Thomas Jefferson Papers
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James Barbour to Thomas Jefferson, 14 January 1812

From James Barbour

Richmond Jany 14th–12

Sir

The partiality of my Country having bestowed on me, the station of Chief Magistrate of the Commonweal, the wish, nearest my heart, is to conduct myself in such a manner, as to evince, that its confidence has not been, entirely, misplaced. On the one hand, I wish to exercise no power not granted by the constitution; on the other not to abandone one, which may have been conferred by that instrument. Going into the Government with these views I was immediately called on to decide a question of importance, and one, to me, of delicacy likewise, as I am to fix by my determination, my own powers—The question to which I allude is this—The Council being equally divided can I consider myself advised—or in other words have I a right to incline the scale by my own vote. The Constitution being doubtful, much must depend upon the Cotemporaneous exposition. As you went early into the administration and the case must have occurred frequently during your continuance in the Government, I have taken the liberty to request that you will have the goodness to inform me what was the exposition given to the Constitution at that time—I would not have troubled you had not my researches into the Journals of the Council, been ineffectual—I would trouble you still more, by requesting, that you would be kind enough to furnish me with your opinion upon this Subject—If I Should be deemed intrusive you will have none to censure but yourself. The repeated civilities and evidences of regard which you have on all occasions Shewn have prompted me to solicit at your hands this new favor—

I beg you to believe that I entertain for you the highest respect and affection

Js: Barbour

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 19 Jan. 1812 and so recorded in SJL.

James Barbour (1775–1842) read law in Richmond and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1793. He represented his native Orange County in the House of Delegates, 1798–1803, 1804–05, and 1807–12, with service as Speaker, 1809–12. Barbour served three terms as governor of Virginia, 1812–14, sat in the United States Senate, 1815–25, became secretary of war under John Quincy Adams, 1825–28, and was minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain from 1828 until Andrew Jackson recalled him the following year. He began his political career attacking the Alien and Sedition Acts and supporting strict-construction Republicanism, but his experience as a wartime governor altered his outlook, and he came to support protective tariffs, the Second Bank of the United States, internal improvements, and other measures to strengthen domestic manufacturing and commerce. Barbour defended states’ rights during the 1819–21 crisis over the admission of Missouri as a slave state but helped to orchestrate a compromise. He chaired national presidential conventions that nominated Henry Clay in 1831 and William Henry Harrison in 1839. Barbour served as president of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle, 1824–26, and published the results of his experiments in scientific agriculture at Barboursville, his 5,000-acre Orange County estate. He also supported the University of Virginia and other efforts to encourage public education. In 1817 TJ provided Barbour with an architectural design that he used at Barboursville, but their correspondence during TJ’s retirement was primarily political (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 ; DVB description begins John T. Kneebone and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 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– , 31 vols. description ends , 31:325–6; Charles D. Lowery, James Barbour, A Jeffersonian Republican [1984]; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; Rodney H. True, “Minute Book of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1918 [1921], 1:304, 307, 310, 324; Barbour to TJ, 29 Mar. 1817; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 14 Sept. 1842).

Barbour ran for governor in 1811, but the General Assembly reelected George William Smith. After Smith died in the Richmond Theatre fire on 26 Dec. of that year, Barbour was elected to the station of chief magistrate on 3 Jan. 1812 (DVB description begins John T. Kneebone and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 vols. description ends ; Richmond Enquirer, 4 Jan. 1812). The Virginia constitution as adopted by the Convention of 1776 called for an eight-member “Privy Council, or Council of State,” elected by joint ballot of both houses of the legislature “to assist in the Administration of Government” by advising the governor on his exercise of executive power. Four members were “sufficient to act” (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 31 vols. description ends , 1:380–1).

Index Entries

  • Agricultural Society of Albemarle; officers of search
  • Albemarle County, Va.; Agricultural Society of search
  • Barbour, James; identified search
  • Barbour, James; letters from search
  • Barbour, James; TJ advises search
  • Virginia; constitution of (1776) search
  • Virginia; Council of State search
  • Virginia; governor search