Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Frederick Muhlenberg, 11 February 1801

From Frederick Muhlenberg

Lancaster Feby. 11th. 1801.


It being the prevailing Opinion, whether well or ill founded, I do not presume to judge, that a Change will be made in the Revenue officers of this State, acting for the United States; permit me in the most respectful Manner to offer myself as a Candidate for the Office of Collector at the Port of Philadelphia. Tho’ I humbly hoped I had some small Claim on the Public, after a Life of Toil & Industry, 21 Years of which were devoted to the public in honourable but unprofitable Stations, yet seeing how things went, I had concluded to retire from public Life and public Affairs, but just at this Period a Son in Law of mine who was deeply engaged in Trade suffered a Series of Misfortunes occasioned entirely by french & british Captures, which was attended with the most serious Consequences to myself, & that at a time of Life, when Misfortunes have double Weight. Thus circumstanced, & the Business I was engaged in, vizt. Refining of Sugar having been rendered unprofitable by the Exise or duty on it, unless carried on more extensively than my Capital would admit, I was again obliged to seek for public Employment, & accordingly made Application for the Office of Treasurer of the Mint, but met with no Success. Some time afterwards, when the Office of Collector became vacant by the Resignation of Mr. Delany, I was advised by my friends to apply for it, & from their Information as well as some Hints given to me, I had reason expect Success. But whatever good Wishes may have been entertained for me, Mr. Wolcotts Influence prevailed. This Gentleman I had offended by taking the active part I had in discovering his friend Hamiltons Affair of Gallantry, & thus I had once more to lament my fate & sing with Ovid. Cur aliquid vidi &c. Mr. Latimer, who never had served the State or U. States in any Capacity, except that of Member of Assembly 4 Years 2 of which he was Speaker, was appointed, tho’ I had served the State 2 Years as a Member of the old Congress vizt. 1779 & 1780–3 Years as Speaker of the Assembly—one Year as President of the Council of Censors—one Year as President of the ratifying Convention & four Years as a Member & four Years as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the U. States.

During the whole of my political Career, no one, even of my Enemies, if any I have, has ever laid any thing improper to my Charge unless it be the unfortunate Vote on making Provision for carrying the british Treaty into Effect, which I gave at that time from a Conviction that it was choosing the least of two Evils, & which I trust has not deprived me of the Confidence of my fellow Citizens.

From a long Residence in the City & having heretofore been extensively engaged in Business myself, I have a general Knowledge of, and intimate Acquaintance with the principal Merchants of that Place, and can obtain any Recommendations that may be deemed necessary, having also very frequently transacted Business at the Custom house myself, and assisted in framing the present Revenue Laws, I trust I understand them fully, & am capable of performing the Duties required by them to Your & the Publics Satisfaction. To Your Wisdom & Goodness I submit my Application, with the most solemn Engagement on my part, that I shall, if appointed, endeavour to the utmost of my Abilites, to perform the Duties of the Station with Industry fidelity & Accuracy, and that nothing will ever alter or diminish that cordial Attachment & high Respect with which I have the Honor to be

Sir Your most obedient humble Servant

Frdk Muhlenberg

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “Thos. Jefferson Esqr. Presidt. elect”; endorsed by TJ as received 23 Feb. and so recorded in SJL.

Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg (1750–1801), a younger brother of John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg and a native of Trappe, Pa., was educated in Germany and for nine years served as a Lutheran minister in New York and Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1780 and a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and eventually its speaker in November 1780. Elected to the first four federal congresses, Muhlenberg also served as speaker for the First and Third Congresses. He was president of the Pennsylvania council of censors and was appointed collector general of the Pennsylvania Land Office on 8 Jan. 1800. He and Jacob L. Lawersweiler maintained a sugar refinery in Philadelphia from about 1791 until 1800 (Oswald Seidensticker, “Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House of Representatives in the First Congress, 1789,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends , 13 [1889], 185, 192, 198, 203, 204; Paul A. W. Wallace, The Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania [Philadelphia, 1950], 248, 282, 284–7, 291).

Son in law of mine: Muhlenberg’s sons-in-law were John S. Hiester, son of Pennsylvania governor Joseph Hiester (married Maria or Mary Catharine), John H. Irwin (married Elizabeth), Jacob Sperry (married Margareth). It is not clear which son-in-law is referred to in this letter (Seidensticker, “Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg,” 206; Wallace, Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania, 290).

The office of revenue collector for the district of Pennsylvania became vacant with the resignation of Sharp delany. On 28 June 1798 John Adams nominated George Latimer to the post (JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:282).

Muhlenberg’s involvement in the 1792 investigation of Alexander Hamilton’s affair of gallantry. with Maria Reynolds disturbed Oliver Wolcott, Jr., the comptroller of the treasury, who initiated suits against James Reynolds, John Delabar, and Jacob Clingman. The latter was a former clerk for Muhlenberg and sought his employer’s aid in extricating himself from the suits by offering the information that Reynolds and Wolcott had been partners in illegal speculation. Muhlenberg shared the allegation with Virginia congressmen James Monroe and Abraham B. Venable, who confirmed it (Jacob Ernest Cooke, Alexander Hamilton [New York, 1982], 177–83; Vol. 29:479n).

Cur aliquid vidi & C.: roughly translated “Alas, why did I see anything” (Ovid, Tristia, 2.103).

Muhlenberg’s tie-breaking unfortunate vote for the Jay Treaty resulted in his being stabbed by his brother-in-law, Bernard Schaeffer, two days after the final House resolution to implement the treaty. Muhlenberg recovered from his wounds but was not re-elected to Congress in the fall of 1796. Schaeffer was charged with assault and battery and imprisoned for a year (Elaine Forman Crane, ed., The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, 3 vols. [Boston, 1991], 2:800; Wallace, Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania, 291; Vol. 29:95).

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