Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Barton, 26 May 1801

From William Barton

Lancaster (Pennsylva.) May 26th. 1801.—


I can duly appreciate the great political events, which have recently taken place in this country; though little else falls to my part, than tranquilly to participate, with the mass of my countrymen, in the satisfaction resulting from those occurrences—They manifestly tend to the advancement of the public weal; and, hence, they promote confidence in the breast of every sincere American. Yet, notwithstanding my station as an individual—unknown on the great theatre of our National Affairs,—I pray that I may be permitted to offer to You, Sir, my Congratulations on the auspicious occasion.—

Knowing, as I do, my feelings to be in this respect perfectly disinterested, I still find some reluctance in my mind to combine, with even a faint expression of them, any thing of a personal nature, as it regards myself. Relying, however, on Your goodness—and (as I flatter myself) Your knowledge of my character, I will not suffer myself to be discouraged from addressing You, on a subject of my own concern—connected, indeed, with considerations of a political nature.—I do this, Sir, with the greater confidence, as I have understood from Mr. Beckley—with whom I have long been acquainted—that he has already addressed a letter to You, in which he has taken the liberty of going into some details, respecting me, which preclude the necessity of any from myself.—

The design, therefore, of the present letter, is to request Your acceptance of the enclosed papers, which I beg leave to submit to Your inspection. Suffer me, Sir, at the same time barely to observe, that although two of these papers had a reference to an official station in the Judiciary department of this State, (an appointment similar to which, I was honoured with by the government of the United States, in August 1789, without my previous knowledge of such an intention,)—I do not now contemplate any appointment of that nature. I mean not, Sir, to solicit any immediate appointment, whatever,—My object, in presuming to address You at this time, is merely to present myself to the notice of the Executive, in order that, at a future day, I may be considered as a candidate for some such suitable Office, as I may be deemed worthy to fill.—

Should I be so fortunate as to obtain the honourable sanction of Your approbation of my views,—it will be my pride to merit Your confidence, by the most zealous exertions to render myself as useful to my Country, as my share of talents will permit.—

With sentiments of the most perfect Respect And sincere Attachment, I have the Honor to be, Sir, Your most obedient servant

W. Barton

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 “Off.” Enclosures not found.

See John Beckley to TJ, 18 Mch. 1801, for Barton’s suggestion that he might be suitable for the position of supervisor of the revenue for Pennsylvania or a similar office. In 1790 and again two years later, TJ had been unable to satisfy Barton’s hope for a chief clerkship in the State Department. In that period Barton, who was an attorney, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and the author of tracts on commerce, manufactures, and other subjects, also sought positions in the Treasury, the Mint, and the diplomatic service. TJ passed along some legal work involving James Currie’s debt recovery actions, but Barton gave up the practice of law after he became, in 1792, the principal clerk in the office of the commissioner of the revenue, Tench Coxe (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 7:244; 10:12, 231n, 491; 11:406, 407n; 13:464; Washington, Papers, Pres. Ser., 7:159; Vol. 17:347–8, 350n; Vol. 22:99–100, 116; Vol. 23:146, 358; Vol. 25:346; Vol. 26:187; Vol. 27:826n; Vol. 29:254n).

Judiciary department: Barton, an active political supporter of Thomas McKean, became prothonotary of Lancaster County in 1800. Earlier, attorneys from the county recommended him for the presiding judgeship of a Pennsylvania district court. He was a nephew of David Rittenhouse (and an older brother of Benjamin Smith Barton), and in August 1789 George Washington had named him to be a judge of the newly established Northwest Territory. The Senate concurred, but Barton, who hoped at the time to be made assistant secretary of the Treasury, turned down the appointment (Alexander Harris, A Biographical History of Lancaster County [Lancaster, Pa., 1872], 38–9; Brooke Hindle, David Rittenhouse [Princeton, 1964], 196–7, 304; Rowe, McKean description begins G. S. Rowe, Thomas McKean, The Shaping of an American Republicanism, Boulder, Colo., 1978 description ends , 344–5; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962– , 30 vols.: Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols.; Pres. Ser., 1984–, 5 vols. description ends , 12:357–8; 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 , 1:18, 25).

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