Does Damaged Honor Demand War?


We are alarmed here with the apprehensions of war; and sincerely anxious that it may be avoided; but not at the expense either of our faith or honor. It seems much the general opinion here, that the latter has been too much wounded not to require reparation, & to seek it even in war, if that be necessary.

As to myself, I love peace, and I am anxious that we should give the world still another useful lesson, by showing to them other modes of punishing injuries than by war, which is as much a punishment to the punisher as to the sufferer.

I love, therefore … (to be continued)

Source: To Tench Coxe, May 1, 1794

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Careful leaders reserve armed conflict as the last resort.
Jefferson had retired as President Washington’s Secretary of State and was enjoying the peacefulness of Monticello. He followed enough of the news to know about continuing conflict in Europe and offenses leveled toward the United States. Some Americans felt their wounded honor demanded satisfaction, and even war if need be.

Jefferson preferred his nation remain out of conflict. Not only would America benefit, doing so would be an example to the nations about seeking other ways to settle their disputes.

He wisely observed that war punished equally, not just the aggressors, but the nation who stood against them.


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