Thomas Jefferson Papers

Report on Memorial of Andrew Brown, 5 February 1791

Report on Memorial of Andrew Brown

The Secretary of State, to whom was referred the memorial of Andrew Brown, Printer, of Philadelphia, has had the same under his consideration, and thereupon makes the following Report.

The Memorialist states, that he has in contemplation to publish a correct edition of the laws, treaties, and resolutions of the United States, and prays, that such measures may be adopted for giving a public authentication to his work as may ensure its reception throughout the United States.

The Secretary of State observes, that there exists, at present, but a single edition of the laws of the United States, to wit, the one printed by Childs and Swaine: that this edition is authentic, the proof-sheets thereof having been carefully collated by sworn clerks, with the original rolls, in his office, and rendered literally conformable therewith. That the first volume of this edition can now rarely be found, the copies originally printed, being mostly disposed of.

That it is desirable that copies of the laws should be so multiplied throughout the States, and in such cheap forms, as that every citizen of the United States, may be able to procure them. That it is important also, that such publications be rendered authentic, by a collation of the proof-sheets with the original rolls, by sworn clerks, when they are printed at the seat of government, or in its neighbourhood, and by a collation of the whole work, when printed at a distance, and a certified correction of it’s typographical errors annexed to each volume.

That this, however, if done at the public expence, would occasion an inconvenient augumentation of the number of clerks, as the act of collation requires the presence of three clerks, one to hold the roll, a second a printed copy already authenticated, and a third the proof-sheet.

That it would be more reasonable, that persons of confidence should be employed at the expence of the editor, to be named and sworn as clerks, for the special occasion.

That, in this way, he is of opinion, it will be advantageous to the public to permit, that the laws to be printed by the Memorialist, be collated with, and corrected by the original rolls, and that a certificate thereof, by the Secretary of State, be annexed to the edition.

Th: Jefferson
Secretary of State

February 5th. 1791.

FC (DNA: RG 59, Record of Reports of Thomas Jefferson); accompanied by copy of resolution referring Brown’s memorial to Secretary of State to examine and report, dated 17 Jan. 1791 and attested by John Beckley. PrC (DLC); unsigned; in Bankson’s hand.

On 14 Jan. 1791 Andrew Brown, who had been recommended to TJ’s patronage by Benjamin Rush and William Bingham, presented his memorial requesting that Congress “adopt some mode of authenticating a new edition of the Laws of the United States, which he is now about to publish” (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 354; see note, Rush to TJ, 15 Aug. 1790). The memorial was tabled, but later referred to TJ (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 355). TJ’s report, transmitted under cover of a letter to the Speaker of 5 Feb. 1791 (PrC in DLC), was presented to the House on 7 Feb. 1791 and on the 15th a joint resolution was passed permitting Brown or any other printer at his own expense “to collate with and correct by the original rolls, the laws, resolutions, and treaties, of the United States, to be by him printed,” provided that the persons to be employed in this task be approved by the Secretary of State, who would issue a certificate to be annexed to the edition concerning the collation and correction of the texts (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , i, 377, 379, 381; JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, Gales, 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , i, 269, 270, 273). This solution to the problem accommodated at once TJ’s desire to restrain the growth of the bureau, to meet the objections of Childs & Swaine set forth in their letter of 27 Jan. 1790, and to promote the distribution of the laws. The report was not printed by Congress but, being of special interest to printers, was widely published in newspapers (e.g., Davis’ Virginia Gazette, 23 Feb. 1791; Gazette of the United States, 8 June 1791).

On 14 Feb. 1791 Bache’s General Advertiser intimated that Brown had asked for exclusive right to publish the laws. Brown denied this, saying that his memorial had only proposed a method of authenticating the text and that TJ’s report, favorably to the object but “far from the design of granting this odious monopoly … evinced his impartiality and his attachment to the freedom of the press” (Federal Gazette, 14 Feb. 1791; on 23 Feb. 1791 Brown printed TJ’s report and the joint resolution). Even so, his paper soon showed evidence of partiality for the Secretary of State. Within a month it included selections from the Gazette de Leide, just as TJ had persuaded John Fenno to do a year earlier. Brown was soon regarded as hostile by the Federalists and within another year Timothy Pickering was busy raking up old calumnies to try to “put the villain to silence” (Timothy Pickering to Jedediah Rogers, 12 Mch. 1792, MHi: Pickering Papers).

Index Entries