Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Marshall, 2 March 1801

From John Marshall

Washington March 2d. 1801


I am this instant honord with yours of to day.

Not being the Secretary of State, & only performing the duties of that office at the request of the President, the request becomes indispensably necessary to give validity to any act which purports to be done on the 4th. of March.

In the confidence that it will be receivd I shall immediately proceed to sign the sea letters. No form is prescribd. Any letter desiring me to do the duties of the office generally on the 4th. of March will be sufficient.

I shall with much pleasure attend to administer the oath of office on the 4th. & shall make a point of being punctual. The records of the office of the department of state furnish no information respecting the oaths which have been heretofore taken. That prescribd in the constitution seems to me to be the only which is to be administerd. I will however enquire what has been the practice.

The chief clerk of this department will attend you at the time requested.

I have the honor to be with great respect Sir Your most obedt. hble Servt

J Marshall

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 3 Mch. and so recorded in SJL.

TJ wrote Marshall a brief letter appointing him to the duties of the office: “In pursuance of the act of Congress providing that in case of vacancy in the office of Secretary of state the President of the US. may authorize a person to perform the duties of the same, I am to ask the favor of you, & hereby authorize you to perform the duties of the Secretary of state until a successor to that office shall be appointed. I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedt. sert.” Although TJ dated the letter 4 Mch. and recorded it in SJL under that date, he actually wrote it no later than the 3d, when he received a response from Marshall. An act of 13 Feb. 1795 allowed the president to appoint someone to perform the duties of the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, or the secretary of war in the event of a vacancy, placing a six-month limit on any such appointment (RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR, signed, at foot of text: “The honble John Marshall”; PrC in DLC; 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 , 1:415). Marshall’s reply, also dated 4 Mch. but recorded in SJL as received 3 Mch., said: “I have receivd your letter requesting me to perform the duties of Secretary of State until a successor be appointed. I shall with great pleasure obey this request & beg leave to assure you that I am with high & respectful consideration Your obedt. Humble Servt.” (RC in DLC; dated 4 Mch. 1781; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 4 Mch. 1801 received in March).

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