Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Marshall, 2 March 1801

To John Marshall

Washington Mar. 2. 1801.


I was desired two or three days ago to sign some sea letters to be dated on or after the 4th. of Mar. but in the mean time to be forwarded to the different ports; and I understood you would countersign them as the person appointed to perform the duties of Secretary of state, but that you thought a reappointment to be dated the 4th. of March would be necessary. I shall with pleasure sign such a reappointment nunc pro tunc, if you can direct it to be made out, not being able to do it myself for want of a knowledge of the form.

I propose to take the oath or oaths of office as President of the US on Wednesday the 4th. inst. at 12. aclock in the Senate chamber. may I hope the favor of your attendance to administer the oath? as the two houses have notice of the hour, I presume a precise punctuality to it will be expected from me. I would pray you in the mean time to consider whether the oath prescribed in the constitution be not the only one necessary to take? it seems to comprehend the substance of that prescribed by the act of Congress to all officers, and it may be questionable whether the legislature can require any new oath from the President. I do not know what has been done in this heretofore; but I presume the oaths administered to my predecessors are recorded in the Secretary of state’s office.

Not being yet provided with a private Secretary, & needing some person on Wednesday to be the bearer of a message or messages to the Senate, I presume the chief clerk of the department of state might be employed with propriety. permit me through you to ask the favor of his attendance on me to my lodgings on Wednesday after I shall have been qualified. I have the honor to be with great respect Sir

Your most obedt. humble sert

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “The honble John Marshall”; in SJL TJ noted Marshall as “C.J. US.”

Marshall was performing the duties of secretary of state but was also chief justice of the Supreme Court. Adams named him chief justice on 20 Jan., the Senate confirmed the appointment seven days later, and Adams signed the commission on the 31st. On 4 Feb., when Marshall assumed his new function, Adams appointed him to continue handling the responsibilities of secretary of state until that office could be filled. The legal principle Nunc pro tunc, literally “now for then,” allows an oversight in the record to be overcome by giving effect to an action that should have occurred on another date (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 6:61–2, 73–4; Bryan A. Garner, ed., A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2d ed. [New York, 1995], 607; Bryan A. Garner, ed. in chief, Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed. [St. Paul, Minn., 2004], 1100).

It was in Marshall’s capacity as chief justice that he would administer the presidential Oath to TJ. An act of congress “to regulate the Time and Manner of administering certain Oaths,” approved 1 June 1789, was the first act passed by the First Congress (U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States… 1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855–56, 8 vols. description ends , 1:23–4).

The chief clerk was Jacob Wagner, who had held the job since Timothy Pickering’s administration of the department. TJ had no private secretary until Meriwether Lewis arrived in Washington to assume that role, so for a while after the inauguration TJ continued to use Wagner as his clerk or messenger (Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 2:804; Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 6:90).

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