The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

Thomas Jefferson on Napoleon – On Napoleon and the United States to Variety of Other Topics

By Tom Holmberg


Bonaparte (N.), United States and.

Considering the character of Bonaparte, I think it material at once to let him see that we are not of the powers who will receive his orders.—To James Madison. iv, 585. Ford ed., viii, 377. (M., Aug. 1805.)

Bonaparte (N.), United States and.

I never expected to be under the necessity of wishing success to Bonaparte. But the English being equally tyrannical at sea as he is on land, and that tyranny bearing on us in every point of either honor or interest, I say, “down with England,” and as for what Bonaparte is then to do to us, let us trust to the chapter of accidents. I cannot, with the Anglomen, prefer a certain present evil to a future hypothetical one.—To Thomas Leiper. Ford ed., ix, 130. (M., Aug. 1807.)

Bonaparte (N.), United States and.

Although we neither expected, nor wished any act of friendship from Bonaparte, and always detested him as a tyrant, yet he gave employment to much of the force of the nation who was our common enemy. So far, his downfall was illy timed for us; it gave to England an opportunity to turn full-handed on us, when we were unprepared. No matter, we can beat her on our own soil, leaving the laws of the ocean to be settled by the maritime powers of Europe, who are equally oppressed and insulted by the usurpations of England on that element.—To W. H. Crawford. vi, 418. Ford ed., ix, 502. (M., Feb. 1815.)

Bonaparte (N.), United States, Russia and.

There cannot, I think, be a doubt as to the line we wish drawn between Bonaparte’s successes and those of Alexander. Surely none of us wish to see Bonaparte conquer Russia, and lay thus at his feet the whole continent of Europe. This done, England would be but a breakfast: and although I am free from the visionary fears which the votaries of England have affected to entertain. because I believe he cannot effect the conquest of Europe; yet put all Europe into his hands, and he might spare such a force, to be sent in British ships, as I would as lief not have to encounter, when I see how much trouble a handful of soldiers in Canada has given us. No. It cannot be to our interest that all Europe should be reduced to a single monarchy. The true line of interest for us, is, that Bonaparte should be able to effect the complete exclusion of England from the whole continent of Europe, in order, by this peaceable engine of constraint to make her renounce her views of dominion over the ocean, of permitting no other nation to navigate it but with her license, and on tribute to her, and her aggressions on the persons of our citizens who may choose to exercise their right of passing over that element. And this would be effected by Bonaparte succeeding so far as to close the Baltic against her. This success I wished him the last year, this I wish him this year; but were he again advanced to Moscow, I should again wish him such disasters as would prevent his reaching St. Petersburg. And were the consequences even to be the longer continuance of our war, I would rather meet them than see the whole force of Europe wielded by a single hand.—To Thomas Lieper. vi, 283. Ford ed., ix, 445. (M., Jan. 1814.)

Bonaparte (N.), United States, Russia and.

I have gone into this explanation * * * * because I am willing to trust to your discretion the explaining me to our honest fellow laborers, and the bringing them to pause and reflect, if any of them have not sufficiently reflected on the extent of the success we ought to wish to Bonaparte, with a view to our own interests only; and even were we not men, to whom nothing human should be indifferent. But is our particular interest to make us insensible to all sentiments of morality? Is it then become criminal, the moral wish that the torrents of blood this man is shedding in Europe, the sufferings of so many human beings, good as ourselves, on whose necks he is trampling, the burnings of ancient cities, devastations of great countries, the destruction of law and order, and demoralization of the world, should be arrested, even if it should place our peace a little further distant? No. You and I cannot differ in wishing that Russia, and Sweden, and Denmark, and Germany, and Spain, and Portugal, and Italy, and even England, may retain their independence.—To Thomas Leiper. vi, 283. Ford ed., ix, 446. (M., Jan. 1814.)

Bonaparte (N.), United States, Russia and.

It is cruel that we should have been forced to wish any success to such a destroyer of the human race. Yet while it was our interest and that of humanity that he should not subdue Russia, and thus lay all Europe at his feet, it was desirable to us that he should so far succeed as to close the Baltic to our enemy, and force him, by the pressure of internal distress, into a disposition to return to the paths of justice towards us.—To John Clarke. vi, 308. (M., Jan. 1814.)

Bonaparte (N.), Vanquished.

The unprincipled tyrant of the land is fallen, his power reduced to its original nothingness, his person only not yet in the madhouse, where it ought always to have been.—To Cæsar A. Rodney. vi, 448. (M., 1815.)

Bonaparte (N.), Vanquished.

On the general scale of nations, the greatest wonder is Napoleon at St. Helena; and yet it would have been well for the lives and happiness of millions and millions, had he been deposited there twenty years ago. France would now have a free government, unstained by the enormities she has enabled him to commit on the rest of the world, and unprostrated by the vindictive hand, human or divine, now so heavily bearing upon her.—To Mrs. Trist. D. L. J. 363. (P. F., Va. April 1816.)

Bonaparte (N.), Vanquished.

What is infinitely interesting [in the letters you enclosed to me], is the scene of the exchange of Louis XVIII. for Bonaparte. What lessons of wisdom Mr. [John Quincy] Adams must have read in that short space of time! More than fall to the lot of others in the course of a long life. Man, and the man of Paris, under those circumstances, must have been a subject of profound speculation! It would be a singular addition to that spectacle to see the same beast in the cage at St. Helena, like a lion in the tower. That is probably the closing verse of the chapter of his crimes.—To Mrs. John Adams. vii, 52. Ford ed., x, 69. (M., 1817.)

Bonaparte (N.), Vanquished.

Had Bonaparte reflected that such is the moral construction of the world, that no national crime passes unpunished in the long run, he would not now be in the cage of St. Helena.—M. De Marbois. vii, 76. (M., 1817.)

Holy Alliance, Napoleon and.

Had Bonaparte reflected that such is the moral construction of the world that no national crime passes unpunished in the long run, he would not now be in the cage of St. Helena; and were your present oppressors to reflect on the same truth, they would spare to their own countries the penalties on their present wrongs which will be inflicted on them in future times. The seeds of hatred and revenge which they are now sowing with a large hand will not fail to produce their fruits in time. Like their brother robbers on the highway, they suppose the escape of the moment a final escape, and deem infamy and future risk countervailed by present gain.—To M. de Marbois. vii, 76. (M., 1817.)

Liberty, Napoleon and. 

If the hero [Napoleon] who has saved you from a combination of enemies, shall also be the means of giving you as great a portion of liberty as the opinions, habits and character of the nation are prepared for, progressive preparation may fit you for progressive portions of that first of blessings, and you may in time attain what we erred in supposing could be hastily seized and maintained, in the present state of political information among your citizens at large.— To M. Cabanis. iv, 496. (W., 1803.)

Lousiana, Bonaparte and.

I very early saw that Louisiana was indeed a speck in our horizon which was to burst in a tornado; and the public are unapprized how near this catastrophe was. Nothing but a frank and friendly development of causes and effects on our part, and good sense enough in Bonaparte to see that the train was unavoidable, and would change the face of the world, saved us from that storm. I did not expect he would yield till a war took place between France and England, and my hope was to palliate and endure, if Messrs. Ross, Morris, &c. did not force a premature rupture, until that event. I believed the event not very distant, but acknowledge it came on sooner than I had expected. Whether, however, the good sense of Bonaparte might not see the course predicted to be necessary and unavoidable, even before a war should be imminent, was a chance which we thought it our duty to try; but the immediate prospect of rupture brought the case to immediate decision. The dénouement has been happy; and I confess I look to this duplication of area for the extending a government so free and economical as ours, as a great achievement to the mass of happiness which is to ensue.—To Dr. Joseph Priestley. iv, 525. Ford ed., viii, 294. (W., Jan. 1804.)

Cuba, Spain, Bonaparte and.

I suppose the conquest of Spain will soon force a delicate question on you as to the Floridas and Cuba, which will offer themselves to you. Napoleon will certainly give his consent without difficulty to our receiving the Floridas, and with some difficulty possibly Cuba. And though he will disregard the obligation whenever he thinks he can break it with success, yet it has a great effect on the opinion of our people and the world to have the moral right on our side, of his agreement as well as that of the people of those countries —To President Madison. v, 442. Ford ed., ix, 251. (M., April. 1809.)

England, Bonaparte and.

The events which have taken place in France have lessened in the American mind the motives of interest which it felt in that Revolution, and its amity towards that country now rests on its love of peace and commerce. We see, at the same time, with great concern, the position in which Great Britain is placed, and should be sincerely afflicted were any disaster to deprive mankind of the benefit of such a bulwark against the torrent which has for some time been bearing down all before it. But her power and powers at sea seem to render everything safe in the end.—To Sir John Sinclair. iv, 491. (W., June 1803.)

Republic (French), Bonaparte and.

I fear our friends on the other side of the water, laboring in the same cause, have a great deal of crime and misery to wade through. My confidence has been placed in the head, not in the heart of Bonaparte. I hoped he would calculate truly the difference between the fame of a Washington and a Cromwell. Whatever his views may be, he has transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm. Some will use this as a lesson against the practicability of republican government. I read it as a lesson against the danger of standing armies.—To Samuel Adams. iv, 321. Ford ed., vii, 425. (Pa., Feb. 1800.)

Spain, Bonaparte and.

I suppose Napoleon will get possession of Spain; but her colonies will deliver themselves to any member of the Bourbon family. Perhaps Mexico will choose its sovereign within itself. He will find them much more difficult to subdue than Austria or Prussia; because an enemy (even in peace an enemy) possesses the element over which he is to pass to get at them; and a more powerful enemy (climate) will soon mow down his armies after arrival. This will be, without any doubt, the most difficult enterprise the Emperor has ever undertaken. He may subdue the small colonies; he never can the old and strong; and the former will break off from him the first war he has again with a naval power.—To General Armstrong. v, 434. (W., March 1809.)