Buy American

January 1, 1812 – February 10, 1812

JA to TJ: “As you are a Friend to American Manufactures under proper restrictions, especially Manufactures of the domestic kind, I take the Liberty of sending you by the Post a Packett containing two Pieces of Homespun lately produced in this quarter by One who was honoured in his youth with some of your Attention and much of your kindness.”

So begins a renewed correspondence after 11 years of silence between these two former friends and future giants of American history.

Where we are:

  • Peacefield, near Quincy, Massachusetts: former president John Adams, small-scale farmer, 76 years of age
  • Monticello, Virginia: former president Thomas Jefferson, large-scale farmer, 68 years of age

JA is already having a bit of fun, as the “homespun” turned out to be a copy of his son’s two-volume Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory.* The joke triggers a fantastic series of crossing letters wherein TJ muses on domestic manufacturing in Virginia, prompting JA to respond that actually the “homespun” was a book, but it’s a great topic so let’s talk about New England manufacturing too. Of course, while JA is writing that letter TJ gets the book in the mail, gets the joke, and writes back to let JA knows he gets it. Awkward, funny, and really the perfect way to begin a tenuous reconciliation.

Turns out, the topic of manufactures is a nice window into the world of two farmers from very different parts of the country.

TJ to JA: “Every family in this country [i.e. Virginia] 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.”

JA to TJ: “Your Account of the flourishing State of Manufactures in Families in your part of the Country is highly delightful to me. I wish the Spirit may spread and prevail through the Union. Within my Memory We were much in the same Way in New England: but in later Times We have run a gadding abroad too much to seek for Eatables, Drinkables and Wearables.”

Buy American, folks. Nay, make it yourselves. You heard it here.

*Thought about adding this to my to-read list, but a quick search found that volume two alone is 400 pages. There must be a well-edited version out there somewhere. All you John Quincy Adams fans out there, please share.


3 thoughts on “Buy American

  1. I see that Americans have long relied on convenience. I thought that was a 20th Century faux pas. I think we should go back to the existence that TJ was talking about where every one in the family had a sheep. I think my little plot of land would hold just 1 sheep. Maybe…I do appreciate the effort some take to live this way. I am beginning to buy American TJ!

  2. “Buy American, folks. Nay, make it yourselves.”

    Reminds me of the latest Eric Sloane book I picked up, “Once Upon a Time: The way America was.”

    Sloane’s five chapter titles start out with “Once upon a time …” and then focus in on a theme. Titles of three chapters, as examples, end with:
    Americans were frugal
    Americans had a reverence for wood
    Americans enjoyed hard work (I’m not sure about “enjoy” but he makes a strong case for pride in accomplishment and completion)

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