Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Levi Lincoln, 9 April 1801

From Levi Lincoln

Washington April 9th 1801


I have the honor to forward for your consideration several setts of papers on subjects to which the attention of government has been pressed by the applicants.

Priestman’s case will appear fully from his papers. Judge Peters certificate on the back of a former petition prefer’d to the treasurys office, excludes the idea of intentional wrong, for which purpose I have procured, & forward it. It seems at the time, when the transaction took place, there was a doubt on the construction of the law, since which the necessity of a permit is argued. And even now I am informed by Mr Lyon the collector refuses permits, & that goods are transported as by Priestman, without permits—It appears Mr […] refused releif, because there had been time for the law to be known—the difficulty was, it could not be understood—From a supposition that you would think proper to pardon, a blank, is forwarded for that purpose—I have written to the marshal to stay proceedings untill your pleasure would be known in the subject—

Mr Yznardi, is like the importunate widow his applications are incessant. I have consented, notwithstanding a deficiency of vouchers, to pay him the further sum of $2,000, on account. It appearing highly probable that that sum on a final settlement, will be found his due. From the statement of Mr Dallas of the two suits against Mr Yznardi, I can contemplate no principles, upon which I think it would be right for the Executive to interfere in reference to the one in favor of Mr Israel. The cause of this action, is traced very remotely, & very incorrectly, to a regular exertion of consular authority. Mr Israel’s letter contains some weighty, altho common reasons against an interference.

It may be reasonable that the defence of Pentards action should be at the public expence. Or that the defendant should ultimately be indemnified. His conduct which is the ground of this process, appears to have been proper & meritorious.

The letter of Govr. St. Clair and the therein inclosed papers state a most outrageous violation of the rights of society. As the subject is important, I thought it my duty to forward it—opportunities may present for inquiries—

The Spanish ministers communication refering to papers was unattended with any, he has been written to on the subject—

Dent has accepted of the office of Marshal for the district of Potomac—Jones has been written to, from not having recd an answer, it is probable he is from home—Judge Bee has declined accepting of the office of Cheif Judge of the fifth circuit court of the United States, assigning as a reason his inability to undergo the fatigue incident to that office—the late Governor Lee of Maryland declines accepting of his commission as a justice of the peace—

I take the liberty of enclosing the national Intelligencer, have deferd observations on the propriety and expediency, of withholding the commissions with a view of availing myself of the opportunity of considering remarks, which I expected would have been made, on the discussion of its legality. I however have not heard or seen a syllable on the subject—

My private letters from the State of Massachusetts state a general approbation of the measures of Govt. and a great prevalence of the principles of republicanism. They say Gerry will be Governor. I perceive republican candidates a pushed for the Senate—By the address of our Legislature to Mr Adams, it appears that a renovation is necessary—

Genl. Smith is elected by a very great majority It is said & generally credited, that a Mr Sprigg is elected in the room of C Thomas—great is the power of truth, it must prevail—

I have Sir the honor to be most respectfully your most obedient Hum Sert.

Levi Lincoln

RC (DLC); at head of text: “President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 April and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found, but see below.

William Priestman’s case involved a merchant who imported to Baltimore watches valued at $3,385 and who, in 1797, moved his wares to Philadelphia in violation of section 19 of the February 1793 act regulating imports, specifically movement of goods from one port of entry to another. The watches were confiscated and U.S. attorney William Rawle prosecuted the case. TJ ultimately pardoned Priestman in June 1801 and ordered a return of the seized watches (DNA: RG 59, GPR; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:314).

The letter of Governor Arthur St. Clair and the enclosed papers have not been found, but St. Clair, writing to James Madison on 9 Mch., asserted that in December he had sent “information that a very violent violation of the Territory had been committed by the British near to Detroit, and a man carried away by force and murdered.” A grand jury of the Northwest Territory indicted British Sergeant Levy P. Cole for the murder of suspected deserter Francis Poquette (William Henry Smith, ed., The St. Clair Papers: The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair, 2 vols., [Cincinnati, 1882], 2:532–3; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:9–10).

Thomas Bee returned his commission as chief judge for the Fifth Circuit Court, claiming fatigue of long journeys and a desire to continue to serve as district judge in South Carolina (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 1:28).

The 3 Apr. 1801 issue of the National Intelligencer contained a front-page critique of a letter published in the Philadelphia Gazette of 25 Mch., the writer of which claimed that TJ had been illegally withholding the commissions of justices named by Adams.

Richard Sprigg, Jr., was elected in place of Federalist Congressman John C. Thomas to represent Maryland’s second district in the Seventh Congress (Biog. Dir. Cong.; Dauer, Adams Federalists description begins Manning J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists, Baltimore, 1953 description ends , 323, 328).

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