Quotations on Manufacturing

1774. (Summary View of the Rights of British America). "An act of despotism to which no parallel can be produced in the most arbitrary ages of British history...the iron which we make we are forbidden to manufacture; and, heavy as that article is, and necessary in every branch of husbandry, besides commission and insurance, we are to pay freight for it to Great Britain, and freight for it back again, for the purpose of supporting, not men, but machines, in the island of Great Britain..."[1]

1784 March 15. (Jefferson to George Washington). "All the world is becoming commercial. Was it practicable to keep our new empire separated from them we might indugle ourselves in speculating whether commerce contributes to the happiness of mankind. But we cannot separate ourselves from them. Our citizens have had too full taste of the comforts furnished by the arts and manufactures to be debarred the use of them."[2]

1785 October 13. (Jefferson to G.K van Hogendorp). "You ask what I think on the expediency of encouraging our states to be commercial? Were I to indulge my own theory, I should with them to practise neither commerce nor navigation, but to stand with respect to Europe precisely on the footing of China. We should thus avoid wars, and all our citizens would be husbandmen. Whenever indeed our numbers should so increase as that our produce would overstock the markets of those nations who should come to seek it, the farmers must either employ the surplus of their time in manufactures, or in navigation. But that day would, I think be distant, and we should long keep our workmen in Europe...But this is theory only, and a theory which the servants of America are not at liberty to follow."[3]

1787. (Notes on the State of Virginia). "Manufacture must therefore be resorted to, of necessity, not of choice, to support the surplus of their [Europe's] people. But we have an immensity of land courting the industry of the husbandman. Is it best then that all our citizens should be employed in its improvement, or that one half should be called off from that to exercise manufactures and handicraft arts for the other? Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that scared fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth....While we have land to labour the, let us never with to see our citizens occupied at a work-bench, or twirling a distaff. Carpenters, masons, smiths, are wanting in husbandry: but, for the general operations of manufacture, let our work-shops remain in Europe. It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles."[4]

1788 June 3. (Traveling Notes for Mr. Rutledge and Mr. Shippen). "Objects of attention for an American...3. Lighter mechanical arts, and manufactures. Some of these will be worth a superficial view; but circumstances rendering it impossible that America should become a manufacturing country during the time of any man now living, it would be a waste of attention to examine these minutely."[5]

1793 December 16. (Report on Foreign Commerce). "Such duties having the effect of indirect encouragement to domestic manufacturer to come himself into these States, where cheaper subsistence, equal laws, and a vent of his wares, free of duty, may ensure him the highest profits from his skill and industry. And here, it would be in the power of the State governments to co-operate essentially, by opening the resources of encouragement which are under their control, extending them liberally to artists in those particular branches of manufacture for which their soil, climate population and other circumstances have matured them, and fostering the precious efforts and progress of household manufacture."[6]

1801 December 8. (First Annual Message). "Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise."[7]

1804 February 1. (Jefferson to Jean Batiste Say). "Again, there the best distribution of labor is supposed to be that which places the manufacturing hands alongside the agricultural; so that the one part shall feed both, and the other part furnish both with clothes with and other comforts. Would that be best here? Egoism and first appearances say yes. Or would it be better that all our labourers should be employed in agriculture? In this case a double or treble portion of fertile lands would be brought into culture; a double or treble creation of food be produces, and its surplus go to nourish the now perishing births of Europe, who in return would manufacture and send us in exchange our clothes and other comforts...In solving this question, too, we should allow its just weight to the moral and physical preference of the agricultural, over the manufacturing, man."[8]

1805 January 4. (Jefferson to John Lithgow). "I should...certainly qualify several expressions in the nineteenth chapter [of Notes on the State of Virginia], which have been construed differently from what they were intended. I had under my eye, when writing, the manufacturers of the great cities in the old countries, at the time present, with whom the want of food and clothing necessary to sustain life, has begotten a depravity of morals, a dependence and corruption, which renders them an undesirable accession to a country whose morals are sound. My expressions looked forward to the time when our own great cities would get into the same state. But they have been quoted as if meant for the present time here. As yet our manufacturers are as much at their east, as independent and moral as our agricultural inhabitants, and they will continue so as long as there are vacant lands for them to resort to; because whenever it shall be attempted by the other classes to reduce them to the minimum of subsistence, they will quit their trades and go to laboring the earth. A first question is, whether it is desirable for us to receive at present the dissolute and demoralized handicraftsmen of the old cities of Europe? A second and more difficult one is, when even good handicraftmen arrive here, is it better for them to set up their trade, or go to the culture of the earth? Had I time to revise that chapter, this question should be discussed, and other views of the subject taken, which are presented by the wonderful changes which have taken place here since 1781...Perhaps when I retire, I may amuse myself with a serious review of this work."[9]

1805 March 4. (Second Inaugural Address). "The remaining revenue on the consumption of foreign articles, is paid cheerfully by those who can afford to add foreign luxuries to domestic comforts, being collected on our seaboards and frontiers only, and incorporated with the transactions of our mercantile citizens...The contributions enable us to support the current expenses of the government...and to apply such a surplus to our public debts, as places at a short day their final redemption, and that redemption once effected, the revenue thereby liberated, may, by a just repartition among the states, and a corresponding amendment of the constitution, be applied, in time of peace, to rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other objects within each states."[10]

1806 March 4. (Jefferson to Jay Marsh). "Convinced that all manufactures carried on private account are so much more economically conducted than by the public, that whatsoever can be found at market can be cheaper bought there than manufactured by the public, we undertake no manufactures of any thing which can be got at market. Small arms are the only exception to this rule."[11]

1808 January 21. (Jefferson to John Dorsey). "I have to acknolege [sic] the reciept [sic] of your favor of Dec. 20. And am much pleased to find our progress in manufactures to be so great. That of cotton is peculiarly interesting, because we raise the raw material in such abundance, and because it may to a great degree supply our deficiencies both in wool and linen."[12]

1808 November 8. (Eighth Annual Message). "The situation into which we have thus ben forced, has impelled us to apply a portion of our industry and capital to internal manufactures and improvements. The extent of this conversation is daily increasing, and little doubt remains that the establishments formed and forming will...becoming permanent."[13]

1809 April 7. (Jefferson to James Jay). "An equilibrium of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, is certainly become essential to our independence. Manufactures, sufficient for our own consumption, of what we raise the raw material (and no more)...THese are the true limits of manufactures and commerce. To go beyond them is to increase our dependence on foreign nations, and our liability to war. These three important branches of human industry will then grow together, and be really handmaidens to each other."[14]

1809 June 24. (Jefferson to P.S. Dupont de Nemours). "The interruption of our commerce with England, produced by our embargo and non-intercourse law, and the general indignation excited by her bare-faced attempts, to make us accessories and tributaries to her usurpations on the high seas, have generated in this country an universal spirit of manufacturing for ourselves, and of reducing to a minimum the number of articles for which we are dependent on her. The advantages, too, of lessening the occasions of risking our peace on the ocean, and of planting the consumer in our own soil by the side of the grower of produce, are so palpable, that no temporary suspension of injuries on her part, or agreements founded on that, will now prevent our continuing in what we have begun. The spirit of manufacture has taken deep root among us, and its foundations are laid in too great expense to be abandoned. The bearer of this, in too great expense to be abandoned. The bearer of this, Mr. Ronaldson, will be able to inform you of the extent and perfection of the works produced here by the late state of things; and to this information, which is greatest as to what is doing in the cities, I can add my own as the country, where the principal articles wanted in every family are now fabricated within itself. This mass of household manufacture, unseen by the public eye, and so much greater than what is seen, is such at present, that let our intercourse with England be opened when it may, not one half the amount of what we have heretofore taken from her will ever again be demanded. The great call from the country has hitherto been of coarse goods. These are now made in our families, and the advantage is too sensible ever to be relinquished. It is one of those obvious improvements in our condition which needed only to be once forced on our attention, never again to be abandoned."[15]

1811 April 15. (Jefferson to Dupont de Nemours). "It is true we are going greatly into manufactures; but the mass of them are household manufactures of the coarse articles worn by the laborers and farmers of the family. These I verily believe we shall succeed in making to the whole extent of our necessities. But the attempts at find goods will probably be abortive. They are undertaken by company establishments, and chiefly in the towns; will have little success and short continuance in a country where the charms of agriculture attract every being who can engage in it."[16]

1811 October 1. (Jefferson to John Dortie). "I formerly believe it was best for every country to make what it could make to best advantage, and to exchange it with others for those articles which it could not so well make. I did not then suppose that a whole quarter of the globe could within the short space of a dozen years, from being the most civilized, become the most savage portion of the human race. I am come over therefore to your opinion that, abandoning to a certain degree those agricultural pursuits, which bests suited our situation, we must endeavor to make every ting we want within ourselves, and have as little intercourse as possible with Europe in it's present demoralised state."[17]

1812 January 21. "Here we do little in the fine way, but in coarse and midling goods a great deal. Every family in the country is a manufactory within itself, and is very generally able to make within itself all the stouter and midling stuffs for it's own cloathing and household use. We consider a sheep for every person in the family as sufficient to clothe it, in addition to the cotton, hemp and flax which we raise ourselves. For fine stuff we shall depend on your Northern manufactures. Of these, that is to say, of company establishments, we have none. We use little machinery. The Spinning Jenny and loom with the flying shuttle can be managed in a family; but nothing more complicated. The economy and thriftiness resulting from our household manufactures are such that they will never again be laid aside; and nothing more salutary for us has ever happened than the British obstructions to our demands for their manufactures. Restore free intercourse when they will, their commerce with us will have totally changed it's form, and the articles we shall in future want from them will not exceed their own consumption of our produce."[18]

1812 June 28. (Jefferson to General Thaddeus Kosciuszko). "Our manufacturers are now very nearly on a footing with those of England. She has not a single improvement which we do not possess, and many of them better adapted by ourselves to our ordinary use. We have reduced the large and expensive machinery for most things to the compass of a private family, and every family of any size is now getting machines on a small scale for their household purposes...For fine goods there are numerous establishments at work in the large cities, and many more daily growing up."[19]

1813 January 8. (Jefferson to Henry Middleton). "Indeed, it seems to me that in proportion as commercial avarice and corruption advance on us from the north and east, the principles of free government are to retire tot he agricultural States of the south and west, as their government for her portion, agriculture may abandon contentedly to others the fruits of commerce and corruption."[20]

1813 January 12. (Jefferson to James Ronaldson ). "Household manufacture is taking deep root with us. I have a carding machine, two spinning machines, and looms with the flying shuttle in full operation for clothing my own family; and I verily believe that by the next winter this State will not need a yard of imported coarse or middling clothing. I think we have already a sheep for every inhabitant, which will suffice for clothing, and one-third more, which a single year will add, will furnish blanketing..."[21]

1813 January 13. (Jefferson to John Melish). "I had no conception that manufactures had made such progress there [western states], and particularly of the number of carding and spinning machines dispersed through the whole country. We are but beginning here to have them in our private families. Small spinning jennies of from half a dozen to twenty spindles, will soon, however, make there way into the humblest cottages, as well as the richest houses; and nothing is more certain, than that the coarse and middling clothing for our families, will forever hereafter continue to be made within ourselves. I have hitherto myself depended on foreign manufactures; but I have now thirty-five spindles agoing, a hand carding machine, and looms with the flying shuttle, for the supply of my own farms, which will never be relinquished in my time. The continuance of the war will fix the habit generally...I have not formerly been an advocate for great manufactories. I doubted whether our labor, employed in agriculture, and aided by the spontaneous energies of the earth, would not procure us more than we could make ourselves of other necessaries. But other considerations entering into the question, have settled my doubts."[22]

1813 December 8. (Jefferson to Madame de Tesse). "We have taken Upper Canada and shall add the Lower to it when the season will admit; and hope to remove them fully and finally from our continent. And what they will feel more, for they value their colonies only for the bales of cloth they take from them, we have established manufactures, not only sufficient to supersede our demand from them, but to rivalize them in foreign markets."[23]

1815 February 14. (Jefferson to Marquis de Lafayette). Suspect of English aggression America should enter "a state of preparation for it. In this we have much to do, in further fortifying our seaport towns, providing military stores, classing and discipling our militia, arranging our financial system, and above all, pushing our domestic manufactures which have take such root as never again can be shaken."[24]

1815 December 29. (Jefferson to George Fleming). "I presume, like the rest of us in the country, you are in the habit of houshold manufacture, and that you will not, like too many, abandon it on the return of peace, to enrich our late enemy, and to nourish foreign agents in our bosom, whose baneful influence and intrigues cost us so much embarrassment and dissension."[25]

1816 January 9. (Jefferson to Benjamin Austin). "You tell me I am quoted by those who wish to continue our dependence on England for manufactures. There was a time when I might have been so quoted with more candor, but within the thirty years which have since elapsed, how are circumstances changed! We were then in peace. Our independent place among nations was acknowledged...We have experienced what we did not then believe, that there exists both profligacy and power enough to exclude us from the field of interchange with other nations: that to be independent for the comforts of life we must fabricate them ourselves. We must now place the manufacturer by the side of the agriculturist...He, therefore, who is now against domestic manufacture, must be for reducing us either to dependence on that foreign nation, or to be clothed in skins, and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of these; experience has taught me that manufactures are now as necessary to our independence as to our comfort...If it shall be opposed to go beyond our own supply, the question of '85 will then recur, will our surplus labor be then most beneficially employed in the culture of the earth, or in the fabrications of art? We have time yet for consideration, before that question will press upon us; and the maxim to be applied will depend on the circumstances which shall then exist; for in so complicated a science as political economy, no one axiom can be laid down as wise and expedient for all times and circumstances, and for their contraries."[26]

1816 May 8. (Jefferson to Charles Willson Peale). "I concur with you in doubting whether the great establishments by associated companies, are advantageous in this country. It is the household manufacture which is really precious; because the same children are employed in them, under the eye and care of their parents, where they are more correctly brought up, and have better opportunities of healthy exercise, this however is for coarse, and midling [sic]goods only. For the finest fabrics, we must depend on the associated establishments, or on foreign countries."[27]

1817 May 14. (Jefferson to Marquis de Lafayette). "The British war has left us in debt; but that is a cheap price for the good it has done us. The establishment of the necessary manufactures among ourselves, the proof that our government is solid, can stand the shock of war, and is superior even to civil schism, are precious facts for us."[28]

1824 June 5. (Jefferson to Richard Rush). "Congress has just risen, having done nothing remarkable except the passing a tariff bill by majorities, very revolting to a great portion of the people of the states, among whom it is believed it would not have received a vote but of the manufacturers themselves. It is considered a levy on the labor and efforts of the other classes of industry to support that of manufactures, and I wish it may not draw on our surplus and produce retaliatory impositions from other nations."[29]


  1. PTJ, 1:124-125.
  2. Ibid, 7:28.
  3. Ibid, 8:633.
  4. Notes, ed. Peden, 164-165.
  5. Peterson, Writings, 659-660.
  6. Ibid, 446.
  7. [[Short Title List|Ford, 9:340.
  8. Peterson, Writings, 1143-1144.
  9. L&B, 11:55-56.
  10. Peterson, Writings, 519.
  11. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library. Colonial Williamsburg. http://research.history.org/JDRLibrary.cfm
  12. Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mtj1&fileName=mtj1page040.db&recNum=792
  13. Ford, 11:69-70.
  14. L&B, 12:270.
  15. Peterson, Writings, 1208-1209.
  16. Ford, 11:199-201.
  17. Betts, Garden Book, 462.
  18. Peterson, Writings, 1258-1259.
  19. Ibid, 1265-1266.
  20. L&B, 13:202-203.
  21. Betts, Garden Book, 505.
  22. Peterson, Writings, 1267-1268.
  23. Ibid, 1316.
  24. Ibid, 1366.
  25. Betts, Farm Book, 252.
  26. Peterson, Writings, 1370-1372.
  27. Betts, Farm Book, 491-492.
  28. Peterson, Writings, 1407.
  29. Ford, 12:355.

Tag this

Login or register to tag items

Add comment

Login or register to post comments