Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Edward Carrington, 4 April 1791

From Edward Carrington

Richmond, 4 Apr. 1791. Acknowledging TJ’s of the 4th ult. enclosing commission as supervisor; he is duly sensible of “this additional evidence of the Confidence reposed in me by the President, and the Senate of the United States, and … particularly obliged by the very polite and friendly sentiments” of TJ accompanying the communication. He would have acknowledged this earlier but for several weeks he has been “out of the way of the post office.”

The Secretary of the Treasury has forwarded Act with compensations allowed, but, it having just been received, “my opportunity of considering the subject upon the ground of personal advantage has been too slight to give me full satisfaction as to that Point.” But his acceptance is decided on another ground—“the frequent suggestions of some amongst us, that the office cannot be safely undertaken. The act has been much misrepresented, and a refusal to accept in the first person appointed, would afford a sanction to these suggestions, which might greatly promote popular discontent.” Far from apprehending danger, he is convinced the measure will become more and more satisfactory as it is explained.

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by TJ as received 9 Apr. 1791 and so recorded in SJL.

In expressing gratitude for TJ’s very polite and friendly sentiments, Carrington did not realize that the expressions were those of a form letter sent in identical phraseology to all supervisors in transmitting their commissions: “The President of the United States desiring to avail the public of your services as Supervisor for the District of Massachusetts, I have now the honor of enclosing you the Commission, and of expressing to you the sentiments of perfect esteem with which I am Sir Your most obedient & most humble Servant, Th: Jefferson” (TJ to Nathaniel Gorham, 4 Mch. 1791; FC in DNA: RG 59, PCC No. 120; form letter to all other supervisors and form of commission in same, all dated 4 Mch. 1791). This was the precise form that TJ also employed in sending other commissions, such as those for attorneys, judges, and other officials (e.g., TJ to Stephen Jacobs, 4 Mch. 1791; TJ to Daniel Carroll, 4 Mch. 1791, same). Carrington’s opinion that the excise tax would meet with public approval was one shared by Washington, who said that the prediction “vehemently affirmed by many, that such a law could never be executed in the southern states, particularly in Virginia and North Carolina,” had been disproved and that in his tour through the South it had been given general approbation (Washington to Humphreys, 20 July 1791, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, xxxi, 319). Henry Lee, however, entertained a contrary view, and events would in time sustain him (see TJ to Madison, 21 June 1791).

The above letter was evidently the last that passed between TJ and Carrington, whose political leanings brought to an end a relationship that had never been close.

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