From Thomas Truxtun1
Norfolk [Virginia] 26th March 1802.
As an officer Sacrifised by party Spirit & in the hope of a favourable change in the affairs of our once free and happy Country, I think it a duty to address you as one of the remaining honest political fathers of it. The present administration finding as I verily believe, that it was not possible to Succeed in bringing me over to prostitute my principles by forsaking the federal cause and becomeing a proselyte to their infernal doctrines and their measures, which will ere long destroy in toto, the Constitution of our Country, have adopted a Scheem to compel me to quit the Navy.2 The art with which this project was managed, could not have been surpassed by any pettee foging lawyer in the u s of talents Superior to the Actor (Mr Secy Smith)3 in the undertaking, but it was Not for me at this period of my life independent in my mind and fortune of public favour, to Suffer any thing degrading to my honor (by the Sect) in violation of an agreement made with me, previous to my leaving Washington for this Borough, to take Command of the Squadron destined for the Mediterranean Station.4 Early on my Arrival here I discovered the whole plan and the Cause of it, and my embarrassments were great; lest on quitting the Service many of my federal friends, Not knowing the real Cause, Should consider me blameable but on reflection and mature reflection, I consider that an honest representation of facts would reconcile them to my determination, especially as there was No alternative left but to quit the Service or to Show a meaness of Spirit which I dispise, and would not do, to be possessed of the Presidents palace with all his equipage power and Consequence. Beleiving as I did that the Sect viewed me with a jealous eye, I carried on much of my correspondence with the Secy of the navy through Mr Stoddert5 (the late Secy of that department) and he will do me the Justice to say, that I declared before I left my home in New Jersey6 and after I had Journey’d on as far as Philadelphia, that I would not proceed without a Captain under me (as Commodore Dale has)7 or if that grade of officer was inconvenient to furnish, on account of the few Captains retained in Service (in consequence of the act of Congress of 1801)8 a Lieutenant Commandant to Supply the place of a Captain, and on my arrival at Washington Mr Smith furnished me with a list of officers ordered to my Ship the Chesapeake headed by Captain Campbell,9 which list is now before me.10 but some time after I arrived here11 and had compleated the equipment of the ship I received a letter from the Secy Stating that Captain Campbell from some accident could not, or would not be able to go, and altho’ I had gone through the fatigue of preparing the Ship for the expedition with only two very young Lieutenants (all that was sent me) I was directed to make Another Lieutenant from the inexperienced midshipmen on board,12 None of which had been more than a voyage or two at sea. This order I Could not Comply with,13 Nor would the ship have been Safe in a Common Squall when I was at any time off the decks with officers in charge thereon—So very destitute of nautical information. This circumstance only admitted how much more So would the risk of the honor of our flag have been in Battle—especially if any accident happened to the commanding officer. But sir Messrs Jefferson Gallatin Smith & Co. knew full well I would not submit to this State of things, and it was in my belief their plan to get rid of Me. they can Never forgive me for having taken and beaten Frenchmen. I have committed a dreadful crime for having Spilt French blood in the execution of performing faithfully my duty, and I shall be for ever held up at their caucus’s as undeserving of any honors from their party, and the ungraceful and ungracious manner with the Countenance shewn by Mr Jefferson when he presented me with the medal,14 was a convincing proof that while he executed the Law in doing it, he felt as much rancor as he did (when Vice President) at Signing the late Judiciary bill15 as President of the Senate. When I have the honor to See you I will detail further the conduct of the administration in my Case. till then I trust that my friends will stand convinced that I have only acted as an officer ought to act for his own honor and for the honor and good of his Country, for it would have been running as I have Stated every risk to have proceeded on the Service directed in the manner it was intended to dispatch me if it ever was intended to dispatch me.
I have the honor to be sir with great respect and esteem Your very Obt servt
Honble. Alexr Hamilton Esqr
P. S. I shall be at home in a few days after you receive this note.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
1. Truxtun was appointed a captain in the United States Navy on June 4, 1794 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 160, 161), and he ranked fifth among the six captains appointed at that time. During the undeclared war in 1798 with France, he commanded the U.S. Frigate Constellation and a squadron of ships in the Caribbean, where he won two important naval engagements against the French ships L’Insurgente and La Vengeance. After peace with France was established in 1800, Truxton was retained as one of nine captains provided for in the Naval Peace Establishment of 1801. For Truxtun’s earlier career in the Navy, see Henry Knox to H, June 23, 1794; Silas Talbot to H, January 15, May 13, 1799; Benjamin Stoddert to H, May 3, July 19, 1799.
2. On March 22, 1802, the following item appeared in the New-York Evening Post: “We understand that Commodore Truxtun has resigned his office in the navy of the United States.”
3. Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith.
4. For Truxtun’s instructions, see Smith to Truxtun, January 12, 1802 (Naval Documents, Barbary Powers description begins Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers (Washington, 1939), I description ends , II, 19).
5. Benjamin Stoddert was Secretary of the Navy from 1798 to 1801.
6. Truxtun lived in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
7. Richard Dale was appointed a captain in the newly formed United States Navy on June 4, 1794 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 160, 161). In 1796 Congress halted construction of the naval frigate that Dale was to command, and he was either placed on the inactive list or lost his commission. From 1796 to 1799, Dale conducted trading voyages to China, and in 1799 his commission was reissued (Talbot to H, January 15, 1799, note 1). He left the Navy in the same year because of a dispute over relative rank (Talbot to H, January 15, 1799, note 1; Stoddert to H, February 6, 1799). In 1801 Dale returned to the Navy and was appointed commodore of the fleet which President Jefferson ordered to the Mediterranean in anticipation of war with the Barbary Powers.
Captain James Barron served under Dale from June, 1801, to April, 1802, as commanding officer of the United States Frigate President, flagship of the Mediterranean squadron.
8. Section 4 of “An Act for providing for a Naval peace establishment, and for other purposes” (2 Stat, 110–11 [March 3, 1801]) provided “That the President of the United States retain in the navy service in time of peace, nine captains.…”
9. Hugh Campbell of Georgia was appointed master commandant in the Navy on January 15, 1800, and his nomination as captain was approved by Congress on December 30, 1800 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 334, 336, 358, 364). He served as commanding officer of the United States Brigantine Eagle in Truxtun’s squadron in the West Indies during the undeclared war with France.
10. Truxtun is referring to Smith to Truxtun, January 20, 1802 (Naval Documents, Barbary Powers description begins Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers (Washington, 1939), I description ends , II, 26), but Campbell’s name is not on the list of officers of the Chesapeake in this letter.
11. Truxtun arrived in Norfolk on February 18, 1802 (The [New York] Spectator, February 24, 1802).
12. Smith to Truxtun, February 23, 1802 (LC, RG 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Letters Sent by the Secretary of the Navy to Officers, Vol. 5, May 15, 1801, to September 27, 1802, National Archives).
13. On March 3, 1802, Truxtun wrote to Smith: “Under these circumstances and having a reputation to lose which I am very tenacious of, I should consider myself wanting in that duty which I owe myself and to my family if I was to proceed without being placed in a situation similar to the Commander of of the Squadron now in the Mediterranean and if this cannot be done I must beg leave to quit the service” (Naval Documents, Barbary Powers description begins Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers (Washington, 1939), I description ends , II, 76). On March 13 Smith acknowledged Truxtun’s letter and informed him that he considered it as notification of Truxtun’s resignation (Naval Documents, Barbary Powers description begins Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers (Washington, 1939), I description ends , II, 82).
14. On March 24, 1800, Congress awarded Truxtun a commemorative gold medal for “gallantry and good conduct” during his victorious encounter with the French frigate La Vengeance on February 1–2, 1800 (Annals of Congress description begins The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and all the Laws of a Public Nature (Washington, 1834–1849). description ends , X, 121, 122, 629–30, 638, 639–40, 1531). Truxtun did not receive the medal until February 3, 1802, when President Jefferson presented it to him in Washington.