To Francis Hopkinson Paris, Mar. 13, 1789
My great wish is to go on in a strict but silent performance of my duty;
to avoid attracting notice & to keep my name out of newspapers, because
I find the pain of a little censure, even when it is unfounded, is more
acute than the pleasure of much praise.
To Samuel Smith Monticello, Aug. 22, 1798
At a very early period of my life, I determined never to put a sentence
into any newspaper. I have religiously adhered to the resolution
through my life, and have great reason to be contented with it. Were
I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more
than all my own time, & that of 20. aids could effect. For while
I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented. I have
thought it better to trust to the justice of my countrymen, that they would
judge me by what they see of my conduct on the stage where they have placed
me, & what they know of me before the epoch since which a particular
party has supposed it might answer some view of theirs to vilify me in
the public eye. Some, I know, will not reflect how apocryphal is
the testimony of enemies so palpably betraying the views with which they
give it. But this is an injury to which duty requires every one to
submit whom the public think proper to call inn to it's councils.
I thank you, my dear Sir, for the interest you have taken for me on this
occasion. Though I have made up my mind not to suffer calumny to
disturb my tranquillity, yet I retain all my sensibilities for the approbation
of the good & just. That is, indeed, the chief consolations for
the hatred of so many, who, without the least personal knowledge, &
on the sacred evidence of Porcupine & Fenno alone, cover me with their
implacable hatred. The only return I will ever make them, will be
to do them all the good I can, in spite of their teeth.
To C. F. de C. Volney Washington, February 8, 1805
Some one of those holy calumniators has selected from your new work every scrap of a sentence, which, detached from its context, could displease an American reader. A cento has been made of these, which has run through a particular description of newspapers, and excited a disapprobation even in friendly minds, which nothing but the reading of the book will cure. But time and truth will at length correct error....
A word now on our political state. The two parties which
prevailed with so much violence when you were here, are almost wholly melted
into one. At the late Presidential election I have received one hundred
and sixty-two votes against fourteen only. Connecticut is still federal
by a small majority; and Delaware on a poise, as she has been since 1775,
and will be till Anglomany with her yields to Americanism. Connecticut
will be with us in a short time. Though the people in mass have joined
us, their leaders had committed themselves too far to retract. Pride
keeps them hostile; they brood over their angry passions, and give them
vent in the newspapers which they maintain. They still make as much
noise as if they were the whole nation. Unfortunately, these being
the mercantile papers, published chiefly in the sea ports, are the only
ones which find their way to Europe, and make very false impressions there.
To Barnabas Bidwell Washington, July 5, 1806
I recollect nothing new and true, worthy communicating to you.
As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.
Among other things, are those perpetual alarms as to the Indians, for no
one ofwhich has there ever been the slightest ground. They are the
suggestions of hostile traders, always wishing to embroil us with the Indians,
to perpetuate their own extortionate commerce.
To John Norvell Washington, June 14, 1807
To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should
be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, `by restraining
it to true facts & sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper
would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression
of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it's benefits,
than is done by it's abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing
can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes
suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent
of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations
to confront facts within their knolege with the lies of the day.
I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens,
who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known
something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas
the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of
any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names
of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed
be collected from them, such as that Europe is now at war, that Bonaparte
has been a successful warrior, that he has subjected a great portion of
Europe to his will, &c., &c.; but no details can be relied on.
I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed
than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth
than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who
reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all
Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into 4 chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2d, Probabilities. 3d, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers, and information from such sources, as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The 2d would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The 3d & 4th should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.
Such an editor too, would have to set his face against the demoralising practice of feeding the public mind habitually on slander, & the depravity of taste which this nauseous aliment induces. Defamation is becoming a necessary of life; insomuch, that a dish of tea in the morning or evening cannot be digested without this stimulant. Even those who do not believe these abominations, still read them with complaisance to their auditors, and instead of the abhorrence & indignation which should fill a virtuous mind, betray a secret pleasure in the possibility that some may believe them, tho they do not themselves. It seems to escape them, that it is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is it's real author.
These thoughts on the subjects of your letter are hazarded at your request. Repeated instances of the publication of what has not been intended for the public eye, and the malignity with which political enemies torture every sentence from me into meanings imagined by their own wickedness only, justify my expressing a solicitude, that this hasty communication may in nowise be permitted to find it's way into the public papers. Not fearing these political bull-dogs, I yet avoid putting myself in the way of being baited by them, and do not wish to volunteer away that portion of tranquillity, which a firm execution of my duties will permit me to enjoy.
To John Adams Monticello, Jan. 21, 1812
I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for
Newton and Euclid; and I find myself much the happier.
To Dr. Walter Jones
Monticello, January 2, 1814
I deplore, with you, the putrid state into which our newspapers have
passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those
who write for them; and I enclose you a recent sample, the production of
a New England judge, as a proof of the abyss of degradation into which
we are fallen. These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste,
and lessening its relish for sound food. As vehicles of information, and
a curb on our functionaries, they have rendered themselves useless, by
forfeiting all title to belief. That this has, in a great degree, been
produced by the violence and malignity of party spirit, I agree with you;