Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Philip Norborne Nicholas, 2 November 1799

To Philip Norborne Nicholas

Monticello Nov. 2. 1799

Dear Sir

[Your] favor inclosing the pamphlet came safe to hand. it was written [with that energy of] […] which distinguished everything from the same author. I [had] during the [last winter] read with great pleasure the letter to Judge Addison. it is an unanswerable […] of the [new] [usurpa]tion the federal government is […] about to add to their list, but [all the others] have been petty […] things [compared] with this, which the judges […] them is, that the common law of England (the only standard they can [select]) is in force here, & that the federal courts have cognisance of all cases it embraces. yet, absurd, impossible, as that is, [you will see] that they will stack it in upon us. by degrees, more or less boldly as circumstances may admit. but we should meet them by countermine. an action should be immediately brought (a feigned one) by one republican against another, on a [bond], assumpsit or any other ground not given to the [federal] […] by the constitution, but given by their common law; whichever [way] decided by the district1 court it should be carried by appeal to the supreme court & all the judges be thus forced to avow what it is they intend, at once. the success of the republican candidate for the government of Pensylvania is a subject of great congratulation. I hope that the same spirit, operating at the same time on the election for their legislature will have […]ed a republican majority into that[.] such a state as Pensylva harmonising with those south of the Patow[mac] will command more respect to the constitution. the misfortunes of [the French] would [probably] produce very […] on the approaching [session of Congress were it not] that [the] […] of the English will [keep] the […] in check. accept assurances of [sincere] esteem & attachment

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); faint; at foot of text: “Norborne Nicholas esq.”

Your favor: Nicholas to TJ, 8 Oct. 1799. The pamphlet Nicholas enclosed with that letter contained George Nicholas’s response to a charge that Alexander Addison, as presiding judge of Pennsylvania’s fifth circuit, made to grand juries in 1798. The pamphlet, published after George Nicholas’s death, contained in an appendix some “Observations” on Addison’s tract by “A Lawyer, Who does not wish to be a Judge,” contradicting in particular Addison’s argument that the Sedition Act was a legitimate codification of common law (Alexander Addison, Liberty of Speech, and of the Press [Washington, Pa., 1798], 11–12; Correspondence between George Nicholas, Esq. of Kentucky, and the Hon. Robert G. Harper, Member of Congress from the District of 96, State of South Carolina [Lexington, Ky., 1799], 3, appendix i-viii; see Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from …1639 …to …1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59,14 vols. description ends Nos. 33267, 35972).

1Word interlined in place of “federal.”

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