Thomas Jefferson Papers
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To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Cooper, [23 March 1800]

From Thomas Cooper

Sunday Evening [23 Mch. 1800]


Mr. Dallas, Mr. Duane and myself met to day, and after canvassing the most expedient method of proceeding on our side, we determined at length on the following.

That Mr. Duane shd. write you the Letter which accompanies this, to be presented to the Senate in your official Capacity. That Mr. Duane shd. be in the way at the meeting of the Senate, without formally presenting himself till it become necessary. That if the request to be heard by Counsel should be refused (which we much wish) before the time when the Senate have determined to call him, that he shall not obey the call: for we cannot be upon better ground (as we conceive) than in such a case. That if it be required that he shall personally appear in conformity to the resolution of the house, before the prayer of his Letter be granted, he shall appear for the purpose of obtaining it. That if the preliminary debate on his Letter be protracted so that he be not called at all, or untill the close of the meeting, that he may properly go away having evidence of his attendance.—That if Counsel be allowed, we shd. obtain a day as distant as possible for their appearance in his behalf, both in the first instance, & afterward on their personal application. That on the appearance of Counsel at the bar of the house, they shall state in the outset, that they mean to object to the Jurisdiction of the Senate in the present Case.

That if they are stopped in this, they shall expressly decline entering into any farther or other defence, as they conceive their Client fully entitled to be heard on this Objection; an objection supported by precedent in the Case of Blount. That then Mr. Duane shall be absent, and keep out of the way of the Serjeant at Arms.

To this I beg leave to add as my present Suggestion, that if after these proceedings the Serjeant either acting by order of the house, or in consequence of any proclamation of the president at the Senate’s request should find him, that he fights the question by application for an habeas Corpus.

I am Sir with great esteem Your obedt Servt

Thomas Cooper

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esqr”; undated, but endorsed by TJ as written and received on 23 Mch. 1800 and so recorded in SJL.

Born in England, Thomas Cooper (1759–1839) was a chemist, writer, and religious dissenter who fervently supported the principles of the French Revolution and the cause of Parliamentary reform in England. He visited the United States in 1793 to explore possible locations for English dissenters who might want to emigrate, and the following year he brought his family and joined Joseph Priestley in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. This letter marks the beginning of a lifelong friendship between TJ and Cooper, who after his arrival in America embarked upon an extended and controversial career as a party activist, journalist, lawyer, judge, and educator. His political writings aided Thomas McKean’s election as governor of Pennsylvania in 1799 and championed TJ’s candidacy in 1800. For libeling President John Adams in a handbill Cooper was fined and imprisoned for six months. During TJ’s second term Cooper lost the support of the Pennsylvania Republican leadership, was removed from his judicial post, and grew disillusioned with the Jeffersonian cause. He turned his attention back to science, publishing supplementary appendices to Priestley’s Memoirs after Priestley’s death and serving as professor of chemistry at Carlisle (later Dickinson) College. After the temporary failure of that college Cooper taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Because the opening of the new university at Charlottesville, Virginia, to which Cooper in 1819 had been elected professor of chemistry, mineralogy, natural philosophy, and law, was delayed, he moved to Columbia, South Carolina. There he served as professor and president of the college until he resigned in 1833, after doing battle with the clergy and college trustees over his teaching of materialist doctrines. Although earlier he had opposed the slave trade, he denied the theory of equality and natural rights, owned slaves, and campaigned as a nullifier against a proposed tariff (ANB; description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends Dumas Malone, The Public Life of Thomas Cooper, 1783–1839 [New Haven, 1926; repr., Columbia, S.C., 1961]; Vol. 26:715).

Mr. Dallas, Mr. Duane and myself: William Duane asked Alexander J. Dallas and Cooper to defend him against the charges of breach of privilege leveled against him by the Senate for discussing and publishing Pennsylvania Senator James Ross’s electoral count bill in the Aurora on 19 Feb. and for incorrectly reporting that the bill had passed when it had only received its second reading. On 25 Feb. New Jersey Senator Jonathan Dayton made an unprecedented proposal that a “Committee of Privileges, consisting of five members, be appointed to continue during the present session.” The final six words of Dayton’s resolution in the Senate records are in TJ’s hand. The Senate records also indicate an amendment proposed by Charles Pinckney, on which TJ made the following notations: “Mr. Pinckney’s amendmt. Question divided. 1st. on striking out. decided negatively. Y & N”; to the phrase “As the Constitution of the U.S. does not vest in either branch of Congress any other powers than those mentioned & limited,” written by a clerk, TJ interlined after “powers” the words “on the subject of privilege.” The resolution passed on 26 Feb., and Senators Dayton, Tracy, Latimer, Chipman, and Brown were appointed to determine how the editor of the Aurora gained possession of the bill and “by what authority” he published it. On 20 Mch. an amended resolution deemed the publication to be a “high breach of the privileges” of the Senate and ordered Duane to present himself at the bar of the Senate at noon on 24 Mch., when he would “have opportunity to make any proper defence for his conduct, in publishing the aforesaid false, defamatory, scandalous, and malicious assertions, and pretended information” (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.; 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. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 10:53, 62–3, 68–96, 109, 112–15; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 289–301; Malone, Thomas Cooper, 113–18).

Letter which accompanies this: see the following document. Dallas had also served as attorney in the trial of William Blount (Vol. 30:615–16n).

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