Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Galloway, 19 July 1803

From Benjamin Galloway

Hagers Town Washington County Maryland
July 19th. 1803.


The General Assembly of Maryland at their last Session gave Entertainment to a Bill entitled An Act for the better Administration of Justice &c &c &c; which they ordered to be published for the Consideration of the People. The Object contemplated by that Bill (if accomplished) is so fundamentally contrariant to my Ideas of Propriety; and the Consequences which must necessarily flow from the Enaction of that Bill into a Law; present themselves to my Understanding in so formidable a Point of View; that I have determined to use my utmost Endeavours to convince the Voters of Washington County, that the Bill as published ought not to be countenanced by them. I am sorry Sir to inform you, that in this opinion, I now am; and shall be opposed by some of the most respectable, and influencial Characters (Republicans) of said County. But Sir, “Nullius addictus jurare in verba Magistri”; The Salus Reipublicæ in my Judgment is endangered; and a strong Sense of Duty to my Country, and that alone, influences my Conduct on the present Occasion. In Truth the Bill was introduced into the Legislature by Men whose Intentions I well know, to be pure: but the want of professional Knowledge and Experience relative to the judicial Department of Government, have unfortunately placed them in a Situation, approximating to a Dilemma. I trust that no Citizen who has been a Witness to; or who is accurately informed of the Line of Conduct which I have steadily pursued, as a Politician through Life; will be induced to suspect my political Integrity; because I happen to differ in opinion (as to a State Measure) with some few Men in whose Company I have with great pleasure travelled on the Turnpike Road of Republicanism. Unable to meet my objections to “the Bill” on the ground of solid Argument, an Attempt will be made to deceive the People of this County into a Beleif, that I have deserted from the Standard of Republicanism; and am consequently unworthy of popular Trust or Confidence: i. e. in so many words; You Benjamin Galloway are not a Republican; “Because you will not unhesitatingly support the Bill alluded to”—I view that Bill as a “rudis indigestaq moles; non bene junctarum, Discordia semina Rerum”—I may have formed an erroneous Judgment—But most unquestionably I have a Right to express my opinion on any public Measure; and more especially so, on a Bill published by the Assembly for the Consideration of their Constituents unless it was the Intention of the Patrons of the Bill (which many of them now confess, is not perfect) that it should be supported by its Friends; but not opposed by its Enemies—such I cannot suppose to have been the Design of the Assembly

Having premised that an attempt will be made (indeed it is now making, with no inconsiderable Activity) to establish a Position, derogatory to my political Character; I shall consider it as a signal Favour conferred on me by You Sir; if you will furnish me with an authenticated Copy, of a Letter written by Benjamin Galloway to Thomas Jefferson Vice President of US City of Washington, (which I think was) dated Novr. 30, 1800 but which I well remember to have delivered to Col: Smilie Pennsilvania; and which on his Return from the Session, he assured me, He had delivered to the Vice President. If Sir you can without a Waste of Time (which I presume is precious at this Crisis) lay your Hands on that Letter (I am told, you have for many years been in the practice of preserving all Letters written to you on the Subject of Politicks) and will suffer Mr Lewis to copy it; transmit the Copy to me, and to say, “that it is a true Copy of a Letter from Benjamin Galloway of Washington County Maryland to Thomas Jefferson Vice President of US. dated Novr 30th, 1800; which Letter is now in the Possession of Mr. Jefferson”; you will Sir confer an especial Favour, which will ever be remembered and acknowledged by Me—

I am Sir with high Consideration, and great personal Regard yrs. &c &c. &c.

Benjamin Galloway

PS. If I can obtain a copy of the Letter above referred to, I shall consider myself as armed with a Shield, whose Powers are amply sufficient to repel every Attack, that now is making, or that may be made on my political principles.


RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 27 July and so recorded in SJL.

On 19 Apr., the Maryland Council ordered to be published in the National Intelligencer and seven newspapers in the state a legislative proposal “to alter, change and abolish such parts of the constitution and form of government as relates to the establishing a general court and court of appeals.” The bill called for the state to be divided into five districts, with two persons of integrity and legal training residing within each division to be appointed district judges. They would be joined by “one person of integrity, experience and knowledge” from each county to be an “Associate Judge.” Thus, each county court would include two district judges and one associate, the latter of whom was not required to have legal training (Baltimore Federal Gazette, 26 Apr. 1803).

bill as published ought not to be countenanced: Galloway probably wrote a piece critical of the proposed legislation, signed “A Constituent.” The writer argued that in cases where the two district judges disagreed, the decision would be made by the associate judge, who was “unlearned in the law.” He compared the situation to that of entrusting a carpenter rather than a blacksmith to shoe a favorite riding horse (Maryland Herald and Elizabeth-Town Weekly Advertiser, 7 Sep.). In a published letter dated 12 Sep. 1803, Galloway challenged the Washington County assembly candidates to declare publicly in the press how they would vote on the bill, characterizing it as “the very worst” introduced into either house of the general assembly in 20 years. If it became law “the Peace, Happiness and valuable Interests of the People, public, & private” would be “most injuriously affected.” Galloway offered himself as a candidate, if those running did not openly oppose the legislation. When the assembly met in late 1803, support for the bill was reported to be evenly divided. After debate, the House of Delegates voted 38 to 34 against the measure (same, 14, 28 Sep. 1803, 4 Jan. 1804; Bartgis’s Republican Gazette, 30 Dec. 1803; Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates of the State of Maryland. November Session, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Three [Annapolis, 1804], 58). Another judiciary act was proposed in 1804 and ratified in 1805. It called for the establishment of six districts with county courts composed of a chief judge and two associate judges, all with “sound legal knowledge” (Alfred S. Niles, Maryland Constitutional Law [Baltimore, 1915], 377-8).

nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri: “I am not bound to swear as any master dictates” (Horace, Epistles, 1.1.14).

salus reipublicæ: “safety of the state.”

intentions i well know, to be pure: when they brought their report and bill before the Maryland Senate on 3 Jan. 1803, the judiciary committee noted that they found the mode of administering justice in the state to be “frequently grievous and oppressive to the citizens,” who had to travel great distances from their homes to attend the general courts. These inconveniences could amount “to a denial of justice.” The judiciary bill was introduced to “bring justice as near as may be to every man’s door” (Votes and Proceedings of the Senate of the State of Maryland. November Session, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Two [Annapolis, 1803], 48).

rudis indigestaq moles: in the first book of Metamorphoses, Ovid refers to the “rudis indigestaque moles,” that is, “a rough unordered mass.” Ovid continues one line later, non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum, that is, “the discordant seeds of unassembled things” (Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.7, 9).

TJ could not provide an authenticated copy of the letter requested by Galloway. According to SJL, the only correspondence TJ received from the Hagerstown resident while vice president was that of October 1797. It is not clear what happened to the letter entrusted to John smilie, a congressman from Fayette County, Pennsylvania (Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; TJ to Galloway, 28 July, 14 Oct. 1803).

Index Entries