Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from George Smith Houston, 11 September 1800

From George Smith Houston

Trenton New Jersey September 11th 1800


Known only to you as an american, I declare myself a Republican, a supporter of our Constitution & a true American—

I am one of your friends, and would support you for the Office of President, but I should wish to know, wether those publications which daily appear against you are Just or not, as they are acqusations of the Anglo-Federal Party, men void of all Justice, truth, or integrity, but we have little source to know from wether it be true & wishing to be acquainted from yourself I have taken the Liberty to write to you on the subject and to send you a Pamphlet which is circulated much to your injury through this State and several other principle cities in the ajacent States of New-York & Pennsylvania these industrous sycophants of the federal party are distributing them throughout this state gratis, I have just met with one & for the respect I have for you & our Republican party I have sent you one that, If you should think proper to answer & any of those charges refute—you may do it—any answer you may make to me or through the means of me Shall be ushered to the World if you wish it & through a very good sourse—

For my single self I believe you do not mean to infringe the constitution, I believe you to be a good & virtuous citizen, I believe you have not that mean contempt of Religion you are said to have by your enemies, and as for what is contained in your writings I find nothing to establish that opinion with me—It is my opinion that there would be no impropriety in contradicting those reports but on the contrary to contradict those lies that are published to the injury of your character—Hoping as every freeman ought, to see the people enlightened, enformed, free & united in the cause of Republicanism & the support of the Constitution—I remain respected Sir, your &c

George Smith Houston

of Wm C. Houston late member of Congress from this State—

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Vice President of the United States Monticello Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

George Smith Houston, son of William Churchill and Jane Smith Houston, was orphaned with the death of his mother in 1796. His father died of tuberculosis in 1788. His maternal grandparents were Caleb Smith, a Presbyterian clergyman, and Martha Dickinson Smith, daughter of Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of the College of New Jersey. In 1789 Houston attended Trenton Academy. Ten years later he had not yet come of age and was still dependent on his guardian, the executor of his father’s estate, for income. Thus he was quite young when he wrote this letter. He married Mary Forman, probably in the early 1820s. Their son William Churchill Houston became a prominent Philadelphia merchant (Genealogy of Early Settlers in Trenton and Ewing, “Old Hunterdon County,” New Jersey [Trenton, 1883], 124–8; George Smith Houston to Maskell Ewing, 7 Oct. 1799 and 1 June 1805 in NjP:William Churchill Houston Papers; receipts from treasurer of Trenton Academy, 7 Jan. and 1 July 1789, in same).

The Pamphlet was probably Serious Considerations on the Election of a President: Addressed to the Citizens of the United States, attributed to William Linn, the New York City clergyman who corresponded with TJ on Indian languages. On 2 Oct. William Duane noted that he had received an unsolicited copy of the pamphlet printed in Trenton, New Jersey, by Sherman, Mershon & Thomas. John Beckley, characterizing the piece as a virulent portrayal of TJ “as an Athiest and Deist,” countered it with a series of four articles signed “Senex.” These appeared in the Aurora on 27 Aug. and 2, 5, and 26 Sep., and were subsequently published as a pamphlet. DeWitt Clinton responded with essays under the signature of “Grotius,” which were published in New York in 1800 as A Vindication of Thomas Jefferson; Against the Charges Contained in a Pamphlet Entitled, “Serious Considerations,” &c. (Gawalt, Justifying Jefferson description begins Gerard W. Gawalt, Justifying Jefferson: The Political Writings of John James Beckley, Washington, D.C., 1995 description ends , 191–6; Philadelphia Aurora, 2 Oct. 1800; Cunningham, Jeffersonian Republicans description begins Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., The Jeffersonian Republicans: The Formation of Party Organization, 1789–1801, Chapel Hill, 1957 description ends , 223–7). According to SJL TJ did not answer this letter and there is no other correspondence with Houston.

William C. Houston, George’s father, served as a New Jersey delegate to congress from 1779 to 1781 and 1784 to 1785. He attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786 and the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia a year later, although he was ill at the time and did not sign the document (ANB; description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends James McLachlan, Princetonians, 1748–1768: A Biographical Dictionary [Princeton, 1976], 643–7).

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