Circular Letter to Midnight Appointees
[after 4 Mch. 1801]
The late president, mr Adams, having not long before his retirement from office, made several appointments to civil offices holden during the will of the President, when so restricted in time as not to admit sufficient enquiry & consideration, the present President deems it proper that those appointments should be a subject of reconsideration & further enquiry. he considers it as of palpable justice that the officers who are to begin their course as agents of his administration should be persons on whom he has personal reliance1 for a faithful execution of his views. you will therefore be pleased to consider the appointment you have recieved2 as if never made, of which this early notice is given to prevent any derangements which that appointment might produce.
Dft (DNA: RG 59, LAR, 6:0085); undated; entirely in TJ’s hand.
It is not known to whom this letter was sent, but TJ may have given it to Jacob Wagner to send to those civil officers appointed by Adams not long before his retirement from office. Probably shortly after TJ took office, and at his request, Wagner sent TJ a one-page, undated memorandum with two headings. The list of names under the first, “Commissions not in the office,” included William H. Dorsey, as judge of the Orphans Court for Washington County; William Thornton, Thomas Peter, and Dorsey, justices of the peace for Washington County; Charles Alexander, George Gilpin, Jonah Thompson, John Herbert, Cuthbert Powell, and Jacob Hoffman, justices of the peace for Alexandria County; Thomas Johnson, James Marshall, and William Cranch, judges of the circuit court; and Thomas Swan, U.S. attorney for the district. Under the second heading, “Commissions not made out,” appeared the names of Richard Forrest, Cornelius Coningham, Lewis Deblois, George Taylor, Dennis Ramsay, Jonathan Swift, Abraham Faw, and Cleon Moore, justices of the peace for the county of Alexandria; and Samuel Hanson and Henry Moore, appointed notaries for the county. All were nominated by President Adams on 28 Feb. and 2 Mch. and approved by the Senate 3 Mch. (MS in DNA: RG 59, MCL, in Wagner’s hand, endorsed by TJ: “Commissions, issued & not issued”; 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 , 1:387–90).
Wagner sent TJ another undated memorandum consisting of “An additional list of commissions remaining in the Office of the department of State.” The list included James C. Mountflorence, Isaac Cox Barnet, William Lee, John J. Waldo, Thomas W. Griffith, William Foster, Jr., John Mitchell, George Rundle, James H. Hooe, Turell Tufts, and John M. Forbes, nominated as commercial agents in France; George Stacey, as commercial agent for the Île de France and Bourbon (Réunion) Island; Thomas Aborn, as the commerical agent for Cayenne; and Henry Preble, as consul at Cadiz. Jacob Read, appointed judge of the district of South Carolina, headed the list and was the only judicial appointment. Eleven of the names were put forward by Adams on 18 Feb. and confirmed by the Senate six days later. When TJ named replacements for eight of these appointees he noted “nominated February 18, but not appointed.” The three other posts were left vacant. Of the remaining four, Read and Mountflorence were nominated on 21 Feb. and Tufts and Aborn on the 24th. They were promptly confirmed. TJ replaced Mountflorence and Tufts but confirmed Aborn in his appointment (MS in DNA: RG 59, MCL, in Wagner’s hand, endorsed by TJ: “Mr. Adams’s last appointments”; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. Bear, Family Letters Edwin M. Betts and James A. Bear, Jr., eds., Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, Columbia, Mo., 1966 description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:307–8; 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 , 1:381–6, 402–3). For the outcome of Read’s judicial appointment, see List of John Adams’s Appointments, 23 Feb.
On 17 Apr. the National Intelligencer printed a list of those appointed by Adams during the last session of Congress, along with the dates of their commissions. The same list, but from another newspaper, is in DNA: RG 59, MCL.
1. Preceding three words interlined in place of “can rely.”
2. TJ first wrote “the recent appointment you recieved” before altering the passage to read as above.