Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Matthew Lyon, 4 April 1801

From Matthew Lyon

Washington April 4th. 1801


You’ll doubtless be surprised to see a letter from me dated at this place and at this time. An unforeseen accidental bussness led me to Philadelphia and another peice of bussness brought me this far out of my road from there to N Geneva—

The purport of this is to request that Our Minister at the Court of London be directed to pay the necessary attention to the case of General Ira Allen and his claims for Justice there, his case is pending before the Lords of Appeal respecting some arms he had fairly purchased in France and was bringing to this Country but taken by a British man of War & without even a pretext condemned in the lower Court. Had Mr Adams & his Secretary done half they promised me in May 1797 I should have had no occasion to troubled you at this time, Mr Adams promised me that Mr Pickering should write & they both Assured me that he had writen in such a manner to Mr King that General Allens bussness should be made easy to him, it now appears from the copy of them instructions that they were dictated by the same submissive policy which in one respect guided the late Administration and that they were calculated to do more harm than good. The Aspect of Affairs now in Europe seams favorable to any reasonable demands made by this Country on Britain, which will be increased on their knowledge that the Affairs of this Country are in the hands of those who are by no means disposed to crouch to them, All this tends to cherish a hope that an application on the part of this Government in behalf of General Allen will be effecatious; and I trust that he will meet with that Countenance from the Goverment which an Important and Patriotic Citizen of this Country deserves

I have had the pleasure of seeing the smile of Approbation on every republican countenance I saw in Philadelphia, they are pleased much both with the moderation and decission of the new Administration, they Hope much also, the Custom house Officers are an Eye sore to them, it has been a great source of Corruption, it has been and still is a terror to the midling merchants who are in secret pleased with the change & wish to shew themselves when they dare; without a change in the Custom house the Republicans say they can not be sure of the Elections. The late appointment of Marshal has undoubtedly given them fresh Joy, the News had not arrived when I left there Major Smith however expected it, and the Republicans with whom I conversed hoped for it, & wished it most anxiously, he is really a Worthy Meritorious capable & respectable man—

The papers on both sides make more of the Opposition much more than the people do—I mixed more than ever with the Aristocrats they seem cool & conciliateing, I rode on Monday last to Lancaster in the Stage with Mr Yates chief Justice of Pensilvania he is strongly federal however he approved of all that had been done by the new Administration: speaking of Mr Galatin he said despised all that had been said in the papers against him; that he was so highly esteemed for his tallents that every honest man of either party, looked out on the change to see him at the head of the Treasury department,

Mr Tenche Coxe rode with us, I was happy to find him disposed to be patient in his present situation until things get in a more setled state, indeed I ventured to commend him for that patience and to concur with him in opinion that an immediate appointment given to him would be very unpopular

I have lately received a letter from Mr Southwick of Albany in which he expresses much gratitude for the favor intended him, with a hope that if he should obtain he shall be able to fulfill the duties with honour to himself and Justice to his Country, this is not an answer to the letter in which I informed him agreably to your permission that his appointment was agreed upon—

Within a few days I shall take another Start for the Western waters I expect to be detained a week or two at N Geneva & then proceed to Cumberland river, wherever I shall be it will always give me pleasure to hear of your welfare, and the popularity of your Administration will be a constant source of Satisfaction to your very hble Servt

M Lyon

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

In 1796 Ira Allen, Vermont land speculator, entrepreneur, and youngest brother of Ethan Allen, purchased arms in France, ostensibly for the Vermont militia. On Allen’s return voyage in the ship Olive Branch, the British captured the vessel and confiscated the arms. Allen sought the intervention of Rufus King, U.S. Minister at the Court of London, in late 1796. King, however, informed Secretary of State Pickering that rumors indicated that the muskets and cannon carried by Allen were destined for a French project in Canada, not for the state militia. Pickering should write: in 1797 Congressman Lyon and the senators from Vermont visited the secretary of state and brought evidence favorable to Allen’s claims. On 15 June, Pickering wrote King: “Upon the whole, it is the real wish of the Executive of the U. States that the arms and military stores in question may be restored to General Allen, to be brought to the U. States” (ANB, description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends 1:330–1; King, Life description begins Charles R. King, ed., The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King: Comprising His Letters, Private and Official, His Public Documents and His Speeches, New York, 1894–1900, 6 vols. description ends , 2:123–4, 187–8; James B. Wilbur, Ira Allen: Founder of Vermont, 1751–1814, 2 vols. [Boston, 1928], 2:119–20). For an account of Allen’s case, see J. Kevin Graffagnino, “’Twenty Thousand Muskets!!!’: Ira Allen and the Olive Branch Affair, 1796–1800,” WMQ, description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892– description ends 3d ser., 48 (1991), 409–31.

In a short letter to TJ written from Washington on this date, Allen noted that he had twice applied to Levi Lincoln regarding his case. Lincoln replied that he needed instructions from the president before he could do anything. Arguing that his misfortunes in Europe were related to the “American War, and his continued attachment to the Liberties of the United States,” Allen trusted that TJ would act in his favor and that “proper Instructions” would be immediately forwarded to King in London (Tr in VtBW; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; recorded in SJL as received 24 Apr.). Allen, abroad since 1795, had arrived in Philadelphia on 2 Jan. 1801. Before 9 Mch. he called on TJ, who reportedly requested Allen’s opinion on conditions in Europe. On 14 Apr., Allen wrote King and enclosed a letter written by Lincoln on his behalf dated 8 Apr. (John J. Duffy and others, eds., Ethan Allen and His Kin: Correspondence, 1772–1819, 2 vols. [Hanover, N.H., 1998], 2:695–6, 699; Wilbur, Ira Allen, 2:309, 313–14). For two of Allen’s pamphlets in which he presented his case to the public, see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends Nos. 3306 and 3538. A previous letter from Allen to TJ of 4 Nov. 1797, recorded in SJL as received 21 Feb. 1798 from London, has not been found.

Mr Yates chief justice: Jasper Yeates was an associate justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Martin’s Bench and Bar description begins John H. Martin, Martin’s Bench and Bar of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, 1883 description ends , 23).

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