James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Timothy Pickering, 16 February 1811

From Timothy Pickering

Washington Feby. 16. 1811


The two nominations of an associate judge of the supreme court to fill the seat vacated by the death of Judge Cushing, having failed; will you permit me to bring to your recollection a man whom you knew in the House of Representatives, in Philadelphia—Jeremiah Smith of New Hampshire?1 He is a federalist; but one of great distinction as a lawyer; at the same time, amiable, moderate & conciliatory as one of a political party. Since he left Congress (fourteen years ago) he resumed the study of the law, with increased and indefatigable application, and practised it successfully. The state of New-Hampshire, desirous of availing itself of his superiour endowments, appointed him its chief-justice of the supreme court; in which he presided with such ability and impartiality, that the legislature, all parties (as I have been informed) concurring, made an addition of five hundred dollars to his salary, to continue so long as He should hold the office of chief Justice: it was appropriate to him, and not to the Office.

Mr. Smith is, confessedly, one of the most distinguished lawyers in New-England. In questions merely political, parties will prefer those of their own sect: but all are equally concerned in the able and upright administration of justice. If the want of suitable qualifications cause erroneous judgements, it will be no consolation to a man that he suffers by the hand of a political brother.

In one word, the dignity of the supreme court of the United States (hitherto maintained in the appointments of Judge Johnson & Judge Livingston)—the confidence of the citizens in the wisdom and rectitude of its decisions—and the welfare of the Union, require such an appointment: and allow me to add, that it is not a matter of indifference to your own reputation.

Mr. Gilman, senator from New-Hampshire, perfectly well knows Judge Smith; and I am persuaded his candour will confirm all I have said of his character & merits. I verily believe that New-Hampshire, without distinction of parties, with the exception, perhaps, of a few individuals, will feel herself honoured by the preference of a citizen of whom she has reason to be proud. While the whole circuit, containing near a million of freemen, will be, to say the least, greatly dissatisfied, should a candidate be selected from a state not comprehended within its limits. It will be saying to the whole body of the people, Republicans as well as federalists, “You have not a man among you, qualified for this high Office.” I am respectfully, sir, Your obedt. servt.

Timothy Pickering

FC (MHi: Pickering Papers).

1Jeremiah Smith (1759–1842) had served in the House of Representatives from 1791 to 1797 when he resigned to take up the position of U.S. attorney for New Hampshire. In February 1801 he received a “midnight” judicial appointment from President John Adams. Thereafter he served as chief justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire, 1802–9 and 1813–16, and in 1809–10 he was governor of New Hampshire. In 1808 he had been a presidential elector on the Federalist ticket headed by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina (Senate Exec. Proceedings description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America (3 vols.; Washington, 1828). description ends , 1:249, 381).

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