Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Lyon, 29 November 1800

From James Lyon

Saturday. Nov. 29. 1800


Some weeks since I received a letter from Mr. Madison, in which he became a subscriber to “The Cabinet,” and mentioned that he would send the money (4.$.) by you.

Being under strict necessity for every farthing of money that I have a right to ask for, I hope you will excuse the abruptness of this application; I know you will; for altho you may never have experienced the practice, you might be acquainted with the theory of poverty; for the inability to comply with engagements, let it arise from whatsoever cause it may, is in short, poverty,—if a man is ever so rich in demands against others: this is exactly my case; and altho’ several hundred good men are in arrears to me, the property of their debts will neither pay my journeymen nor carry me to market.

Please to excuse this reverie, and believe me to be with perfect Esteem your &c

J Lyon.

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr.”; endorsed by TJ.

James Lyon (1776–1824) was the oldest son of congressman Matthew and Mary Hosford Lyon. At his father’s paper works in Fair Haven, Vermont, he began publishing the Farmers’ Library in 1793, a newspaper that encouraged the formation of Democratic Societies in the state and followed the events of the French Revolution. He also ran Voltaire’s Head, a publishing house. He edited The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truths, which first appeared during his father’s congressional campaign in October 1798. In 1799 he moved to Virginia, where he established the National Magazine; or, a Political, Historical, Biographical, and Literary Repository, and in the next year founded several newspapers to disseminate political information for the Republican party. Only Callender received more financial support from TJ than Lyon. He served briefly as a clerk in the Treasury Department. Between 1802 and 1820 he edited and published newspapers in the District of Columbia and several southern states and sought contracts to publish the U.S. laws. He speculated in land and took part in entrepreneurial activities, including the management of the shipyards established by his father when he settled at Eddyville, along the Cumberland River in Kentucky (Loyal S. Fox, “Colonel Matthew Lyon: Biographical and Genealogical Notes,” Vermont Quarterly, 12 [1944], 179; Aleine Austin, Matthew Lyon: “New Man” of the Democratic Revolution, 1749–1822 [University Park, Pa., 1981], 76–83, 121,133–4; Andrew N. Adams, A History of the Town of Fair Haven, Vermont [Fair Haven, Vt., 1870], 96; Pasley, Tyranny of Printers description begins Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, 2001 description ends , 172–3; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 227; Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 6:366–7; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:6, 98; 2:1447; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:372–5; Jackson, Papers, 2:195, 528, 590–1; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1002–3; James Lyon to Albert Gallatin, 2 May 1802, in NHi: Gallatin Papers; Gallatin to Nathaniel Macon, 6 Apr. 1802, and enclosure, in DNA: RG 233, House Records, 7th Cong., 1st sess.).

Letters from Lyon to TJ of 12 June 1799 and 1 Jan. 1800, recorded in SJL as received on 14 June 1799 and 25 Jan. 1800, respectively, the last from Richmond, have not been found.

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