Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Denniston & Cheetham, 22 October 1801

From Denniston & Cheetham

New York October 22nd. 1801


Much noise has been made Concerning the report of your having ordered Mr. Dallas to enter a Nolle Prosequi in the Suit against Mr. Duane commenced by your predecessor on the behalf of the Senate of the United States. An inflamatory essay which appeared in the gazette of the United States, on the unconstitutionality of the act, under the Signature of Juris Consultus has been republished in most of our federal prints and has excited a little disquietude even in the minds of Some republicans not well acquainted with the nature of such a proceeding. No defence of it has yet been made in our Republican prints, and our Silence has been Construed by many really honest men into an acknowledgement that the act is neither Constitutional nor precedented. In both these points of view after a full examination of the Subject, we are wholly satisfied, that if a Nolle Prosequi was ordered by you to be entered it is neither unprecedented nor in our opinion unconstitutional. We are Determined, however, to defend your measures while they appear to us, as they have hitherto done, not only Constitutional and Just, but highly Commendable. We value the principle which raised you to the Chief Magistracy of the Union, and on which you act, too highly not to exert ourselves in the Defence of measures Compatible with it. We are Solicitous to write a few essays on the subject here adverted to.—But we are wanting in information respecting it. We want to be informed Whether the Nolle Prosequi was ordered to be entered by you in the Case mentioned, and if so on what ground? We are aware of the Delicacy of asking this information from you. But we are persuaded that it Cannot come from a purer and more enlightened source. Should you think the request not incompatible with your high political station, the earlier you impart to us the information the more acceptable it will be. At all events we shall defend the act, but our Defence will not be so Complete without the information as with it.

We beg pardon for troubling you with so long a letter

We are Sincerely Your devouted freinds

Denniston & Cheetham

RC (DLC); in Denniston’s hand and signed by him; addressed: “Thomas Jefferson President of the United States Washington”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Oct. and so recorded in SJL.

On 3 Sep., the Gazette of the United States printed an essay signed juris consultus, which denounced TJ’s decision to halt the federal prosecution against William Duane under the Sedition Act. Professing disbelief that “an expedient, so fatal to the constitution, has been adopted to screen a guilty favourite from the justice of the law,” the author accused TJ of being “an usurper, that he has broken the constitution” and called upon public representatives to bring a bill of impeachment “for a HIGH CRIME against the constitution and people of the United States of America.” Two additional essays under the same name appeared in the Gazette of the United States on 4 and 8 Sep. The first detailed Duane’s history of “obscenity, calumny, and corruption” and again condemned TJ for wresting “from the hands of justice, a wretch, who having spared none himself, was less than any other entitled to the extraordinary interposition of presidential prerogative!” The final essay put forth a lengthy argument that “the power of granting Nolle Prosequi’s to criminals is not, by the constitution of the United States, vested in the President.”

On 22 Oct., Denniston & Cheetham also wrote Gallatin, forwarding documents respecting Richard Rogers, naval officer at the New York custom house, including a certificate written and signed by John Utt, Sr., dated New York, 20 Oct. 1801, with a 1782 bill of sale, in Rogers’s hand, confirming that Rogers was “in the employ of the British” in New York during the Revolution. Utt concluded: “his Sentiments During the Revolution were monarchical and Still Remain so.” Jacob Forsyth, clerk at the custom house, wrote and signed a statement, dated New York, 24 July 1801, describing an incident in which Rogers angrily refused to provide Denniston with commercial information on the arrival of a vessel for his newspaper. Denniston noted no impediments were “ever thrown in the way of federal printers.” John Chapman, a Federalist merchant, signed a certificate dated New York, 19 June 1801, describing the difficulties he had in obtaining a register at New York for an American-built vessel. Denniston concluded that they were sending the documents to Gallatin as promised. He added: “though the removal of Mr. Rogers from office would gratify ourselves as well as every Republican in this City, Yet we shall be perfectly Satisfied with the determination of the executive on the point, whatever it may be—being Confident that all his measures are Guided by a love of Justice and a Sincere desire to promote the liberty of the Commonwealth” (RC in DNA: RG 59, LAR, 9:0854–6, in Denniston’s hand and signed by him, endorsed by TJ: “Denniston & Chetham to mr Gallatin against Rogers”; enclosures in same, 9:0857–60).

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