Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Goddard, 23 April 1803

From John Goddard

Portsmouth NH April 23d 1803


In obedience to your pleasure made known to me a short time since by Mr Cutts of the US. Legislature, I beg leave to observe, that the address communicated through him recommending Mr Steele as a candidate for the office of district Judge for this district was dictated, as I believe by no other motive than a sincere regard for the republican cause, the honor of your administration & the general interests of their fellow citizens.—The subscribers thereto have ever been on terms of friendship (external at least) with the Gentleman who in the usual course would succeed to the appointment, and deeply regretted the necessity of transgressing the bounds which private citizens in ordinary cases should prescribe to themselves.—Such is the prevalence of aristocratic federalism among the Gentlemen of the law in this district, that two of them only, who are in other respects qualified can, on political grounds, have any pretensions to any important office while our Government is administered on republican principles—Vizt Mr. Sherburne now district Attorney and Mr Steele Clerk of the district Court.—From a concurrence of causes the former has become extremely unpopular & no less so with his friends and family connexions than with others. The objections to him are of a moral as well as political nature, and he is considered by those who were his best friends, too destitute of principle to be entrusted with any important office from which he cannot be easily removed. To the moral or political character of Mr. Steele it is presumed there can be no exceptions, & in point of professional talents he is by no means second to Mr Sherburne. He was not indeed the earliest convert to republicanism, but for upwards of three years past has openly advocated right principles in which I believe he has been firm & consistent. Should he be appointed to the office in view, it would undoubtedly meet the approbation of all the friends of Government here—if others should censure it could only be for the sake of uniformity.

Circumstanced as I am an acquaintance and neighbour of Mr Sherburne, it has been with much reluctance and from a sense of duty only, that I have been thus explicit, should it have any effect in promoting the respectability of Government and the due execution of the laws in this district, I shall be compensated for the many unpleasant sensations experienced on this occasion.—

With sentiments of high respect, for your public and private character, & best wishes for the success of your administration I have the honor to be Yr Most obedient Servant

John Goddard

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at head of text: “To Thomas Jefferson Esquire President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 1 May and “Steele to be appd Distr. judge of N.H.” and so recorded in SJL.

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, John Goddard (1756–1829) graduated from Harvard College in 1777 and moved to Portsmouth, where he studied medicine. He turned away from his medical practice and became a successful hardware merchant. Goddard served as a Jeffersonian Republican in the state legislature, leading the drive for the incorporation of the New Hampshire Union Bank when it was being blocked by the Federalists. As recommended by New Hampshire Republicans, TJ in 1802 appointed him a commissioner of bankruptcy. As an elector, Goddard cast his vote for Jefferson in 1804. Opposed to the War of 1812, he helped organize the Peace party ticket and as a presidential elector in 1812 voted for DeWitt Clinton. He served many years as an officer of the Union Bank and was frequently placed on local committees to settle “disputed matters of business.” He also served with Daniel Webster on the select committee that reformed New Hampshire’s criminal code. William Plumer described Goddard as “a man of handsome talents, good address, loquacious, & jesuitical” (Lynn Warren Turner, The Ninth State: New Hampshire’s Formative Years [Chapel Hill, 1983], 150, 178–82, 200, 276–8, 302; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , 6:11n; Portsmouth Oracle, 22 Oct. 1803; New-Hampshire Gazette, 4 Dec. 1804; Portsmouth Journal and Rockingham Gazette, 19 Dec. 1829, 9 Jan. 1830; Vol. 37:462–3, 621–2, 703).

For the previous communication recommending Jonathan steele as district judge, see Clement Storer and Others to TJ, 10 Feb. The subscribers included Storer, Goddard, Elijah Hall, Edward and Charles Cutts, and John McClintock.

John S. sherburne was one of those who recommended Goddard as bankruptcy commissioner (Vol. 37:703). family connexions: John Langdon was Sherburne’s brother-in-law (Turner, Ninth State, 114).

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