Thomas Jefferson Papers

Henry Remsen, Jr. to Benjamin Russell and Others, 23 November 1790

Henry Remsen, Jr. to Benjamin Russell and Others

Philadelphia Novr. 23d 1790


I am directed by the Secretary of State to request that you will furnish him with an estimate of the expense that will attend the publication of the Laws of the United States in your paper. It should mention the lowest price for which you will perform this work, and on account of the meeting of Congress early in next month, be transmitted to him without delay. I am Sir &c.

FC (DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120); at head of text: “To the Printers who publish Laws”; duplicates of this letter were sent to Benjamin Russell, Boston, editor of the Columbian Centinel; Childs & Swaine, New York, editors of the Daily Advertiser; Andrew Brown, Philadelphia, editor of the Federal Gazette; Augustine Davis, Richmond, editor of the Virginia Gazette, and General Advertiser; and to Mrs. Ann Timothy, Charleston, editor of the State Gazette of South-Carolina.

Although the act under which TJ exercised an authority having potential political influence directed that the laws be published in at least three newspapers in as many states, he soon extended the number to five and hoped eventually to extend it to all (see note on TJ’s arrangement with John Fenno, under 20 Mch. 1790). His initial use of this patronage benefited those newspapers that tended to favor federal or national views. Thus he first chose Fenno’s Gazette of the United States, continued to recognize Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel, avoided the partisan conflict of editors in Rhode Island, and patronized Andrew Brown whose Federal Gazette Benjamin Rush said had been “very instrumental … in circulating federal sentiments” through Pennsylvania (see Howell to TJ, 6 July 1790; TJ to Howell, 21 July 1790; Rush to TJ, 15 Aug. 1790; Fenner to TJ, 31 Aug. 1790; Carter to TJ, 24 Sep. 1790; Rush’s opinion of Brown is from Rush to John Adams, 26 Jan. 1790, MHi: AM). When the government moved to Philadelphia TJ transferred the privilege from Fenno, whose partisanship had clearly emerged before the newspaper left New York, to Andrew Brown. Remsen was permitted to handle such communications as the above, but there can be no doubt that it was TJ who decided which papers were to be granted the privilege of printing the laws.

Having recently found that Fenno’s paper had become partisan instead of presenting general intelligence in the manner TJ had persuaded him to do for a brief period, TJ must have given Benjamin Franklin Bache the same kind of encouragement as he passed through Philadelphia early in September (see Vol. 16: 232–67). Two of the early issues of Bache’s General Advertiser carried British arguments on weights and measures consonant with TJ’s own recommendations, probably supplied by him to the paper (see documents on coinage, under 29 Dec. 1790, note 22 of Editorial Note). There soon followed reports to the National Assembly on finances by Montesquieu and on tobacco by Roederer, along with selections from the Gazette de Leide, certainly supplied by TJ. See also TJ to Randolph, 15 May 1791.

On the responses of the editors, see Brown to TJ, 26 Nov. 1790; Davis to TJ, 2 Dec. 1790; Russell to TJ, 5 Dec. 1790; and Childs & Swaine to TJ, 16 Dec. 1790. No answer was received from Mrs. Ann Timothy, editor of the State Gazette of South-Carolina. Remsen wrote her again on 11 Jan. 1791, informing her that the Secretary of State had fixed the rate of compensation for publishing the laws in five newspapers, and added: “He intends yours shall be of the number, and only waits your determination” before sending authenticated copies or employing “some other Printer in Charleston to undertake it, in case you decline” (FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120). For TJ’s determination, see Remsen to the printers, 10 Jan. 1791. Texts of most of TJ’s letters with printers during his tenure as Secretary of State are printed in Jessie Ryon Lucke’s “Some Correspondence with Thomas Jefferson Concerning the Public Printers,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society, University of Virginia, i (1948), 27–37. See also, J. H. Powell, Books of a New Nation (1957), p. 88; W. A. Katz, “An Episode in Patronage: Federal Laws Published in Newspapers,” Am. Jour. Legal Hist., x (July 1966), 214–23.

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