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To Thomas Jefferson from Horatio Gates, 9 February 1801

From Horatio Gates

New York 9th: February 1801.

Dear Sir

When Men, like Women, go astray—there is no knowing where they will Stop. One act of folly, or Wickedness, brings another after it and down right Prostitution is the Consequence.—Our Feds: began with the Project of putting up Burr against You, and this on the Hollow principle with respect to him, that he would be lost to the Republican Party, and that at another Election he could be set aside without Difficulty or Danger. This project was however quite as foolish as that of the Cardinals who made Sixtus Quintus Pope, because they believed him to be Old, & Decrepid, and short Lived;—for Burr like Sixtus, were he once in the Chair, might shew them that it was more easy to make a Chief than to unmake him.—as far as their policy can be gathered from their Friends here, they seem to have given Burr Up, except only to Use him, as an Instrument in defeating your Election.—the regular consequence of which is that we are to be blessed with an Experiment, either of an Interregnum, or an Usurpation! this is however so Abominable in itself, and so mischievous to All, that no Man of Honour, or Conscience, can join them in it. Some of their Leaders may be fit for Murders, Stratagems, and Spoils, but they are not all Leaders, and if your Phalanx is but kept in good order, and good Countenance you have nothing to fear—there is a wide difference between “Speaking Daggers, & using them”; should we however be brought to such a Crisis, there is enough of Spirit & Patriotism in the Country to save it, and the sooner Col: Pride’s Purge is administered to the Usurpers the better.—The Public Mind is a good deal agitated on the Subject of the French Treaty, nor is there any difference of Opinion on the Subject—we Unite in thinking it ought to have been Adopted.—

My Old acquaintance John Adams seems determined to close his Administration as he began it; Improper appointments to Office, makes one of the Characters of his Reign. We have lately heard that he has appointed a Boy of the Name of Stockton, to be Secretary at War, who if he knows anything of his business must have acquired it, from Coke upon Littleton, or some other great Law Warrior. When a Ministry in England made Lord Winchelsea first Lord of The Admiralty,—Admiral Vernon said in Parliament, “He was like a Monkey in a China Shop, where he did much Mischief without knowing it”—I know no department where œconomy and Success are more inseparably connected with Knowledge, than that of War; and just by the Way—if when you are Seated, where you unquestionably ought to be, you should want a Secretary at War, who knows his Duty, and is every way Qualified to do it, cast your Eyes upon Armstrong: there you will find Abilities, Honour, and Integrity:—I know not how far it might suit his Family circumstances &c, to Accept an Appointment of this Sort, but this I do know, that no Man of the Old Army would better Suit the Office.

I have Blunder’d in writing this page the wrong way of the Paper, but you will excuse an Error of that sort in one of 73; who is scarcely steaddy in any thing, but his Republican Principles, and in being your faithfull Friend, & Servant

Horatio Gates.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 15 Feb. and so recorded in SJL.

Felice Peretti, a Franciscan, was 64 years old when he became Pope sixtus quintus (V) in 1585. Described as “energetic, violent, and inflexible,” he was called “the iron pope,” and when he died in 1590, the people of Rome tore down his statue (J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes [New York, 1986], 271–3).

Col: Pride’s purge: on 6 Dec. 1648 Colonel Thomas Pride and his soldiers kept Presbyterian moderates, who had a majority, from entering the House of Commons. The purged parliament was then controlled by those who called for the execution of King Charles I, the abolition of the monarchy, and the establishment of a Puritan Commonwealth (David Underdown, Pride’s Purge: Politics in the Puritan Revolution [Oxford, 1971], 1–2).

On 15 Jan. President Adams nominated ardent Federalist Lucius Horatio Stockton, who was 32 years old and the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey, to serve as secretary of war in place of Samuel Dexter, who had become secretary of the Treasury. When the Senate held up the confirmation, Stockton had Adams withdraw his nomination (Ruth L. Woodward and Wesley F. Craven, Princetonians—1784–1790—A Biographical Dictionary [Princeton, 1991], 237–44; 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 , 1:363–4, 367–8, 370, 375, 389).

Coke upon Littleton: the first part of Sir Edward Coke’s Institutes consisted of a reprint, translation, and commentary on Sir Thomas Littleton’s Les tenures (Coke, The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England: or a Commentary upon Littleton, not the name of the author only but of the law it selfe, 4th ed. [London, 1639]; see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 1781).

Writing this page the wrong way: when Gates turned the sheet over, what should have been the bottom of the verso became the top.

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