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Thomas Jefferson on Napoleon – On Napoleon’s Ignorance of Commerce to His Restoration of Power

By Tom Holmberg


Bonaparte (N.), Ignorance of Commerce.

Of the principles and advantages of commerce, Bonaparte appears to be ignorant.—To Joel Barlow. v, 601. (M., 1812.)

Bonaparte (N.), Imprisonment of.

The Attila of the age dethroned, the ruthless destroyer of ten millions of the human race, whose thirst for blood appeared unquenchable, the great oppressor of the rights and liberties of the world, shut up within the circle of a little island of the Mediterranean, and dwindled to the condition of an humble and degraded pensioner on the bounty of those he had most injured. How miserable, how meanly, has he closed his inflated career! What a sample of the bathos will his history present! He should have perished on the swords of his enemies, under the walls of Paris.—To John Adams. vi, 352. Ford ed., ix, 461. (M., July. 1814.)

Bonaparte (N.), Invasion of U. S. by.

The fear that Bonaparte will come over and conquer us also, is too chimerical to be genuine. Supposing him to have finished Spain and Portugal, he has yet England and Russia to subdue. The maxim of war was never sounder than in this case, not to leave an enemy in the rear; and especially where an insurrectionary flame is known to be under the embers, merely smothered, and ready to burst at every point. These two subdued (and surely the Anglomen will not think the conquest of England alone a short work), ancient Greece and Macedonia, the cradle of Alexander, his prototype, and Constantinople, the seat of empire for the world, would glitter more in his eye than our bleak mountains and rugged forests. Egypt, too, and the golden apples of Mauritania, have for more than half a century fixed the longing eyes of France; and with Syria, you know, he has an old affront to wipe out. Then come “Pontus and Galatia, Cappadocia, Aeolia and Bithynia,” the fine countries on the Euphrates and Tigris, the Oxus and Indus, and all beyond the Hypasis, which bounded the glories of his Macedonian rival; with the invitations of his new British subjects on the banks of the Ganges, whom, after receiving under his protection the mother country, he cannot refuse to visit. When all this is done and settled, and nothing of the old world remains unsubdued, he may turn to the new one. But will he attack us first, from whom he will get but hard knocks and no money? Or will he first lay hold of the gold and silver of Mexico and Peru, and the diamonds of Brazil? A republican emperor, from his affection to republics, independent of motives of expediency, must grant to ourselves the Cyclop’s boon of being the last devoured. While all this is doing, are we to suppose the chapter of accidents read out, and that nothing can happen to cut short or disturb his enterprises?—To John Langdon. v, 512. (M., March 1810.)

Bonaparte (N.), Louisiana and.

I assured M. Pichon that I had more confidence in the word of the First Consul than in all the parchment we could sign.—To Robert R. Livingston. iv, 511. Ford ed., viii, 278. (W., Nov. 1803.)

Bonaparte (N.), Louisiana and.

Your emperor has done more splendid things, but he has never done one which will give happiness to so great a number of human beings as the ceding of Louisiana to the United States*.—To Marquis de Lafayette. Ford ed., ix, 67. (W., May 1807.)

*This accession of territory strengthens forever the power of the United States, and I have just given to England a maritime rival that will sooner or later humble her pride.—Napoleon [Note in the original edition added by the editor, John P. Foley]

Bonaparte (N.), No Moral Sense.

O’Meara’s book proves that nature had denied Bonaparte the moral sense, the first excellence of well organized man. If he could seriously and repeatedly affirm that he had raised himself to power without ever having committed a crime, it proves that he wanted totally the sense of right and wrong. If he could consider the millions of human lives which he had destroyed, or caused to be destroyed, the desolations of countries by plunderings, burnings and famine, the destitutions of lawful rulers of the world without the consent of their constituents, to place his brothers and sisters on their thrones, the cutting up of established societies of men and jumbling them discordantly together again at his caprice, the demolition of the fairest hopes of mankind for the recovery of their rights and amelioration of their condition, and all the numberless train of his other enormities; the man I say, who could consider all these as no crimes, must have been a moral monster, against whom every hand should have been lifted to slay him. [See: “Napoleon (N.), Sufferings of.” Below, T.H.]—To John Adams. vii, 275. (M., 1823.)

Bonaparte (N.), Peace and.

Bonaparte’s restless spirit leaves no hope of peace to the world.—To Thomas Leiper. vi, 464. Ford ed., ix, 520. (M., 1815.)

Bonaparte (N.), Policy toward United States.

As to Bonaparte, I should not doubt the revocation of his edicts, were he governed by reason. But his policy is so crooked that it eludes conjecture. I fear his first object now is to dry up the sources of British prosperity by excluding her manufactures from the continent. He may fear that opening the ports of Europe to our vessels will open them to an inundation of British wares. He ought to be satisfied with having forced her to revoke the orders [in council] on which he pretended to retaliate, and to be particularly satisfied with us, by whose unyielding adherence to principle she has been forced into the revocation. He ought the more to conciliate our good will, as we can be such an obstacle to the new career opening on him in the Spanish Colonies. That he would give us the Floridas to withhold intercourse with the residue of those colonies, cannot be doubted. But that is no price; because they are ours in the first moment of the first war; and until a war they are of no particular necessity to us. But, although with difficulty, he will consent to our receiving Cuba into our Union, to prevent our aid to Mexico and the other provinces. That would be a price, and I would immediately erect a column on the southernmost limit of Cuba, and inscribe on it a ne plus ultra as to us in that direction. We should then only have to include the North in our Confederacy, which would be of course in the first war, and we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation; and I am persuaded no Constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire and self-government.—To President Madison. v, 444. (M., April 1809.)

Bonaparte (N.), Political Wickedness of.

I view Bonaparte as a political engine only, and a very wicked one; you, I believe, as both political and religious, and obeying, as an instrument, an Unseen Hand. I still deprecate his becoming sole lord of the continent of Europe, which he would have been, had he reached in triumph the gates of St. Petersburg. The establishment in our day of another. Roman Empire, spreading vassalage and depravity over the face of the globe, is not, I hope, within the purposes of Heaven.—To Thomas Leiper. vi, 463. Ford ed., ix, 519. (M., June 1815.)

Bonaparte (N.), Promises of.

Promises cost him nothing when they could serve his purpose. On his return from Elba, what did he not promise? But those who had credited them a little, soon saw their total insignificance, and, satisfied that they could not fall under worse hands, refused every effort after the defeat of Waterloo.—To Benjamin Austin. vi, 554. Ford ed., x, II. (M., 1816.)

Bonaparte (N.), Republicans and.

Here you will find rejoicings on the [restoration] of Bonaparte, and by a strange quid pro quo, not by the party hostile to liberty, but by its zealous friends. In this they see nothing but the scourge reproduced for the back of England. They do not permit themselves to see in it the blast of all the hopes of mankind, and that however it May jeopardize England, it gives to her self-defence the lying countenance again of being the sole champion of the rights of man, to which in all other nations she is most adverse.—To M. Dupont de Nemours. vi, 457. (M., May 1815.)

Bonaparte (N.), Republicans and.

I have grieved to see even good republicans so infatuated as to this man, as to consider his downfall as calamitous to the cause of liberty. In their indignation against England which is just, they seem to consider all her enemies as our friends, when it is well known there was not a being on earth who bore us so deadly a hatred. * * * * To whine after this exorcised demon is a disgrace to republicans, and must have arisen either from want of reflection, or the indulgence of passion against principle.—To Benjamin Austin. vi, 553. Ford ed., x, II. (M., Feb. 1816.)

Bonaparte (N.), Restoration of.

You despair of your country, and so do I. A military despotism is now fixed upon it permanently, especially if the son of the tyrant should have virtues and talents. What a treat it would be to me, to be with you, and to learn from you all the intrigues, apostacies and treacheries which have produced this last death’s blow to the hopes of France. For, although not in the will, there was in the imbecility of the Bourbons a foundation of hope that the patriots of France might obtain a moderate representative government.—To M. Dupont de Nemours. vi, 457. (M., May 1815.)