Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from James Workman, 15 November 1801

From James Workman

Alexandria, Novr. 15th. 1801—


This communication is addressed to you by one, who altho’ not a citizen of the American Republic, is nevertheless desirous of promoting her just interests from a long formed prepossession in her favor, as well as for various reasons derived from the present moral & political State of the World.

To me it appears that an increase of her Power, if it could be justly & honorably obtained would at this time be expedient, from the enormous augmentation of the military resources of those States with which she may, at no distant period, be obliged to contend.

Should France get possession of Louisiana & the Floridas, & pursue there her usual policy towards the Negroes, the fatal consequences in respect to the only vulnerable part of this Commonwealth, are too obvious to be mentioned.

Were the United States to take those Countries, that danger would not only be for ever removed; but the Congress might, in virtue of the right of Conquest, make such beneficial regulations respecting the Slaves, there, and enforce such laws against the perpetuity of Slavery, as would in time annihilate that odious condition. This would necessarily lead to similar measures in the adjoining States, & consequently to the total abolition throughout the Empire of an Establishment by which it is enfeebled, Endangered, contaminated & disgraced.

Louisiana & the Floridas would afford abundant choice of Districts, suitable in every respect for the settlement of Emancipated Negroes.

The consequences of this conquest would, of course be the loss of much American1 commercial property. The interest of merchants deserves, no doubt, considerable attention; but not to the detriment of all the rest of the community. A reduction in the price of grain, & the utmost losses that could arise from captures at Sea, could hardly be put in Estimation against the advantages derivable from the possession of these Territories.

But might not this lead to a breach with France?—Possibly it might. But such a breach, at all events, is not improbable. France will hardly forgive the past conduct of these States towards her; or forbear to resent it when a favorable opportunity offers. If you must quarrel with her, it is better to have your feeble flank defended. Most likely, however, the taking of Louisiana would prevent such a rupture, ‘tho otherwise probable. France will by this time consider the Spanish Colonies as her own; She would therefore be unwilling to leave the richest of them in such peril as they would be in, when such an Enemy as the American Republic was in possession of Louisiana. She would therefore naturally be desirous of mediating betwen it & her Ally, to save him (that is herself) from any farther loss.

The authority of Congress over Louisiana would not easily be shaken; & the command of the Navigation of the Mississipi, would for ever secure to the Union the Western States; Whereas, if France were mistress of that river, their adherence to the Empire might, in critical times, become Exceedingly precarious.

I have the honor to be, Sir, With the greatest respect, Yr. Most Obedient Servant,

James Workman.

RC (MoSHi: Jefferson Papers); at head of text: “Private”; at foot of text: “To His Excellency Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 Dec. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Workman’s Political Essays (see below).

James Workman (d. 1832) was born in Ireland, probably in the 1770s. He studied law at the Middle Temple in London and may have had experience in the British army. In the 1790s, through such writings as An Argument Against Continuing the War and A Letter to His Grace the Duke of Portland, he advocated a cessation of Britain’s war against France. Workman probably left England for the United States in 1799, and after spending time in several seaboard cities he took up residence in Charleston, South Carolina, in the winter of 1801–2. Workman’s play Liberty in Louisiana, which praised the arrival of U.S. law in Louisiana, was staged and published in Charleston in 1804. That year he moved to New Orleans, where he worked as secretary to W. C. C. Claiborne, then the governor of Orleans Territory, and secretary of the territory’s legislative council, in which capacity he drafted laws, assisted in the transition of Louisiana’s legal system to accommodate the laws and practices of the United States, and earned some repute for his understanding of both systems of law. In 1805, Claiborne named Workman a judge in Orleans County and probate judge of Orleans Territory. Politically, however, Workman became part of a faction opposed to Claiborne that included Daniel Clark and Edward Livingston. In the wake of the disclosure of the Burr conspiracy, James Wilkinson had Workman arrested for his role in the Mexican Association, a group that hoped to liberate Spain’s North American colonies. Workman won acquittal at trial, but his dispute with Wilkinson and the accusations of conspiracy further alienated him from Claiborne and made TJ suspicious of him. In 1808, Workman represented Livingston in a hearing in the Batture case, and a conflict with the U.S. attorney led to Workman’s disbarment by the court. He left New Orleans in 1809 but returned in 1817, resumed the practice of law, and later won election to the Louisiana legislature. In 1821 he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society. His wife had died of yellow fever not long after their arrival in Charleston, and he had no surviving spouse or children at the time of his death (Jared William Bradley, ed., Interim Appointment: W. C. C. Claiborne Letter Book, 1804–1805 [Baton Rouge, 2002], 389–414, 596–603; James Workman, An Argument Against Continuing the War [London, 1795]; James Workman, A Letter to His Grace the Duke of Portland, 3d ed. [London, 1797]; James Workman, Liberty in Louisiana; A Comedy, 2d ed. [Charleston, 1804]; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Proceedings, 22, pt. 3 [1884], 502, 531; Joseph C. Cabell to TJ, 13 Mch. 1807, in DLC; Claiborne to TJ, 1 June 1807, in same).

Not a citizen: Workman became a naturalized U.S. citizen in May 1804 (Bradley, Interim Appointment, 391).

With the letter printed above, Workman sent TJ a copy of his new pamphlet called Political Essays, which contained his Argument Against Continuing the War, his Letter to the Duke of Portland, and a previously unpublished memorial Workman had sent to the British government in 1800 proposing the seizure of Spanish possessions in the Americas and the settlement of Irish Catholics in the conquered territories. Published in Alexandria, Virginia, Political Essays bore the date 14 Nov. 1801 (James Workman, Political Essays, Relative to the War of the French Revolution [Alexandria, Va., 1801]; Sowerby description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends , No. 3272; Bradley, Interim Appointment, 392–3).

TJ answered Workman briefly on 4 Dec.: “Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to mr Workman and his thanks for the pamphlet sent him which he shall peruse with pleasure. the event of peace will leave territorial possessions in their present state until the men of Europe shall have recovered breath and strength enough to recommence their sanguinary conflicts which they seem to consider as the object for which they are brought into the world.” No other correspondence between Workman and TJ has been found or is recorded in SJL (PrC in MoSHi: Jefferson Papers; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso).

1Word interlined.

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