Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Caleb Strong, 14 July 1802

To Caleb Strong

Washington July 14. 1802.


I recieved two days ago your favor of the 6th. inst. on the subject of certain military articles delivered or proposed to be delivered to the US. and immediately referred it to the Secretary at war. from him you will recieve a letter written on the supposition that these articles have never been the subject of a contract between the US. and the state of Massachusets. yet it is possible such a contract may have been made, altho’ no evidence of it is found in the War office. should any such evidence exist, which you can be so good as to procure us, the matter will be taken up on that ground, and the contracts of the government of the US. be faithfully carried into execution.

I have also asked the attention of the Secretary of the Navy to that part of your letter which mentions that some of the cannon of the fort were delivered for one of our vessels of war. he will immediately inform himself on the subject, and you may rest assured that whatever is just will be done, & without delay. perhaps your offices might aid us with further specific information of the transaction so far as the department of the Navy is concerned.

I write in this imperfect state of information, because within a few days we shall take our usual recess for the months of August and September, to avoid passing them on the tide waters.

I pray you to accept assurances of my high consideration & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Governor Strong.”

Caleb Strong (1746–1819) was a Harvard graduate and former United States senator from Massachusetts. He had also represented his state in the Constitutional convention at Philadelphia in 1787. A moderate Federalist, Strong was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1800 and remained in the office until 1807, when he was defeated by the Republican James Sullivan (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ).

FAVOR OF THE 6TH. INST.: a letter from Strong dated 6 July, recorded in SJL as received from Boston on 12 July, has not been found. The letter pertained to payments sought by Massachusetts for ordnance and military stores supplied to the United States in June 1798, when the state ceded Castle Island in Boston harbor to the United States for the purpose of erecting fortifications and other military facilities. The state placed a value of $41,679.78 on these items. A 23 June 1802 resolution of the Massachusetts legislature directed the governor to forward the proceedings on the subject to the president and to request payment of the money claimed with interest (Resolves of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. . . Begun and Held at Boston, in the County of Suffolk, on Wednesday the Twenty-Sixth Day of May, Anno Domini—MDCCCII [Boston, 1802], 25).

In a LETTER to Strong dated 13 July, Henry Dearborn observed that by the act of cession of June 1798, the ordnance and military stores attached to Castle Island were reserved to the state of Massachusetts and remained state property. An inventory and valuation of these articles was made when the United States took possession of the island, but this was not considered a CONTRACT that bound the U.S. to purchase them all. As the secretary of war interpreted the agreement, only items that were not ultimately returned to Massachusetts should be paid for “at a reasonable price.” Dearborn deemed the value claimed by the state was far too high and instead suggested that one or more “judicious disinterested persons” from outside of Massachusetts be appointed to reappraise the articles in question (FC in Lb in DNA: RG 107, MLS).

The SECRETARY OF THE NAVY, Robert Smith, wrote Strong on 18 July regarding CANNON and shot taken from the Castle Island fortifications for use by the frigate Constitution. Smith noted that the articles were requested by the then secretary of war, James McHenry, in a letter to the governor of Massachusetts dated 30 May 1798, which stipulated that the items would be returned or replaced when no longer needed. In December 1801, Smith directed the navy agent at Boston, Samuel Brown, to return the cannon and shot to the proper state officer. Brown responded, however, that the Massachusetts quartermaster general was unwilling to receive them and sought instead to compel the United States to pay cash for the items. Smith trusted that his letter would convince Strong that the transaction in question was a loan, not a purchase, and that the governor would instruct the proper state authority to receive the cannon and shot (Tr in DLC; enclosed in Smith to TJ, 9 Apr. 1803).

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