Thomas Jefferson Papers

III. James Wilson to Thomas Jefferson, 13 August 1790

III. James Wilson to Thomas Jefferson

Philada. 13th Augt. 1790

Dear Sir

I am just now informed that the Place of Clerk for recording the Laws of the United States and keeping the Papers of the former Congress is vacant and in your Gift. If the Information is true; permit me to recommend to you for this Office, a Friend of mine William Nichols Esquire Clerk of the Court of Quarter Sessions and of the Orphans Court in the County of Philadelphia. I can recommend him with Confidence; and you will lay me under a particular Obligation by appointing him. I have the Honour to be, Sir, with much Esteem, dear Sir Your most obedient and very humble Servant

James Wilson

RC (DLC: Applications for Office under Washington); endorsed by TJ as received at the office on “Aug. 17. by Th: J. Aug. 21,” when he returned from Rhode Island; recorded in SJL under the latter date.

There is no evidence that TJ replied to this letter. It is, indeed, remarkable and perhaps significant that there exists only one letter from him to Wilson—that of 17 Apr. 1793 concerning some ingeniously designed bookshelves. Both men were lawyers, both were learned in the study of government, and both had taken similar and advanced positions in 1774 on the nature of the British imperial constitution. But Wilson’s identification with the leading principles of the Revolution was somewhat scholastic, tinged with opportunism, and marred by a self- seeking ambition. The two men had little in common: one who argued that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary and who in addition gave evidence that this argument was tempered “for the Audience to whom it was addressed” could scarcely win the admiration of one who believed that “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular” (TJ to Madison, 20 Dec. 1787).

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