"I am not afraid of new inventions or improvements, nor bigoted to the practices of our forefathers. It is that bigotry which keeps the Indians in a state of barbarism in the midst of the arts, would have kept us in the same state even now, and still keeps Connecticut where their ancestors were when they landed on these shores. I am much pleased that Congress is taking up the business. Where a new invention is supported by well known principles & promises to be useful, it ought to be tried. Your torpedoes will be to cities what vaccination has been to mankind. It extinguishes their greatest danger. But there will still be navies, not for the destruction of cities, but for the plunder of commerce on the high seas. That the tories should be against you is in character, because it will curtail the power of their idol, England."
Jefferson's personality was fed by a natural curiosity and a keen intellect. An "amateur" architect, he famously designed Monticello, and furnished it with such innovative devices as mechanical dumb waiters, a spherical sundial, and a revolving book stand. He also met and corresponded with many of the great scientists and inventors of his day. Jefferson was instrumental in developing America's patent system, and always open to "improvements." It is also interesting that Jefferson, even when thinking of a potentially terrible weapon, focused on defensive measures, a point of view very different from that of John Adams.
Fulton is best known for inventing the steamboat, and his Clermont debuted in August 1807, traveling from New York City to Albany, during Jefferson’s second term as president. Fulton’s partner and patron in this enterprise was Robert R. Livingston, a Jeffersonian politician and Minister to France. Joined in Paris by James Monroe, and charged with inquiring with Napoleon and his Foreign Secretary, Talleyrand, about possible terms for purchasing New Orleans, Livingston successfully negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Approved by the Senate in 1804, the treaty doubled the territory of the United States. Though Livingston and Fulton cooperated on a vessel to ply the Hudson, and would enjoy a monopoly of this service for years, many believed that the real money could be made using steamboats on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, in the new Louisiana Purchase.
Fulton was the first to use the term “torpedo” to describe a means of attacking using a floating explosive charge. He hoped to find patronage from the Jefferson and Madison administrations. Fulton wrote to Jefferson on February 24, 1810: “as soon as I published my pamphlet on Torpedoes at New York, I sent 12 of them to Mr [President James] Madison, begging of him to forward one to you. I have the pleasure now to send you four copies for yourself…” In the midst of lobbying for congressional aid, and having won the support of the Secretary of the Navy, Fulton felt “all my courage and hope revived.” But Fulton felt he needed Jefferson’s support against “the Tories and Marine navy men” wary of threats to conventional tactics.
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