From William Heth
Petersburg [Virginia] 18th. Jany 1799
When I wrote you a long letter the other day,1 I as little expected to intrude upon you again so soon, as that, our domestic tranquility would so soon, be seriously threatened.
Leave has been given within a few days past, in our Legislature, to bring in a bill, authorising persons taken up under the sedition Law,2to be removed to State Courts, or to be released, should our Judges see cause.3 At least—this I understand to be the object of the bill. Judge Iredell,4 who will hand you this, will be able to inform you more particularly, as he will receive full information, on passing thro’ Richmond. As certainly, as such a bill shall be brought in, as certainly will it pass: And the next moment, some of those of the opposition, who are panting to become Martyrs in the holy cause, will throw themselves in the way of the Marshal,5 or of some officer of the government whom they may suppose bound by oath & duty, to notice seditions, or treasonable expressions. And thus, the signal of Civil War will be given. I hope the Marshal may prove himself to be a Man of firmness & intrepidity.
Early in the present session, I understand, a resolution passed, to suspend the building of our Penitentiary House, & to apply a large Sum in the Treasury appropriated therefor, to the purchase of Arms.6
Under this alarming, & distressing prospect of public affairs, it is proper, that every Man Should be known: and persuaded that I shall be among the first in this quarter, whom the desperate faction will aim at, in case of open convulsion, I would wish to be among the first to be calld upon, to support the standard of the U. States. Presuming therefore, that Genl. Lee7 will be immediately ordered to hold himself in readiness, to head part of the provisional army8—I should be glad, if propriety should not forbid it—to be also held in requisition, in any way; but, if such rank, as the Commander in chief & yourself, may think I merit, could be obtained for one of his aids de Camp,9 and he could now, without any scruple or reluctance, appoint me to that station, my utmost wishes would be gratified, to serve with Lee in case of necessity, til otherwise calld upon. I would pledge myself not to draw pay, or other emoluments, except when in actual service. I have now written, My Dear sir, in the utmost confidence to you. If the Ideas which I have now suggested, are improper, I shall rely upon their going no further.
Burn this—and believe me to be as always Yrs sincerely & Affectionately
The activity & zeal which I have late manifested in honor of my friend Pinkney,10 as well as similar conduct last summer on Marshals arrival11—has occasiond me to be markd by the Democrats. In order to stimulate the Citizens of this Town to the measures in honor of Pinkney the other day, I rode down from Richmond the Morning the General left it to this place in 2 hours & 53 Minutes—25 Miles—a proof that I dont yet feel old age.
ALS, Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. This is a reference to “An Act in addition to the act, entitled ‘An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States’” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 596–97 [July 14, 1798]).
3. Although it cannot be stated with certainty, Heth was presumably referring to the fact that in the Virginia House of Delegates on January 11, 1799, it was ordered: “That leave be given to bring in a bill, ‘to amend the act, directing the mode of sueing out and prosecuting writs of habeas corpus’ and that Mr. John Taylor, Mr. [Samuel] Tyler, Mr. [Nicholas] Cabell, Mr. [Wilson Cary] Nicolas, and Mr. [William] Daniel, do prepare and bring in the same” (Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia, 1798 description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia: Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Richmond, on Monday, the Third Day of December, One Thousand Seven Hundred and NinetyEight (Richmond, 1798). description ends , 70).
4. James Iredell, a North Carolina Federalist, was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
5. David Meade Randolph.
6. No such resolution was adopted by either branch of the Virginia legislature during its 1798–1799 session. For a refutation of this and similar charges by Heth to the effect that the Virginia legislature was preparing for forcible resistance to the authority of the Federal Government, see Philip G. Davidson, “Virginia and the Alien and Sedition Laws,” American Historical Review, XXXVI (January, 1931), 336–42.
7. Henry Lee was appointed major general in the Provisional Army on July 18, 1798 (Executive Journal, I description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate (Washington, 1828), I. description ends , 292, 293). He did not, however, serve, for no steps were ever taken to establish the Provisional Army. See the introductory note to H to James Gunn, December 22, 1798.
8. See “An Act authorizing the President of the United States to raise a Provisional Army” (1 Stat. description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, I (Boston, 1845). description ends 558–61 [May 28, 1798]).
11. Following his mission to France, John Marshall arrived in Richmond on August 8, 1798. For an account of his reception on his arrival in Richmond, see the Gazette of the United States, and Philadelphia Daily Advertiser, August 17, 1798.