Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to John Walker, 13 April 1803

To John Walker

Washington. Apl. 13. 1803—


Your letter of the fourth did not come to hand ‘till last night—it covered a copy of that of May 15th 1788—which I had only hastily read in the hands of Genl. Lee

I think its miscarriage unfortunate; as, had I received it I should without hesitation have made it my first object to have called on you on my return to this country, & to have come to an understanding as to the course we were to pursue, as was the object of the letter. time, silence, & the circumstances growing out of them have unfavorably affected the case—With respect to the newspapers, ‘tho the silencing them would be very desirable yet it would be as difficult if not desperate. however if Callender & Coleman & Caldwell can be silenced, the others are but copyers or answerers of them. Wayne, Relf, Russel, have not pretended to original information. but these people slander for their bread, & as long as customers can be found who will read & relish & pay for their lies, they will fabricate them for the market. As for the antagonist presses; I have with conscientious exactness avoided the smallest interference with them, further than to have public documents published in them. the present occasion however will justify my using the intermediation of friends to direct the discretion of those of them of the principal circulation. with respect to the Bee which you particularly mention, I know not the editor & scarcely ever see his paper. but through a friend who knows him I can have a total silence recommended to him, probably with effect. through the same channel the Aurora & American Citizen may probably be induced to silence. these are the only papers of considerable circulation on that side: & if their antagonists can be brought to be silent, they can have no reason not to be so. however my best endeavors shall be used by these & all other means to consign this unfortunate matter to all the oblivion of which it is susceptible. I certainly could have no objection to your shewing my letter to Mr. Nicholas to the ladies of your family. My greatest anxieties are for their tranquility—I salute them & yourself with respect—

Th: Jefferson

Tr (NHi: Gilder Lehrman Collection at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History); in an unidentified hand; at foot of text: “John Walker esq.”; two attestations at foot of text, the first in Bishop James Madison’s hand and signed by him: “I certify this to be a true Copy from the Original—J Madison Bp of the Pr. Ep. Church in Virginia Apl. 10th 1806,” the second in John Marshall’s hand and signed by him: “A true copy from the original shown me by Mr. Walker, which I believe to be with handwriting of Mr. Jefferson J Marshall C.J. of the US. May 13th. 1806”; endorsed: “(Copy) Thomas Jefferson to John Walker April 13, 1803.”

your letter: Walker’s correspondence of 4 Apr. 1803, recorded in SJL as received on the 12th, has not been found. According to SJL, TJ wrote Walker on 29 and 30 Mch. and Walker responded with one from his home at Belvoir on 30 Mch., received by TJ the same day. All are missing. Neither the original nor the copy of the 15 May 1788 letter, written while TJ was in France, has been found. Only the index to SJL is extant for 1788 and the Walker correspondence is not listed there. Some time after TJ’s departure for Paris, Elizabeth Moore Walker informed her husband that TJ, his classmate, friend, neighbor, and groomsman in 1764, had made improper advances toward her, beginning in 1768. She had not informed her husband earlier, fearing a duel or other repercussions. John Walker later noted that after learning of the unsolicited overtures, he on numerous occasions wrote TJ demanding an explanation, but no letters have been found. A change in the tenor of the surviving correspondence between the two, that is, Walker to TJ, 4 Feb. 1786, and TJ to Walker, 7 Feb. 1790, was noted by the Editors (see Vol. 9:251–2; Vol. 11:194n; Vol. 16:156–7). For the history of the “Walker Affair,” including the charges that became public in 1805, which indicated that TJ’s attempts to seduce Elizabeth Walker extended from 1768 to 1779, see Jon Kukla, Mr. Jefferson’s Women (New York, 2007), 41–63 and Appendix A and Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 1:447–51, 4:216–19. To his friends, TJ responded in 1805 by pleading guilty to only one charge, that when “young and single I offered love to a handsome lady” (TJ to Robert Smith, 1 July 1805).

hands of genl. lee: in 1793, Henry Lee married Ann Hill Carter, Elizabeth Walker’s niece. Lee, who as a Federalist congressman in 1801 supported Burr for president when the deadlocked election passed to the House of Representatives, served as a mediator between Walker and TJ, making several visits to Monticello during the years of controversy, which lasted until the death of the Walkers in 1809 (Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time, Boston, 1948–81, 6 vols. description ends , 1:447–8; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 25:331, 26:140–2; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004- , 9 vols. description ends , 1:276–9, 499n).

In October 1802, James T. callender brought the charges of TJ’s misconduct toward his neighbor’s wife before the wider public through pieces in the Richmond Recorder (Vol. 38:37n). Callender’s article of 13 Oct. headed “Mrs. Walker,” described several attempts of “a certain great Personage” to injure the virtue of “a Lady in Albemarle county.” The Boston Gazette reprinted the piece on 11 Nov. Callender noted that he was not the first to expose the affair. He referred to an article that appeared in the 21 Sep. issue of the Bee and was reprinted in the Richmond Examiner. It described efforts by Connecticut Federalists to disgrace the president by spreading an untrue story about TJ and a neighbor, who left his family under the “care of Mr. Jefferson” while he was away. During his absence, according to the report, “Mr. J. attempted to seduce his lady, and when he conceived himself sufficiently ingratiated into her favor he made an attack on her virtue, but was resisted by Mrs. W. and repulsed by her with a pair of scissors; that on Mr. Walker’s return he called on Mr. Jefferson for satisfaction,” and at that point “Mr. J. begged his pardon, and wrote him a letter confessing and apologising for his criminal intentions.” This letter was said to be in the hands of William coleman, editor of the New-York Evening Post, “who had possessed it a considerable time.” Callender noted in February 1803 that John Walker had recently visited Richmond and showed “a celebrated correspondence” to several people who advised him to postpone publication until the next election, explaining that “the horrible infamy of the contents of a part of this correspondence might have its edge blunted in 18 months of newspaper repercussion.” Callender, however, promised that “the letters will be printed, first or last, there can be no question.” The piece was reprinted in the New-York Evening Post on 16 Feb. but Elias B. caldwell of the Washington Federalist did not cover the story at this time. John Russell and James Cutler printed it in the Boston Gazette on 21 Feb., but it did not appear in Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel (Pasley, Tyranny of Printers description begins Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, 2001 description ends , 144–5, 233, 240–1; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:277, 303; 2:913, 949).

friend who knows him: perhaps Gideon Granger. TJ used Granger to subscribe to Charles Holt’s Hudson Bee (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1123). The press was not silenced immediately. On 25 June, the Gazette of the United States printed a piece noting that “some democratick paper at the southward, deeming it necessary to say something of Mr. Jefferson’s felonious attempt to seduce the wife of his friend, took certain unwarrantable liberties with the character of Mrs. Walker, and insinuated that her reputation was not perfectly free from blemish. Mr. Walker immediately wrote to Mr. Jefferson that he must silence the democratick presses upon that subject, and intimated what would be the consequence of neglecting to do so.” A piece from the Richmond Examiner was reprinted by James Cheetham in the New York american citizen on 1 July, reporting that Henry Lee had carried a “challenge to the President of the United States from Mr. John Walker of Albemarle.” According to SJL, a letter from Walker to TJ of 3 July was received by the president on the 6th. The next day TJ responded, but neither letter has been found.

no objection: TJ perhaps permitted Walker to show the correspondence to John Nicholas, the Federalist Albemarle County clerk, who referred to the “unpleasant affair between W, J, & L” in correspondence with Alexander Hamilton in August 1803. He noted that “in consequence of the late infamous & foolish publications” in the Richmond Examiner, all “will certainly come out at full length now.” Nicholas assured Hamilton that Walker and Lee were “holding the great man in a very unpleasant situation. They have both written to him & demanded certain things; which, I suppose, he will not comply with—and of course you may guess the rest. But this flagrant breach of pretended private friendship, you may depend forms but a small link in the great chain of deformity & vice” (Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 26:140–1).

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