Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to Alexander J. Dallas, 7 December 1814

To Alexander J. Dallas

Monticello Dec. 7.1 14.

Dear Sir

I tender my sincere congratulations on the occasion of your counsel and services being engaged for the public, and trust they will feel their benefit. the department2 to which you are called is the most arduous now in our government, and is that on which every other depends for it’s motion. were our commerce open, no degree of contribution would be felt; but shut up as it is, the call on the people for taxes is truly a call for bricks without straw: in this state especially where we are feeding our horses with wheat as the cheapest forage; 50 cents being it’s price thro’ the middle country.

On the adoption of the land tax of the last year, an office of Assessor was established in every district, with power to determine what every land owner should pay, by his own judgment & without appeal. this important power could not fail to interest us highly in the choice of the person vested with it. on a consultation with most of the principal persons in our quarter, there was but one opinion as to the fittest man in our district. all agreed that in the hands of a mr Peter Minor they would be safe, his ability, his judgment & independance being a sufficient security. I took the liberty therefore of writing to the President and to mr Campbell recommending this appointment. we were told soon after that it had been given to a mr Armstead of a neighboring county. this was given out by himself and mr Garland (formerly a member of Congress) whose protegé Armstead is. the Assumption of the land tax by the state prevented further interest in the case. we now learn he had not the appointment and is now going on for it. if there be a better man than Minor we wish his appointment, but as to mr Armstead all agree he is the weakest & laziest man that could be found. some believe him honest, others very openly deny it. of his character however I know nothing personally, stating what I do from the information of others. Colo Monroe, I think, knows Minor personally, & the President knows his family, it’s standing & character. he is nephew to Genl Minor of Fredericksburg. the Collector being of this county (Albemarle) the principle of distribution might be supposed to require the Assessor from a different one. this principle may weigh between candidates of equal merit: but it cannot make the worse the better man, nor remedy the evils of an incorrect agent. the importance of this appointment towards a just apportionment of the public burthens, & one which will probably be permanent, will I hope excuse my expressing to the government my own sense of it, and that of the most respectable persons of our quarter, with an assurance nevertheless of our entire confidence that whatever appointment the government shall make will be founded in the best motives: and I avail myself of this occasion of assuring you of my great esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

RC (NNGL, on deposit NHi); addressed: “Alexander Dallas esq. Secretary of the Treasury Washington”; endorsed by Dallas. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ.

Alexander James Dallas (1759–1817), attorney, court reporter, and public official, was born in Jamaica and educated in Edinburgh. After briefly working as a clerk and accountant in London, he returned to the island of his birth in 1781 and became a lawyer. Two years later Dallas immigrated to the United States. Having established a legal practice in Philadelphia in 1785, he served as secretary of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 1791–1801. During this period Dallas was elected to the American Philosophical Society (1791), earned a reputation as a leading Republican in his state, and attracted notice as one of the first reporters of United States Supreme Court decisions and as the compiler of the Laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 4 vols. (Philadelphia and Lancaster, 1793–1801). TJ appointed him United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 1801, and he was still in that office when James Madison selected him in 1814 to become secretary of the treasury. While at the Treasury Department, Dallas supported increasing taxes to pay for the War of 1812, reviving the national bank and, after the conclusion of hostilities, erecting a system of protective tariffs. In addition to his other duties, he was acting secretary of war for much of 1815, and in the same year he acted briefly as secretary of state. In October 1816 Dallas resigned from the government and returned to private practice. He died in Philadelphia (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 26:467–8; Raymond Walters Jr., Alexander James Dallas: Lawyer—Politician—Financier, 1759–1817 [1943]; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 21 Oct. 1791 [MS in PPAmP]; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:402, 405, 2:533 [6, 26 Jan. 1802, 5, 6 Oct. 1814]; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 17 Jan. 1817; Port Folio, 4th ser., 3 [1817]: 181–6).

Pharaoh commanded the Israelites to make bricks without straw in the Bible (Exodus 5). Colloquially, the phrase refers to an attempt to do something without the proper materials (E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable [1898], 796). Although TJ wrote James Madison on Minor’s behalf on 23 Aug. 1813, no letter of recommendation has been found to Dallas’s predecessor, George W. campbell. William Armistead (armstead) hailed from the neighboring county of Amherst. For the assumption of the land tax by the state of Virginia on 7 Jan. 1814, see Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends (1814–15 sess.), 61. TJ’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph was the revenue collector for the 19th Collection District at this time.

A missing letter from Congressman David S. Garland to TJ of 1 May 1810 is noted in SJL as received from Washington eight days later.

1Reworked from “8.”

2Word interlined in place of “post.”

Index Entries

  • agriculture; and fodder search
  • An Act for the assessment and collection of direct taxes and internal duties (1813) search
  • Armistead, William (of Amherst Co.); appointment of search
  • Bible; Exodus referenced by TJ search
  • Campbell, George Washington; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Congress, U.S.; mentioned search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; and appointments search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; identified search
  • Dallas, Alexander James; letters to search
  • fodder; for horses search
  • Garland, David Shepherd; and W. Armistead’s appointment search
  • Garland, David Shepherd; letter from accounted for search
  • horses; fodder for search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation from search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; taxes search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); and appointments search
  • Minor, John (1761–1816); mentioned search
  • Minor, Peter; and appointment of principal assessor search
  • Monroe, James; and appointments search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation from TJ search
  • Randolph, Thomas Jefferson (TJ’s grandson; Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph’s husband); as revenue collector search
  • taxes; TJ on search
  • Virginia; wartime financing in search
  • War of1812; and economy search
  • War of1812; U.S. financing of search
  • wheat; as fodder search
  • wheat; price of search