Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William McDowell, 8 February 1801

From William McDowell

Kentucky Feby 8th. 1801


From a sence of the duty I owe to you as well for your instruction and friendship, whilst I [lived] at Colo. Nichs. Lewes’s as a student of the Law, as for the use of your books, and other Political considerations, I feel happy in having it in my power to congratulate you on your election, to the Presidential Chair; you have had the united suffrage of this state, and will (I flatter myself) long continue to deserve well of your country—

From a confidence, that it will be your wish to do Justice, & Support harmony & Concord throughout our government; I trust no change will be made in this state without good cause.

An attempt it is whispered, will be made to Oust my Brother Saml McDowell jr. from the office of Marshal, In consequence of this I have taken the liberty of enclosing the Certificate of the Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Kentucky District, & of the Clerk & principal Attornies, who practice in sd Court, stating the charactor my Brother is entitled to; and the manner in which he has transacted the business of his office; in addition to those certificates I can assure you no complaint has ever within my knowledge been alledged agt him—

At the time he first accepted the office, it was by no means profitable, but in fact from the exposed situation of this country to the incursions of the savages, and the opposition to the excise Law, it was extremely hazardous to execute a great share of the process—The Office for about 18 months past has been profitable, this will induce a number no doubt to aim at the office as soon as you qualify, and the hopes of some of those offering will probably be founded on a desire to have a change of the officers, under the govt. at this time that they may derive some advantage there from—

A Mr. Jas Brown who has been long an enemy to a Young brother of mine who has in some instances acted as a Deputy Marshal, has I am told sent forward the affedavit of a trifling Charactor by the name of Stephenson, which has been taken ex parte, to prove that my young Brother had demanded extra fees, the truth is, a Mr. Trotter the party ordering writs offered extra fees, as the writs could not be executed without riding in the night &c and the afsd Brown who was requested to fill up blank writs, Antedated the writs a month; my Brother found fault with this, as he would not probably have time to execute, & then from the date it would be Supposed he had not done his duty, there then being but three or four days before return day and more than 150 miles to ride, Brown told him not to be a fool, a quarrel ensued and now I am told Brown means to hand this agt. the Marshal, & by this means if possible get a friend of his appointed—My young Brother, would now have Obtained the Certificate of Mr Trotter a Mercht of Charactor, but he is gone to Philadelphia but I consider this as foreign to the continuance of my Brother Saml McDowell jr in office, or his reappointment, he stands now commissioned untill the first of March 1802—& from the certificates will be equal if not Superior in Charactor to any that offer, and as those most concerned can find no fault, I trust the meddling Interested conduct of those aiming at the office will be treated with contempt

I have the honor to be with every consideration your Obt H St

Wm Mc.Dowell

RC (DNA: RG 59, LAR); torn; addressed: “The Honble. Thomas Jefferson Vice President City of Washington”; franked; postmarked Danville, Ky., 10 Feb.; endorsed by TJ as received 13 Mch. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Certificate of Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, 21 Jan. 1801, stating that he has served in the District Court of the U.S. for Kentucky for two or three years and “had very full and continual opportunity of seeing, and being concerned” with Samuel McDowell’s official conduct as marshal; that he has always “remarked the punctuallity vigilance, and industry of Mr McDowell and his deputies” and that he has “known no ministerial office of such a nature, executed in a manner so examplery”; that although he has recently heard that his deputies requested extra fees, as far as he knows, McDowell has “given public satisfaction.” (2) Certificate of James Hughes, Lexington, 23 Jan. 1801, stating that in his several years of practice before the court he has always believed “that Samuel McDowell has faithfully discharged the duties of his office” and knows “of no cause of complaint against him.” (3) Certificate of William Murray, Frankfort, 24 Jan. 1801, stating that he has served in the District Court of the U.S. for the Kentucky district since its establishment and during this time McDowell has always conducted his office with “Punctuality and Fidelity” and has done nothing to warrant his removal or prevent his reappointment. (4) Certificate of Thomas Todd, Frankfort, 26 Jan. 1801, stating that he has practiced several years in the U.S. district court and “observed great punctuality vigilance & attention” in the marshal and that McDowell’s conduct, as far as he knows, is “unexceptionable” in every respect. (5) Certificate of Isham Talbot, 31 Jan. 1801, stating that during the one or two years he has practiced law before the U.S. district court for Kentucky, he has observed no “impropriety or misconduct” in McDowell’s official capacity. (6) Certificate of Thomas Tunstall, undated, stating that as clerk of the District Court of the U.S. for the Kentucky District since 1795, he has found McDowell’s conduct as marshal “strictly conformable” to his duties, “And as to his private character it is unquestionably fair.” (7) Certificate of Harry Innes, 31 Jan. 1801, stating that as far as he has observed, McDowell’s conduct as marshall “has ever been consistant with the important duties of the office”; that if anything improper had occurred in his business routine “no information has ever been made to the Court respecting it”; and that in his opinion, “founded on an acquaintance of sixteen years,” McDowell’s moral character stood “unimpeached” (MSS in DNA: RG 59, LAR, on four sheets; Trs in same, endorsed: “Certificates in favor of S. Mc.Dowell,” attested by William McDowell).

Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, William McDowell (1762–1821), lawyer and judge, moved with his parents Samuel and Mary McClung McDowell and siblings to Danville, Kentucky, in 1783. William served as a representative from Mercer County in the Virginia House of Delegates during the 1787–88 term. On 26 May 1787 he was elected a member of “The Political Club,” a debating society founded in Danville a few months earlier, the first meeting being held at his father’s house. The participants discussed the new Constitution and separation from Virginia, and formulated ideas that would be contained in the first Kentucky constitution. After the state’s admittance to the union, McDowell served as Kentucky’s first auditor and in the state legislature. He married Margaretta Madison (Thomas Speed, The Political Club, Danville, Kentucky, 1786–1790, Being an Account of an Early Kentucky Society from the Original Papers Recently Found [Louisville, 1894], vii, 58–62, 100–2, 111, 136, 144–51; Lewis Collins, Collins’ Historical Sketches of Kentucky. History of Kentucky, 2 vols. [Covington, Ky., 1878], 1:508, 2:92; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, New York, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends , 2:291–3; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619-January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, Richmond, 1978 description ends , 165).

William Clarke, appointed U.S. attorney for the district of Kentucky in December 1796, also provided a certificate in favor of Samuel McDowell, at the marshal’s request, dated 2 June 1801, at Bourbon, Kentucky, in which he stated that McDowell had requested advice respecting fees for mileage and that he had informed him “that in my opinion, he was entitled to mileage in these cases.” Clarke stated that as far as he had “discovered” the marshal had the “character of a good Officer.” He continued: “His character in private life is amiable, and I do not think that the said Office of Marshal could be filled with a more suitable person.” In December 1800 Adams appointed Clarke to the chief justiceship of the Indiana Territory and Joseph Hamilton Daveiss, author of the first enclosed certificate described above, U.S. attorney for the Kentucky district (MS in DNA: RG 59, LAR, endorsed: “Wm. Clarke in fav. of Saml. Mc.Dowell as marshal of Kentucky”; 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 , 1:217, 357).

Young brother of mine: a deposition by Thomas Stevenson (Stephenson), dated 28 Feb. 1801, identified Joseph McDowell as the deputy marshal who demanded extra fees (MS in DNA: RG 59, LAR). James Brown specified the charges against Samuel McDowell, Jr., in a letter to his brother Senator John Brown on 24 Feb. 1801, by which he forwarded “some documents procured after a few hours examination in the Clerks Office which will throw light on some parts of the Marshalls conduct and convince every impartial mind that he has not discharged his duty with that integrity which should mark the transactions of one who fills so important a Station” (same).

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