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Richard Rush’s Proposal that Thomas Jefferson become Secretary of State, 24 May 1812

Richard Rush’s Proposal that Thomas Jefferson become Secretary of State

Washington May 24. 1812.

I enclose you a paper for your perusal and perhaps amusement. I mentioned to you lately that I had a great plan in my head.—a fortnight or three weeks ago it started to my reveries that Mr Jefferson ought to be called out, like an old pater patria, in a crisis like the present, and not suffered to repose upon his mountain. At length I determined he should be secretary of state again, which so heated my brain that the thoughts of it kept me awake a good part of two nights, I mean the thoughts of how such a thing could ever be brought about. At length I thought I hit upon the only practicable arrangement under all existing circumstances. Then to impart my plan was a new difficulty greater than all!—But, to impart it, I was resolved if it came at last to my marching into the white house itself with my proposals. At last I fell upon the plan which the enclosed paper will unfold to you, and which I sent to Mr Gallatin with an amusing note as its companion. Thus I sent in my plan. You will see that the sketch is made for the eye of all their excellencies, even the Dr himself if need be. Gallatin, as far as I can judge is tickled to the nines with the idea. He adores Jefferson.1 What others may think I know not; it is at least a pretty fancy, and I think the President thinks so too, though not a word have I heard from him of course. Read it yourself and then to our friend Binns, but to no other soul, and send it back to me, and on no account let a hint of it escape you in any way, else these good gentlemen here might think me leaky. We will not argue the matter. I have probably anticipated in my reflections every objection you would make and still incline to think, admitting at the same time I have hardly yet cooled down from the enthusiasm of the first idea, they would be lost in the overruling ascendency of his name. I shall have, possibly, done good at any rate in exhibiting him once more as a publick man, which may be the means of causing him to be dragged out in some way or other, if not as I propose, in the progress and exigency of our publick affairs. To conclude—it is a little odd that I, who claim to be so retired, so falling back, at my onset here, should have begun in my [later?] moon with entirely new-modeling the cabinet!

MS (PHi: Charles Jared Ingersoll Papers, Richard Rush Letters); in Rush’s hand; extract by the Editors from Rush to Charles J. Ingersoll, 24 May 1812, with dateline taken from the head of that letter and extract consisting of its third paragraph; one word illegible. Enclosure not found.

Richard Rush (1780–1859), attorney and public official, was the second son of TJ’s longtime friend Benjamin Rush. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1797. Returning to his native Philadelphia, Rush was admitted to the bar in 1800 and soon established his own law firm. He began writing essays for publication by 1803 and gained recognition as an orator in 1807, when he denounced the British attack on the USS Chesapeake. The following year Rush successfully defended William Duane in a widely publicized libel case. Serving briefly as Pennsylvania attorney general in 1811, he was appointed comptroller of the United States Treasury later that year. Rush was United States attorney general, 1814–17, during which time he edited the Laws of the United States, 5 vols. (Philadelphia and Washington, 1815). In 1816 he visited TJ at Monticello, and the following year he was elected to the American Philosophical Society. During a brief stint as acting secretary of state in 1817, he negotiated the Rush-Bagot agreement. Rush served as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain, 1817–25, when he occasionally shipped books to TJ. In 1825 President John Quincy Adams appointed him secretary of the treasury, and three years later Rush was the vice-presidential candidate in Adams’s unsuccessful bid for reelection. During 1836–38 he secured Englishman James Smithson’s bequest to the United States, funding the Smithsonian Institution, which he strongly supported and later served as a regent. Rush emerged from retirement at his estate near Philadelphia to serve as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to France, 1847–49 (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 ; John H. Powell, Richard Rush: Republican Diplomat, 1780–1859 [1942]; Rush’s Account of a Visit to Monticello, 9 Oct. 1816; APS description begins American Philosophical Society description ends , Minutes, 17 Jan. 1817 [MS in PPAmP]; Rush to TJ, 23 Oct. 1821; Rush, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London [1833]; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 2 Aug. 1859).

pater patria (pater patriae): “father of the country.” the dr may refer to president James Madison, who was awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of New Jersey in 1787, a tribute of which his fellow alumni Rush and Ingersoll may have been aware.

On 4 Sept. 1812 Rush informed Madison of his plan directly. After proposing that Secretary of State James Monroe step down in order to take up a military command, Rush suggested that he be replaced by TJ, adding that he (Rush) was “no stranger … to his great age, to his long, useful, arduous, services; to his love of retirement, to his claims to be now exempt from toil. But, sir, might he not still be prevailed upon to lend the mighty weight of his name—of his venerable years—yet a little longer, to the service of his country when a new crisis addresses itself, as it now would; to his feelings of constant devotion to her cause? May not his venerable and now almost canonized form be seen to step forth to this post; to leave the shades of his secluded and beloved mansion at such a time, at such a call? the sacrifice would, indeed, be great; but, to him, what sacrifice would be too great when his country was in question, her benefit, her highest interests, the stake? Then, sir, I speak, I am sure, the language of millions when I say, depression would give place to joy, confidence rise to enthusiasm! Then would the great republican family of the union be one—feel with but one heart, rise up in its whole strength! Such an event, sir, and the best hopes of the patriot are made sure! such an event, and the glory of the setting days of the then greatest of patriots is more than ever crowned!” (FC in PHi: Ingersoll Papers, Rush Letters; in Rush’s hand; printed in Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 5:267–8). Rush also communicated his scheme to others, at least two of whom contacted Madison (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 5:264–5, 271–2; Rush to Monroe, 4 Sept. 1812 [DLC: Monroe Papers]; Alexander J. Dallas to Rush, 19 Sept. 1812 [PHi: George Mifflin Dallas Papers]). William Duane advised TJ of a rumor to this effect on 20 Sept. 1812, and it found its way into the newspapers late in the year (New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, 16 Dec. 1812; Norwich [Conn.] Courier, 23 Dec. 1812).

1Preceding three words interlined.

Index Entries

  • American Philosophical Society; members of search
  • Binns, John Alexander; and R. Rush’s cabinet proposal search
  • Duane, William; and R. Rush’s cabinet proposal search
  • Gallatin, Albert; and R. Rush’s cabinet proposal search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as potential secretary of state search
  • Madison, James; and R. Rush’s cabinet proposal search
  • Monroe, James; and R. Rush’s cabinet proposal search
  • Rush, Richard; identified search
  • Rush, Richard; proposes TJ as secretary of state search