Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, 28 August 1801

To Levi Lincoln

Monticello Aug. 28. 1801.

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 14th. came to hand yesterday. having written to you two days ago only, I have but to acknolege the reciept of the letter before mentioned and to refer to you a case in which the US. seem threatened with the danger of having a considerable sum to pay, contrary to law & justice, and if the inclosed statements are right, merely by the negligence of their district-attorney. the printed pamphlet, & mr Bingham’s letter inclosed will explain to you the transaction, and I must pray you to take into serious consideration the best steps to be taken for warding off this loss from the public, and that you will undertake the direction & superintendence of the proceedings. accept assurances of my sincere & affectionate esteem & respect

Th: Jefferson

RC (MHi: Levi Lincoln Papers); at foot of text: “Levi Lincoln esq.”; endorsed by Lincoln: “respecting Bingham’s action”; with notation in SJL: “Bingham’s case.” PrC (DLC). Enclosure: [William Bingham], Proceedings Relative to the Danish Brig Hope, and Cargo (Philadelphia, 1801?), a synopsis of Bingham’s view of the case with printed texts of documents, prepared by Bingham before leaving for England in 1801 (see Alberts, Golden Voyage description begins Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752–1804, Boston, 1969 description ends , 417; Evans description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends , No. 38328). Other enclosure not found.

Lincoln had already seen, in June or earlier, some papers relating to William Bingham’s case, which stemmed from the taking of the brigantine Hope by the Massachusetts privateer Pilgrim during the American Revolution. Bingham was the agent of the Continental Congress at Martinique when the Hope put in there in January 1779 after the capture. Convinced that neither the vessel nor its cargo of barreled flour were British, Bingham and the governor of the island released the ship and sold the flour, holding the proceeds in escrow. A consortium of merchants that owned the Pilgrim, including members of the Cabot family, brought suit against Bingham, first in a Massachusetts court and later in federal court. Contending that the cargo had been British property, making the Hope a valid prize, the plaintiffs obtained liens on Bingham’s assets in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, including his land in the district of Maine. In a U.S. circuit court they won a judgment for more than $30,000. Despite two appeals to the Supreme Court, Bingham was unable to have the judgment reversed before he left the United States for England in 1801 (Madison, Papers, Sec. of State Ser. description begins J. C. A. Stagg, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, Charlottesville, 1986–, 8 vols. description ends , 1:310; DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , 6:554–63; Alberts, Golden Voyage description begins Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752–1804, Boston, 1969 description ends , 78–9, 365–7; Lincoln to Madison, 21 Jan. 1802, in DNA: RG 59, LOAG).

Negligence of Their District-Attorney: in 1793, when the plaintiffs filed their case in federal court, Bingham asked the U.S. government to defend the suit. Attorney General Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, and TJ, who was then secretary of state, concurred in advising George Washington that the United States did have responsibility in the case. Christopher Gore, the U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, worked on the case with Bingham’s attorneys, but Gore’s successor, John Davis, did not. In 1799, after the circuit court issued the judgment against Bingham, Timothy Pickering instructed Davis to join the case on Bingham’s behalf (Dorothy Twohig, ed., The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797 [Charlottesville, 1981], 106n; Syrett, Hamilton description begins Harold C. Syrett and others, eds., The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, New York, 1961–87, 27 vols. description ends , 14:154–7, 226, 239–40; Alberts, Golden Voyage description begins Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752–1804, Boston, 1969 description ends , 366).

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