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To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Knox, 29 March 1801

From Henry Knox

Boston March 29. 1801.

My Dear Sir

Among the most perplexing, and thankless acts of your high station will be that of appointments to offices. You will be assailed by all sorts of arguments by applicants to obtain their ends; and even with all possible caution and wisdom errors may be committed. I ask pardon for these observations which I am persuaded have already occurred in full force, and also for the trouble I am about giving you. Perhaps were a secretary of the navy appointed, I should not in this instance have intruded.

It has been suggested that it is probable that a new appointment of Naval Agent will be made for this department. I know not how true this may be, but on condition that it should be so, I beg leave to suggest the name of my particular friend General Henry Jackson as one highly worthy to fill the office. He possessed it before the person who now holds it, and was superseded by some management in the year 1798.1

Under the direction of General Jackson the Constitution was built, one of the finest frigates floating on the Ocean. Abundant and perfect evidence could be adduced of his zealous industry, oeconomy, and integrity in the performance of that business. Indeed his competence in all respects to execute the duties of the station cannot be questioned with propriety. I shall only add that if another appointment should be made, I shall gratefully acknowledge the favor, if it be given to General Jackson.

I am my dear Sir with great attachment and respect Your obedient humble Servant

H Knox

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); at head of text: “private”; at foot of text: “The President of the United States”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Apr. and so recorded in SJL; also endorsed by TJ: “Genl. Jackson to be Navy agt.” Dft (MHi: Knox Papers).

Knox, as secretary of war, had been responsible for implementing the construction of the frigates authorized by Congress in 1794. Knox’s good friend Henry Jackson received the appointment as navy agent for the building of the Constitution, although Stephen Higginson, Sr., became the agent for subsequent projects at Boston. Knox and Jackson had known one another for many years. Jackson supervised the construction of Knox’s large residence in Maine and suffered considerable financial loss in 1798 when Knox, for whom Jackson had cosigned promissory notes, was unable to pay his creditors (NDBW, description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers, Washington, D.C., 1939–44, 6 vols. and Register of Officer Personnel and Ships’ Data, 1801–1807, Washington, D.C., 1945 description ends 1:76, 78; NDQW, description begins Dudley W. Knox, ed., Naval Documents Related to the Quasi-War between the United States and France, Naval Operations, Washington, D.C., 1935–38, 7 vols. (cited by years) description ends Feb. 1797-Oct. 1798, 10, 166, 179; Palmer, Stoddert’s War, 26–7; North Callahan, Henry Knox: General Washington’s General [New York, 1958], 28,304–5; Vol. 30:610, 612n, 614).

1Preceding six words written over an erasure. Dft: “by Mr Wolcott when secretary of the treasury.”

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