John Marshall to Rufus King5
Richmond April 19th 96
I pray you to excuse my seeming inattention to the subject alluded to in yours by the last mail.
Having never been in habits of correspondence with Mr. H. I coud not by letter ask from him a decision on the proposition I was requested to make him without giving him at the same time a full statement of the whole conversation & of the persons with whom that conversation was held. In doing this I felt some difficulty. I am not positively certain what course that Gentleman might take. The proposition might not only have been rejected but mentioned publickly to others in such manner as to have become an unpleasant circumstance. Genl. Lee6 corresponds familiarly with Mr. H. & is in the habit of proposing offices to him. I deemd it most adviseable to speak to that gentleman & to request him to sound Mr. H. as from himself or in such manner as might in any event be perfectly safe. He promisd to do so but said confidently that no answer woud be receivd to the the letter, nor was any answer receivd.
Mr. H. will be in Richmond on the 22d. of May. I can then sound him myself & if I find him (& suspect I shall) totally unwilling to engage in the contest, I can stop where prudence may direct. I trust it will not then be too late to bring forward to public view Mr. H. or any other gentleman who may be thought of in his stead.
Shoud any thing occur to render it improper to have any communication with Mr. H. on this subject, or shoud you wish the communication to take any particular shape you will be so obliging as to drop me a line concerning it.7
With great & sincere respect & esteem I am dear Sir your Obedt.
5. ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
Irwin S. Rhodes, ed., The Papers of John Marshall, a Descriptive Calendar (Norman, Oklahoma, 1969), I, 260, states incorrectly that this letter is from Marshall to H. Rhodes also wrongly attributes the same mistake to Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall (Boston and New York, 1919), II, 156–57.
6. Henry Lee, leading Virginia Federalist, former governor of Virginia, and close friend of H.
7. On May 24, 1796, Marshall wrote to King: “Mr. Henry has at length been sounded on the subject you committed to my charge. Genl. Lee and myself have each conversed with him on it, tho’ without informing him particularly of the persons who authorized the communication. He is unwilling to embark on the business. His unwillingness, I think, proceeds from an apprehension of the difficulties to be encountered by those who shall fill high Executive offices.” King endorsed this letter: “Ansd. 1 June.—regretting &c and observing that it wd. be requisite to fix on another person without delay” (King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York, 1894–1900). description ends , II, 48).