Thomas Jefferson Papers

Notes on a Letter of William Pinkney, [after 17 February 1801]

Notes on a Letter of William Pinkney

[after 17 Feb. 1801]

a letter from mr Pinckney to mr Thompson the brother in law of mr Mercer, communicated to mr Rodney,1 by mr Duval who had seen it, and to Colo. Mercer by Thompson.

‘that nothing had raised the credit of America in the eyes of Europe, & even of England itself, as the late election; & that had he been here himself he would have supported it with all his might.’

MS (DLC: TJ Papers, 232:42032); undated; entirely in TJ’s hand.

William Pinkney was serving as one of the U.S. commissioners in London appointed to settle claims under Article 7 of the Jay Treaty when the letter described above was written. Upon learning how the letter was being interpreted, he wrote his brother Ninian on 21 July 1801: “Report has certainly taken great liberties with my letter to Mr. Thompson. Undoubtedly I have never written to any person sentiments that go the length you state.” Pinkney noted that when the contest was reduced to TJ and Burr, he decidedly preferred TJ and, when the result of the election in the House of Representatives was known, he may have noted to some of his friends that he was “highly pleased” with the outcome. He also admitted that he had earlier observed that, unlike some Federalists, he was not alarmed at the prospect of a change in administration. Pinkney concluded: “I never could persuade myself to tremble, lest the United States should find, in the presidency of Mr. Jefferson, the evils which might be expected to flow from a weak or a wicked government. I am, on the contrary, satisfied that he has talents, knowledge, integrity, and stake in the country sufficient to give us well-founded confidence, that our affairs will be well administered so far as shall depend on him.” But in the summer of 1800, Pinkney had also expressed confidence in Adams’s administration and noted to his brother Ninian that he had “done nothing to deserve to be discarded.” He continued: “Slight errors should be overlooked in a man who means well, and who has acted essentially right in situations peculiarly arduous and embarrassing” (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Henry Wheaton, Some Account of the Life, Writings, and Speeches of William Pinkney [Philadelphia, 1826], 36–7; William Pinkney, The Life of William Pinkney [New York, 1853], 369–73).

Hugh Thompson was married to Elizabeth Sprigg and John F. Mercer to Sophia Sprigg, daughters of Richard and Margaret Caile Sprigg (Papenfuse, Maryland Legislature description begins Edward C. Papenfuse, Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan, Gregory A. Stiverson, eds., A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635–1789, Baltimore, 1979–85, 2 vols. description ends , 2:594).

1TJ first wrote “the brother in law of mr Duval who communicated it to mr Rodney” before altering the passage to read as above and adding the remainder of the sentence.

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