From Samuel Bryan
[ca. 26 Feb. 1801]
Altho’ personally an entire stranger to you, I am encouraged by a knowledge of your public principles and conduct to address you on the subject of an appointment under the new administration of the Federal Government—
Aware that you will be oppressed with the number and length of statements of the pretensions of Candidates for Office, I shall be as brief in the exhibition of mine as the nature of the case will admitof.—
I was the first person who under the signature of “Centinel” pointed out the defects of the federal Constitution when laid before the United States for consideration, and under various signatures supported the opposition to its unqualified adoption.
Among the numerous productions of mine on that highly important subject, I beg leave to refer particularly to the reasons of Dissent of the minority of the Convention of this State who adopted this frame of federal Government,—republished in Careys Museum.—
I have uniformly since advocated the principles of republicanism.
When the State Government was removed from Philadelphia to Lancaster, the State Officers were nearly all aristocratic, and the truly important eventful1 Election of Governor was rapidly approaching. On this great occasion I dared every consequence in support of a republican Governor, altho’ I principally depended on my salary for support and Mr. Ross was a warm tried personal friend of mine.—
The County of Lancaster had been for 20 years dictated to by the highest toned aristocracy in the Union, and what gave a peculiar edge to the virulence of party spirit against me was my prosecution of the late Receiver-General a very influential aristocrat and a favourite family connection of James Ross—
My exertions on the late all-important Election have of course added to the mass of enmity against me on the part of the aristocracy.
As a specimen of the zeal & spirit manifested by me I enclose a copy of my “Sketch of an Address” which was published in the English & German Languages and several thousand copies thereof circulated in this & the neighbouring States, also a copy of a vindication and attack upon my political enemies for the torrents of abuse poured on me.—
Having rendered myself peculiarly obnoxious by my exertions to maintain as I apprehend just principles at a great Crisis in our national affairs, and this place being otherwise a very unpleasant residence from the habits which govern its Society, I should feel highly gratified and obligated to you to be enabled by an adequate appointment from you to remove to some other place—
With the freedom & plainess of a republican I submit to your consideration my wish & pretensions for official notice and am
With the sincerest esteem and regard, Your friend & well-wisher
NB I dare say you were acquainted with my Father Judge Bryan.
NB. I should greatly prefer an appointment in this State, and am averse to one at Washington, having a very weakly Constitution & of a bilious habit.
P.S. 27th. Feby 1801 The Legislature rising this day prevents Governer Mc.Kean having his letter of recommendation ready in time for the present conveyance, but it shall be sent by next opportunity—it will be found I have no doubt to confirm the sentiments expressed a long time since by his private Secretary Mr. Hastings, see his letter
RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); undated, but see postscript; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson President”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Mch. and so recorded in SJL with a brace connecting this letter and those by McClay and Reed (Nos. 3 and 4 below), all delivered to TJ by John Woodward (see note to Woodward to TJ, 7 Mch.). Enclosures: (1) John Hastings to Samuel Bryan, Philadelphia, 14 July 1800, noting that Governor Thomas McKean “will at all times, be happy to receive any communications you may be pleased to make” as he considers Bryan “a sincere friend, a zealous advocate of his administration, and a determined, upright and faithful public Officer, possessed of a thorough knowledge of Men and Measures” (RC in same; with notation by Bryan: “Note. Mr. Hastings is private Secretary to the Governor of Penna.”). (2) Certificate of Jacob Carpenter, Lancaster, 24 Feb. 1801, testifying to the political conduct of Bryan, whom he has known for only a short time, but who became the “object of the obliquy & slander of the federal partizens” in 1799, served as an advocate of the Republican candidate in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, and has used his zeal and talents to the best effect “in promoting the Election of Thomas Jefferson” (MS in same; with notation by Bryan: “NB. Mr. Carpenter is State Treasurer appointed by Legislative vote. He was Chairman of all the republican meetings in the Borough of Lancaster for promoting the election of Mr. Jefferson & by his talents as a writer was very useful. He was also 1 of 5 appointed by the County of Lancaster to address the State”). (3) Samuel Maclay to TJ, Lancaster, 24 Feb. 1801, noting that although unknown personally to TJ, he seeks to recommend his long-time friend as a man of talent and integrity, who would be gratified with his current state appointment “were it not for some unpleasant circumstances that have been Brought on him by his uncommon Exertions in the Republican cause” (RC in same; torn; with notation by Bryan: “Note. Mr. Maclay is held in high estimation, being justly considered as the most able, intelligent and judicious member of the Legislature. He took a distinguished part in Congress in the opposition given to the British Treaty”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Mch. and so recorded in SJL). (4) William Reed to TJ, Lancaster, 26 Feb. 1801, congratulating TJ, although they are strangers, on his election and “on the revival of the republican energy,” noting that Bryan labored “earnestly and incessantly” for the republican cause during the election and crediting his prompt and plain statements which were circulated in Adams County, Pennsylvania, and the neighboring counties with “the great change of Political opinions and conduct which has taken place there” (RC in same; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr—Presidt. Elect”; with notation by Bryan: “Mr. Reed says he has a full conviction that the ‘Sketch of Address’ carried the Election in Frederick County Maryland for the State Legislature in favor of the republicans” and “NB. Mr. Reed is a Brigade Inspector of the Militia and a senator in our Legislature from York and Adams Counties”; endorsed by TJ as received 7 Mch. and so recorded in SJL). (5) Samuel Bryan, “Sketch of an Address,” has not been found. For the other enclosed pamphlet, see below.
Samuel Bryan (1759–1821) was the eldest son of Irish Presbyterian immigrant George Bryan and Elizabeth Smith Bryan, daughter of the prominent Presbyterian merchant Samuel Smith. Following his father into politics, Samuel Bryan was elected clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1784 to 1786. He served as register-general of Pennsylvania for six years before becoming the state’s comptroller general in 1801, a position he held until late 1805 when he was replaced after opposing the reelection of Governor McKean. In 1809 he became register of wills for Philadelphia, a position he held until 1821. As a member of the Lancaster Republican committee, which included Tench Coxe, Timothy Matlack, Frederick A. Muhlenberg, and Jacob Carpenter, Bryan devoted himself to the Republican cause in the election of 1800 (Rowe, McKean description begins G. S. Rowe, Thomas McKean, The Shaping of an American Republicanism, Boulder, Colo., 1978 description ends , 363–6; Joseph S. Foster, In Pursuit of Equal Liberty: George Bryan and the Revolution in Pennsylvania [University Park, Pa., 1994], 2–3,10,140,163; Cooke, Coxe, 377–8; DHRC description begins Merrill Jensen, John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Madison, Wis., 1976–, 20 vols. description ends , 13:326).
Using the signature of “centinel” Bryan wrote 18 essays, printed first in the Independent Gazetteer, a leading Antifederalist newspaper in Philadelphia, between 5 Oct. 1787 and 9 Apr. 1788. The letters warned that the newly formed Constitution, unless modified, posed a threat to civil liberties and the sovereignty of the states.
Dissent of the minority: this is apparently Bryan’s first acknowledgment that he penned this document signed by 21 of the 23 Antifederalists who voted against ratification of the Constitution. It was published in the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, 18 Dec. 1787, as “The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of the State of Pennsylvania to their Constituents.” Bryan was not a delegate to the Pennsylvania ratification convention and did not sign “The Address and Reasons.” This address and “Centinel” essays have been described as “two of the most widely circulated and influential Antifederalist attacks on the Constitution” (PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877-Preston, Catalogue Daniel Preston, A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe, Westport, Conn., 2001, 2 vols. description ends , 112 , 107–8, 123; DHRC description begins Merrill Jensen, John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Madison, Wis., 1976–, 20 vols. description ends , 2:128–9, 617–18, 639; 13:326–8).
Bryan’s charges that Francis Johnston, former receiver-general of the land office, had used public monies for private purposes resulted in Johnston’s resignation. In late 1799 Bryan charged that Johnston still owed the state more than $8,000 ([Samuel Bryan], Proceedings in the Case of Francis Johnston, Esq. Late Receiver-General of the Land-Office, Prosecuted for Delinquencies in the Said Office [Lancaster, Pa., 1799], iii-iv, 19; Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from …1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 36065). Bryan’s publication of documents in the case against Johnston prompted criticism by members of the Pennsylvania House. When Bryan wrote a letter in defense of his actions dated 14 Jan. 1800 to Speaker of the House Isaac Weaver, an unsuccessful attempt was made to have him arrested, brought before the House to apologize, and then removed from office. Weaver cast the tie-breaking vote, which kept Bryan from being seized. In response Bryan published A Vindication, under the pseudonym “Centinel,” entitled A Statement of’the Measures Contemplated Against Samuel Bryan, Esquire, Register-General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Unparalleled in the United States, and Without a Precedent Even in the Corrupt Parliament of Great-Britain … (Philadelphia, 1800), 5–11, 18–24; Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from …1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 38557.
My father Judge Bryan: a strong supporter of Pennsylvania’s radical state constitution of 1776, George Bryan served as a judge in the state supreme court from 1780 until his death in 1791 (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).
1. Word interlined.