Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Herty, 28 December 1800

From Thomas Herty

City of Washington Decr. 28th 1800


Having transmitted you a circular letter some time since, relative to the propriety of the Legislature’s circulating a Digest of the Laws of the United States published by me; I presented a Memorial to the House of Representatives to that effect—the Committee who were appointed to report thereon, namely, Messrs. Craik, Wadsworth & Grove, have not yet reported and I have reason to believe they trifle therewith, being three weeks tomorrow since the Memorial was presented.

I now take the liberty of soliciting your influence in this business; the only claim I make to your support, is grounded on my having been persecuted for my political opinions and which I apprehend is the motive that induces some of the Committee from acting.—Independent of any other consideration, I think it adequate to the end proposed; every member with whom I conversed on the subject, think the same.

I lived in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of this State in the capacity of Deputy Clerk of the County Court, under William Stoddert Bond then Clerk; in the Fall of 1798 I had taken an active part in the election of Joshua Seeney a Republican candidate for congress, against the decided interest of my employer and others who professed friendship.—the various disputations which I had with those characters (who were decided Monarchists) relative to the merits and demerits as well of the then candidates, as of your moral and political conduct, which had invariably been the topic, procured me the names Jacobin, disorganizer &c and consequently an immediate discharge from the service. This opposition I made, not from a personal knowledge of the characters I supported, but from a consciousness of supporting principles congenial to my own feelings, and conducive to the happiness of our species; which I aver has since been (tho perhaps more circumspect) and ever shall be my guide, however it may operate against my private interest.

I had then no other alternative but to repair to Baltimore, where I issued proposals for publishing an Abridgment of the Laws of Maryland, which I transcribed and arranged after office hours, during 16 months that I had been Deputy Clk.—By the interference of a friend, I got the attorney general to examine the same, of which he gave a favorable certificate, and without which it must inevitably have fallen thro’.

The great expense attending the publication of that work, and the small circulation which it had contrary to my then sanguine expectations, prevented me from fully discharging the debt contracted for printing—the proceeds of the work now submitted to Congress, has not yet repaid the expenses attending the same.

This brief statement is thus candidly submitted to you, under a presumption that you will be pleased to consider it in its proper light; and being convinced that you are fully disposed to countenance the industrious part of society in laudable undertakings, I flatter myself that you will not consider the present application beneath your notice, but that you will be pleased to give it your influence and support, should you be of opinion that it is worthy of the same.

I shall write to Genl. Smith and Mr. Jos. H. Nicholson, (both members of this State) to the above effect; the latter I believe, knows something of my sufferings, he has been instrumental in getting a Resolution passed in my favor in the State legislature, relative to a distribution of the Laws of that State, and thro’ him I got Mr. Craik to present my Memorial as the most likely way of succeeding.

I beg leave to subscribe myself Sir your most respectful and obedt. hble servt.

Thomas Herty

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 28 Dec. 1800 and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas Herty moved his office, where he drew up legal documents such as land conveyances, powers of attorney, wills, petitions, and manumissions “with the utmost punctuality, accuracy, secrecy and dispatch, and on moderate terms,” from Baltimore to Washington in late 1800. A few months later he applied to Albert Gallatin for a clerkship in one of the government departments, declaring that he had been a “continual sufferer” for the Republican cause. In 1807 he became a land office clerk in the Treasury Department, a position he continued to hold into 1810 (National Intelligencer, 5 Dec. 1800; Thomas Herty, A Digest of the Laws of the United States of America, Being a Complete System, (Alphabetically arranged) of All the Public Acts of Congress Now in force—From the commencement of the Federal Government, to the end of the third Session of the fifth Congress, which terminated in March 1799, inclusive [Baltimore, 1800], following p. 562; Gallatin, Papers description begins Carl E. Prince and Helene E. Fineman, eds., The Papers of Albert Gallatin, microfilm edition in 46 reels, Philadelphia, 1969, and Supplement, Barbara B. Oberg, ed., reels 47–51, Wilmington, Del., 1985 description ends , 4:670; 15:393; 20:344, 481–3, 776). For Herty’s role as secretary of the Washington Building Company, see Bryan, National Capital description begins Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan, A History of the National Capital From Its Foundation Through the Period of the Adoption of the Organic Act, New York, 1914–16, 2 vols. description ends , 1:433–4.

The circular letter Herty conveyed to TJ is not recorded in SJL and has not been found, but on 2 May 1800 TJ paid a subscription of $2.50 for Herty’s Digest of the Laws of the United States of America (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1016–17). The memorial, in which Herty sought from Congress a resolution authorizing the distribution of his abridgment of the laws, is found in the National State Papers: Adams, 21:237. It was presented to the House on 8 Dec. and William Craik of Maryland, who chaired the committee appointed to consider the petition, brought in a report on 5 Feb. 1801, but no action was taken (JHR description begins Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1826, 9 vols. description ends , 3:735, 787, 842).

Joshua Seney, republican candidate for congress in Maryland’s seventh district in 1798, handily defeated the incumbent William Hindman, but died before he could take his seat. Republican Joseph H. Nicholson was elected in his place (Biog. Dir. Cong.; L. Marx Renzulli, Jr., Maryland: The Federalist Years [Rutherford, N.J., 1972], 206–7; Dauer, Adams Federalists description begins Manning J. Dauer, The Adams Federalists, Baltimore, 1953 description ends , 312, 318).

Abridgment: Herty edited A Digest of the Laws of Maryland, Being an Abridgment, Alphabetically Arranged, of all the Public Acts of Assembly Now in Force, and of General Use (Baltimore, 1799; 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 No. 35617). In the certificate dated 6 Nov. 1798, Luther Martin,

Attorney general of Maryland, cited Herty’s work as having “very considerable merit” and “public utility.” Martin was among 14 subscribers who each contributed $10 to Herty’s endeavor. The Maryland legislature appropriated $200 (Digest of the Laws of Maryland, preface; Digest of the Laws of the United States, following p. 562).

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