Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Willard, 11 March 1803

From John Willard

Middlebury Vermont 11th of March 1803


By a letter from Mr Israel Smith received on the 7th inst I understand that complaint has been made to the President of the United States by Amasa Paine & Cephas Smith that I had officiated in the office of Marshal without giving bond, as the Law requires—being unacquainted with the particulars it will at present be out of my power to reply to the charges exhibited against me, in the mean time I beg leave to explain a circumstance from which I think it probable they originated their suggestions. The term of my first appointment was limited to the rising of the next session of the senate—at the expiration of that term not having received my second commission I felt myself in an unpleasant situation & was undetermined how to act I took advice of the best informed law characters on the subject who were all unanimous in the opinion that I ought to proceed in the exercise of my official duty otherwise there would be an interregnum in the office which it is presumed was never contemplated by the law—under those circumstances I continued to officiate untill the reciept of my commission which was late in the summer (the precise time I do not recollect)1 notwithstanding the letter of the Secretary of state in which it was inclosed bore date April 28th by whom the commission was detained it may be impossible to determin, the purpose for which it was detained will not be so difficult to understand & will serve as an other proof of the necessity of reform in the subordinate branches of the Postmaster department—it woud be unreasonable for me to expect to escape persecution when I consider that the most pure & exalted characters in the present administration are the broadest marks for slander—it will be needless for me to make any remarks on the characters of Paine & Smith the complainants I presume sir you are not unacquanted with the peculiar virulence with which they pursue every measure of the government—

Conscious of having at all times endeavored strictly to comply with the law in the exercise of my official duty I shall meet any inquery into my conduct with pleasure in the mean time while I continue to hold the office my prime object will be to make every mean in my power subservient to the public interest but when in the opinion of the executive that interest will be better promoted by another I shall suffer no private consideration to come in competition with the public good but will chearfully retire from office in full confidence that all the measures of the present executive originate from this purest design to promote the public happiness—

The benign influence of the measures pursued by the administration has a visible effect on the public mind the great mass of the people manifest a rapid increase of their confidence the time is fast approximating when the body of the freemen will be concerned how much their interest & happiness has been promoted by the change of men & measures.

Last week we made a second attempt to elect a representative to Congress in this district—from the return of votes we have already obtained I am convinced there will be no choice the republican ticket stands the highest has gained ground at the second trial & in all probability at the next will be successfull

I have the honor to be sir very respectfully your obedient Servant

John Willard

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 5 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

Born in East Guilford, Connecticut, the son of a shipmaster, John Willard (1759–1825) became a seaman during the Revolutionary War and was captured by the British. Upon his release he became quartermaster of a Connecticut regiment. After studying medicine with a local physician, he moved to Middlebury, Vermont, where he set up a medical practice and entered politics as an early and constant advocate of the Republican cause. On 4 Mch. 1801, he delivered an oration at Middlebury to celebrate TJ’s inauguration. Shortly after taking office, TJ appointed him marshal for the district of Vermont in place of Jabez Fitch, who, according to the president, was guilty of “cruel conduct.” Willard’s appointment was also part of TJ’s effort to bring Republicans into the court system dominated by Federalists. In 1809, Willard married 22-year-old Emma Hart, the principal of the female academy at Middlebury. She founded the Middlebury Female Seminary in their home in 1814, after Dr. Willard experienced financial reverses as a result of being a director of the Vermont State Bank. He served as physician and business manager for his wife’s increasingly successful endeavors in female education, moving first from Middlebury to Waterford, New York, in 1819, and two years later to Troy, where the Troy Female Seminary received local financial assistance and opened in 1821 under Emma Willard’s leadership (John Willard, An Oration Delivered at Middlebury, in the State of Vermont, on the Fourth of March, One Thousand Eight Hundred and One [Bennington, 1801]; Alma Lutz, Emma Willard: Pioneer Educator of American Women [Boston, 1964], 16–17, 20–1, 35, 38–40, 56; Rutland Vermont Herald, 15 Nov. 1809, 17 Nov. 1813; Windsor Vermont Republican, 11 Nov. 1811; Vol. 33:111–12, 219, 668, 673, 674).

In a 13 Jan. 1803 letter to Senator Stephen R. Bradley, amasa paine called for the removal of Willard, charging that he had “wholly omitted to give bonds, or qualify under his last appointment” for “four months after his first appointment expired, & that notwithstanding he continually executed the office, tho unauthorized.” Paine recommended Reuben Atwater, Bradley’s brother-in-law, in Willard’s place (Dorr Bradley Carpenter, ed., Stephen R. Bradley: Letters of a Revolutionary War Patriot and Vermont Senator [Jefferson, N.C., 2009], 204). In December 1801, Elijah Paine, a Federalist, wrote TJ recommending Atwater in place of Willard. At the same time, Moses Robinson defended Willard’s character, abilities, and conduct as marshal (Vol. 35:684–5; Vol. 36:100). second commission: Willard was confirmed by the Senate with other interim appointments on 26 Jan. 1802, and that is the date the State Department issued his commission for a term of four years. Willard’s commission was renewed in December 1805 and again in 1809. He was removed from office in January 1811 (commissions dated 26 Jan. 1802 and 17 Dec. 1805 in DNA: RG 59, MPTPC; 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 , 1:403, 405; 2:5, 130–1; Windsor Vermont Republican, 28 Jan. 1811; Vol. 36:334, 336n).

elect a representative to congress: in Vermont the candidate had to receive a majority of the total votes cast by freemen at town meetings in the district to win the election. Middlebury was part of Vermont’s northwestern district. In the first election on 11 Jan., Republican Udny Hay received 1,289 votes, the highest number in the district but not a majority. The two Federalist candidates with the most votes were Martin Chittenden and Amos Marsh, with 841 and 545, respectively. At the second trial on 1 Mch., Hay garnered 1,980 votes. The Federalists again split their vote, with 1,237 cast for Chittenden and 834 for Marsh. At the third election, held on 9 May, the Federalists united behind Chittenden, giving him the victory with 2,319 votes against Hay’s 1,938 (Middlebury Mercury, 19 Jan., 30 Mch., 13 Apr., 18 June 1803; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; Vol. 35:575n; Vol. 36:575; Vol. 38:357n).

1MS: “recollet.”

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