Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Henry Remsen, 11 April 1792

From Henry Remsen

New York April 11th. 1792

Dear Sir

When I returned here the last time from Philadelphia I heard there was a pamphlet handed about in private circles, wherein you was spoken of with great indecency; and I made many attempts to see it, and to procure a copy to send to you, but in vain. I have just now been able to obtain it, and I take the liberty to enclose it.

The difficulties among those who dealt in stocks, or endorsed notes (some from friendly and others from interested motives) for dealers in stocks, have been daily encreasing; and from the connection there was between the dealers, and the dependance of one on another, no time can be fixed for their determination. On the contrary, facts hourly occurring warrant the expectation, that those difficulties will continue to encrease, and only end in the bankruptcy of 9/10ths. of them. Mr. McComb, with a fortune of £60,000 he brought with him to this City a few years ago and which he had considerably augmented since, and with a valuable ship and cargo just arrived from India, has not been able to fulfil his engagements, and has of course failed. Many others in independent situations have experienced the like fate, and I can safely add that ¼ of the citizens are affected by these failures.

The certificate, Sir, you were pleased to promise me on my departure, I beg the favour of your enclosing to me; and I take the liberty of assuring you of my readiness at all times and on all occasions to execute any of your commissions here.—I have the honor to be with sentiments of the most grateful and respectful attachment Dear Sir your obliged & obedient Servt.,

Henry Remsen

P.S. Col. Walker, the agent for the 6 pr. Cent club or company (composed of Duer, Walter Livingston, McComb, Whippo &c. &c.) has just declared publicly, that the company has not more property or stock in possession to fulfil it’s engagements, than will pay of those engagements 1/ on 20/.

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 13 Apr. 1792 and so recorded in SJL.

The enclosed pamphlet—“Massachusettensis,” Strictures and Observations upon the Three Executive Departments of the Government of the United States … ([Philadelphia], 1792)—has the distinction of being the first pamphlet attack on TJ written from an ostensibly Federalist point of view. The author lavishly praised the financial policies of the Secretary of the Treasury while sharply criticizing the performance of TJ as Secretary of State and of Henry Knox as Secretary of War. He charged that TJ’s policy of fostering closer ties with France while threatening commercial retaliation against Great Britain was contrary to the national interest in general and the economic interests of American merchants in particular. He maintained that TJ had harmed the American consular service by recommending a long list of unsuitable nominees for consular appointments. He alleged that TJ had been primarily responsible for the appointments of the unfit Thomas Pinckney as minister to Great Britain and Gouverneur Morris as minister to France. “Massachusettensis” concluded his diatribe against TJ by recommending that he give way to an abler man and retire to the philosophical tranquillity of Monticello (Strictures and Observations, p. 9–25). Another Federalist attack made privately at about the same time may be seen in Anonymous to Washington, DLC: Washington Papers; undated but endorsed by Washington: “Anonymous recd. the latter end of March 1792”; see also note to Memorandum on Meeting with Senate Committee, 4 Jan. 1792.

The effort to identify “Massachusettensis” has given rise to various conjectures. TJ stated that he was aware of the identity of this critic, but he never revealed the name of the person in question (TJ to Remsen, 14 Apr. 1792). Remsen reported that Fisher Ames was rumored to be the author of Strictures and Observations, but this is clearly impossible because Ames was a strong supporter of Secretary of War Knox (Remsen to TJ, 23 Apr. 1792; Winfred E. A. Bernhard, Fisher Ames: Federalist and Statesman 1758–1808 [Chapel Hill, N.C., 1965], p. 194–5). Joseph Sabin attributed the pamphlet to Daniel Leonard, a Massachusetts Loyalist who had employed the pseudonym of “Massachusettensis” in an exchange with John Adams during the American Revolution, but this attribution must also be rejected because at this time Leonard was a jurist and councillor in Bermuda with no discernible interest in domestic American politics (Sabin, description begins Joseph Sabin and others, comps., Bibliotheca Americana. A Dictionary of Books Relating to America, N.Y., 1868-1936 description ends No. 92828; Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates, xiv, 640–8). Malone, Jefferson description begins Dumas Malone, Jefferson and his Time, Boston, 1948-1981, 6 vols. description ends , ii, 444, simply but plausibly described “Massachusettensis” as an independent Hamiltonian from New England. In reality, the author of Strictures and Observations appears to have been Sir John Temple, the Massachusetts-born British consul general in the United States. George Hammond reported that a friend of a New England senator of his acquaintance saw a manuscript copy of this pamphlet “in Sir John Temple’s hand-writing” before it went to press (Hammond to Phineas Bond, 13 May 1792, PRO: FO 95/502). The striking similarities between the criticisms of TJ’s hostility to Great Britain in Temple’s reports to his superiors in London and those contained in Strictures and Observations also lend substance to the view that Temple and “Massachusettensis” were one and the same (see Temple to Leeds, 19 Mch., 23 May 1791, PRO: FO 4/9, 4/10). Thus Strictures and Observations must no longer be seen as simply the first pamphlet attack on TJ from a Federalist standpoint, but also as a bold effort by an agent of the British government to affect the course of American foreign policy by encouraging the removal of the member of the Washington administration he regarded as the one most hostile to British interests.

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