Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 24 Southern Journey

THE fracture of his wrist and its seeming inability to heal threw obstacles in the way of Jefferson's official duties as well as his romance; but he refused to be deterred from either. For his private affairs, he wrote with his left; for public correspondence, William Short lent him the use of his own uninjured hand; so that he managed to get through his epistolary duties without too much difficulty, He slighted no correspondent; nor any topic of interest.

News came regularly to him from America. His chief informers on the political aspects--aside from official communications--were his friends Madison and Monroe. In return, he delivered himself to them of his own meditations on particular measures and movements, and thereby, through them and others like them, was able to exercise a definite influence on the distant scene.

Reports filtered through to Europe of trouble in America; chiefly in Massachusetts. It was serious enough in actuality--the armed riots and disturbances which have since become known as Shays' Rebellion--and it lost nothing in transmission.

But Jefferson was not alarmed; even though such a usually restrained observer as the Reverend James Madison wrote that it looked like "the Beginnings of a civil War there," which "appear to some as Proofs of ye Instability & Misery inseperable from a Republican Govt. But to others, who I trust judge better, they appear only as ye Symptoms of a strong & healthy Constitution, which, after discharging a few peccant Humours, will be restored to new Vigour."1

Abigail Adams, to whom Jefferson had written for information, inclined to the former class. She replied with masculine vigor and atrocious spelling that "l wish I could say that report had exagerated them, It is too true Sir that they have been carried to so allarming a Height as to stop the Courts of Justice in several Counties. Ignorant, [illegible word] desperadoes, without conscience or principals [sic] have led a deluded Multitude to follow their standard, under pretence of grievences which have no existance but in their immaginations. . . instead of that laudible spirit which you approve, which makes a people watchfull over their Liberties and alert in the defence of them, these Mobish insurgents are for sapping the foundation, and distroying the whole fabrick at once."2

Jefferson, however, was definitely of that second persuasion which the

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