Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Rhea to Thomas Jefferson, 3 May 1810

From John Rhea

Washington May 3d 1810


Excuse me for troubling You with a copy, of a letter which has been wrote to my constituents in Tennessee—, please to accept it as an Evidence of the Esteem and regard

of John Rhea
of Tennessee

RC (MHi); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr late President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 6 May 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Rhea to his constituents, Washington, D.C., 20 Apr. 1810, reporting on the failure of negotiations with the last two British ministers to the United States; passing along the president’s judgment that although continued negotiations are still worth pursuing, war is a growing possibility; summarizing the treasury secretary’s report on the need for a four million dollar loan; suggesting that the nation has ample resources in the form of public lands, that it can satisfy all of its real needs by developing its own industries, and that even the reduced foreign trade resulting from increased domestic manufactures will enable it to pay off the national debt and provide for what little peacetime military force is required; and announcing that an ambitious proposal to develop a national system of canals has been considered and postponed (printed circular, signed by Rhea, in MWA; reprinted in Noble E. Cunningham Jr., ed., Circular Letters of Congressmen to Their Constituents, 1789–1829 [1978], 2:687–93).

John Rhea (ca. 1753–1832) was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from Tennessee, 1803–15 and 1817–23. A native of Ireland, he served on the American side during the Revolutionary War and later became an attorney. Rhea represented Sullivan County in the North Carolina legislature, supported the United States Constitution in 1789 at the second North Carolina ratification convention, and helped draft the first constitution of Tennessee in 1796. After statehood he served in the Tennessee legislature, 1796–97. During James Monroe’s administration, Rhea found himself embroiled in controversy when Andrew Jackson justified his 1818 invasion of Florida by alleging that Monroe had sanctioned that action via a letter to him from Rhea. Rhea regularly sent TJ his circular letters to his constituents, but TJ’s only letter to Rhea during his retirement was a letter of introduction in which he mistook Rhea’s first name (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Princetonians description begins James McLachlan and others, eds., Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 1976–90, 5 vols. description ends , 1776–1783, pp. 293–6 [maintaining that the man of this name who attended the College of New Jersey was not the congressman]; Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, rev. ed., 1914 description ends , 464; Jackson, Papers description begins Sam B. Smith, Harold D. Moser, Daniel Feller, and others, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 1980– , 6 vols. description ends , 4:165–8; Richard R. Stenberg, “Jackson’s ‘Rhea Letter’ Hoax,” Journal of Southern History 2 [1936]: 480–96; TJ to Rhea, 22 Sept. 1815).

Index Entries

  • Army, U.S.; funding for search
  • canals; proposed search
  • debt, public; reduction of search
  • Erskine, David M.; agreement with U.S. search
  • Gallatin, Albert; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • Jackson, Francis James; recall of search
  • Madison, James; and foreign affairs search
  • manufacturing, household; expansion of search
  • Rhea, John; identified search
  • Rhea, John; letters from search
  • Rhea, John; sends constituent circulars to TJ search
  • Tennessee; J. Rhea’s letters to constituents in search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • United States; national debt search