Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Matthew Clay, 1 September 1807

Pittsylvania Virginia


From repeated assurances in this, and several of the adjacent Counties, I am induced to declare a wish to accept of a Command in the Volunteer Troops now about to be raised. It is in the mouth of every Soldier I meet, will you Join the Volunteers, that are expected to be Called out against the British, in Consequence of their late cowardly and unwarrented attack on the Flag of the United States, they declare to a man, that they wish to go, if I will go with them, it is not therefore deemed arrogance in me to ask the Command of a Brigade In looking over Six or Eight adjoining counties we do not recollect a single Revolutionary Character that was in the Army the whole of the War, a period of more than eight years, except myself; I have been upwards of thirty Years in Public service & the repeated Success of my Elections, is a strong and flattering evidence of the confidence and attachment of the People: it is a fact well known, that in taking between two & three thousand Votes, I do not loose more than eight, or ten, and them generally old Tories.— I have always thought it good policy in the appointment of Militia Officers to select men of weight and Character with the People, they all say they do not like to go, unless they know their Officers, they do not like all the appointments made by the Court. The present is a flattering moment to the scheme of raising Volunteers. The Shock is not confined to the tide water alone, it pervades the whole of the interior Country, as much as if we lived in the neighbourhood of Norfolk.—  It is true I did not rank high in the last war, altho: I was in the Army the whole of the War, owing to a peculiar circumstance, that took place, at the battle of German Town, when all the ninth Virginia Regiment were made prisoners except about thirty men and myself, who were detached from the Army, on that day; and it is a fact well known that those Officers were not exchanged untill nearly the close of the War, of course they stood no chance of being removed any way— I know that I am in age among the youngest of the Old Revolutionary Officers, now living; from the commencement of the Revolutionary War, the time that Principles were formed, to the present moment I have not deviated Yet nor little, from the republican cause, in word or deed—and at the contested Election for President I took a decided stand—Which Genl. Mason can explain; and so could Genl. Dark if he was living.—

I am very solicitous to know the fate of this application, do therefore request an answer.—A singular circumstance has taken place under the present Government; with others I put my name, to the recommendations of a number of well deserving Characters, not one of which were successfull in their applications.—

With assurances of high respect and attachment I am Your fellow Citizen &c

Mat. Clay

1st Septr. 1807

P.S. A copy of this letter is sent to the Executive of this State—


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