Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Michael Fortune, 23 June 1801

From Michael Fortune

Philadelphia June 23d—1801


As the Author of the inclosed little Song, permit me to present it to you—The view and spirit in which it was written, will be obvious to you, and prompt you to indulge me in the liberty, I have taken, of making use of your name in order to effect a patriotic purpose. The popular Song has sometimes produced greater effects than the sublimer flights of Poetry—As it is the duty of every good Citizen to support a wise and virtuous Administration, by conciliating the minds of the people, it is also the Province of the Poet to promote Union by Means of harmony—

I have the honor to remain with the highest Veneration Sir Your most obedient and respectful fellow-Citizen

Michael Fortune

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson. President of the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 June and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Jefferson and Liberty. A New Song (Philadelphia, 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. 734).

Michael Fortune may have arrived in Philadelphia in 1790 on a ship from Northern Ireland. He was listed in some city directories in the 1790s as a grocer and a storekeeper. By 1800 he sold lottery tickets, and his advertisements for “Fortune’s Lucky Lottery Office” in 1815 featured a set of verses in which a sweet-voiced cherub advised: “To the temple of Fortune proceed.” Fortune wrote lyrics for several songs in addition to “Jefferson and Liberty,” including “The Acquisition of Louisiana” in 1804. In 1796–97 he translated into English, for publication in Philadelphia, a volume of moral instruction and a schoolbook by Moreau St. Méry, both originally written in French. Later Fortune was responsible for the English translation of Victoria Neo-Aureliana, a work in Latin verse prompted by the War of 1812. When the African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia held a service on 1 Jan. 1808 to mark the proclaimed end of the African slave trade, Fortune, who also sold tickets for the church’s lottery, wrote a “New Year’s Anthem” for the occasion. In 1825 he lived in Charleston, South Carolina (Philadelphia Federal Gazette, 25 June 1790; Philadelphia Gazette, 8 July 1800; Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 4 Feb., 13 June 1808; Pittsfield Sun, 23 Jan. 1808; American Telegraph, 8 Mch. 1815; René Houdet, A Treatise on Morality: Chiefly Designed for the Instruction of Youth [Philadelphia, 1796], 120; M. L. E. Moreau de St. Méry, General View or Abstract of the Arts and Sciences, Adapted to the Capacity of Youth[Philadelphia, 1797]; [James Ross], Victoria Neo-Aureliana: Pax Gandavensis. Cum Interpretatione Poetica a Michaele Fortune [Philadelphia, 1816]; Absalom Jones, A Thanksgiving Sermon, Preached January 1, 1808, In St. Thomas’s, or the African Episcopal, Church, Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1808], [23–4]; Stafford, Philadelphia Directory, for 1798, 56; Stafford, Philadelphia Directory, for 1799, 54; Richard J. Wolfe, Secular Music in America, 1801–1825, 3 vols. [New York, 1964], 1:10, 166, 448; 2:682, 900; Kenneth Roberts and Anna M. Roberts, trans. and eds., Moreau de St. Méry’s American Journey, 1793–1798 [Garden City, N.Y., 1947], 231–2; Fortune to TJ, 29 Aug. 1825, RC in DLC).

Nicolas Gouin Dufief, the publisher of Fortune’s Little song, “Jefferson and Liberty,” advertised it for sale at Voltaire’s Head, Dufief’s Philadelphia book and stationery shop. The price was 25 cents, with a discount allowed for bulk orders. Fortune’s words were set to the tune of “Jefferson’s March,” which had been composed anonymously, perhaps by Peter S. Du Ponceau, for the inauguration celebration in Philadelphia. Other writers also employed the titles “Jefferson and Liberty” and “Jefferson’s March” for songs commemorating TJ’s election (Philadelphia Gazette, 23 June 1801; Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 4:30; Philippe de Létombe to TJ, 28 Feb. 1801).

No reply to Fortune’s letter of 23 June 1801 has been found or is recorded in SJL, although Fortune later referred to a response from TJ dated 26 June (Fortune to TJ, 29 Aug. 1825).

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