Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to James Thomson Callender, 6 September 1799

To James Thomson Callender

Monticello Sep. 6. 99


By a want of arrangement in a neighboring post office during the [absence] of the postmaster, my letters & papers for two posts back were detained. [I] suppose it was owing to this that your letter tho’ dated Aug. 10 did not get to my hand till the last day of the month, since which this is the first day I can through the post office acknolege the receipt of it. mr Jefferson happens to be here and directs his agent to call on you with this & pay you 50. Dollars on account of the book you are about to publish. when it shall be out be so good as to send me 2. or 3. copies & the rest only when I shall ask for them.

The violence which was meditated against you lately has excited a very general indignation in this part of the country. our state from it’s first planting has been remarkeable for it’s order & submission to the laws. but three instances are recollected in it’s history of an organized opposition to the laws. the first was Bacon’s rebellion, the 2d. our revolution; the 3d. the Richmond association who, by their committee, have in the public papers1 avowed their purpose of taking out of the hands of the law the function of declaring who may or may not have free2 residence among us. but these gentlemen miscalculate the temper & force of this country extremely if they suppose there would have been a want of either to support the authority of the laws; and equally mistake their own interests in setting the example of clublaw. whether their self organization, election of a committee, and publication of their manifests be such overt acts as bring them within the pale of law, the law I presume is to decide. and there it is our duty to leave it.—the delivery of Robbins to the British excites much feeling & enquiry here. with every wish for your welfare I am with great regard Sir

Your most obedt. servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); with several words overwritten by TJ in ink; frayed at margin, with words in brackets supplied from first Tr; at foot of text: “Callendar.” Tr (MHi: Timothy Pickering Papers); in Pickering’s hand; addressed: “Mr. John Thompson Callendar Richmond”; endorsement copied by Pickering from RC: “Given by Mr Callender to A Davis”; with statement signed by Pickering and in his hand, dated Washington, D.C., 3 Jan. 1804: “I have this day, with James Hillhouse Esq. compared the within copy with an original letter written by Thomas Jefferson, now president of the United States; and the copy is correct. Mr. Jefferson’s hand-writing is so remarkable, and so familiar to me, I can vouch that the original; of which the within is a copy, is his hand-writing, with the same confidence and certainty that I can vouch for my own. The superscription is to Mr. John Thompson Callendar, instead of James Thompson Callender—the latter the true name. His subsequent letter of Oct. 6. is superscribed to James Thompson Callendar. That Mr. Jefferson should err in writing proper names is not extraordinary: but it might be supposed that other words would be correctly spelt. This however is not the case. Either carelessly or purposely, he deviates from the English authorities. For instance, acknolege for acknowledge—remarkeable for remarkable; and he begins sentences, not with capital, but with small letters: and I believe invariably I for J, in proper names.

“The endorsement on the back of the original ‘given by M Callender to A Davis’ appears to be the hand writing of Augustine Davis, a man of worth, formerly postmaster at Richmond, with whom I used to correspond when I was postmaster general.” Tr (same); at head of text: “From Mr. McHenry”; subjoined to TJ to Callender, 6 Oct. 1799; enclosed in James Mc.Henry to Pickering, 10 Apr. 1808 (same). Tr (MH). Tr (CtHi: Oliver Wolcott Papers); at head of text: “Copy.” Tr (same). Tr (NjP). Tr (same). Tr (NbO). Tr (DLC: TJ Papers, Ser. 9); with notation on verso: “Copy of Mr Jefferson’s letter to J. T. Callender dated Septr 6. 99. (copied from the original in Mr Jefferson’s hand writing by WS.—) (verbatim et literatim).” Enclosed in TJ to George Jefferson, 6 Sep. 1799.

Callender published this letter, along with TJ’s 6 Oct. communication to him, in the Richmond Recorder in the fall of 1802 to refute charges that TJ gave him money as charity rather than as an incentive to complete and publish The Prospect Before Us. To leave no doubt of the authenticity of the letters, Callender put the originals on view at the office of the Virginia Gazette and General Advertiser, a Federalist newspaper in Richmond, edited by Augustine Davis, and the two letters thus became materials for a Federalist campaign against TJ. Davis entrusted the letters to John Hopkins, a merchant and banker in Richmond, with the understanding they would be forwarded to Timothy Pickering, in 1804 a senator from Massachusetts. Pickering, Connecticut Senator James Hillhouse, and other New England congressmen who lodged together in Washington compared the letters with official communications Pickering had earlier received from TJ. A printer at Georgetown also held the letters for public inspection.

In February 1805 Pickering sent the correspondence to Timothy Williams, his nephew in Boston, to be viewed while the Massachusetts legislature was in session as “evidence of Mr. Jefferson’s paying Callender for his atrocious calumnies on Washington & Adams, in ‘The Prospect before us.’” (Among those who saw the letters was Daniel Webster, who recorded it in his diary on 5 Mch.) Pickering bolstered his claim that the letters were genuine by observing that TJ’s “fashion of writing, as well as the forms of his letters, is peculiar to himself: at least I have met with no American or Englishman who uses it. Such, for instance, is his beginning every period in a paragraph, except the first, with small letter. It is the French fashion, which I have often had opportunities of observing; and one for which Mr. Jefferson seems long to have had an early predilection for it appears as long ago as 1776.”

Three years later, when Pickering wanted to examine the original letters again, he learned that they were in Oliver Wolcott’s possession. Wolcott sent them to Pickering, who returned them to Hopkins on 30 Jan. 1809. Pickering also wrote former Secretary of War James McHenry inquiring whether he had kept copies of the letters, and McHenry immediately forwarded the transcripts from his files in Baltimore. Even after TJ left the presidency in 1809 the letters continued to be used for political purposes. In the Virginia congressional race between John Randolph and John Wayles Eppes in 1814, a friend of Randolph’s observed that if the letters were circulated in the district it would “almost ensure Mr Randolph a Majority.” Randolph won the election (New-York Evening Post, 11 Oct. 1802; Washington, Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, Charlottesville, 1976–79, 6 vols. description ends , 6:278–9n; Alfred S. Konefsky and Andrew J. King, eds., The Papers of Daniel Webster: Legal Papers, 3 vols. in 4 [Hanover, N.H., 1982–89], 1:44-5; Gerard H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and the American Republic [Pittsburgh, 1980], 157, 213; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, Worcester, Mass., 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 2:1141, 1146; JEP, description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States … to the Termination of the Nineteenth Congress, Washington, D.C., 1828, 3 vols. description ends 1:57; Biog. Dir. Cong.; Pickering to Timothy Williams, 21 Feb. 1805; John Hopkins to Pickering, 8 Apr. 1808, 30 Jan. 1809, 22 Apr. 1812; Davis to Pickering, 2 Dec. 1814, all in MHi: Pickering Papers).

Jonathan Robbins was arrested in Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1799 at the request of the British consul Benjamin Moodie. The consul identified him as British subject Thomas Nash, a participant in the mutiny on the British naval frigate Hermione in 1797, during which most of the ship’s officers were killed. The British demanded his extradition under Article 27 of the Jay Treaty, but Federal District Court Judge Thomas Bee refused to act without direction from the secretary of state. Pickering communicated with Adams on the matter and on 21 May the president granted the petition. On 1 July, Bee notified the British consul of the court’s readiness to have Robbins brought forward for extradition. Moodie requested that he remain in prison until a vessel arrived for him. As the accused was about to be turned over to the British, several South Carolina Republicans learned that Robbins claimed to be an American citizen and at the time of his arrest carried an affidavit indicating that he was born in Danbury, Connecticut. They demanded a hearing. In open court on 25 July Robbins’s statement reaffirmed that he was a native of Connecticut who had been impressed by the crew of the Hermione and detained on the ship. He added that he had not participated in the mutiny. Alexander Moultrie, former attorney general of South Carolina, and Samuel Ker, his assistant, argued that the question was whether an American citizen should be “tried by his country, or be delivered up to a foreign tribunal.” After listening to the case, Bee ruled that Robbins’s claim of American citizenship did not exclude him from extradition under the treaty and that sufficient evidence of criminality was present to remand him to the British for trial. The British quickly sent Robbins to Jamaica, where his court-martial and execution were carried out by 19 Aug. (Ruth Wedgwood, “The Revolutionary Martyrdom of Jonathan Robbins,” Yale Law Journal, 100 [1990], 286–311; Larry D. Cress, “The Jonathan Robbins Incident: Extradition and the Separation of Powers in the Adams Administration,” Essex Institute Historical Collections, 111 [1975], 99–121; Wharton, State Trials description begins Francis Wharton, State Trials of the United States during the Administrations of Washington and Adams, Philadelphia, 1849 description ends , 395; Marshall, Papers description begins Herbert A. Johnson, Charles T. Cullen, Charles F. Hobson, and others, eds., The Papers of John Marshall, Chapel Hill, 1974–2006, 12 vols. description ends , 4:23; DHSC description begins Maeva Marcus and others, eds., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States 1789–1800, New York, 1985–2007, 8 vols. description ends , 3:428n).

1Preceding four words interlined.

2Word added by TJ in left margin.

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