Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to William Wirt and George Hay, 19 May 1810

To William Wirt and George Hay

Monticello May 19. 10.

Dear Sir

I recieved yesterday a letter from mr Wickham informing me that Edward Livingston had by letter desired him to issue a writ of Trespass on the case against me in the Federal district court of this state. I inferred from mr Wickham’s letter that he was not engaged for the plaintiff, and in answering his letter therefore, I requested his aid for myself, & further that he would be so good as to ask the same favor of yourself & mr {Wirt/Hay} as the bearer of the letter was waiting for the answer. this I hope he has done, & the object of the present is to repeat the request myself. I have no information of the ground of action & can only conjecture that it must be some act of mine, as President, respecting the Batture of N. Orleans. as soon as it shall be explained to me I shall make out a statement of the case for your government in pleading. as it was a public act & duly sanctioned, I presume the government will take it off my hands, expecting however my information & attention to it. Livingston residing out of the state & being bankrupt, I must pray you to call for security for the costs in the first place; & also that on any delay or failure in pleading which may authorize a dismission of his action, it be dismissed. the nature of the suit as well as my duty to the public, requires this of me; & altho’ it may be contrary to the courtesy of the bar towards one another, yet you may stand justified to your brethren by the positive instructions recieved. it will be important that I should recieve a copy of his declaration, & any other information as to the ground of action as soon as possible. Accept the assurances of my great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

FC (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; at foot of text: “Mr Wirt Mr Hay. separate letters of which this is a copy was written to them”; endorsed by TJ. Recorded in SJL as distinct letters to Wirt and Hay.

George Hay (1765–1830), attorney and judge, was a native of Williamsburg who moved to Albemarle County as a teen and there studied law under Edmund Randolph and possibly TJ. He established a legal practice in Petersburg in 1787, moved to Richmond about 1800, and served on the Virginia Council of State, 1802–03. TJ appointed Hay United States district attorney for Virginia in the latter year, and during service that lasted until 1816, he directed the unsuccessful prosecution of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807. Hay married Eliza Monroe, the elder daughter of James Monroe, in 1808 and often resided with him during Monroe’s service as secretary of state and president. He represented Henrico County in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1816–17, sat in the state senate, 1817–21, and served as United States judge for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1825 until his death. Hay was a prolific political writer known for his defense of freedom of the press and support of the Republican party. In addition to Livingston v. Jefferson, TJ employed him as counsel in Gilliam v. Fleming, Peyton v. Henderson, and Scott v. Jefferson (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 ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 6:128; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends nos. 1962, 2022; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:458, 459, 3:449, 525 [22, 25 Nov. 1803, 13 Dec. 1825, 31 Mar. 1826]; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1126, 1255, 1271, 1276, 1290; Richmond Enquirer, 24 Sept. 1830).

James Monroe subsequently described a conversation with TJ relating to the engaging of Hay as counsel for TJ in the batture case: “I called the day after the rect of your letter on Mr Jefferson and made the offer of yr services to him in the suit of Mr Livingston in the case of the Batture. i saw no objection to yr taking that step, indeed I thought there was a real propriety in it. He appeard to be gratified by the communication, and observed that he had already apprized you & MrWirt through Mr Wickham whom he had also engaged in the cause, & since by letter, that he wished you to act in it. He will devote sufficient time to the investigation of it, & furnish his counsel with his argument. The govt however will immediately take it up, as it is their cause not that of Mr Jefferson” (RC in Raab Collection, Ardmore, Pa., 2006).

Index Entries

  • Batture Sainte Marie, controversy over; TJ assembles counsel search
  • Hay, George; identified search
  • Hay, George; letters to search
  • Hay, George; TJ hires as counsel search
  • Livingston, Edward; bankruptcy of search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and batture controversy search
  • Wickham, John; and batture controversy search
  • Wirt, William; letters to search
  • Wirt, William; TJ hires as counsel search