Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Elijah Griffiths, 4 August 1799

From Elijah Griffiths

Philada Augt. 4—1799

Honor’d Sir;

I hope you will pardon the liberty I take in giving a few hints of the events which have taken place since last Session of Congress disolv’d, & the present State of the public mind in this State.—

If the Aurora finds its way into your neighbourhood, the whiping business which follow’d the Nothampton expedition, Mr. Liston’s recent dispatches (found on the horse thief) together with many other things of the same stamp must be known to you, those things must have taken place through want of policy, as it has very Sensibly lessen’d the popularity of the party in Pennsylvania & New jersey, it may probably have that effect elsewhare.—As to the present State of the public mind as far as we may Judge from appearances, I think there is no doubt of Mr. Mckean’s being Elected to the Governor’s chair by a very respectable majority; the people of York County who have been Unanimous in the opposite interest, appear now to be almost as unanimous in favour of Mr. Mckeans election, the poll of that County is from 3. to 4000 votes—Lancaster has underwent a considerable chang & that favourable to the republican cause, Chester County is better, upon the whole the republican interest has gain’d rapidly the last 6 months in this state.—

If the Southern States keep their ground we have nothing to fear at the next election for Presidents, I hope to see Pennsyla., Jersey, & New York States act pretty unanimously in placing a firm friend of his country & rational Liberty, in the Presidential Chair

I have the honor to be with Esteem your very Humble servant

Elijah Griffiths

P.S. If you find time to drop me a few lines at any time it will be taken as very particular favour.—E.G.—

Direct to me at no 29 pine Street

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esquire Monticello—Virginia”; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Aug. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosed in John Barnes to TJ, 6 Aug. 1799, not found (see TJ to Barnes, 16 Aug., 15 Oct. 1799).

Elijah Griffiths (1769–1847), a native of Chester County, Pennsylvania, attended Benjamin Rush’s course of lectures at the University of Pennsylvania during the 1797–98 academic year. The dissertation for his medical degree, entitled An Essay on Ophthalmia, or Inflammation of the Eyes, was published in Philadelphia in 1804 (see Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 982). Griffiths practiced medicine there for the next thirty years, continuing on the medical staff at the Philadelphia almshouse—the address from which he wrote the letter above—until 1810. He served as a physician at the Philadelphia Hospital, as a member of the Philadelphia Board of Health, and in 1821 was elected a fellow of the College of Physicians. Upon the death of Rush in 1813, he unsuccessfully sought appointment as treasurer of the United States Mint. Griffiths, a Baptist, served as vice president of the Pennsylvania Peace Society in 1823. He retired and moved to Salem, New Jersey, in 1834 (Rudolf Hirsch, ed., A Catalogue of the Manuscripts and Archives of the Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia [Philadelphia, 1983], 188; Burton A. Konkle, Standard History of the Medical Profession of Philadelphia, ed. Frederick P. Henry, 2d ed. [New York, 1977], 304–5, 405–6; PMHB, description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends 54 [1930], 83–4; D. Hayes Agnew and others, History and Reminiscences of the Philadelphia Almshouse and Philadelphia Hospital [Philadelphia, 1890], 10, 12; Griffiths to TJ, 19 Apr., and TJ to Griffiths, 22 May 1813).

Upon their return from the Expedition to Northampton County, Pennsylvania—designed to quell the protest against the direct tax and bring John Fries and others to Philadelphia for trial—the Philadelphia troops were angered to learn that the Aurora had printed several letters from “an officer of the Northern Army” criticizing the mission. The newspaper called it a “system of terror,” far beyond what the public good required, and gave extensive coverage to the whipping of Jacob Schneider, editor of the Readinger Adler, a German-language newspaper at Reading. He was beaten by the Lancaster cavalry troop on 20 Apr. for printing a report on the abuses of the militia there (Philadelphia Aurora, 11, 13, 16, 24, 27, 30 Apr. 1799; Brigham, American Newspapers, 2:969; Pasley, Tyranny of Printers, 152). On 15 May William Duane was subject to a similar attack by officers of the Philadelphia cavalry troops who demanded to know the identity of the correspondent from the expedition and the units being charged with misconduct. When Duane refused to identify his source, he was assaulted by about thirty men, identified by the editor as “a band of those friends of good order and regular government,’” who threatened to “carry him to the market house, strip him and flog him.” Republican Thomas Leiper was Duane’s correspondent on the Northampton expedition (Philadelphia Aurora, 16 May 1799; Kim Tousley Phillips, “William Duane, Revolutionary Editor” [Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1968], 71–5).

Liston’s recent dispatches: on 13 and 15 July and again on 3 Aug., the Philadelphia Aurora published two letters written by British minister Robert Liston on 6 and 23 May to Peter Russell, government administrator of the province of Upper Canada. They were intercepted and forwarded to Duane after Isaac Sweezy, the man with whom Liston had entrusted the correspondence, was arrested as a horse thief in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In one letter the British minister depicted the Pennsylvania tax protesters as “ignorant wretches” who were misled by the “declamations of the democratic faction on the constitutionality and nullity of certain acts of the Legislature.” He praised the volunteer troops who had quelled the “frivolous rebellion” and reported that some of the “gentlemen” had taken the law into their own hands by flogging “one or two of the Printers” who had criticized the army’s conduct. In both letters Liston reported that the United States and France were close to formal war. In later correspondence with officials in London, Liston admitted that the letters exposed his friendly status with the Adams administration and tended to support the Republican contention that he was “employed” to produce a rupture between the United States and France (Philadelphia Aurora, 16 July 1799; Phillips, “William Duane,” 77–8; Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 14 vols. [Toronto, 1966-], 5:729–32). For a third letter from Liston to the Canadian official, see Notes on a Conversation with Tench Coxe, 2 Jan. 1800.

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