Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Joseph Bloomfield, 14 November 1803

From Joseph Bloomfield

Trenton 14: November 1803.


George C. Maxwell the Attorney of the United States, for the district of New-Jersey, with difficulty has been prevailed upon, not to resign, untill Willm. S. Pennington, representative in Council for Essex, could be Spared from the Legislature of this State. This time having arrived, Mr. Maxwell by the Mail that takes this letter, Sends his resignation.

The Republican Members of the Legislature of New-Jersey, have desired me to request the appointment for Mr. Pennington, who was the leader of the twenty-six Republican Members of the Legislature of New-Jersey last Autumn, and who has done & indeed sufferred much on account of his activity and time devoted in support of the present National administration.

Although Mr. Pennington is not at the head of the profession, Yet for talents, indefatigable industry and integrity, is not inferior to any of the Bar of New-Jersey, and a man, who will advocate the interest, and I am confident, do as much justice to the office of District Attorney as Mr. Maxwell: it is therefore with great satisfaction that I have the honor to recommend and solicit this appointment for Mr. Pennington.

The day of the reception of the Commission, Mr. Pennington will accept and qualify, in order, that an election may be held on 13 & 14 Decembr. (time of election of Members to the present Congress) to Supply the Vacancy, which will thereby be occasioned in Council and prevent the expense of an extraordinary election to the County of Essex.

I cannot add to the great respect and esteem, with which I am, Your most obedient Very Humble Servt.

Joseph Bloomfield

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 17 Nov. and “Pennington Wm. S. to be District Atty” and so recorded in SJL.

george c. maxwell: see his letter to TJ of 11 Nov.

Essex County’s earliest Republican organizer and with his brothers an editor of the Centinel of Freedom, William S. pennington did not study law until around 1800, when he was in his forties. He was still serving a clerkship when he was elected to the state’s council, which, along with other duties, acted with the governor as a final court of appeals and court of pardons. In 1802, he became a member of the bar and the next year he was appointed county clerk of Essex County. For Pennington’s nomination as U.S. attorney, see TJ to the Senate, 21 Nov. His commission is dated 25 Nov. Pennington served only a few months before the legislature elected him a justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He accepted the appointment and submitted his resignation to the secretary of state in March 1804 (commission in DNA: RG 59, MPTPC; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928-36, 20 vols. description ends ; Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser., 6:73n; Donald H. Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period [Albany, 1969], 11, 619; Carl E. Prince, New Jersey’s Jeffersonian Republicans: The Genesis of an Early Party Machine, 1789-1817 [Chapel Hill, 1967], 79-80; Newark Centinel of Freedom, 31 May, 7 June, 8 Nov. 1803; Philadelphia United States Gazette, 7 Mch. 1804).

The election to fill the seat vacated by Pennington, who had recently been reelected to the legislative council, did not take place until 17 and 18 Jan. 1804. John Dodd, the Republican candidate from Newark, won the election (Trenton True American, 24 Oct. 1803, 9, 30 Jan. 1804; Centinel of Freedom, 27 Dec. 1803; Prince, New Jersey’s Jeffersonian Republicans, 79).

Madison received correspondence from leading New Jersey Republicans recommending Pennington. On 18 Nov., New Jersey senator John Condit wrote from Washington and encouraged the secretary of state to inform the president that Pennington’s recommendations were good but “not better than his Character deserved” and that it was important that the vacancy be filled as soon as possible. Condit enclosed a letter addressed to him by John Lambert, vice president of the state, and New Jersey congressman James Mott. Lambert noted that Pennington was not only the “most Suitable person to supply” the vacancy, but was “the only Republican Lawyer of any Standing in N Jersey at the Bar, & who does not fear to oppose the whole federal clan of Lawyers in opposition.” The president could be assured that Pennington’s appointment would “be more Satisfactory to the Republicans of New-Jersey, than any other person” (RCs in DNA: RG 59, LAR; endorsed by TJ: “Pennington Wm. S. to be Distr. atty v. Maxwell resigned” and “Condit’s lre to mr Madison”).

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