Thomas Jefferson Papers

Aaron Hill to Thomas Jefferson, 24 May 1810

From Aaron Hill

Boston May 24. 1810


I have taken the liberty to send you a political sermon entitled “A Discourse delivered at Cambridge [April]1 8. 1810 in the hearing of the University by David Osgood D,D, Pastor of the Church in Medford.2

This discourse which is composed chiefly of newspaper calumnies, & which substitutes federal prints for the Bible as3 rule of faith & practice, appears from its title page to have been published under the auspices of the University, this, I hope however for their honor they will disavow; its author is a man of high standing in the ranks of federalism; he has called on his hearers to witness his great candor; he has said “If a single assertion should escape me which is not true, I pledge myself on conviction, to recal it as publicly as it may be made”: This appearance of candor I am about to test: For this purpose I request your aid in furnishing me with such evidence of some of the misrepresentations as you can, without giving yourself too much trouble, and in pointing to the sources from which I can obtain such others as you shall deem necessary to my purpose.

I take the liberty to mention some instances which relate to subjects which have passed more immediately under your cognizance: In the 15th page beginning at the 12th line: In the 19th page beginning at 24th line: In the 27th page in the 1st line & on, and in the 34 page 16th, 17th, & 18th lines.

Of the gross misrepresentation of the tarring and feathering at Baltimore I have in my possesion proofs sufficient to convince any honest enquirer after truth, and if the impression on my mind is correct, a letter of Colo Munroe to yourself which has been published, (a copy of which I cannot now obtain) would force conviction on the mind of the Revd Partizan that in one instance at least his assertion has not truth for its support.

My belief that you will take pleasure in correcting error wherever it4 exists & in communicating happiness to your fellow men wherever they may be situated, is the only apology I offer for the trouble I give you; the same belief induces me to request that any communications you may think fit to favour me with, may be directed to me as Postmaster at Boston.

I have the Honor to be With sentiments of high Respect Your most Obdt Servt

Aa Hill

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire late President of the US Monticello Va”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 June 1810 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: David Osgood, A Discourse Delivered at Cambridge in the Hearing of the University April 8, 1810 (Cambridge, Mass., 1810). Enclosed in William Eustis to TJ, Washington, D.C., 29 May 1810, a brief covering note stating that “In forwarding the enclosed I fullfill an injunction of one of our most respectable republican friends in Massachusetts” (RC in DLC; at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 4 June 1810 and so recorded in SJL).

Aaron Hill (1758–1830), postmaster of Boston from 1808 until 1829, graduated from Harvard in 1776 and served during the American Revolution as an ensign and surgeon’s mate in the Continental army and as a naval surgeon. He worked as a merchant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and later served his native Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the state legislature, 1795–1808 (Lucius R. Paige, History of Cambridge Massachusetts 1630–1877 [1877], 460–1, 532; Harvard Catalogue description begins Harvard University Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates, 1636–1925, 1925 description ends , 170; 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 , 289; Hill to John Langdon, 14 Nov. 1801, and Langdon to Albert Gallatin, 20 Nov. 1801 [DNA: RG 59, LAR, 1801–09]; DNA: RG 28, RAP; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 7 Dec. 1830).

Osgood based his political sermon on 2 Samuel 15.6: “So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” He superimposed onto the contemporary political scene the Biblical story of the deposition by the Israelites of the just and honest King David in favor of the deceptive and dishonest Absalom, casting George Washington as David, TJ as Absalom, and James Madison as Absalom’s devious partner Ahitophel.

On the 15th page Osgood depicted TJ’s failure to consult with the Senate before rejecting the 1806 Monroe-Pinkney Treaty as evidence of his pro-French bias. On the 19th page he argued that TJ’s insistence on financial support for a fleet of gunboats that, “when finished, he himself acknowledged to be useless,” demonstrated his contempt for the intellectual capacity of the American people. On the 27th page Osgood contrasted what he saw as TJ’s insulting and provocative behavior toward Great Britain with his administration’s “tame and submissive tone” toward France. On the 34 page he told of a Baltimore man who was attacked by a mob after stating “that he hoped Bonaparte would never be able to conquer and enslave England.” Osgood added that although several of the attackers were indicted, Governor Robert Wright ultimately issued a pardon “in conformity to the example of his admired friend Mr. Jefferson,” whose record as president included “pardoning a man convicted of forgery, reversing the sentence of the law against Callender and remitting to him his fine after it had become the property of the nation, and in arbitrarily and illegally stopping the prosecution ordered by the Senate of the United States against the infamous Duane.”

1Manuscript: “May.” Corrected editorally from title page of enclosure.

2Omitted closing quotation mark editorially supplied.

3Manuscript: “Bibl as.” Reworked from what appears to be “gospel both.”

4Hill here canceled “may.”

Index Entries

  • A Discourse Delivered at Cambridge (Osgood) search
  • Baltimore, Md.; tarring and feathering in search
  • Bible; sermon based on search
  • Callender, James Thomson; and sedition law search
  • Duane, William; sedition prosecution search
  • Eustis, William; letters from accounted for search
  • France; and U.S. search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • gunboats search
  • Harvard University; TJ criticized at search
  • Hill, Aaron; identified search
  • Hill, Aaron; letters from search
  • Hill, Aaron; sends pamphlet to TJ search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books & Library; works sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as president search
  • Madison, James; criticized search
  • Monroe, James; and Monroe-Pinkney Treaty search
  • Monroe, James; letters from mentioned search
  • Monroe-Pinkney Treaty (1806) search
  • Navy Department, U.S.; gunboats of search
  • Osgood, David; A. Hill’s opinion of search
  • Osgood, David; A Discourse Delivered at Cambridge search
  • Pinkney, William; and Monroe-Pinkney Treaty search
  • Senate, U.S.; orders W. Duane’s prosecution search
  • sermons; sent to TJ search
  • United States; and France search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • Washington, George; mentioned search
  • Wright, Robert; issues pardons search