President Thomas Jefferson, Who Wrote “All men are created equal” in 1776, Links the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution and in Doing So Affirms That the Ethos that Launched the American Revolution Has Become Law

“The constitution and laws of our country have justly deemed it better that all men shall receive equal measure…”

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He presages the 14th Amendment and articulates the radical concept that “Equal protection & justice to all who are members of our political society” is already enshrined in law, anticipating by 64 years the Amendment of 1868, which guarantees “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

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President Thomas Jefferson, Who Wrote “All men are created equal” in 1776, Links the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution and in Doing So Affirms That the Ethos that Launched the American Revolution Has Become Law

“The constitution and laws of our country have justly deemed it better that all men shall receive equal measure…”

He presages the 14th Amendment and articulates the radical concept that “Equal protection & justice to all who are members of our political society” is already enshrined in law, anticipating by 64 years the Amendment of 1868, which guarantees “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Jefferson also expresses the sentiment that would help the country grow: “We receive strangers freely”, and expresses the desire that they be as fairly and equally treated as native-born Americans

This is a landmark letter; a search of public sale records shows no other letters of Jefferson tying the Declaration to the Constitution

It comes with its original enclosure: a memo from the office of the Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin

No American document has had a greater global impact than the Declaration of Independence authored by Thomas Jefferson. It has been fundamental to American history, and enshrined what came to be seen as the most succinct and memorable statements of the ideals on which a nation can be founded: “all men are created equal”; and that are entitled to the right “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. As the first successful declaration of independence in world history, its example helped to inspire countless movements for independence, equality, and revolution after 1776. It was quoted with enthusiasm by the Mirabeau during the French Revolution, and encouraged the Latin American revolutionaries to strive toward overthrowing the Spanish empire. One of its most enthusiastic admirers was the nineteenth-century Hungarian nationalist, Lajos Kossuth: for him, the Declaration was nothing less than “the noblest, happiest page in mankind’s history.” It was also quoted in declarations in Liberia, Venezuela, and other nations in the 19th century. In the 20th century, nationalists in Central Europe and Korea after the World War I staked their claims by borrowing the language used at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The authors of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 worked from a copy of the American original. So did Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Considering the importance of the Declaration, it is remarkable how seldom Jefferson mentions it, or quotes from or paraphrases it, in his writings. A search of public sale records for the terms “Jefferson” and “equal” going back 40 years fails to turn up one example, save for this letter, nor have we seen one.

Though the Declaration of Independence was the linchpin of liberty in the United States, the question has often been asked whether any aspects of Jefferson’s document have taken on the force of law, or are merely statements with no legal effect. And specifically, whether the U.S. Constitution replaced, or on the opposite hand implicitly contains, the representations in the Declaration. Here you see how that question was answered in Jefferson’s mind in favor of implicitly containing those representations. This is the only letter of Jefferson on this crucial subject we have ever seen.

This is the circumstance that led Jefferson to reach back to Declaration of Independence terminology. In the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, an immense stretch of land was added to the United States. The government would sell much of this land to private individuals. That same year President Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, and to find a practical route across the western half of the continent. The campaign’s secondary objectives were scientific and economic: to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to establish trade with local Native American tribes. That expedition would go beyond U.S. territory, all the way to the Pacific. It was already becoming clear that American expansion would in time go from sea to shining sea. The population of the United States in 1800 was just over five million, but 900,000 of these were slaves, making the free population just over four million.

Clearly that would not be enough to people a continent, and with immigration only bringing in about 8,000 people a year, Jefferson’s vision was to encourage immigration from Europe to the New World. There was, however, already contention between those who wanted to increase immigration, like the President, and others who sought to place roadblocks in the immigrants’ way. A policy was needed, as already Europeans were thinking of the opportunities available in the U.S. One of these was a group of Swiss citizens that was organizing for the purpose of establishing a Swiss colony in the United States. Christopher Winckelblech was a member of that company of potential immigrants. Winckelblech wrote the U.S. Consul in the Netherlands, Sylvanus Bourne, on the subject.

On August 31, 1804, Bourne wrote Jefferson saying, “I have the honor to send you inclosed a letter just recd from Mr. Christopher Winckelblech of Basle—I presume it refers to the desire which many of his Countrymen possess of emigrating to the U. States…Should our Govt. be disposed to make any arrangements for facilitating said emigrations I think that I might be able to send on in course of next years some thousands of a race of people who from their habits of industry & purity of manners would become a valuable acquisition towards populating the still unsettled regions of our extensive Country.”

Jefferson was intrigued enough to turn the matter over to his trusted friend and Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, for an opinion on the new lands and what ought to be done about the foreigners who sought to come to America to buy tracts of it. Gallatin responded with a document prepared by his office, entitled “Memoranda”, which states the lands available, and opines that Congress was unlikely to discriminate in their purchase between U.S. citizens and immigrants: “The United States sell all their lands at the rate of two dollars per acre payable ¼th at the time of making the purchase, and the remainder in three equal installments…No interest is charged…The public lands thus offered for sale extend on the north side of the river Ohio, almost without interruption, from the Western boundary of Pennsylvania, (about 40 miles below Pittsburgh) to the Mississippi on a breadth (from the Ohio back) of about 100 miles. Fifteen or twenty millions of Acres remain unsold in that extent; and as the United States sell in quantities as small as 160 acres, & permit a man to purchase where he pleases, first rate lands may be selected in numerous places without difficulty…Besides that country, the United States have for sale on the same terms about one million of acres on or near the Mississippi…No expectation to be entertained that Congress shall give more favorable terms to emigrants than to citizens. No provision yet made for the sale of public lands in Louisiana; if made it will not be on more favorable terms than on the East of the Mississippi. One thirty sixth part of the public lands, on one mile square in each township six miles square, is every where reserved for the support of schools; and several townships for colleges at convenient distances.”

Jefferson then responded to Bourne with a letter dramatic in its terminology, articulating basic American principles, paraphrasing the best known words of the Declaration of Independence, insisting on justice and equal protection, and welcoming immigrants to our shores. Autograph letter signed, Washington, December 17, 1804. “Sir, The letter of mr. Winkelblech of Basle which you were pleased to inclose to me, containing enquiries as to the terms on which lands would be granted here to the emigrants he spoke of, I put into the hands of mr Gallatin the Secretary of the treasury with a request that he would give me such a statement as might serve as an answer to the letter, the disposal of the public lands being within his department. the paper now inclosed, is from him, and tho not signed, but informal, merits full credit. It is sent to you on the presumption that mr Winckelblech has established the means of receiving his answer through you. The constitution and laws of our country have justly deemed it better that all men shall receive equal measure, than by entrusting the public servants with making distinctions in their discretion, see introduced that venal favoritism into which discretion so generally degenerates. Emigrants are admitted to the right of purchasing lands on the same terms, with our most favored citizens, & none of the constituted authorities has the power to vary these terms. We receive strangers freely, but use no measures to induce them to come, but the practice of equal protection & justice to all who are members of our political society. I salute you with respect & consideration.”

Thus does Jefferson link the Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Constitution, and in doing so affirms that the ethos that launched the Revolution has become enshrined in law. It is one of the most important opinions we have ever seen expressed in a letter.

On October 18, 1805, the Ship Liberty docked in Philadelphia with some 160 immigrants. Among the names on the manifest was Christopher Winckelblech, who brought with him “fourteen chests tools & copper plates one trunk (^chest) one bag wearing apparel one mill & mill bag.”

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