Thomas Jefferson Papers

George Hay to Thomas Jefferson, 25 May 1810

From George Hay

Richmond. May 25–1810


I received by the last mail, your letter, on the Subject of the Suit brought by Livingston, against you, in relation to the batture. In conformity to the direction, which it communicates, an order has been put upon the record, requiring Security for Costs.

I take leave to mention to you, that the action brought is in trespass & not in case as you Seem to Suppose: and that the Court in which it is brought is the Circuit & not the district Court.

As soon as I understood from Mr Wickham, that this Suit was about to be instituted, I wrote a letter to Mr Monroe, stating to him in general terms, my opinion of the character and tendency of this prosecution, and requesting him to tender to you my best Services in your defence. This tender, has I presume, by this time, been made, and I beg leave to repeat it now, and to assure you, that the Subject shall receive my most attentive and deliberate consideration. I also mentioned to Mr M. that for the Services, which it may be, in my power to render, I would not receive any compensation from you. If the Executive shall think proper to take this business into their own hands, I shall certainly have no objection to receive a fee from the treasury: nor should I object to receive one, from the persons in N. Orleans, who may feel an interest in the question. But as the act which gave birth to this Suit, was performed by you officially, and had no Sort of reference to your private interest, you will have no objection, I presume to the tender which has thus been made[.]

The declaration has not yet been filed: as Soon as that is done, a copy shall be forwarded to you. In the meantime, you will be pleased to take the trouble to indicate the Several laws, under which the act is to be justified, and to furnish copies of the documents, if there be any, which may throw light upon this Subject. In doing this, no time Should be lost: as the defendants Counsel requiring the utmost exactness on the part of the plaintiff will be probably required to so observe equal exactness themselves—

With respect to the locality of the action, I cannot now give an opinion. My impression is, that an action will not lie here for a trespass Committed in N. orleans, I will examine this point as Soon as I have a moments leisure.—

If you find any difficulty in reading this lette[r] you will have the goodness to ascribe it to the necessity under which I am of writing in Court, on my knee, while I am listening to an argument.

I am, with great respect yr mo: ob. Ser.

Geo: Hay

RC (DLC); edge trimmed; endorsed by TJ as received 27 May 1810 and so recorded in SJL.

On 30 June 1810 John Wickham bound himself to pay TJ $100 as security for costs in the event that Edward Livingston could not “satisfy and pay all such Costs as shall be awarded against him” (MS in Vi: USCC-LJ; in the hand of Thomas Hughes, signed by Wickham). Hay’s letter to James monroe, Richmond, 16 May 1810, reported that the deputy marshal had left to serve a writ on TJ, asked that Monroe advise TJ of Hay’s willingness to take the case at no charge to TJ and his recommendation that TJ act promptly to procure documents and select counsel, and commented that “This cause will excite great attention, and I have no doubt will be prosecuted with great ability. The professional talents of Maryland & Pensylvania have already been at work, and Livingston’s counsel here will be aided by the labors and learning and arguments of Some of the ablest lawyers on the Continent. Mr J. therefore must not only Select able Counsel, but give them the full benefit of his own views, and reflections on the Subject.—

“I confess that this prosecution has excited my Sympathy very Strongly. It has an appearance of malevolence and persecution which I abhor. If any man thinks that Mr J. while P. did wrong, let him Say So, by word or writing as he pleases: but to bring an action of trespass vi & armis [‘with force and arms’], against a man who Seeks for retirement & repose, by abandoning public employment for ever, to make the first officer of the government, defend himself, in an action for damages, and run the gauntlet of the bar, and to be lashed by men, who will avail themselves of every republican principle, of every popular topic, to injure him in fame as well as fortune, is a thing which I cannot but condemn as well as regret. Even Eliza is enraged at it” (NN: Monroe Papers).

Index Entries

  • Batture Sainte Marie, controversy over; communications between TJ and his counsel concerning search
  • Hay, Eliza Monroe (George Hay’s wife) search
  • Hay, George; consults with TJ on batture case search
  • Hay, George; letters from search
  • Monroe, James; and batture controversy search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and batture controversy search
  • Wickham, John; and batture controversy search