Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 25 May 1810

To James Madison

Monticello May 25. 10.

Dear Sir

I inclose you1 the extract of a letter from Govr Tyler which will explain itself, and I do it on the same principle on which I have sometimes done the same thing before, that whenever you are called on to select, you may have under consideration all those who may properly be thought of & the grounds of their pretensions. from what I can learn Griffin cannot stand it long, and really the state has suffered long enough by having such a cypher in so important an office, and infinitely the more from the want of any counterpoise to the rancorous hatred which Marshall2 bears to the government of his country, & from the cunning & sophistry within which he is able to enshroud himself. it will be difficult to find a character of firmness enough to preserve his independance on the same bench with Marshall. Tyler, I am certain, would do it. he is an able & well read lawyer about 59. years of age3: he was popular as a judge, & is remarkeably so as a governor, for his incorruptible integrity, which no circumstances have ever been able to turn from it’s course. indeed I think there is scarcely a person in the state so solidly popular, or who would be so much approved for that place. a milk & water character in that office would be seen as a calamity. Tyler having been the former state judge of that court too, and removed to make way for so wretched a fool as Griffin has a kind of right of reclamation, with the advantage of repeated elections by the legislature, as Admiralty judge, circuit judge & Governor. but of all these things you will judge fairly between him & his competitors.  You have seen in the papers that Livingston has served a writ on me, stating damages at 100,000.D. the ground is not yet explained, but it is understood to be the batture. I have engaged Wirt, Hay, & Wickham as counsel. I shall soon look into my papers to make a state of the case to enable them to plead: and as much of our proceedings was never committed to writing, and my memory cannot be trusted, it is probable I shall have to appeal to that of my associates in the proceedings. I believe that what I did was in harmony with the opinions of all the members of the administration, verbally expressed altho’ not in writing.  I have been delighted to see the effect of Monroe’s late visit to Washington on his mind. there appears to be the most perfect reconciliation & cordiality established towards yourself. I think him now inclined to rejoin us with zeal. the only embarrasment will be from his late friends. but I think he has firmness of mind enough to act independently as to them. the next session of our legislature will shew.  we are suffering under a most severe drought of now 3. weeks continuance. late sown wheat is yellow. but the oats suffer especially.— in speaking of Livingston’s suit, I omitted to observe that it is little doubted that his knolege of Marshall’s character has induced him to bring this action. his twistifications in the case of Marbury, in that of Burr, & the late Yazoo case, shew how dexterously he can reconcile law to his personal biasses: and nobody seems to doubt that he is ready prepared to decide that Livingston’s right to the batture is unquestionable, and that I am bound to pay for it with my private fortune. ever affectionately your’s.

Th: Jefferson

RC (DLC: Madison Papers, Rives Collection); addressed: “The President of the United States Washington”; franked and postmarked. PoC (DLC); endorsed by TJ. Enclosure: extract of John Tyler to TJ, 12 May 1810.

TJ wanted a Republican successor to the ailing incumbent federal district judge for Virginia to act as a counterpoise to Chief Justice John Marshall, because the United States Circuit Court for Virginia at this time consisted of the district judge and Marshall. Shortly after James Monroe’s visit to washington, he reported to a friend that the “President recd. me with great kindness, as did the heads of departments. Indeed I had proofs of kindness from every one, many of whom, I did not expect it. It shows that they think I have been pushed too hard, for any errors imputed to me” (Monroe to John Taylor of Caroline, 9 May 1810, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3d ser., 42 [1909]: 328). In marbury v. Madison (1803), Marshall asserted the Supreme Court’s power to strike down laws passed by Congress. While presiding over the trial of Aaron burr in 1807, Marshall insured Burr’s acquittal by confining the charge of treason to its definition in the Constitution. His opinion in the yazoo case, Fletcher v. Peck (1810), enhanced the Court’s ability to overturn laws passed by individual states (Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 6:160–87, 7:3–31, 225–41).

1TJ here canceled “a letter.”

2Manuscript: “Marshal.”

3Preceding five words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Batture Sainte Marie, controversy over; TJ assembles counsel search
  • Burr, Aaron (1756–1836); treason trial of search
  • crops; oats search
  • Fletcher v. Peck search
  • Griffin, Cyrus; TJ on search
  • Hay, George; consults with TJ on batture case search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Correspondence; letters of application and recommendation from search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; J. Marshall search
  • Madison, James; and J. Monroe search
  • Madison, James; and J. Tyler search
  • Madison, James; letters to search
  • Marbury v. Madison; TJ on search
  • Marshall, John; and A. Burr’s treason trial search
  • Marshall, John; and Fletcher v. Peck search
  • Marshall, John; and Marbury v. Madison search
  • Marshall, John; TJ on search
  • Monroe, James; and J. Madison search
  • Monroe, James; and J. Taylor search
  • oats; damaged by drought search
  • patronage; letters of application and recommendation from TJ search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); seeks judicial appointment search
  • Tyler, John (1747–1813); TJ on search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and batture controversy search
  • United States Circuit Court, Virginia District; and C. Griffin search
  • weather; drought search
  • wheat; effect of weather on search
  • Wickham, John; and batture controversy search
  • Wirt, William; consults with TJ on batture case search