Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Pendleton, 19 April 1800

To Edmund Pendleton

Philadelphia Apr. 19. 1800.

Dear Sir

My duties here require me to possess exact knolege of parliamentary proceedings. while a student I read a good deal, & common placed what I read, on this subject. but it is now 20. years since I was a member of a parliamentary body, so that I am grown rusty. so far indeed as books go, my commonplace has enabled me to retrieve. but there are many minute practices, which being in daily use in parliament & therefore supposed known to every one, were never noticed in their books. these practices were I dare say the same we used to follow in Virginia: but I have forgot even our practices. besides these there are minute questions arising frequently as to the mode of amending, putting questions &c which the books do not inform us of. I have from time to time noted these queries, and, keeping them in view, have been able to get some of them satisfied & struck them off my list. but I have a number of them still remaining unsatisfied. however unwilling to disturb your repose I am so anxious to perform the functions of my office with exact regularity, that I have determined to throw myself on your friendship and to ask your aid in solving as many of my doubts as you can. I have written them down, leaving a broad margin in which I only ask the favor of you to write yea, or nay, opposite to the proposition, which will satisfy me. those which you do not recollect, do not give yourself any trouble about. do it only at your leisure; if this should be before the 9th. of May, your return of the papers1 may find me here till the 16th. if after that, be so good as to direct them to me at Monticello.

I have no foreign news but what you see in the papers. Duane’s & Cooper’s trials come on to day. such a selection of jurors has been made by the marshal as ensures the event. the same may be said as to Fries &c. and also as to the sheriff and justices who in endeavoring to arrest Sweezy the horse-thief, got possession of his papers & sent them to the chief justice & governor, among which papers were mr Liston’s letters to the governor of Canada, printed we know not by whom. we have not yet heard the fate of Holt editor of the Bee in Connecticut. a printer in Vermont is prosecuted for reprinting mr Mc.Henry’s letter to Genl. Darke. be so good as to present my respects to mrs Pendleton, and friendly salutations to mr Taylor, & accept yourself assurances of constant & affectionate esteem.

Th: Jefferson

RC (MHi: Washburn Collection); at foot of text: “Honble E. Pendleton”; endorsed by Pendleton. PrC (DLC); endorsed by TJ in ink on verso. Enclosure: see enclosure to Pendleton to TJ, 17 June 1800.

The U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Pennsylvania had postponed action in William Duane’s case during its October 1799 term. In April 1800 the court’s grand jury indicted Duane for libel at the same time that it issued Thomas Cooper’s indictment, but the editor was in hiding to avoid the Senate’s warrant. The court tried Cooper during the April term, but not Duane (Philadelphia Gazette, 14, 16, 19, 21, 24 Apr. 1800; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 285–6; Duane to TJ, 27 Mch. 1800).

John Fries, who during the resistance to the Direct Tax had led a group that liberated prisoners from a federal marshal’s custody in Pennsylvania, had been found guilty during a first trial in the federal circuit court in the spring of 1799. Judges James Iredell and Richard Peters reluctantly ordered a new trial after Fries’s counsel demonstrated prejudice on the part of a juror. A second trial during the April 1800 term of court resulted in Fries’s conviction for treason, although a pardon from John Adams saved him from execution. Samuel Chase had taken Iredell’s place before the second hearing of the case, and his handling of the trial was among the charges brought against him during his impeachment in 1804–5 (Jane Shaffer Elsmere, “The Trials of John Fries,” PMHB description begins Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1877– description ends , 103 [1979], 432–45).

The federal grand jury in Philadelphia had indicted Duane and three others for misdemeanor “in opening and publishing letters of a foreign Minister,” charges stemming from the Isaac Sweezy incident. Since it appeared that Sweezy had been detained under a valid warrant and there were doubts about the federal court’s jurisdiction in the matter, the case did not come to trial (Philadelphia Gazette, 14 Apr. 1800; Wharton, State Trials description begins Francis Wharton, State Trials of the United States during the Administrations of Washington and Adams, Philadelphia, 1849 description ends , 682–3; Elijah Griffiths to TJ, 4 Aug. 1799).

Barzillai Hudson and George Goodwin, editors of the Hartford Connecticut Courant, filed the complaint that resulted in the prosecution of Charles Holt under the Sedition Act. Holt was indicted for publishing in the New London Bee a letter from a Danbury resident who discouraged families from allowing their young men to enlist in an army commanded by the adulterous Alexander Hamilton. At Holt’s trial in the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Connecticut before Justice Bushrod Washington in New Haven in April, the prosecutor, Pierpont Edwards, argued that the editor’s fault was in knowingly publishing the letter with its reference to an inherently corrupt “standing” army when in fact the United States only had a “provisional” military. Holt was found guilty, sentenced to three months in prison, and fined $200. He suspended publication of the Bee until the completion of his prison term (Smith, Freedom’s Fetters description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends , 375–83).

1Canceled: “will.”

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