James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Thomas Ewell, 10 January 1813

From Thomas Ewell

Saty. night 10th Jany. 1813.


It is with the utmost consternation I have this moment learnt that you have on the false representations of the clerk of the navy Departt. countermanded an order of the late Secy. of the navy to deliver to me materials for making Gun Powder in my manufactory.1 So unusual a step—without any reference to me on the spot—must necessarily excite impressions that fraud has been practised: And it is a wretched affliction for an individual to have arrayed against him—a condemning act of the Chief of the Country. A misfortune I have not deserved and which I trust you will speedily avert.

The sufferings I endure at your having for a moment yielded to the representation that it was possible for me to have defrauded the public, is somewhat allayed by the reflection that it was made by one of the most corrupt men of the City—Charles W. Goldsborough. His villany has been such, that a few days since I sent to the press for publication, his true Character, which is not yet quite completed.2 But of his Guilt—as an officer—I have evidence, which if you prefer I will call and submit to your inspection in private.

I should also seize the opportunity to explain the conduct of the pure and the good Mr. Hamilton—as it respects his transactions with me—which will satisfy you of the baseness of the supposition that he acted basely.

Your order—is anxiously waited—& will be respectfully attended to by yr. most obedt Servant

Thomas Ewell


2Ewell referred to a broadside that would appear on 11 Jan. 1813 under the heading “TO THE PUBLIC,” in which he accused Goldsborough of cowardice—for failing to respond to Ewell’s challenge to a duel—and of abusing his position as chief clerk in the Navy Department in order to enrich himself at public expense. Ewell prefaced his attack by invoking “That sense of duty which impels every man to cry out Mad-Dog on the approach of a rabid animal.” Describing Goldsborough as “one of the most cunning scoundrels with whom I have ever come in contact,” Ewell listed three instances of the clerk’s manipulation of government business for his own advantage. One of these had required that Ewell purchase medical supplies from a shop in which Goldsborough was a “secret partner,” and Ewell claimed that he had never been forgiven for interrupting Goldsborough’s “monopoly” by declining to do so and “by opening a shop of my own.” Goldsborough reproduced Ewell’s broadside in a counterbroadside addressed to “DR. THOMAS EWELL,” which he published in Washington on 12 Jan. 1813. On that occasion the chief clerk refuted some of Ewell’s allegations and dismissed the others as “Chaff” (Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 51306).

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