Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Tobias Lear to Thomas Jefferson, 31 May 1813

From Tobias Lear

Washington, may 31st 1813.—

Can you, my dear Sir, forgive the apparent neglect of one, who so highly respects and esteems you as I do, in not having addressed you immediately on his arrival in the U. States, after so long an absence?—Trusting in that benevolence which so strongly marks your character, I pronounce that you will; and therefore write to you as if I were already assured of1 forgiveness.

The ten years which I have spent abroad, altho’ chequered with scenes highly interesting, and to me important and mostly novel, seem to have passed but as a day.—And, upon reaching my native shore, I seem to have renewed, instead of having advanced in Age, during the period of my absence;—for I feel as if I was upon the only ground which I have trodden, that deserves the name of a free Country.—And altho’ I see the strong spirit of party which now pervades our land, amounting almost to open hostility; yet I think I can perceive the American Spirit predominating, which will ultimately prevail, and raise us to be the first nation on Earth.—

I have marked the steps of our truly great men, so far as they have come within my view; and altho’ there have appeared some shades of difference in their political opinions on certain speculative points; yet they all have aimed at the welfare, happiness and Glory of our Country; and I trust that the acts of those who have passed, joined to the intelligent and persevering conduct of those now acting, will overcome all difficulties, and open to their Successors a plainer path; shewing to the world, that altho’ Freemen may bear the injuries and oppressions of other nations for a while, they will burst forth at a certain point, and display a character whose refulgence would have been longer hidden, but for these oppressions.—

I am now at Washington, settling my public accounts, which I hope to finish in a short time, after which I shall visit my relations in New England; and in the Autum I intend going to Virginia, when I promise myself one of the most pleasing occurrences, that of seeing you at Monticello.—But all this will depend on circumstances which cannot at present be faithfully calculated upon.—At any rate, whether I visit you or not, you will always be assured of my most sincere and inviolable attachment.—

As I have reason to think that you feel an interest in whatever relates to me, I will take the liberty to mention, that my Son, Benjamin Lincoln Lear (the only child I have) is now about 22 years of age.—After finishing his Collegiate Education in New England, he read about 18 months in the office of a respectable Lawyer, when I permitted him to join me at Algiers, intending, on leaving that place, to have passed through some part of Europe with him, before my return to the U. States. But, in ten days after he reached Algiers, I was obliged to quit that Regency, in the manner which you already know, and circumstances made it proper for me to proceed directly to the U. States.—I now feel anxious to place him in the way of improvement and acquirement which may hereafter make him useful to his Country, as well as enable him to provide a competency for himself; for the most he can expect from me, will be the means of coming clearly into active life.—He possesses pleasing manners, and an excellent heart, with vivacity and handsome talents.—His Education has been such as our youth receive at the Colleges in New England, which you know is not the most solid2 or complete; but still sufficient to ground Such improvements upon, as may be lasting and useful.—It is my present intention to let him finish the Study of the law, either here, or in some other place where he can do it with advantage, and then enter upon the practice for his future support and dependence.—But while he is doing this, there are many other branches of knowledge which can be attended to, and which may be highly useful.—I will, therefore, venture to ask your advice on these points, as well as on the subject generally, of making him a useful and valuable member of Society, knowing how able you are to do this, and beleiving that it will give you pleasure to render me a service.

Mrs Lear desire me to present you and your’s with her best salutations and most sincere good wishes, in which I most cordially join.

Beleive me to be

with true respect and esteem, my dear Sir, Your obliged and attached friend

Tobias Lear.—

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The Honble Thomas Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 June 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

Tobias Lear (1762–1816), diplomat and aide to George Washington, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and received an A.B. degree from Harvard University in 1783. He traveled in Europe and was then employed as Washington’s personal secretary, 1786–93, before leaving the president’s service to pursue his own business interests. Lear authored Observations on the River Potomack, the Country Adjacent, and the City of Washington (New York, 1793), and in 1795 he became the president of the Potomac Company, a venture dedicated to improving navigation along the Potomac River. After Washington took command of the United States Army in 1798, Lear became his military secretary with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was in attendance when Washington died in 1799, and he received a bequest from the first president, helped to settle his estate, and oversaw the handling of his papers. TJ appointed Lear the United States general commercial agent to Saint Domingue in 1801. The positon was fraught with difficulties due to unrest on the island, and Lear was forced to return to America the following year when the French temporarily reasserted their control there. He next accepted appointment as consul general at Algiers, an equally challenging position during the conflict with the Barbary pirates. Lear held the post until the outbreak of the War of 1812 and negotiated a number of treaties. He was serving as an accountant at the War Department when he committed suicide (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Ray Brighton, The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear [1985]; Washington, Papers description begins W. W. Abbot, Dorothy Twohig, Philander D. Chase, Theodore J. Crackel, and others, eds., The Papers of George Washington, 1983– , 49 vols.  Colonial Ser., 10 vols.  Confederation Ser., 6 vols.  Pres. Ser., 14 vols.  Retirement Ser., 4 vols.  Rev. War Ser., 18 vols. description ends , Pres. Ser., 1:98, and Retirement Ser., 2:483–4; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 34 vols. description ends , esp. 16:554–5, 27:300, 301–2, 304–5, 33:229, 447–8; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, 2 vols. description ends , 1:621; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 1:401, 404, 453, 455 [6 Jan. 1802, 11, 15 Nov. 1803]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 12 Oct. 1816).

Lear was obliged to quit his post as consul when Hadji Ali, dey of Algiers, expressed his displeasure with the quality of an American shipment of naval and military stores delivered in compliance with the terms of a 1795 treaty by ordering Lear and all other Americans to depart (Joseph Wheelan, Jefferson’s War: America’s First War on Terror 1801–1805 [2003], 345–7; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. (all editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. Citations given below are to the edition mounted on the American Memory website of the Library of Congress and give the date of the debate as well as page numbers) description ends , 12th Cong., 2d sess., 1222–35).

1Lear here canceled “your.”

2Manuscript: “sold.”

Index Entries

  • Algiers; 1795U.S. treaty with search
  • Algiers; U.S. consulate at search
  • Ali, Hadji, dey of Algiers search
  • Lear, Benjamin Lincoln; education of search
  • Lear, Frances Dandridge Henley (Tobias Lear’s wife); sends greetings to TJ search
  • Lear, Tobias; and proposed visit to TJ search
  • Lear, Tobias; as consul to Algiers search
  • Lear, Tobias; identified search
  • Lear, Tobias; letters from search
  • Lear, Tobias; son’s education search