Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to William Davies, 22 March 1781

To William Davies

Richmond March 22d. 1781.


Colo. Muter having resigned his appointment as Commissioner of the war office, the board have appointed you to succeed him which I have now the pleasure to notify to you. I shall be exceedingly happy should it be agreable to you to undertake the Office, and if applications to the Commanding Officer or other Person shall be necessary to reconcile your acting in this Office to the reservation of any other Interests you would wish to retain, I shall readily add my solicitations to your[s]. In the mean Time I hope it will be in your power to come immediately to the Office, as its Duties are such as to admit of no Intermission and impossible to be executed by the Executive in addition to their other Duties. The Bearer brings this express and by him I shall hope your answer. I am &c.,

T. J.

FC (Vi). See Muter to TJ, 12 and 22 Mch.

If factional politics was involved in Muter’s resignation and Davies’ succession to the office, it is not apparent from the evidence. The change seems to have been based on Muter’s proved incompetence and on Davies’ well-known qualifications for the post. Certainly it would appear that TJ and the Council were as anxious to appoint Davies as he was anxious to be appointed. For, while TJ in the present letter assured Davies of his willingness to solicit Steuben’s agreement to the change, Davies had in fact already appealed to Steuben for support of his candidacy for the office. On 21 Mch. he wrote Steuben as follows: “Some gentlemen have intimated their desire to me that I would offer myself as a candidate for the post of commissioner of the war office in this state. Perhaps I might be of use in it; and at any rate would use my endeavours. I should be glad to be favoured with your interest in the matter, if you think proper. I wish, however, this application may be secret and confidential” (NHi). Muter’s resignation and the offer to Davies took place before Steuben could reply; nevertheless, Steuben’s approval was needed. This he gave, and Davies immediately took up his new duties; on 27 Mch. he wrote Steuben thanking him for agreeing in such a “kind and condescending manner” to permit him to accept the office, and added: “The affairs of the State are strangely confused, and I am sure will continue so, unless a speedy reformation should take place” (NHi). Greene also gave his enthusiastic approval to Davies’ appointment (Greene to Davies, 11 Apr. 1781, CSmH). On 1 Apr. Robert Gamble wrote to Davies: “I am happy to hear your post is more independent than was imagined since twill be in your power to render more essential service to your country than could be effected was every order and regulation however trifling to be debated in Council and their approbation obtained previous to its being executed” (Vi). It was a fortunate change; Davies was a man of considerable ability, unimpeachable integrity, and judicious temperament. As one of the few Virginia officers who remained on friendly terms with Steuben at the close of the 1781 campaign—Weedon was the other principal one—Davies was an indispensable figure in the difficult period of transition from TJ’s administration to that of Nelson. He enjoyed TJ’s full confidence and also that of Greene and Steuben, despite the fact that he had led the protest of the Virginia officers to both generals against Weedon’s coming from retirement to rank above some who had served steadily through the war (Davies to Steuben, 18 Feb. 1781, NHi).

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