Thomas Jefferson Papers
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Paul Allen to Thomas Jefferson, 18 December 1813

From Paul Allen

Philadelphia Dec 18. 1813—

I trust that Your Excellency will do Me the justice to beleive that Your request with regard to the volumes of Lewis & Clarke would have been complied with long since & the books transmitted if the work had not been unexpectedly detained in the hands of the Printer They have now arrived at the conclusion of the work excepting the diary of the weather &c which comes in at the appendix. The delay has been occasioned by the press of other avocations which the Printers have been obliged to turn their more immediate attention to & particularly periodical works. My reason for troubling Your Excellency is an apprehension that You would deem Me neglectful of Your request of which [bele]ive Me Sir I am utterly incapable. With regard to the biographick [sketch] which You so condescendingly furnished Me with, I have to offer my sincerest thanks accompanied I must confess with some little chagrin that it was out of my power to requite the obligation. My mind was for sometime wavering on the propriety of annexing to Your biographick sketch a particular account of the melancholy death of Capt Lewis. That account has already been published by the late Alexander Wilson Esqr the celebrated ornithologist. But as this might notwithstanding in all human probability wound the sensibility of surviving relatives & freinds, I deemed it the most expedient to err on the side of humanity & rather to veil the severity of biographick fact than to have my motives misunderstood by the recital.—I should1 have been much gratified by annexing a sketch of the life of Gov. Clarke but that has been long since abandoned as unattainable. The misfortune in such cases is that with regard to many of the Men who have adorned the character of their Country it is by One single act that they have rendered themselves illustrious. When that act is told the whole of the Life of the Individual so far as the Publick is interested becomes already known & precludes interesting biography. Thus this hazardous expedition is the only part of Capt Lewis life which were he now alive he would be willing probably to Submit to publick Notice—it was on one occasion only that his great talents were put to the proof & then they were found adequate to the emergen[cy.]

It is commonly beleived by Mankind that when one [. . .] Beings displays talents commensurate with the occasion [. . .] them forth, the whole of his previous life must exhibit some traces of that character. This is a great mistake which may be illustrated by an anecdote of my Countryman the late Gen. Greene. When he was a Militia General in Rhode Island he addressed a petition2 to the Legislature of that State menti[o]ning that a bill of six shillings of Continental currency was accidentaly washed to peices in his Jacket pocket & praying compensation.3

Yet this was the same Nathaniel Greene who afterwards delivered the southern States from the tyranny of England!

Your Excellencys humble Servt &c

P Allen

RC (DLC); torn at seal; at foot of text: “His Excellency T. Jefferson Esqr Monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 31 Dec. 1813 and so recorded in SJL.

James Maxwell was the printer of Biddle, Lewis and Clark Expedition description begins Nicholas Biddle, History of the Expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark to the Sources of the Missouri, thence across the Rocky Mountains and down the River Columbia to the Pacific Ocean. Performed during the years 1804–5–6. By order of the Government of the United States, 2 vols., Philadelphia, 1814; Sowerby, no. 4168; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 7 (no. 370) description ends . A letter from Alexander Wilson of 28 May 1811 giving a detailed account of the melancholy death of Meriwether Lewis appeared in a Philadelphia journal, the Port Folio, new ser., 7 (1812): 34–47. Nathanael Greene successfully petitioned the Rhode Island legislature in the summer of 1775 for the reimbursement of £4.10, not six shillings (August, 1775. At the General Assembly of the Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America [Providence, 1776], 93).

1Allen here canceled “likewise.”

2Manuscript: “petitition.”

3Allen here canceled “from the State.”

Index Entries

  • Allen, Paul; and N. Biddle’s history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Allen, Paul; letters from search
  • Biddle, Nicholas; History of the Expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark search
  • biography; and clues to character search
  • Clark (Clarke), William; and journals of Lewis and Clark Expedition search
  • Greene, Nathanael; seeks reimbursement of small sum search
  • History of the Expedition under the command of Captains Lewis and Clark (N. Biddle) search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; and publication of journals search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; death of search
  • Lewis, Meriwether; TJ’s biography of search
  • Lewis and Clark Expedition; publication of journals search
  • Maxwell, James search
  • Port Folio; publishes account of M. Lewis’s death search
  • Wilson, Alexander; publishes account of M. Lewis’s death search