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Letter To Nathaniel Macon, Monticello, January 12, 1819

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Monticello, January 12, 1819

Dear Sir,

—The problem you had wished to propose to me was one which I could not have solved; for I knew nothing of the facts. I read no newspaper now but Ritchie’s, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. I feel a much greater interest in knowing what has passed two or three thousand years ago, than in what is now passing. I read nothing, therefore, but of the heroes of Troy, of the wars of Lacedæmon and Athens, of Pompey and Cæsar, and of Augustus too, the Bonaparte and parricide scoundrel of that day. I have had, and still have, such entire confidence in the late and present Presidents, that I willingly put both soul and body into their pockets. While such men as yourself and your worthy colleagues of the legislature, and such characters as compose the executive administration, are watching for us all, I slumber without fear, and review in my dreams the visions of antiquity. There is, indeed, one evil which awakens me at times, because it jostles me at every turn. It is that we have now no measure of value. I am asked eighteen dollars for a yard of broadcloth, which, when we had dollars, I used to get for eighteen shillings; from this I can only understand that a dollar is now worth but two inches of broadcloth, but broadcloth is no standard of measure or value. I do not know, therefore, whereabouts I stand in the scale of property, nor what to ask, or what to give for it. I saw, indeed, the like machinery in action in the years ’80 and ’81, and without dissatisfaction; because in wearing out, it was working out our salvation. But I see nothing in this renewal of the game of “Robin’s alive” but a general demoralization of the nation, a filching from industry its honest earnings, wherewith to build up palaces, and raise gambling stock for swindlers and shavers, who are to close too their career of piracies by fraudulent bankruptcies. My dependence for a remedy, however, is with the wisdom which grows with time and suffering. Whether the succeeding generation is to be more virtuous than their predecessors, I cannot say; but I am sure they will have more worldly wisdom, and enough, I hope, to know that honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. I have made a great exertion to write you thus much; my antipathy to taking up a pen being so intense that I have never given you a stronger proof, than in the effort of writing a letter, how much I value you, and of the superlative respect and friendship with which I salute you.