Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Knox, 11 May 1801

From Henry Knox

Boston 11 May 1801


My friend Winthrop Sargent Governor of the Missisippi Territory will have the honor to present this letter to you. This gentleman served under my command in the revolutionary Army, with the highest approbation of the Commander in cheif and every officer in the Army whose good opinion was of any value. It is more than one quarter of a century since I have been intimate with him, and I never heard of any action of his but what would render him honor in the assembled presence of all created Beings. I know well the loftiness of his mind, and his unaccommodation to every thing mean has created him enemies; and we have seen accusations brought forward but not supported before the national Legislature. All he asks is fair unprejudiced investigation. I have assured him most strongly of that of which he before had no doubt, that You would most certainly try, before you condemned; and that upon trial all being right you would vindicate his honor and the honor of Government by a reappointment.

I am with high respect and attachment Your Obedient Servant

H Knox

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “The President of the United States.”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 May and so recorded in SJL with notation “Sarjeant”; TJ later canceled “Knox Henry” and added “Sarjeant Winthrop” to the endorsement.

Winthrop Sargent was on his way to Washington to plead for his continuation as the governor of Mississippi Territory; see Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 16 May, and Sargent to TJ, 21, [31] May. His opponents in the territory began to organize against him in 1799, and the following year they presented a petition to the U.S. House of Representatives. A House committee examined the accusations and reported on 19 Feb. 1801. The committee decided that a charge against Sargent of “improper and arbitrary misbehavior” was too general, and that no conclusion could be drawn about it. However, the committee did find that Sargent, along with the territory’s judges, had enacted new laws at a time when the enabling legislation for the territory allowed only the adoption of existing states’ laws. Sargent had also accepted fees for issuing certain passes and licenses in addition to his salary as a territorial governor. The committee, concluding that the governor’s missteps “originated from incorrect and misconceived opinions respecting the extent of his powers, and not from impure or criminal intentions,” presented a resolution stating that “there does not appear cause for further proceedings” against him. That resolution failed in a House vote on 3 Mch., as the Sixth Congress came to a close (Report of the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the Official Conduct of Winthrop Sargent, Governor of the Mississippi Territory [Washington, 1801], Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 1531, copy in MoSHi: Jefferson Papers, with addendum in a clerk’s hand reporting the rejection of the resolution and with endorsement by TJ on final page, “Serjeant Govr.”; ASP description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1832–61, 38 vols. description ends , Miscellaneous, 1:233–41; JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:744–5, 750, 752, 844–5; Dunbar Rowland, History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South, 2 vols. [Chicago, 1925], 1:365–70).

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