Thomas Jefferson Papers
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David M. Randolph to Thomas Jefferson, 17 October 1815

From David M. Randolph

Richmond 17th October 1815


The ruin of my family and the consequent wretchedness of my declining years, produced by an exercise of arbitrary power in your hands, together with the active malignity of certain advocates of your infallibility, shoud have been born with consistent resignation, were it not that an unoffending hapless offspring are likely to be deprived of their only inheritance,—their fathers unsullied reputation. Hence Sir, I take leave, in the unfeigned spirit of affectionate regard for former recollections and family intimacies, to apprise you of my intention (in due season) to effect an issue between us through the medium of the public press. Mindful of the maxim “that no man’s character is the better for handling”; and, at the same time, the exalted station you equivocally hold in the community, I am equally sensible, that monstruous fame like the monstruous mamoth, when tainted, will generate greater nausea than simple report, or, the putrescence of a Dormouse—And, however impervious to the shafts of Truth, you may conceive your party-panoply of fraud and faction to be, yet will I not shrink from any process of fact and reason, however tortuous, or doubt of a favorable issue to my purpose. Order upon this forced-occasion, is especially requisite to my conclusions. You therefore Sir, will be pleased to recall the factitious Scenes open’d by the Secretary of State to the Marshal of Virginia: the peculiar favour, and the insidious conversations advanced in August 1793, as well in your Cabinet, as at your Country residence: when from distinguished privileges granted the Marshal, and the fervid observations addressed to him, the most profound respect was converted into jealous indignation! When the Secretary of the Treasury, more particularly, furnished the fertile topicts of the most unworthy animadversions: when characters of minor consideration, and, even the president too, were introduced as the prescious objects, on whom to lavish your illiberal innuendos, even to the excitement of congenial responses from the other four chosen members of your festive board on the banks of the Schiulkill. There it is Sir, I wou’d fain stimulate your reminiscence. And, whilst no one more truely laments the death of my personal and esteemed friend Dr Rush than myself, or, can be more indifferent to the fame of the deceased Governor of Tennessee, I wou’d, with every degree of justice to the honorable characters of Pierce Butler Esqur. (and, I believe) Colo. Thos Blount, challenge your appeal to their memories for the correctness of these few hints, to shew the source of those details, among others, which I shall hereafter unfold. And, believe me Sir, I woud “nothing extenuate, or set down aught in malice,” in the progress of an odious task imposed on me as an indispensable duty.

I beg leave to assure you more over, that this communication will remain wholly unknown to others, until the final result of a similar Affair at Law, instituted for an equally necessary purpose.

I am Sir, with appropriate Sensibility,

Your Huml Sert

D M Randolph

RC (ViW: TC-JP); at foot of text: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr.”; endorsed by TJ as received 24 Oct. 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

David Meade Randolph (ca. 1759–1830), planter, public official, and inventor, served in the American Revolution as captain of a Virginia regiment in 1777, and two years later he studied at the College of William and Mary. He married his cousin Mary Randolph, the sister of TJ’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph. They lived first at his James River plantation, Presqu’ile, and later in a house called Moldavia that they built in Richmond. At TJ’s recommendation Randolph was appointed marshal of Virginia in 1791. Shortly after he became president in 1801, TJ removed Randolph from his post for jury packing. Randolph then became an outspoken Federalist and vocal critic of TJ. The loss of his position forced Randolph to sell his property. He attempted to repair the family fortunes by becoming a partner in a coal mine and patenting various inventions. By 1808 Randolph was living in England and seeking investors for his inventions while his wife ran a boardinghouse in Richmond. He returned to Richmond by 1815. TJ and Randolph ended their estrangement in 1823, when Randolph testified for TJ in a legal case. Randolph died at his son’s home near Yorktown (Fillmore Norfleet, Saint-Mémin in Virginia: Portraits and Biographies [1942], 121, 201; Jonathan Daniels, The Randolphs of Virginia [1972]; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , 18:132–3; William G. Stanard, “Randolph Family,” WMQ description begins William and Mary Quarterly, 1892–  description ends , 1st ser., 9 [1901]: 183, 250; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , esp. 16:509, 22:189, 219–20, 33:260; Heitman, Continental Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783, rev. ed., 1914 description ends , 458; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 33; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:86, 88, 194–5, 325–6 [1, 7 Nov. 1791, 10, 15 Dec. 1795, 5, 6 Dec. 1799]; Martha Jefferson Randolph to TJ, 2 Jan. 1808 [ViU: TJP-ER]; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1399, 1400; Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture, 2d ser., 16 [1810]: 193–207; 18 [1811]: 80–2; List of Patents description begins A List of Patents granted by the United States from April 10, 1790, to December 31, 1836, 1872 description ends , 154, 227; Thomas Mann Randolph to Peachy R. Gilmer, 30 May 1812 [Vi: Personal Papers Collection, Randolph Papers]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 14 Apr. 1820; Richmond Enquirer, 28 Sept. 1830; gravestone inscription in Bruton Parish Cemetery, Williamsburg).

As secretary of state and marshal of virginia respectively, TJ and Randolph were both in Philadelphia in August 1793 (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 38 vols. description ends , 26:617, 675). Randolph had been shocked by insidious conversations he evidently heard at TJ’s dinner table subjecting secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton, president George Washington, and others to illiberal innuendos. The other four he recalled as being at this meeting were Benjamin rush, governor William Blount, Pierce butler, and Thomas blount. nothing extenuate, or set down aught in malice comes from William Shakespeare, Othello, act 5, scene 2.

Index Entries

  • Blount, Thomas; and party politics search
  • Blount, William; and party politics search
  • Butler, Pierce; and party politics search
  • Hamilton, Alexander (1757–1804); TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; threatening letters search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as secretary of state search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); as marshal of Va. search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); finances of search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); identified search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); letters from search
  • Randolph, David Meade (ca.1759–1830); threatens TJ search
  • Rush, Benjamin; and party politics search
  • Shakespeare, William; quoted search
  • Washington, George; TJ’s supposed criticism of search