Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Richard Claiborne, 23 May 1781

To Richard Claiborne

Charlottesville May 23d. 1781


Your letters of the 18th and 19th inst. came to hand yesterday. Experience has for some time past convinced the Council that as the mode of acquiring1 waggons, horses &c. by Impress is the most irritating, so it is the most expensive which can be adopted. They therefore have generally meant to discontinue Impresses and to have purchases made wherever a delay can be admitted. And indeed it is questionable where necessity obliges the public to have an article on the spot whether any price which the owner would ask to part with it voluntarily would not be less than appraisers would rate it at.

In answer therefore to your Letter I can only advise your procuring the necessaries required by purchase. In a conversation which I had with Mr. Lyne, I mentioned the necessity of paying your Warrants as quickly as possible. He was sensible of it and I can say will pay it as soon as he has as much money. I am2 with much respect Sir your obt. servant,

Th: Jefferson

FC (Vi). Two Tr (NHi: Steuben Papers): one in the hand of Richard Claiborne.

On 30 May Claiborne wrote to Capt. Charles Russell, asking him to wait on Steuben and inform him that “in answer to my proposalls to the Council respecting the requisition he made upon the Department, I receiv’d the Inclosd copy of a letter from the Governor. By this Government propose to do nothing more in the matter, than to advance the money for the purchases. Had I the cash, I do not suppose the Business could be done in less than five or six days, but I have been with Colo. Brook this morning and he tells me there is no possibility of getting any shortly, as the press is not prepared to print the money. … But should we fail, the Baron’s only recourse must be to Impress. Indeed, I am Apprehensive it must be the case, as [I] do not think Any person will hire his waggon and team to go out of the state” (Claiborne to Russell, 30 May 1781. NHi). Steuben seems to have placed part of the blame for failure upon Claiborne, for on 3 June the latter wrote acknowledging Steuben’s letter of 31 May: “The step which you have been induced to take by making a regular complaint against my Conduct as Deputy Quarter Master for the State of Virginia I make no doubt was done from a motive of zeal for the public interest”; Claiborne protested that he too had acted “with unwearied diligence for the public good,” stated that he was prepared to receive an arrest whenever Steuben should order it, and enclosed copies of his letter to TJ of 18 May with enclosures and of TJ’s reply, “by which,” he concluded, “you may judge of my prospects. … I should have made this report to you some time since; but waiting for the Governor’s answer, which I did not receive until about the time of my leaving Richmond, and being almost constantly on the move since in finding a place for my office rendered it impossible” (Claiborne to Steuben, 3 June 1781, NHi). Apparently Steuben did not reply, for on 7 July Claiborne wrote that he had not heard from him since the charges were made and added: “I consider, Sir, that your reputation is likewise at stake in this affair as you did me the honor to be present at my appointment, and gave your approbation that I should conduct the business, so that as it appears to you I have not transacted it properly an enquiry should be made both in public and private points of view” (Claiborne to Steuben, 7 July 1781, NHi). Claiborne continued in office, though in June he appealed directly to the House of Delegates for assistance in solving the difficult problems confronting him (CVSP description begins Calendar of Virginia State Papers … Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond description ends , iii, 164, 171).

1Tr reads “equiping.”

2FC ends at this point; complimentary close supplied from Tr.

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