Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas McKean, 19 February 1803

To Thomas McKean

Washington Feb. 19. 1803.

Dear Sir

Your’s of the 7th. inst. has been duly recieved. the late election in Pensylvania has to be sure been a triumphant proof of the progress of the republican spirit: and must afford great consolation to yourself personally, as a mark of the public approbation of your administration. I believe we may consider the mass of the states South & West of Connecticut & Massachusets as now a consolidated body of republicanism. in Connecticut, Massachusets & N. Hampshire there is still a federal ascendancy: but it is near it’s last. if we can settle happily the difficulties of the Missisipi, I think we may promise ourselves smooth seas during our time.   the federal candidates for the general government I believe are certainly to be mr King & Genl. Pinckney. of this I believe you may be assured. mr Ross, so strongly marked by popular rejection in his late competition with you, and to retire from the Senate within a few days by a like rejection by the representatives of his state, is setting himself up by his war-movements here as if he were their1 friend, & the only person who has their confidence. I have been told he has declared the people of his quarter would go of their own authority & take N. Orleans, & that he would head them himself. but I rather suppose it sufficient, that a measure has his approbation, to produce their distrust of it.   mr Harris has been informed that a consulship (I believe it is at Rotterdam) is vacant, if it will suit him. for mr T. Rodney I should certainly be glad to do any service; but really do not foresee any vacancy likely to happen where he could be employed. so also as to mr Mc.lanachan. the fact is that we have put down the great mass of offices which gave such a patronage to the President of the US. these had been so numerous, that presenting themselves to the public eye at all times & places, office began to be looked to as a resource for every man whose affairs were getting into derangement, or who was too indolent to pursue his profession, and for young men just entering into life. in short it was poisoning the very source of industry, by presenting an easier resource for a livelihood, and was corrupting the principles of the great mass of those who cast a wishful eye on office. the case is now quite changed. we have almost nothing to give. in such a state as Pensylvania for instance, I recollect but 6. offices within my appointment, 3. of which are of the law, & 3. in the customs. for I do not count the commissioners of bankruptcy, who will so soon be put down with the law. while the habit of looking for office therefore continues, the means of gratifying it have been given up.

On the subject of prosecutions, what I say must be entirely confidential, for you know the passion for torturing every sentiment & word which comes from me. the Federalists having failed in destroying the freedom of the press by their gag-law, seem to have attacked it in an opposite form, that is by pushing it’s licentiousness and it’s lying to such a degree of prostitution as to deprive it of all credit. and the fact is that so abandoned are the tory presses in this particular that even the least informed of the people have learnt that nothing in a newspaper is to be believed. this is a dangerous state of things, and the press ought to be restored to it’s credibility if possible. the restraints provided by the laws of the states are sufficient for this if applied: and I have therefore long thought that a few prosecutions of the most eminent offenders would have a wholsome effect in restoring the integrity of the presses. not a general prosecution, for that would look like persecution: but a selected one. the paper I now inclose appears to me to offer as good an instance in every respect to make an example of, as can be selected. however of this you are the best judge. I inclose it lest you should not have it. if the same thing be done in some other of the states it will place the whole band more on their guard.   Accept my friendly salutations & assurances of my high respect & consideration.

Th: Jefferson

RC (PHi); at foot of first page: “Govr. Mc.Kean”; endorsed: “Private.” PrC (DLC). Enclosure not found, but see below.

late competition: McKean overwhelmingly won the 1802 gubernatorial election with 47,879 votes to James Ross’s 17,037. The Pennsylvania Federalists won no seats in the state senate and only 9 out of 86 in the house of representatives. The general assembly elected Republican Samuel Maclay to succeed Ross in the U.S. Senate when it met in December 1802 (Higginbotham, Pennsylvania Politics description begins Sanford W. Higginbotham, The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics 1800-1816, Harrisburg, 1952 description ends , 46; Kline’s Carlisle Weekly Gazette, 22 Dec. 1802). war-movements: on 14 Feb., Ross addressed the Senate for two hours, noting that he could not go home to his constituents without making an effort “to avert the calamity which threatened the Western country.” He was convinced “that more than negotiation was absolutely necessary” to regain the right of deposit at New Orleans. Congress should give the president the power to vindicate “the wounded honor and the best interests of the country.” Two days later, Ross brought forward a set of resolutions, which asserted that the United States had an indisputable right to the free navigation of the Mississippi River and to a “convenient place of deposit” at New Orleans. The late infraction of this right by Spain indicated that it was inconsistent with the safety of the Union “to hold a right so important by a tenure so uncertain.” The resolutions authorized the president to call into service up to 50,000 militiamen from South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Mississippi Territory to augment U.S. military and naval forces and together take immediate possession of a site or sites deemed fit for a place of deposit. Ross proposed a $5,000,000 appropriation to carry the resolutions into effect. During the debate, which began on 23 Feb. and continued through the 25th, William H. Wells and Samuel White of Delaware, Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, Gouverneur Morris of New York, and Ross presented lengthy arguments in support of the resolutions, while John Breckinridge of Kentucky, William Cocke and Joseph Anderson of Tennessee, DeWitt Clinton of New York, Robert Wright of Maryland, and James Jackson of Georgia led the opposition. On the last day of debate, Stevens Thomson Mason observed: “Here we see a number of people from the Eastern States and the seaboard, filled with the most extreme solicitude for the interest and rights of the western and inland States; while the representatives of the Western people themselves appear to know nothing of this great danger, and to feel a full confidence in their government.” The resolutions were defeated by a 15 to 11 vote, Ross being the only western member to vote for them. The Senate went on to adopt resolutions proposed by Breckinridge, which gave the president the authority, if he judged it expedient, to cooperate with all of the states in organizing, arming, equipping, and holding in readiness a militia of up to 80,000 men and a corps of volunteers. Congress appropriated $1,500,000 to cover the expenses and $25,000 to construct and furnish one or more arsenals on the western waters at such place or places as the president thought proper. Congress had also authorized the president to have up to 15 gunboats built and used as the “public service may require” (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 , 12:83–97, 105–206, 208–56; Biog. Dir. Cong. description begins Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989, Washington, D.C., 1989 description ends ; Arthur Preston Whitaker, The Mississippi Question, 1795–1803: A Study in Trade, Politics, and Diplomacy [New York, 1934], 215–17; U.S. Statutes at Large description begins Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States…1789 to March 3, 1845, Boston, 1855-56, 8 vols. description ends , 2:206, 241; Robert Smith to TJ, 19 Jan. 1803).

Debate on repeal of the bankruptcy law took place in the House of Representatives on 13 Jan. and 16 and 18 Feb., when it was decided to postpone the question until the next session of Congress. The act was repealed in December soon after Congress reconvened (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 , 12:375–9, 530–3, 546–65; Vol. 37:702).

paper i now inclose: TJ perhaps sent McKean a recent copy of Joseph Dennie’s Port Folio. The 15 Jan. 1803 issue included satirical references to James T. Callender’s “stories of black Sall and Mrs. Walker”; to the Barbary powers, who “having heard that we had sold our Navy” are “excluding our vessels from the Mediterranean”; to the entertainment of Thomas Paine in Washington by “our religious chief,” with introductions “to the mammoth cheese, Mr. Duane, Mr. Gallatin, and the rest of the royal family”; and an article defending Callender and freedom of the press. It also included the first installment of “Progress of Democracy.” In July 1803, Pennsylvania authorities brought libel charges against Dennie for a passage in the 23 Apr. issue of The Port Folio, describing the “futility” of democracy and predicting, “It is on its trial here, and the issue will be civil war, desolation, and anarchy” (Philadelphia Port Folio, 15, 22, 29 Jan., 23 Apr. 1803; Rowe, McKean description begins G. S. Rowe, Thomas McKean, The Shaping of an American Republicanism, Boulder, Colo., 1978 description ends , 337–8; Pasley, Tyranny of Printers description begins Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, 2001 description ends , 251–2, 256, 264–5). For Dennie, see Vol. 34:517n.

1TJ here canceled “only.”

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