I particularly recommend... the means of preventing those aggressions by our citizens on the territory of other nations and other infractions of the law of nations which, furnishing just subject of complaint, might endanger our peace with them." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft for President Washington's Message, 1792.

"In the course of [a] conflict [elsewhere], let it be our endeavor, as it is our interest and desire, to cultivate the friendship of the belligerent nations by every act of justice and of incessant kindness; to receive their armed vessels with hospitality from the distresses of the sea, but to administer the means of annoyance to none; to establish in our harbors such a police as may maintain law and order; to restrain our citizens from embarking individually in a war in which their country takes no part; to punish severely those persons, citizen or alien, who shall usurp the cover of our flag for vessels not entitled to it, infecting thereby with suspicion those of real Americans and committing us into controversies for the redress of wrongs not our own; to exact from every nation the observance toward our vessels and citizens of those principles and practices which all civilized people acknowledge; to merit the character of a just nation and maintain that of an independent one, preferring every consequence to insult and habitual wrong." --Thomas Jefferson: 3rd Annual Message, 1803. ME 3:358

"No citizen should be free to commit his country to war." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1793.

"That individuals should undertake to wage private war, independently of the authority of their country, cannot be permitted in a well-ordered society. Its tendency to produce aggression on the laws and rights of other nations, and to endanger the peace of our own is so obvious, that I doubt not [Congress] will adopt measures for restraining it effectually in future." --Thomas Jefferson: 4th Annual Message, 1804. ME 3:367

"The criminal attempts of private individuals to decide for their country the question of peace or war, by commencing active and unauthorized hostilities, should be promptly and efficaciously suppressed." --Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. ME 3:416

44.8 Policies that Assure Peace

"Whatever enables us to go to war secures our peace." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1790.

"Although our prospect is peace, our policy and purpose are to provide for defense by all those means to which our resources are competent." --Thomas Jefferson to James Bowdoin, 1806. ME 11:121

"The power of making war often prevents it, and in our case would give efficacy to our desire of peace." --Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, 1788. ME 7:224

"If we wish our commerce to be free and uninsulted, we must let [other] nations see that we have an energy which at present they disbelieve. The low opinion they entertain of our powers cannot fail to involve us soon in a naval war." --Thomas Jefferson to John Page, 1785. Papers 8:419

"[Even though there may be] a justifiable cause of war... I should hope that war would not be [our] choice. I think it will furnish us a happy opportunity of setting another example to the world by showing that nations may be brought to justice by appeals to their interests as well as by appeals to arms. I should hope that Congress, instead of a denunciation of war, would instantly exclude from our ports all the manufacture, produce, vessels and subjects of the nations committing aggression during the continuance of the aggression and till full satisfaction made for it. This would work well in many ways, safely in all, and introduce between nations another umpire than arms. It would relieve us too from the risks and the horrors of cutting throats." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Mar 24, 1793. (*)

44.9 The Uses of Embargo

"[When] the alternative [is] between [embargo] and war... [embargo may be] the last card we have to play short of war." --Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 1808. (*)

"[There is] still one other ground to which we can retire before we resort to war; [we can say] to the belligerents, rather than go to war, we will retire from the brokerage of other nations, and confine ourselves to the carriage and exchange of our own productions; but we will vindicate that in all its rights--if you touch it, it is war." --Thomas Jefferson to William A. Burwell, 1810. ME 12:364

"We live in an age of affliction, to which the history of nations presents no parallel. We have for years been looking on Europe covered with blood and violence, and seen rapine spreading itself over the ocean. On this element it has reached us, and at length in so serious a degree, that the Legislature of the nation has thought it necessary to withdraw our citizens and property from it, either to avoid or to prepare for engaging in the general contest." --Thomas Jefferson to Capt. M'Gregor, 1808. ME 12:151

"The measures respecting our intercourse with foreign nations were the result... of a choice between two evils, either to call and keep at home our seamen and property, or suffer them to be taken under the edicts of the belligerent powers. How a difference of opinion could arise between these alternatives is still difficult to explain on any acknowledged ground." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Alleghany County Citizens, 1809. ME 16:357

"To have submitted our rightful commerce to prohibitions and tributary exactions from others, would have been to surrender our independence. To resist them by arms was war, without consulting the state of things or the choice of the nation. The alternative preferred by the legislature of suspending a commerce placed under such unexampled difficulties, besides saving to our citizens their property, and our mariners to their country, has the peculiar advantage of giving time to the belligerent nations to revise a conduct as contrary to their interests as it is to our rights." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Inhabitants of Boston, et al., 1808. ME 16:313

"After exhausting the cup of forbearance and conciliation to its dregs, we found it necessary, on behalf of... commerce, to take time to call it home into a state of safety, to put the towns and harbors which carry it on into a condition of defence, and to make further preparation for enforcing the redress of its wrongs, and restoring it to its rightful freedom." --Thomas Jefferson to William Eustis, 1809.

"The French Emperor... does not wish us to go to war with England, knowing we have no ships to carry on that war. To submit to pay to England the tribute on our commerce which she demands by her orders of council, would be to aid her in the war against him, and would give him just ground to declare war with us. He concludes, therefore, as every rational man must, that the embargo, the only remaining alternative, was a wise measure." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston, 1808. ME 12:170

"If... on leaving our harbors we are certainly to lose them, is it not better, as to vessels, cargoes, and seamen, to keep them at home? This is submitted to the wisdom of Congress, who alone are competent to provide a remedy." --Thomas Jefferson to John Mason, 1807[?]. ME 11:402

"The embargo keeping at home our vessels, cargoes and seamen, saves us the necessity of making their capture the cause of immediate war." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1808. ME 11:414

"Could the alternative of war or the embargo have been presented to the whole nation, as it occurred to their representatives, there could have been but the one opinion that it was better to take the chance of one year by the embargo, within which the orders and decrees producing it may be repealed, or peace take place in Europe, which may secure peace to us. How long the continuance of the embargo may be preferable to war, is a question we shall have to meet, if the decrees and orders and war continue." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Smith, 1808. ME 12:61

"An embargo had, by the course of events, become the only peaceable card we had to play. Should neither peace, nor a revocation of the decrees and orders in Europe take place, the day cannot be distant when that will cease to be preferable to open hostility." --Thomas Jefferson to James Bowdoin, 1808. ME 12:69

44.10 Advantages of Embargo

"The measure of a temporary suspension of commerce was adopted to cover us from greater evils... It has given time to prepare for defence, and has shown to the aggressors of Europe that evil, as well as good actions, recoil on the doers." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Young Republicans of Pittsburgh, 1808. ME 16:324

"A suspension of our navigation for a time was equally necessary to avoid contest, or enter it with advantage. This measure will, indeed, produce some temporary inconvenience; but promises lasting good by promoting among ourselves the establishment of manufactures hitherto sought abroad, at the risk of collisions no longer regulated by the laws of reason or morality." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Philadelphia Democratic Republicans, 1808. ME 16:304

"The trying measure of embargo... has saved our seamen and our property, has given us time to prepare for vindicating our honor and preserving our national independence, and has excited the spirit of manufacturing for ourselves those things which, though we raised the raw material, we have hitherto sought from other countries at the risk of war and rapine." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Niagara County Republicans, 1809. ME 16:344

"To the advantages derived from the choice which was made will be added the improvements and discoveries made and making in the arts, and the establishments in domestic manufacture, the effects whereof will be permanent and diffused through our wide-extended continent." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Alleghany County Citizens, 1809. ME 16:357

"In return for the privations by the [embargo] measure, and which our fellow citizens in general have borne with patriotism, it has had the important effects of saving our mariners and our vast mercantile property, as well as of affording time for prosecuting the defensive and provisional measures called for by the occasion. It has demonstrated to foreign nations the moderation and firmness which govern our councils, and to our citizens the necessity of uniting in support of the laws and the rights of their country, and has thus long frustrated those usurpations and spoilations which, if resisted, involve war; if submitted to, sacrificed a vital principle of our national independence." --Thomas Jefferson: 8th Annual Message, 1808. ME 3:477

44.11 Mankind's Disposition Toward War

"This pugnacious humor of mankind seems to be the law of his nature, one of the obstacles to too great multiplication provided in the mechanism of the Universe. The cocks of the henyard kill one another up; boars, bulls, rams do the same; and the horse in his wild state kills all the young males until worn down with age and war, some vigorous youth kills him and takes to himself the harem of females. I hope we shall prove how much happier for man the Quaker policy is, and that the life of the feeder is better than that of the fighter; and it is some consolation that the desolation of these maniacs of one part of the earth is the means of improving it in other parts. Let the latter be our office, and let us milk the cow while the [one despot] holds her by the horns and the [other] by the tail." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1822. (*) ME 15:372

"The destructive passions seem to have been implanted in man, as one of the obstacles to his too great multiplication." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1814. ME 18:183

"A war between [two despots] is like the battle of the kite and snake. Whichever destroys the other leaves a destroyer the less for the world." --Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1822. ME 15:372

"The animosities of sovereigns are temporary and may be allayed, but those which seize the whole body of a people, and of a people, too, who dictate their own measures, produce calamities of long duration." --Thomas Jefferson to C. W. F. Dumas, 1786.

"For us to attempt by war to reform all Europe, and bring them back to principles of morality and a respect for the equal rights of nations, would show us to be only maniacs of another character." --Thomas Jefferson to William Wirt, 1811. ME 13:56

"I hope it is practicable, by improving the mind and morals of society, to lessen the disposition to war; but of its abolition I despair." --Thomas Jefferson to Noah Worcester, 1817. ME 18:298

"There will be war enough to ensure us great prices for wheat for years to come, and if we are wise we shall become wealthy." --Thomas Jefferson to George Gilmer, 1790. ME 8:63

44.12 Opposed to Conquest

"If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest." --Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 1791.

"We did not raise armies for glory or for conquest." --Thomas Jefferson: Declaration on Taking Up Arms, 1775. Papers 1:203

"Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government." --Thomas Jefferson: Instructions to William Carmichael, 1790.

"The sound principles of national integrity... forbade us to take what was a neighbor's merely because it suited us and especially from a neighbor under circumstances of peculiar affliction." --Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1813. ME 19:197

44.13 War's False Arithmetic

"Nations of eternal war [expend] all their energies... in the destruction of the labor, property, and lives of their people." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1823. (*)

"I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind." --Thomas Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry, 1797.

"Never was so much false arithmetic employed on any subject as that which has been employed to persuade nations that it is their interest to go to war. Were the money which it has cost to gain, at the close of a long war, a little town or a little territory, the right to cut wood here or to catch fish there, expended in improving what they already possess, in making roads, opening rivers, building ports, improving the arts and finding employment for their idle poor, it would render them much stronger, much wealthier and happier. This I hope will be our wisdom." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XXII, 1782. ME 2:240

"The most successful war seldom pays for its losses." --Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Randolph, 1785. ME 5:140, Papers 8:538

"One would think it not so difficult to discover that the improvement of the country we possess is the surest means of increasing our wealth and power. This, too, promotes the happiness of mankind, while the others destroy it and are always uncertain of their object." --Thomas Jefferson to James Currie, 1785. ME 19:13, Papers 8:559

"The evils which of necessity encompass the life of man are sufficiently numerous. Why should we add to them by voluntarily distressing and destroying one another? Peace, brothers, is better than war. In a long and bloody war, we lose many friends and gain nothing. Let us then live in peace and friendship together, doing to each other all the good we can." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Indian Nations, 1802. ME 16:390

"Although I dare not promise myself that [peace] can be perpetually maintained, yet if, by the inculcations of reason or religion, the perversities of our nature can be so far corrected as sometimes to prevent the necessity, either supposed or real, of an appeal to the blinder scourges of war, murder, and devastation, the benevolent endeavors of the friends of peace will not be entirely without remuneration." --Thomas Jefferson to Noah Worcester, 1817. ME 18:299

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

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