Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Digges, 28 April 1791

From Thomas Digges

Belfast 28 April 1791.


I wrote you on the 24th. Ins. and am sorry to put you to the trouble of reading a second long Letter nearly upon the same Subject. It is of such importance to the Manufactures of our Country as to insure me your forgiveness. The Artist Mr. Wm. Pearce, mentiond in my former Letter and whose works you will have described at the end of this Letter, has finally determind to go for America with his Invention, and to fix there; And I have so little time before the Vessel sails to address The President and yourself on the subject of Pearce and McCabe getting a Patent or premium for their work, that I hope you will escuse haste and inaccuracys. I before wrote You that a Box was forwarded to Mr. Geo. Woolsey Merchant of New York and a relation of McCabes, containing the materials and specifications for a new Invented double Loom, and so sent For the Inspection of the President and yourself as to obtain for the Inventors Pearce and McCabe a Patent, or such exclusive Benefit as the Laws of America provide for Artists who furnish new and usefull Inventions.

At that time I had my Eye upon Pearce and a strong hope of his going, but as His doing so much crashd with the present Interest of his Partner McCabe, I was necessiated to write to Yourself and the President in the stile I then did as if Pearce was not to go. He is now, very much to my satisfaction and pleasure, so engaged as not to be able to recede, without a forcible stop from the Government, who are making Laws and trying all possible means to stop the Emigration of Artists and their Tools.—I need not tell You that it is not only difficult to get such away, but highly dangerous to those concerned; Therefore the more secret it is kept the better. Pearce will bear this Letter to Yourself and a similar one to the President; together with the box before mentioned. For fear of a miscarriage of my former Letter I will annex to this a duplicate of my description of his sundry Looms &ca., as also to inform You that the Box contains a pair of double Temples near 7 ft. in length for spreading at the same time two pieces of Linin or Callico on one Loom, also a set of Headles, Elbow and Shuttle for Linen &ca. I have one satisfaction that should they miscarry, Pearce if He lives can make every atom of them (which I believe no other man can do) and with Him goes two ingenious workmen, Jameson and Hall, who can make most kinds of machinery such as spining Jennys, Billys, mules, Carding machines &ca. and they will be excellent seconds to Pearce who has been twice or thrice beset here by Emissarys from Manchester to inveigle Him back to England, and I doubt not but they will follow him for like purposes to America. He puts his trust in the President and in You to whom it is with alacrity I have given every testimonial in my power of his industry, sobriety, worth and extraordinary [talents though he is low-bred and an ?] illiterate man. He is not rich tho an Independant man having [a sum ?] of money left in the hands of a friend in Manchester on whom he can draw, (which He has done to me for the advance of getting him and the other two out and for passage money &ca.). He has a wife and Family in England who will soon follow him, and I trust his invitations will lead a number of mechanic Artists to follow his fortunes.—I have given Him introductory Letters to Mr. Seton of N York, Conyngham & Nesbet, Governor Dickinson, my Brother at my home near Mt. Vernon, Colo. Fitzgerald &ca. but with Express orders that no one shall have access to the Box but the President and yourself, for the disclosure of it to an ingenious artist or good drawer might pirate from McCabe and Pearce their Invention.—He wants nothing but health, waterfall, wood and Iron to carry him thro’ any Manufactory and being delighted with my description of our Rivers and Falls &ca. it is with my advice He will wait upon Mr. Dickinson and look at the Brandywine mills &ca. &ca.

I hope by tomorrow He will be at Sea and in safety. It gives me great pleasure to have been the means of getting so valuable an Artist to our Country and I cannot too strongly recommend Him to Your patronage and every other aid He may want. I am with great respect & Esteem Yr. Obedt. & very Hle. Serv.,

Thos. Digges

If I can in any way assist or help You, I hope You wont spare Your commands. I shall be in England till Sepr. next and any direction will be to care of Mr. Josa. Johnson American Consul London, tho my stay will be chiefly in Yorkshire and the manufacturing towns of England.—I have wrote till I am nearly blind.

RC (DLC); top of first leaf worn so that some words are lost and have been given conjecturally in brackets (supplied), being based on similar expressions in other letters by Digges. Recorded in SJL as received 12 July 1791. Enclosure: Digges’ description of Pearce’s inventions, together with some information about the man and his claims, in part as follows: “Pearce came last from Doncaster in Yorkshire, and is the artist who erected the famous mills of Messrs. Cartwrights of that place, which dress the wool, spins and weaves it into Broad Cloth by force of water, steam, or horse (when I saw the works, they were forc’d by an Ox or Bull) and the Proprietors were making a fortune by it.—He also was the inventor of Arkwrights Spining and weaving Machinery … but was robbd of his invention by Arkwright (then a hair dresser and since made a Baronet from his Wealth) But Pearce and a Mr. Thos. Hayes, then a joint Artist in the work broke Arkwrights patent ’tho not till after he acquired a large fortune by it.” There followed a description of Pearce’s improvements on his four types of looms, the last of which was “for weaving three pieces of Thickset or Corduroys at once, with an additional invention of a flat piece of Iron with Cutters to cut the Thickset as he wove on (the Expence of cutting Thickset is 1½d. or 2d. pr yard). I did not see the cutting [work, but the] Pieces were all of Cotton of about 900 fine and nine yards pr. day was easy work. This was his neatest and best looking Loom, but the Linin one is far more valuable to this Country, and His Check one the more ingenious… . The intention of Messrs. Pearce and McCabe was to get a premium from the Irish Parliament for these vast improvements in manufacture, but after a long attendance and producing every possible and convincing proofs of their Utility, They were foild by a party <…>; and by a trick in Jobbing, (for there is no publick works done in this Country without its becoming a Job). Ireland is likely to loose not only the invention but so ingenious an Artist as Pearce. He will I trust be a blessing to Our Country, where from the dearness and high price of Mechanic wages, all Manufacture must at first receive a Check; But by the aid of such Machinery and mill work as Pearce’s, He will make wood and water, a vast substitute for manual Labour” (MS in Digges’ hand, undated, in DLC: TJ Papers, 63: f. 10951; a word or two heavily scored out and indecipherable, as indicated by the angle brackets; MS worn at top of leaf and some words are lost, being given in brackets [supplied] from a similar document of which a description follows). There is another description of Pearce’s looms and of his relation with McCabe which is almost identical with the enclosure just described except for the final paragraph, which reads: “On Mr. Pearce’s disappointment here, and becoming vexd with the Rulers of this Country, I got Him with some difficulty, and no little danger to Embark for America. An Express was sent from Dublin to stop Him, and the vessell was twice boarded and stopd in which He went by the Cutters. I saw him safe away in the Brig Endeavour Capn. Seward belonging to Portsmouth N H and who saild from hence the 3d. of May for New York. His wish is to Establish himself where a water fall in the vicinity of any great town can be easily obtained. He took out with Him the working artist who made his Looms (Mr. Jameson, who is Brother to Messrs. Jamesons Merchts Iron monger in London), also Jno. Hall another artist; and He went recommended (his purpose being first to obtain a Patent in America) to The President, to Mr. Wm. Seton N. York, Mr. Thos. Jefferson, Govr. Dickinson, Conyngham & Nesbit Phia, to Colo. Fitzgerald Alexa; Geo Diggs &ca. &ca. and also to Mr. Thos Russell Boston. His wish is to be near the Fœdral Town and He is bent upon looking at the Falls of Potowmack for His mill station before he fixes. T.D.” (MS in DNA: RG 59, MLR; undated but after 3 May 1791 and obviously addressed neither to Washington nor to TJ. Its presence in the departmental files suggests that the recipient forwarded it either to the President or to the Secretary of State. The reference to Pearce’s desire to locate near Federal City and at the Falls of the Potomac indicates that the most likely recipient was Henry Lee, who hoped to establish manufacturing and commercial enterprises at that site; see Lee to TJ, 6 Mch. 1789 and note to TJ’s opinion on Virginia’s textile proposal, at 3 Dec. 1790; Digges enclosed a similar document in his letter to Washington of 12 July 1791, DNA: RG 59, MLR.)

Thomas Attwood Digges (1742–1821), scion of a prominent Catholic family of Maryland whose seat lay across the Potomac from Mount Vernon, was trusted least by those who knew him best. The known testimony of contemporaries—with one very notable exception—was unanimously adverse. Benjamin Franklin’s famous appraisal was so damning and so current at the time that Horace Walpole recorded it in his journals. On learning that Digges had embezzled charitable funds placed in his hands for the relief of suffering American prisoners, Franklin declared in outrage: “We have no name in our Language for such atrocious Wickedness. If such a Fellow is not damn’d it is not worth while to keep a Devil” (Franklin to William Hodgson, 1 Apr. 1781, DLC: Franklin Papers, printed in Francis Wharton, Dipl. Corr. Am. Rev., iv, 345–6; Walpole’s paraphrase—“that if Digges was not damned the devil would be useless”—appears in his Journal for Mch. 1782, Francis Steuart, ed., The Last Journals of Horace Walpole [London, 1910], p. 422). Joshua Johnson, who had known Digges well in London before the war, advised William Knox to “be cautious of T. D.” (Johnson to William Knox, 18 Apr. 1791, DNA: RG 59, CD, MNP 167/1; see note to Knox to TJ, 19 Apr. 1791). Even Bishop Carroll of Baltimore, who did not know Digges at all but was well aware of his general reputation in Maryland, felt called upon to warn the Archbishop of Dublin against his intrigues in “coaliting Catholics with Presbyterians” in northern Ireland. Acknowledging that his family and connections were of the first respectability and that Digges himself was a person of “amazing address,” Carroll declared that in his early youth he had been guilty of misdemeanors “indicating rooted depravity … and his friends, to rescue him from the hands of justice, and themselves from dishonour, sent him out of the country” (Carroll to the Archbishop of Dublin, 16 Apr. 1792, quoted in Lynn H. Parsons’ “The Mysterious Mr. Digges,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxii [July, 1965], 490–1, from Moran’s Spicilegium Ossoriense [Dublin, 1884], 511–12).

The one exception among Digges’ distrusting contemporaries was the President of the United States. Long a neighbor and friend of the family, George Washington said he had “no hesitation in declaring that the conduct of Mr. Thomas Digges towards the United States during the war … and since so far as the same has come to my knowledge has not been only friendly, but I might add zealous.” Washington believed, but did not assert as a fact, that during the war he had received useful communications directly from Digges and also through captives he had helped to escape, sent at “extreme hazard of discovery.” But this distinguished testimonial, prudently qualified as it was, only revealed Washington’s lack of personal knowledge of Digges’ true character. “Until you mentioned the doubts … entertained of Mr. Digges’ attachment to his country,” Washington wrote to his friend John Fitzgerald, “I had no idea of its being questioned.” In another important respect Washington’s testimonial was an unintended confirmation of the general estimate of Digges’ role during the war. For the fact is that legal proceedings had been instituted to have Digges’ Maryland estate confiscated on the ground that he had remained loyal to England and had served the enemy. Washington spoke therefore as a character witness and at the request of counsel for the defense. Fitzgerald was confident that the President would not only do justice to Digges’ character as a patriot, “but perhaps save an Estate to the descendants of an old friend and Neighbour, and to a family which … I have every reason to believe you honor with your friendship.” Washington readily complied, but with an opinion which raised more questions than it answered. Whatever its value as legal evidence, the powerful influence of its author undoubtedly helped Digges retain possession of his ancestral patrimony (Fitzgerald to Washington, 14 Apr. 1794, RC in DLC: Washington Papers; Washington to Fitzgerald, 27 Apr. 1794, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxiii, 340–2; in a postscript Washington added that he had talked with John Trumbull, who said that he was well acquainted with Digges in London and that he “always appeared well attached to … the United States”). Washington’s testimony may have enabled Digges to live out his final days as a Maryland planter. But it could not sway the verdict of history.

Digges absented himself from his native land for more than thirty years, during most of which time his known activities served only to raise suspicions about what remained hidden from the record. Like the famous double-agent, Edward Bancroft, another American expatriate whom he knew in London, Digges claimed to be a doctor, possessed affable manners, was admitted to respectable circles, and even wrote a mediocre novel whose chief title to remembrance is the doubtful claim that it was the first by an American. But there the parallel ends. Bancroft, a man of many talents, was so supremely skilled at deception that his treasonable activities remained hidden for a century, while Digges, an adventurer without any distinguishing competence, earned almost at once the well-merited distrust of those who knew him. With good reason he was accused at the time of being a liar, a speculator, a trader with the enemy, and a secret agent of the British government. The judgment of historians—again with a single exception—has overwhelmingly sustained that of his contemporaries. Every new accession of evidence has also confirmed the verdict. Even Digges’ sole scholarly defender, William Bell Clark, conceded that he embezzled funds intended for the relief of prisoners and sought to excuse this on the ground that failure of remittances from home “forced Digges to substitute ingenuity for integrity” (Clark, “In Defense of Thomas Digges,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends , lxxvii [Oct. 1953], 381–438; for the attribution to Digges of Adventures of Alonso [London, 1774], see Robert H. Elias, “The First American Novel,” Amer. Lit., xi I [Jan. 1941], 419–34, reprinted as an introduction to a facsimile edition of the novel [New York, 1943], and Robert H. Elias and Michael N. Stanton, “Thomas Atwood Digges and Adventures of Alonso,” Amer. Lit., xlvi [March 1972], 118–22; fresh information about Digges’ intrigues in Ireland, raising new suspicions, is presented in Lynn Hudson Parsons’ “The Mysterious Mr. Digges,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxii [July 1965], 486–92).

There is abundant evidence, as Washington correctly testified, that Digges did much to encourage artisans to emigrate to America and to take with them models and drawings of various kinds of machinery. What Washington overlooked, however, was that this was a felonious endeavor against which Great Britain for a century had enacted laws with increasingly severe penalties (i.e., £500 sterling fine and twelve months in prison, under the then prevailing laws of both Great Britain and Ireland; see David J. Jeremy, “British Textile Technology Transmission to the United States,” Business Hist. Rev., xlvii [Spring 1973], 24–206). This undeniable activity may have been inspired by patriotic feelings, as Washington believed, but the abundant evidence set forth in Digges’ letters, flawed as it was by prevarication, unfounded claims, and poor judgment, suggests that he had other and less elevated objects in view. Among these, as Digges candidly admitted, was the desire to “get over some Tenantry, and among them Artists, to fix on lands I possess both in Virginia and Maryland not far from the new Federal Town” (Digges to Hamilton, 6 Apr. 1792, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 242). Perhaps also Digges thought to rehabilitate his reputation at home by an activity which might be regarded by some as disinterested public service. But, however worthy his public or private motives, Digges was nevertheless engaged in industrial espionage of a criminal nature. This he compounded by seeking to enlist as accomplices the highest officers of his own government.

When Digges made a similar appeal to TJ in 1788, he received not only the blunt response that other than cotton manufacturing was impracticable in the United States, but also the unequivocal declaration that it was “not the policy of the government … to give any aid to works of that kind” (TJ to Digges, 19 June 1788; Digges to TJ, 12 May 1788; Henry Wyld to TJ, 20 May 1788). This was not enough to discourage such an enthusiast as Digges. Early in 1791, after a committee of the Irish House of Commons had reported favorably on Pearce’s invention of a simple loom capable of weaving a double web simultaneously, Digges made himself sponsor, promoter, and, as the evidence suggests, exploiter of the inventor. Pearce was an ingenious artisan, unlettered, impracticable, and intemperate. But Digges, who made the highly implausible claim that Arkwright and Cartwright had got their machines by robbing Pearce of his inventions, came to look upon the mechanic as “somewhat like a second Archimedes” (Digges to Hamilton, 6 Apr. 1792, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 244–5). The suggestion that Digges may have exploited Pearce and other artisans whom he urged to emigrate is found in the above letter, in which he asserted that Pearce was so engaged as not able to refrain from emigrating. This could only have meant that Pearce had made a binding agreement with Digges. The suggestion is also supported by Digges’ claim that he had advanced passage money for Pearce and his two companions. But when Pearce arrived in the United States, it was William Seton who personally gave Pearce $120 for passage and other expenses because Digges had asked him to extend his patronage and protection to the mechanic (Seton to Hamilton, 11 June 1792, same, xi, 506–7).

Pearce, bearing Digges’ several letters of introduction which sought to make the President, the Secretary of State, and others his secret accomplices, arrived at a propitious moment. At that time, unknown to all but a few, a small group of capitalists, speculators, and public officials, centered chiefly in New York and favored with the powerful influence of the Secretary of the Treasury, was trying to give reality to a dream of American manufactures long entertained by Tench Coxe. The result was the creation of the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (SUM) at the Falls of the Passaic. Some of those involved looked upon Alexander Hamilton as the true founder and he undoubtedly was the towering figure in the enterprise (see, for example, Archibald Mercer to Hamilton, 6 Apr. 1792, and Elias Boudinot to Hamilton, 26 Mch. 1793, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 247–8; xiv, 245–6; for a careful appraisal of Coxe’s role as the pioneering advocate, see Jacob E. Cooke, “Tench Coxe, Alexander Hamilton and the Encouragement of American Manufactures,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxxiii [July 1975], 369–92). This conjunction of events was fortunate for the Secretary of State as well as for the ingenious emigrant.

It was on the 12th of July that Pearce presented himself with his two most important letters of introduction at the homes of the President and the Secretary of State. If he bore Digges’ letter of 24 Apr. 1791 as well as the above, no copy of it has been found and none of that date is recorded in SJL. TJ never answered Digges and had no need to do so. For on that same afternoon he received a note on the same subject from the President. “If Mr. Pearce merits the character given him by T: D.,” wrote Washington, “he will unquestionably merit encouragement, and you can put him in the way to obtain it” (Washington to TJ, 12 July 1791, enclosing Digges’ letter to him). This may have been predicated upon a condition, but it was unquestionably a command, phrased in a manner Washington had never before employed with his Secretary of State.

One can only imagine TJ’s feelings on receiving this unequivocal directive. Just a few months had elapsed since the Secretary of State and the Attorney General had formally counselled the President against holding communication with an artisan exporting machines and models because such exports were against the law. On that occasion, the appeal had come from the State of Virginia and required an official response (see TJ’s opinion at 3 Dec. 1790, initially approving the President’s cooperation but later replacing this with his and Randolph’s opinion against involvement; see Vol. 18: 124n.). Pearce’s appeal, particularly in enjoining secrecy, was of a different character altogether. Before the week was over, TJ would learn that the American consul in Dublin had deemed it improper to give Pearce a letter of introduction (Knox to TJ, 19 Apr. 1791). Now, however, the President of the United States had required the Secretary of State to patronize a man who, however worthy, had violated British laws inculpating those who would give such encouragement. What TJ was directed to do went beyond the official duty of the Secretary of State and the other Commissioners of Patents to examine models and grant patents. That was an unavoidable obligation requiring adherence to the specific terms of a law applicable to all, citizens and aliens alike. A patent had in fact recently been granted to George Parkinson, another British emigrant who claimed to possess a “Knowledge of all the Secret Movements used in Sir Richard Arkwright’s Patent Machine” (Cooke, WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxxii [July 1975], 381, citing an advertisement in Federal Gazette, 24 Mch. 1791, and claiming Parkinson had thus “announced that the American government had officially endorsed his evasion of those English laws to prevent emigration of artisans and purveyance of industrial secrets”; this is incorrect even as inference: no such statement appears in the advertisement and, if it had, would not have been allowed by the Commissioners of Patents to whom it had been submitted prior to publication). But Washington’s terse command required the Secretary of State to go beyond his legal duty as patent officer and to give official encouragement to a person undeniably guilty of a felony. This presented a hard dilemma for one as scrupulously careful as TJ in separating public office from private interest. A significant indication of his attitude in facing this ethical problem is that he retained no single copy or record of his letters concerning the matter. The answer he gave to Washington—very likely an oral report—can only be conjectured. But of the nature of the solution which, fortunately, he found close at hand, there can be no doubt.

TJ had long been aware that Washington believed “the introduction of the late improved Machines to abridge labour, must be of almost infinite consequence to America” (Washington to TJ, 13 Feb. 1789). He also knew that a year later, in addressing the second session of the First Congress, the President had declared the safety and interest of a free people required the promotion of “such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military supplies” (First Annual Address, 8 Jan. 1790, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxx, 491–2). In consequence of Washington’s recommendation, the House of Representatives had called upon the Secretary of the Treasury to prepare a plan for the encouragement and promotion of manufactures. Why, then, had Washington not called upon Hamilton, whose thinking on the subject so closely paralleled his own, instead of referring Pearce to TJ whose opinions on the subject were quite different? The President’s action, if limited to the mere matter of granting a patent, would have been understandable. But since it commanded the extension of official patronage and encouragement to the British artisan, TJ could scarcely relieve himself of the problem by asking the Secretary of the Treasury to do what he himself had been directed to do. Fortunately, Tench Coxe had recently sent him a copy of his plan for a manufacturing establishment (Coxe to TJ, 15 Apr. 1791). This presented the opportunity TJ needed and he immediately turned Pearce over to Coxe, thus approaching his Cabinet colleague in a characteristically indirect manner. Under a covering note to Coxe, written the same day he received Washington’s command (but not found and not recorded in SJL), TJ transmitted the letter Digges had written to the President recommending Pearce. Coxe responded with enthusiasm the next day, promising “to fix a man who appears of so much importance to the United States” (Coxe to TJ, 13 July 1791, and note). He was as good as his word and saw to it that Pearce came to the attention of the Secretary of the Treasury. This assured the future of the artisan for the next two years, under official patronage privately bestowed. Coxe himself drew up the petition to the Commissioners of Patents of “William Pearce, late of … Great Britain, but now of the city of Philadelphia, manufacturing machine maker.” The application described the various machines Pearce had invented or improved and promised to prepare “models, descriptions and drawings … in so intelligible and complete a manner as fully to comply with the requisitions of the act of Congress to promote the useful Arts.” The claimed inventions were minor except for one Pearce said had been contrived during a short stay in Ireland, called a “mulitplier”—a term here used for the first time and which Coxe may have suggested—“capable of weaving two, three and perhaps more pieces of goods at one time” (undated draft, but before 7 Dec. 1791, in Coxe’s hand, addressed “To the honorable Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph,” PHi: Coxe Papers; a document listing Pearce’s machines in much the same terms is in DLC: Hamilton Papers and is printed in Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , ix, 86n.).

Thus it was that the Secretary of the Treasury, through TJ’s referral of Pearce to Coxe, became the artisan’s sponsor. Hamilton was in Philadelphia at the time of the exchange between TJ and Coxe, but immediately thereafter he went to New York and received from the directors of SUM full authority to negotiate a charter, secure artisans, and make public the plans of the new enterprise through a prospectus which he drafted (Davis, Essays in the earlier history of American corporations, i, 370, 373–4; Hamilton’s Prospectus, which appeared in various newspapers, is in Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , ix, 144–53). Within a month Hamilton had advanced $100 to Pearce in behalf of SUM for the construction of “certain machines and models of Machines to be delivered to … Alexander Hamilton” (same, xi, 85–6). Early in September Pearce began constructing his looms and other machinery in two “stores” rented by Hamilton from John Nixon. The next month Hamilton rented two additional places of Nixon for the same purpose. Altogether, within the year he had advanced to Pearce the not inconsiderable sum of $2,340.90.

Pearce had not brought with him the drawings and models which Digges sought to make accessible only to the President and the Secretary of State, but had left these in New York in the custody of William Seton, cashier of the Bank of New York. On the basis of a letter written a year later by Seton, who had advanced funds to Pearce for passage and other expenses, Davis and other authorities have accepted at face value his statement that TJ had given him written assurance “all charges would be thankfully repaid” (Seton to Hamilton, 11 June 1792, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 506–7). In this Seton was mistaken, confusing instructions from Tench Coxe with supposed assurances given directly by TJ. In his letter to TJ of 13 July 1791 Coxe enclosed a letter from Pearce to Seton authorizing him to deliver the two boxes of drawings and models to such person as the Secretary of State should direct. At the bottom of Pearce’s letter TJ appended a note to Seton containing nothing more than an authorization to him to turn the boxes over to Coxe. This is the only communication of any sort TJ is known to have written at any time to Seton. Coxe had no alternative but to take responsibility for Pearce’s models. But in transmitting Pearce’s letter, he accompanied it with another in which he made this quite unauthorized statement: “The charge I will procure from the Secretary of State and remit to you” (Coxe to Seton, 15 July 1791, PHi: Coxe Papers; see note to Coxe to TJ, 13 July 1791). TJ of course had no authority—and certainly no inclination—to pledge funds for Pearce on behalf of either the government or SUM. Seton’s statement to Hamilton, unsupported by any corroborative testimony and contradicted by all of the known evidence, cannot warrant the assertion that TJ “backed Coxe’s request to reimburse Pearce for his expenses by assuring William Seton … that ‘all charges,’ including the Englishman’s passage to America, ‘would be thankfully repaid’” (Cooke, WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxxii [July 1975], 388n.; see also Cooke, Tench Coxe, p. 195–6n.). It was Coxe, not TJ, who asked Seton to pay Pearce’s expenses, knowing full well that Hamilton would back the request—as, ultimately, he did (on the record of Hamilton’s sponsorship of Pearce in this and other matters, see Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , ix, 85–6, 184, 214, 490, 509; x, 345–6; xi, 241–6, 247–8, 445, 566; xii, 22, 45, 83, 141–2, 217–8; xiv, 189, 245–6, 253–4, 302–3, 318–9, 419–21; xv, 107–8, 328–9, 391; see also Carroll W. Pursell, Jr., “Thomas Digges and William Pearce: An Example of the Transit of Technology,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends , xxi [Oct. 1964], 551–60).

Hamilton’s patronage of Pearce and other immigrant artisans whom he engaged for SUM and his zeal in promoting that enterprise were inseparably connected with his remarkable Report on Manufactures, which had been under preparation for over a year and which would be presented at the approaching session of Congress. Just as the creation of SUM was expected by its principal founder to demonstrate the advantage to the national economy of measures advocated in the Report, so Hamilton hoped to gain further support for his policies by displaying, in the heart of the capital, the effectiveness of Pearce’s laborsaving machinery. Being well acquainted with the President’s interest in the development of essential American manufactures, he could not have been unaware of the value of such a practical demonstration. Thus, under his guidance and support, Pearce’s “Cotton Manufactory” was in operation at No. 13 Penn Street just at the time when the Report on Manufactures was before Congress and under attack by Madison and others. Shortly after the session ended, a group of thirteen Philadelphia weavers inspected the establishment and gave public testimony of their findings. Pearce himself was not by trade a weaver, but the inspecting group agreed unanimously that “his abilities in mechanism are superior to any we ever saw, especially in his double loom.” They expressed the hope that this and other of his improvements would “soon come into general use, and be found of great utility in the United States.” They also hoped that, since their testimony was addressed to the public good, it would be inserted in “newspapers … throughout the United States” (Gazette of the United States, 6 June 1792; also in the National Gazette, 4 June). All that is known of Pearce indicates that he was not endowed with entrepreneurial qualities but was instead a rather ingenious artisan who needed guidance. This, added to the fact that the newspaper in which this promotional appeal appeared was under the special patronage of the Secretary of the Treasury, suggests the likelihood that the guiding hand behind the glowing testimonial was that of Hamilton himself. Certainly his concern for SUM, the success of which he had so much at heart that he had declared his own reputation was committed, was deep enough to prompt such a national effort (Hamilton to Seton, 25 May 1792, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xi, 425).

It seems even more likely that it was the Secretary of the Treasury who, two weeks later, inspired an inspection of Pearce’s establishment by a much more distinguished group. “On Tuesday last,” the Gazette of the United States reported on 9 June 1792, “the President of the United States, and his Lady, attended by the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of the Treasury and his Lady, visited Mr. Pearce’s Cotton Manufactory. The President attentively viewed the Machinery, &c. and saw the business performed in its different branches—which received his warmest approbation.” But this early instance of the power of the presidency in the bestowal of approval was unavailing. The great national enterprise at Passaic to which Hamilton had so wholly committed himself was a generation ahead of its time. As TJ had warned Digges four years earlier, land was too cheap and labor too dear in America to promise success for such undertakings. To these underlying factors was added the visionary planning of L’Enfant, the haphazard management of Duer, and the ineffectiveness of some of the artisans. Within a few months Hamilton soon came to regard Pearce as “unsteady … and incapable of being kept within any bounds of order or æconomy” (Hamilton to Nicholas Low, 15 Apr. 1793, Syrett, Hamilton description begins The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and others, New York, 1961–1979, 27 vols. description ends , xiv, 318–19). In the following year Pearce proved the point by meriting dismissal and absconding with some of the machines for which Hamilton had advanced money. These were recovered, but Pearce, hoping to establish a manufacturing plant at the Falls of Brandywine, met with misfortune and disappeared from historical record.

TJ was silent about the inspection of Pearce’s manufactory in the summer of 1792. He must, however, have been interested in the improved machinery, whatever he may have thought of the political implications of an establishment so zealously promoted by the Secretary of the Treasury. Earlier, in responding to William Knox’ recommendation of the artisan, TJ had remarked: “We consider Mr. Pearce as a valuable acquisition, and shall cherish him accordingly” (TJ to Knox, 31 May 1792). But this carried the tone of politeness rather than conviction. So far as the record shows, TJ extended no encouragement save to express an interest later in a cotton gin of Pearce’s design. But this soon gave way to his greater interest in the invention of Eli Whitney (TJ to Pearce, 15 Dec. 1792; TJ to Whitney, 16 Nov. 1793). Even the specific directive from the President to extend encouragement to the artisan he avoided by diverting the responsibility to his colleague in the Cabinet, who he must have known would eagerly embrace it.

Within a month after he had done so, TJ received a long and learned essay from a French émigré urging that the rising American empire insure its future greatness by lending its support to infant industries; that it encourage European artisans to emigrate to the United States by paying their passage and offering them premiums; and that it endeavor to make itself independent of foreign nations for the manufactured articles its expanding population required. In some respects this argument of the new citizen went even beyond the position of Washington and Hamilton to which TJ had been so consistently opposed. Yet the Secretary of State, to whom the essay was addressed, caused it to be translated and silently released to Freneau’s National Gazette shortly before Hamilton submitted his Report on Manufactures to Congress. The Secretary of the Treasury could have had little difficulty in guessing by whose hands this argument so corroborative of his own policies was made public. For a possible explanation of the motives that led TJ to take such an anomalous action, see Editorial Note and group of documents at 4 Aug. 1791.

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