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To Thomas Jefferson from William C. C. Claiborne, 4 March 1802

From William C. C. Claiborne

Near Natchez, March 4th 1802

Dear Sir,

My appointment to this Government, (& if I am not greatly deceived, my conduct since my arrival,) has been pleasing to a great majority of the Citizens:—But from a variety of causes, some difficulties will attend me, in the progress of my administration.—Already my Predecessor has evidenced a disposition, to rekindle the flame of party, & his most zealous partisans, although few in number, are equally active in their mischievous machinations;—but I pray you to be assured, Sir, that Justice & decision shall characterize my public Conduct, and that nothing shall divert me, from the political course, you were pleased to prescribe me.—

The Judges of this Territory, are violent men, greatly under the control of their passions, and fixed in their hatred to the Second Grade of Government, and to Republican principles;—the Secretary is not so open in his opposition, but in sentiments & wishes, he is no less inimical;—a decided majority however, of the People, are attached to the representative System, which at present exists, and I shall cordially unite with theirs, my efforts in its support;—but to aid me, in such endeavours, I feel greatly the want of a Secretary, capable of some exertion of mind, and a character in whom I could confide.—

Colonel Steele is remarked for his attachment to the policy, formerly observed in this Territory;—his office is made the place of rendezvous, for the opponents to the Second Grade of Government, & these Gentlemen are exclusively in his confidence;—for some Weeks after my arrival, I attributed the Secretary’s apparent apathy, concerning the affairs of this Territory, to his then low state of health, but this opinion is now changed, and I see in his conduct, daily proofs of his determined ill-will to my administration.

It is with great regret, that I express myself thus freely of a public officer, but I am compelled to do so, from the strongest considerations of duty—

Previous to my departure from Tennessee, I addressed to Colonel Steele, a very polite Letter, advising him of my appointment, and assuring him of my desire to possess his confidence and friendship, and ever since my arrival, I have uniformly paid him the most respectful attention; but on his part, he has been far from manifesting a corresponding disposition.—

In the discharge of my Official duties, the connection between the Secretary and myself, is necessarily intimate;—I am compelled to confide much to him, and on many occasions to solicit his aid in the dispatch of public business. Thus circumstanced, I must confess, that my present situation with Colo. Steele, is painful in the extreme, and I humbly supplicate you, to relieve me therefrom.—

If my much esteemed President, should honor me, with a continuance of his confidence, and it should be the will of the Honorable Senate, to confirm my present appointment, every exertion in my power, shall be used, to promote the happiness of this portion of the American Citizens;—but in forwarding this first wish of my Heart, I should derive great aid from a Secretary well disposed to the Second Grade of Government;—to Republican principles generally, and a man of information & firmness.—

Before I conclude, I pray you, to excuse the liberty I have taken, in addressing to you this Letter;—I again repeat, that I am compelled to do so from the strongest considerations of duty to the Government, and to myself.—

With best wishes for a continuance of your happiness, in private and public life!—

I have the honor very respectfully to be, Dear Sir, your affectionate friend and most obt. Hble. Servt.

William C. C. Claiborne

RC (DLC); in a clerk’s hand, signed by Claiborne; at foot of text: “The President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 Apr. and so recorded in SJL.

JUDGES OF THIS TERRITORY: Daniel Tilton and Peter Bryan Bruin were appointed judges of the Mississippi Territory in 1798. Seth Lewis was appointed chief justice of the territory in 1800, replacing William McGuire (Dunbar Rowland, Courts, Judges, and Lawyers of Mississippi, 1798–1935 [Jackson, 1935], 11–13, 16–18; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends , 1:272, 354; Vol. 30:280–1).

Claiborne’s VERY POLITE LETTER to John Steele was dated 5 Aug. 1801. It informed the secretary of Claiborne’s appointment as territorial governor, but added that he would not be able to leave Tennessee for Natchez until at least the end of September. In the interim, Claiborne was pleased that Steele would continue to serve as acting governor, stating that “in your Official fidelity and integrity, I place entire confidence.” He also asked Steele to engage suitable lodgings for him in Natchez and looked forward to Steele’s “official co-operation, and friendly council” (Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 5:244–5).

Shortly after Claiborne wrote TJ the letter above, he also corresponded with Thomas T. Davis. TJ saw the letter and made an extract of it. In the communication with Davis dated 6 Mch., Claiborne was critical of territorial secretary John Steele. The governor repeated his allegations that a significant Federalist opposition remained in Mississippi, including the territorial judges, the secretary, and “old Winthrop.” Claiborne deemed Steele to be “among the greatest enemies I have in this Territory” and attributed his behavior to a thwarted expectation of being appointed governor of Mississippi. He “never will forgive me for the disappointment,” wrote Claiborne. He also informed Davis of his request that TJ not reappoint Steele as secretary when his term of office expired on 7 May, noting “I sincerely hope my request will be granted” (Tr in DLC; with extract in Meriwether Lewis’s hand; at head of text, in TJ’s hand: “Extract of a letter from Govr. Claiborne to Thomas T. Davis dated Natchez Mar. 6. 1802”).

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