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James Martin (of New York) to Thomas Jefferson, 20 August 1813

From James Martin (of New York)

Treasury Department Washington Augt 20 1813


So many years have Elapsed since I had the Honour of a line from you that you have probably altogether forgotten me, as well as the Occasion which procured me that favour. I have no other Justification in recalling either than the wish to keep a place in your recollection, and, in a manner similar to my former Effort, to contribute an hour towards the Amusement of one to whom I feel more than the common Obligation. I sent you in 1796 an Oration I had spoken at Jamaica Long Island and received from you a very polite Acknowledgment of the present. Some late political events here brought one of its predictions into my mind which tho frequently Impressed on the subject, had Solaced itself in the vulgar hope that at least the fear would not be Realized in my day—At the close of this Oration I find the Sentences Copied on the other Side—the Opinion must have been Occasioned by Jay’s Treaty and the Theoretic dread I had of one day seeing that power still more perniciously Exercised. As I was abroad during the discussion of the Constitution I was Unaware of the Arguments, my Observations therefore were purely the result of my own reflections on the subject and I can now look upon them with the more Satisfaction as the Unbiassed result of my own Information—It is perhaps fortunate for us that our youthful Habits have not yet been so completely corrupted but that we are within the Reach of a remedy which I am Confident we shall one day want and which one, not very remote day we may be very Averse to take. I kno[w]1 not whether that part of the Constitution met your approbation—if it did, with all my reverence for you I cannot agree in Sentiment. You perhaps think more favorably of England than I do, but, as I accquired part of my Education and Studied my profession there, I have had more Opportunitys of Knowing that that Corruption which has ruined them at home is almost as pervading abroad and if you can trace to other Sources the Conduct upon which the enclosed Letter to Quincy Comments you have more Charity than I pretend to—you will readily perceive that my last present to you is influenced by the same Sentiment which was the Ground work of the first. I am not known nor intend to be as its Author but merely Sound the Tocsin in hopes some abler Champion, if it should become necessary, may be ready to Combat what seems to me the most preposterous and Abominable of all Doctrines—

The place from which I date my Letter may Surprize you—the fact is that wearied of Farming (tho merely from want of Society) and incommoded by a 20 years dispute with my native State in which, pyrrhus like, I am ruined by my Victories I came to close my days in Washington And my friend Mr Gallatin having lef[t] with me his Arduous task of Judging of petitions for remissions of forfeitures I am submitting my Opinions on the Cases to the Acting Secretary and thus discharging my Duty to my friend and the public with Approbation I hope, and with Integrity I know. Accept, Sir, my long continued wishes for all the Happiness, as you close your Life, which your great Services to your Country make the hope of every republican and of no one more Cordially than

Your faithful & obedt humble Servant—

Jas Martin

RC (MHi); torn at seal; addressed: “Thos Jefferson Esqr Monticelli Virginia”; franked; postmarked Washington, 20 Aug.; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Sept. 1813 and so recorded in SJL; notation by TJ on address leaf: “mine of 98. Feb. 23. his of 1801. Feb. 22.”

James Martin (ca. 1753–1831), attorney, was born in Boston, the son of Anne Gordon Martin, a Massachusetts woman from a prominent mercantile family, and William Martin, a British artillery officer who remained loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution. He received his legal education in England, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1773, left the colony soon thereafter, and spent much of the next two decades in the West Indies. Martin returned to America in 1791 and began the lengthy but ultimately successful process of reclaiming his parents’ property in Massachusetts, which had been confiscated during the Revolutionary War. After joining the New York bar in 1792 and briefly working in Aaron Burr’s law office, Martin acquired an estate in Jamaica, Long Island. He lived on Long Island thereafter except for a stint from 1813–15 at the Treasury Department reviewing forfeiture cases for Albert Gallatin (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 , 29:156–7; Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789–1800 [1985–2007], 6:199–211; Linda K. Kerber, “The Paradox of Women’s Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin vs. Massachusetts, 1805,” American Historical Review 97 [1992]: 349–78, esp. 349, 362, 372; DNA: RG 29, CS, N.Y., Queens Co., 1800, 1820, 1830; Martin to Gallatin, 12 Sept. 1815 [NHi: Gallatin Papers]; New-York Spectator, 20 Dec. 1831).

On the verso of the address leaf of the RC, Martin quoted as follows from his 4 July 1796 oration spoken at jamaica long island, a speech he had previously enclosed in full to TJ on 20 July 1796 and which TJ had deposited in his library (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 3179): “The people of England suffered their parliament 80 years ago to prolong their own Existence from three years to Seven—with that Act commenced the Æra of their destruction—A Seven Years Legislator became an object worth corrupting and we are too well accquainted with their History not to see how their Government has availed itself of the infirmity—A Similar disease grows with our Growth and must Subdue at Length—At least the poetry looks prophetic—Supreme Laws of the Land can be made by twenty people some of whom are Legislators for Six Years!—It is the duty of those whose profession, as has been well said, teaches them to Snuff the Approach of Tyranny in every tainted Breeze to suggest such things to you and it is your Duty to consider them Happy people! that can say quietly We the people having conferred an Authority by mistake or which has been abused by design think proper to revoke it &c &c.” The phrase on sensing “the Approach of Tyranny in every tainted Breeze” came from Edmund Burke’s famous 22 Mar. 1775 parliamentary speech on conciliation with the American colonies.

Martin disapproved of the six-year terms to which United States senators were elected and had a theoretic dread of the constitutional right of the United States president and Senate to create binding law without the approval of the House of Representatives by making treaties with foreign powers. The enclosed letter to quincy, presumably addressed to the prominent Massachusetts Federalist Josiah Quincy, has not been found. The acting secretary of the treasury was William Jones (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ).

1Word stained.

Index Entries

  • Burke, Edmund; British politician search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and term limits search
  • Constitution, U.S.; and treaty powers search
  • Gallatin, Albert; as secretary of the treasury search
  • Great Britain; political corruption in search
  • Jay Treaty; mentioned search
  • Jones, William (1760–1831); as acting secretary of the treasury search
  • Martin, James (of New York); 1796oration of search
  • Martin, James (of New York); and J. Quincy search
  • Martin, James (of New York); as Treasury Department official search
  • Martin, James (of New York); identified search
  • Martin, James (of New York); letters from search
  • Martin, James (of New York); on British corruption search
  • Martin, James (of New York); on term limits search
  • Martin, James (of New York); on treaty powers search
  • Quincy, Josiah search
  • Senate, U.S.; and term limits search
  • Senate, U.S.; treaty powers of search